Halleluia, the doors of church auditoriums have again been thrown open for congregational worship, though there are still some reasonable restrictions. Yes, members of congregations may not hug and shake hands, in compliance with COVID-19 protocols imposed by the government to curb community transmission of the disease, but definitely the loud voice of praise and thanksgiving to the Almighty God will be heard today as the Christian faithful gather to worship.
Expectedly, there will be smiles on the faces of the congregants, who were not numbered among the dead, killed by COVID-19 in the four months that the ban on congregation worship lasted. With face masks adorning their faces, congregants will exchange greetings in the new style of ‘kissing’ with elbows and feet. Yes, social distancing, use of sanitizers and hand washing have become compulsory and the new normal, they are all for the good.
Though the closure of churches may have placed serious burdens on pastors, who were used to physically ministering to the needs of their members, but the restrictions were well intentioned. This compelled them to adopt new ways of sustaining the spiritual fire burning in their members – so they adopted electronic, virtual methods of reaching out to them via SMS, video chat, WhatsApp, Telegram and television. This act of compliance with a reasonable government directive was a clear demonstration of obedience to the biblical injunction to show respect to state authorities – as long as such compliance does not indicate a disregard of God and, therefore, amounts to blasphemy, which is almost like having a god beside the Lord God.
It is quite significant that the compliance of the religious bodies (churches and mosques) contributed to the efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 like harmattan wildfire. The churches clearly deserve to be congratulated for complying.
Congregants themselves also deserve to be congratulated for realizing that the church is in the heart and not in the building. Most of them devised other means of worshipping. Families raised altars unto God and converted their sitting rooms into proper worshipping centres. In admiration, I watched my senior colleague, Alhaji Ismail Omipidan, who is now the Chief Press Secretary to Osun State Governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, who is a devout Muslim lead his young family to worship Allah in his sitting room during the Eid-el-Maulud celebrations. Ordinarily, the Eid prayer should have held in a Central Mosque as part of the celebration.
Now zoom to the home of a lawyer and Senior Partner of Selina Chambers, Mr. Annie Ekeh, to watch his beautiful family hold a rapturous worship service in their sitting room. It was a sight to behold. Also elsewhere, a widowed mother gathered her four children in their sitting room, and the 12-year-old last son became the presiding pastor, the oldest son taught them Sunday school while the two daughters served as the choristers and led the praise-and-worship session. All these pleasant things happened across the country, in various homes. It is very possible that many of these worshippers received the baptism of the Holy Ghost and became empowered to preach the gospel of salvation with more boldness. Probably, if the COVID-19 pandemic had compelled the closure of churches, these child-ministers of the gospel would not have discovered the inert gift of God in them. Clearly, COVID-19 restriction brought about much good.
Again, I congratulate the special congregants who remembered their bishops, imams and pastors and prayed for them. And those that were able minister to the material needs of their full time pastors deserve commendation too. The Lord God will replenish your pockets. Church members who also remembered their fellow worshippers, individuals who heard crying voices, who saw teary eyes of hunger and hardship, brothers and sisters in the Diaspora who extended a helping hand, churches that took care of the retired and aged ones among their congregation, I say kudos to you all worthy men and women. Then again, church leaders who reached out to their indigent members with palliative packages, you showed yourselves to be embodiment of Christian love.
Now, for those who felt the governments was playing pranks, deceiving her citizens and, therefore, ignored the need to observe the COVID-19 precautionary measures and thereby contributed to community transmission, you clearly did the country a disservice. You are without excuse. Those in political leadership, whether at federal, state or local government levels, who stole funds meant for the supply of COVID-19 palliatives to the poor or embezzled the funds appropriated for the battle against Coronavirus, you need a genuine repentance because a simple adage says, united we stand, divided we fall. Really, by causing shortage of personal protective equipment vitally needed by frontline health workers, blood of those who died of COVID-19 is on your hands.
The continuing easing of the lockdown is an indication that the spread of the Coronavirus has been slowed down, but it has not gone away. No, it’s very much around. The battle is not over and the war has not been won. Without a doubt, lives and the economic system have been disrupted, but people have learnt to appreciate humanity, relationships have become healthier, families bonded better and businesses introduced new modus operandi.
It is pertinent to ask, what lessons were learnt from the lockdown? Though some members may have backslidden and became lazy about spiritual things, much good still came out of the lockdown. It has become crystal clear that people can truly worship God in the privacy of their homes, after all many do so morning and every night. For churches that choke their members with programmes that keep them almost perpetually in church, the lesson is that they must now let their members have more breathing space, to bond more with their family members. They must not continue to bombard them with programmes.
There have been four months of caution and restriction on some preachers who embarked on emotional blackmail on their members. Some people have realized that worship and programmes could be done in just one hour instead of the previous service that took the whole day. Churches can make do without mounting high powered loud speakers, blasting the eardrum with splitting sound in the neighbourhood. Some churches used the period of the ban on large congregation worship to improve their electronic evangelism efforts, and are achieving good results with the help of the Holy Ghost. May their success in this regard to grow and immensely help to win more over to the path of salvation and eternity with Christ increase.
Dear Nigerian pastors and other ministers of the Gospel of Christ, kindly know that the four months lockdown on churches has been a major eye opener for all. Many people have tasted the other side of life and discovered who they are without pastors. Therefore, please do not begin to wield powers and make claims of spiritual healing of COVID-19 patients. The pastors who are in this habit should desist, as such claims would ridicule and embarrass them. Instead, let the focus be on the goodness and mercy of God capped with a grateful heart of thanksgiving.