Christy Anyanwu and Olakunle Olafioye
More than two months after the suspension of religious gathering in the country, Christian leaders say they are ready for the resumption of services in their churches, expressing determination to support the government in the battle against COVID-19.
The outbreak of Coronavirus in Nigeria in February and its concomitant spread weeks later had constrained the government to ban large gatherings, including businesses, social and religious gatherings, as part of efforts aimed at containing the spread of the virus.
However, with the government gradually relaxing the lockdown imposed on the country, Sunday Sun gathered that efforts to ease the restrictions on religious activities in churches have been in top gear with the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, spearheading the move.
President of the body, Samson Ayokunle, in a statement last Thursday, revealed that discussions were ongoing with the Federal Government for the reopening of churches. The move, he noted, “would allow congregational cry unto God over the pandemic.”
According to Ayokunle, the government had given the body the go-ahead to draw up guidelines for worship in keeping with the COVID-19 containment requirements and submit the same for approval.
The CAN leader who expressed hope that religious activities in churches could start in the first week of June, released a 10-point guideline to be presented to the government, which if approved, would guide the operations of worship centres in the country.
“Churches should disinfect their premises first before they reopen for services. Churches should provide alcohol-based sanitizers, infra-red thermometers, soap and water in their premises to be supervised by medical professionals in the church. All worshippers must either use soap to wash their hands or apply sanitizers,” Ayokunle said.
He further explained that the measures to be adopted by each congregation include: “The temperature of every worshipper must be taken before admission into the church auditorium and people with high temperature should not be allowed into the church, but advised to go and see their doctors.
“Every worshipper must wear face mask. Social distancing should be observed in the sitting arrangement with one meter gap between two worshippers. One and a half hour service is enough for a start. There should be a gap of 25 or 30 minutes between one service and another where there are multiple services to avoid crowd.
“Churches can make use of classrooms and multipurpose halls for services where available, especially in big churches in order to accommodate more worshippers at a go. Closed circuit TV screens and speakers can be used for those who are not inside the main auditorium.
“Handshaking and hugging should be avoided before, during and after the service. Prayers should be offered to God for a speedy end of COVID-19 and quick recovery of all that are afflicted by the pandemic. Prayers should also be offered for the frontline workers for divine protection.
“The CAN chapter in each state and local government should constitute a committee together with law enforcement agencies in their areas to enforce full compliance. Such civilian compliance officials should be given backing by the governments to apprehend those who contravene the worship regulations and hand them over to law enforcement agents.
“Churches observing Holy Communion service should use separate cup for each participant.”
Speaking in an interview with Sunday Sun on the development, Chairman, Lagos State chapter of the association, Apostle Alexander Bamgbola, said that the setting in the church necessitates the need to be cautious in the face of the pressure being exerted for the reopening of worship centres in the country.
His words: “People are comparing the market with the church or mosque. No, it doesn’t make sense. People in the church sit down together closely, in the mosque the same thing, but in the market, you don’t need to sit down. You can walk around, buy whatever you want to buy and go away, you are not locked up like in the church or mosque.
“That is why the government is very careful. And the way Coronavirus moves, all it is looking for are people who are seated together or a crowd that is closely knit together, where one person breathes out another and that’s it. That is why the government is very careful. We are anxious to have churches and mosques open. In Lagos, the Christian leaders and Muslim leaders speak to each other quite often. We see the need to be very careful despite the fact that many people in the church are abusing us; some ministers are angry and want the churches to reopen.
“No amount of noise anyone can make will make any difference until all of us agree. The Bible commands us to obey the government that is in authority, the Bible commands us to pray for those in authority that we may live in peace. Those two things are what we must do and that is what the leadership of the church is doing. When the government is doing anything they tell us the reasons for what they are doing.”
Pastor Josiah Oladele of Cherubim & Seraphim Church, Altar of Grace, Lagos, said that the church is ready to collaborate with the government in the battle against COVID-19.
Oladele, who commended the government’s move to lift the ban on religious gathering said thatevery right thinking Nigerian, going by unpalatable experience of the COVID-19 lockdown, must join hands with government in the search for an end to the pandemic.
His words: “I have seen the proposal by the Christian Association of Nigeria to the government as part of the conditions for lifting the embargo on congregational worship and I believe the guidelines, as far as I am personally concerned, should not pose problem to anybody desirous of seeing the end of the virus in Nigeria.
“Social distancing, wearing of face mask, applying sanitizer and living hygienically, all these have gradually become part of our daily life in the last couple of weeks. So taking all these measures to church settings shouldn’t be too difficult for us. What perhaps I will like to be added to these guidelines is that Christian leaders should encourage sick church members to seek medical help in hospital rather than coming to church for spiritual solutions on health issues. We can support church members with prayers while they are recuperating in the hospital.”
In his own submission, Rev Ladi Thompson, said that the issues at stake loom much larger and have a global impact that is still unfolding.
He called for collaborative efforts of all and sundry if the battle must be won.
His words: “If we are to survive the days ahead there has a to be an all-hands-on-deck approach and cooperation rather than competition between the state and the church, this should be of paramount importance. The church is the ground and pillar of truth and there are many things the government is struggling with that could be better executed from the platform of the church and the mosque.
“We must remember that the future of the next generation is the prime concern and the government is only limited to the physical and mental wellbeing while the church is reckoning with the spiritual, the physical, as well as the mental wellbeing of Nigerians. We can safely say that the COVID-19 disruption will eventually bring about a global economic and financial collapse in the days ahead and Nigeria will be plunged into darkness if we don’t prepare ahead since the sophistication of our financial institutes are highly suspect.
“To avoid panic and extreme reactions we must give the people hope and an expectation of a secure future and such a vision is best established by the cooperation of the church and state. There is every possibility that the pandemic might still explode and that would end the present bliss that ignorance breeds. Desperation mixed with the fear of death is not something that politics or governance can handle because most Lagosians and indeed Nigerians are not even on the financial banking grid.
“I don’t want to speak above the head of most people, but this COVID-19 pandemic is just another evidence of the dynamic tensions between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. The kingdom of man through its institutes of medical research is looking for a vaccine, but our church archives tell us that the biblical cure to every pandemic has been proven time and time again. This is what John G. Lake demonstrated during the pandemic of the early 1900s. He never needed a nose mask or protective clothing and it was medically tested and proven that his body could not be infected because the deadly pathogens died the moment they came in contact with his flesh.”