Challenges Of Return To Places Of Worship

Who is back to church service? Last Sunday some people were glad to enter the chapels with thanksgiving in their hearts as they joined in corporate worship. Others were hesitant.

In general, despite the lifting of restrictions on gathering for church services, after three months lockdown, the majority of churches held back from resuming to re-gather for church services on June 7, 2020.

 In fact, within the church councils and the ecumenical church platforms, the response to re-gather have been varied. A dominant factor determining when to return to chapel for church services relates to the church denominational guidelines drawn by the churches.

There are different emphasis in the guidelines for return to church services provided by church members who are Health Experts and Research Scientists and who sit on the Health Committees of Church Denominations; together with the theological and practical considerations.

These different church policy guidelines will result in different timelines for return to chapel services in the denominations. In fact, the church leaders in recent weeks have had so much feedback from members who are health workers and front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19.

The next thing high in the conversations and concerns is how the churches right from the city mega churches to the rural small communities of worshippers can go by and afford the implementation of the directives from the Ministry of Chieftaincy And Religious Affairs.

Can the little rural community churches or even some worship places in urban centres afford the costs for disinfection exercises, temperature guns, and hygiene and sanitation utilities and others? Other churches are struggling with 100 in attendance ceiling and the one-hour church service duration limit.

Is this selective regulation for church attendance and not market attendance and for other social gatherings?  Last Saturday I attended a 100-person funeral and there was no use of a temperature gun.

Coronavirus disease is a reality. And that it has impacted the nation is clear and is being felt in every church, institution, and business. The general behaviour of COVID-19 in the communities is a concern and this relates to when to resume church services. But the more essential concern is what contributions the churches can effectively and successfully make towards the fight against the disease in Ghana.

In Ghana, the COVID-19 curve must flatten. We must not relax or introduce activities in our personal and public life that will risk a bigger wave of COVID-19 spread in our communities.

The two biggest political parties the NPP and NDC are allowed back to activity in an election year; and so are other public social activities.

What could be the implications for successfully fighting COVID-19 in Ghana? And also, are the sanitation and safety protocols being sufficiently observed in the communities throughout the country?

Meanwhile, how can the churches within their denominations and on the national ecumenical platforms keep hope alive among their members in particular and all citizens in their communities, in general?

Firstly, communication and education on both the Government guidelines for re-opening of chapels for service and the church denominations policy and guidelines are important. People need to know and understand why these directives are in place.

Secondly is the engagement and orientation of pastors and leaders of the congregations across the country. How would they implement the directives and with what resources? Who needs support to implement the guidelines? Which specific support?

Thirdly is clarity and the management of expectations. Have we kept the policy plan for re-opening simple and readily implementable? We must also clarify expectations. Is there assurance to people of steps being taken for each member to keep safe?

More restrictions may be lifted and soon all churches may return to full church life, God willing. However, an important factor that will affect return to full church life, is the behaviour of the disease and its spread so we must be steadfast in our practice of the safety protocols and encourage our neighbours to do same.

No church or church council is an island. We must learn from each other to practice church life that is Biblical, Christ-exalting, and taking into consideration the practical realities in this unusual times; and as we seek to meet the felt needs, and real needs of the people.

And very importantly, we have to continually to turn to God in prayer: “Heal our land Ghana and the world of COVID-19 pandemic.”

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