(Olumide Ajomale FCA, FITD, LDS. )
The world witnessed unprecedented global pandemic in recent times. The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge the world has faced since World War Two. Since its emergence in Wuhan, China late last 2019, the virus has spread to every continent except Antarctica. Cases are rising daily in Africa the Americas, and Europe. In Nigeria, the first recorded case was late February 2020 and the infection has been growing exponentially. As at May 30, 2020 Nigeria had officially confirmed 10,0162 cases. As at today, 113,305 confirmed cases.
The effect of COVID-19 globally is much more than a health crisis. The pandemic has created devastating social, economic, and political crises that will leave deep scars.
The Church worldwide has been affected too. By middle of March 2020 when the lockdown phenomenon took its toll Churches and other places of worship had to shut their doors to their faithful followers. The Vatican, Canterbury and other headquarters of Christian denominations provided advisories that Christian worshippers should obey the Social Distancing protocol that were issued by various governments.
The Lagos State Government made such pronouncements and effective March 29, 2020 churches in Lagos State were forced to close their doors. The unexpected turn of events has had a telling tale on the Church and worshippers. Churches have been deserted as people have been forced to stay home on government orders.
We are in uncharted territory. Across the world, shops, theatres, restaurants, and bars were closed for months as the church was and the phrase on lips of citizens focused getting out of the woods means facing a “new normal”. There has been the painful choice between lives and livelihood and there has been pressure on the government worldwide, especially in Lagos, that life be allowed to return to normal so that livelihoods are not at stake while governments are pleading for understanding that the heath challenges must be addressed meaningfully. So, what Lagos State Government did was to ease off on restrictions and lockdowns. From August life seemed to get back to normal and churches resumed activities with various forms of restrictions and conditions. Alas the second wave so predicted has descended on us even with a new strain of the virus. These are indeed troubled times for all including the church.
COVID 19 and the Disruption for the Church
The coronavirus (COVID-19) creeped onto the world scene only over a year ago and has spread at breakneck speed, disrupting societies, social units, healthcare systems, and entire economies. Many are wondering how the Church, historically a beacon of hope in times of distress, is faring.
"Churches are not exempt from this sense of uncertainty as they try to carve out new routines for weekly services and ministries in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic."
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted religion in various ways, including the cancellation of the worship services of various faiths and the closure of Sunday schools, as well as the cancellation of pilgrimages, ceremonies, and festivals. Many churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples have offered worship through livestream amidst the pandemic.
Various religious organisations have stepped in to help providing palliatives, helping the vulnerable dispatched disinfection supplies, supply of masks and face shields, gloves. Globally such responses included providing coronavirus nucleic acid detection reagents, ventilators, patient monitors, syringe pumps, infusion pumps, and food to affected areas.
Other churches have offered free COVID-19 testing to the public. Adherents of many religions have gathered to pray for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, for those affected by it, as well as for wisdom for physicians and scientists to combat the disease.
Coronavirus – What are the facts?
Worldwide – January 19, 2021
• Coronavirus Cases: 96,625,827; Deaths: 2,065,698; Recovered: 69,299,718
• Active Cases: 25,260,411; Currently Infected Patients: 25,148,240 (99.6%) in Mild Condition; 112,171 (0.4%) Serious or Critical
Nigeria (No77 on the world chat) – January 19, 2021
• Coronavirus Cases: 113,305; Deaths: 1,464; Recovered: 91,200
• Active cases: 20,641
2 The World Health Organisation (WHO) and partners are working closely together on the response -- tracking the pandemic, advising on critical interventions, distributing vital medical supplies to those in need--- they are racing to develop and deploy safe and effective vaccines.
Vaccines save millions of lives each year. Vaccines work by training and preparing the body s natural defenses --- the immune system--- to recognize and fight off the viruses and bacteria they target. If the body is exposed to those disease-causing germs later, the body is immediately ready to destroy them, preventing illness.
WHO says there are currently more than 50 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in trials. WHO is working in collaboration with scientists, business, and global health organizations through the ACT Accelerator to speed up the pandemic response. When a safe and effective vaccine is found, COVAX (led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI) will facilitate the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries. People most at risk will be prioritized. While WHO is working towards rolling out a safe and effective vaccine fairly, the essential public health actions must continue to suppress transmission and reduce mortality. It would be a while before the vaccine arrives our shores in good numbers to build the herd immunity.
Challenges for the Church?
Early enough I had the opportunity to lead a committee in AVMCC to be proactive in dealing with Covid 19 and its consequences. This was as early as May 2020. When we submitted our report a month later, we set the tone for the Cathedral to be prepared for the long haul ahead. From our assessment of the challenges presented by the pandemic, churches werefaced with numerous challenges.
For our discussion I have covered these challenges as touching on Church Administration, Worship, Finance, ICT and Youth activities, Evangelism, Church membership and
1. Parish Council/Standing Committee Meetings – Frequency and effectiveness of participation. Migration to online meetings?
2. Church Management Committee Meetings Frequency and effectiveness of participation. Migration to online meetings?
3. Church Employees: Full Staff payroll cost in the face of dwindling resources? Rota for Church workforce?
3 4. Church Societies: Most societies’ activities have been on hold to date.
Society interactions amongst its members on most Society chat platforms.
Few virtual meetings (Exco and General meetings) have held to date.
5. Church Ministries: What has been the impact of Church Ministries? What
roles have the Medical and Welfare ministries played at these times?
6. Facilities: The Church premises and facilities have not underutilized. Are
we keeping watch? With reduced income are we keeping same manning levels to maintain the premises?
1. Church Services: Physical gathering of parishioners for two services have been seriously hampered. Adhering to the Covid 19 protocols mean the church nave cannot been filled up. Are we responding by providing to parishioners, online Family Worship Service aired on Facebook and YouTube channel?
2. Prayer Meeting and Bible Study: Physical gathering of parishioners for Prayer Meetings and Bible Study were initially suspended but since resumed. Attendance has been low, since then. What alternatives are being put in place?
3. Eucharistic Service: When churches were locked up churches could not organize Eucharistic services, for parishioners. Attendance is now generally low and social distancing rules apply in the main. Also, the exchanging pleasantries during The Peace is no longer allowed making parishioners look like strangers to one another!
4. Evensong & House Fellowship: With physical gathering of parishioners at its lowest ebb, these activities have literarily been suspended.
5. Burial: Burial services now hold in line with govt directives.
6. Confirmation Classes and Baptism: Confirmation classes and Baptisms have held in some dioceses after the lockdown. These are still in low numbers compared with pre-covid times.
7. Birthday Celebrations and Society Anniversaries: With Government sdirective that social and religious gatherings of parishioners be limited these activities have been carried out with low profile celebrations.
8. Harvest: No doubt the harvest season was affected in 202o, in many churches. And that was the major revenue source for most parishes and Cathedrals.
9. Choir Practice: Maintaining Social distancing and singing with faces all masked up must have brought its on toll on the choir in most churches. Do we still have excited choristers?
10. Guild of Stewards: The Guild of resumed activities once the lockdown was lifted and church services resumed. They have become exposed as
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