LUCEA, Hanover — There were mixed reactions yesterday from ministers of religion here in western Jamaica to Government’s decision to remove the limit on the number of worshippers allowed inside churches, but with strict protocols, for a 14-day trial, starting this weekend.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who made the announcement on Monday during a digital press conference from Jamaica House, also said community bars will be allowed to open at 11:00 am, as of Tuesday, May 19, for a period of two weeks, also with strict protocols.
Under the new protocol for churches — which were previously required to have a maximum of 10 people in attendance, maintain the required social distancing and required congregants to have hands sanitised before entry — churches must now do a temperature check on everyone entering the sanctuary, have a sanitisation station at the entrance, maintain social distancing of six feet, and have members of the congregation wearing masks. In addition, churches were asked not to assemble a choir.
Custos of Westmoreland Reverend Hartley Perrin, who pastors an Anglican church in the community of Petersfield in the parish, said that while his church is “feeling the pinch” as a result of limitations imposed since the COVID-19 pandemic, he is not in agreement with the reopening of churches at this time.
“My church is suffering as a result of the fact that we are not able to meet as we normally would. However, I am not so sure that the church [should] have got the priority in terms of reopening,” he argued.
Prime Minister Holness had, however, stressed Monday that churches were never ordered closed as they only faced a limit on the number of people allowed to attend.
“If it is predicated on the opening of the economy, I can’t understand why the church is seen as a part of the opening of the economy. Two areas that have been closed — the bar and the church — I am not in agreement with [the reopening],” added the clergyman.
Custos Perrin pointed out that while pressure might be on the Government to reopen the economy, he had a challenge with the reopening of bars as, at some point, patrons in bars may become lax while drinking, and also will have to remove their masks to drink, which could heighten the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
“Why is it that a place that facilitates the breakdown of discipline is the first place that is being opened up? I am of the view that because we want to open up the bar, it will look bad, so, we open up the church,” argued Custos Perrin.
He added that while the church may find it easier to practise proper hygiene and social distancing, in a number of churches, the congregation is made up of many senior citizens who are vulnerable.
As of yesterday, the country had recorded 507 cases of the novel coronavirus, nine deaths and 100 recoveries.
Custos Perrin made it clear that while the opening of the church building is important, this should not take precedence over generating life in the economy.
Pastor of Calvary Gospel Assembly Church of God in Hanover, Rev Revern Grant, said he was not in a rush to go back to the sanctuary. The Government, he argued, should have waited a little longer.
“I believe it is too soon. It could continue to go on to see what is best. Not because we are in Hanover and there isn’t a case here, then we could jump up and say it is fine, but we have to look at a general thing. The smaller congregation might say, well, fine, it is okay for us, but then, we have to look on a wider scale… the larger congregation,” argued Rev Grant.
President of West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Pastor Glen Samuels, meanwhile, argued that while the move allows for the gathering of more individuals, there is the need to maintain all protocols that are currently being practised.
“I believe that it allows for a few more persons entering the church building itself. But I think that we have to be careful to make sure that we maintain all that we have been practising in terms of the all the protocols, such as hand sanitisation,” argued Pastor Samuels.
He said the move by Government to remove the limit on churches is an indication of a phase beginning, which is welcomed, noting that worship is more than what happens within four walls.
“The congregational worship strengthens the university and the fellowship of believers,” he argued.
Rev Eric Malcolm, who pastors Grey Ground New Testament Church of God in Manchester, and who is currently living in Trelawny, welcomed the Government’s decision, pointing out that it is a move in the right direction.
“My view is that it should open a long time. There shouldn’t be any form of closure because it is only God alone that can deliver us from this pandemic. So, it is a step in the right direction, and it is a step in the right order,” said Rev Malcolm.
However, the minister, who is a guidance counsellor, and who was the minister of churches in Hanover before being transferred to Manchester, pointed to the importance of following social and hygienic guidelines set out by the Government.
“As a church as well, we need to be responsible and adhere to the measures from the technocrats,” he added.
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