“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2
You don’t need to be infected to show symptoms of COVID-19 fatigue.
We all want to put this unexpected, crippling crisis behind us, and the sooner the better.
Children are ready to return to the classroom and catch up with their friends. Workers long to return to earning their bread. People want to get out and let their hair down; families want to get together at the beach or park. Businesses are eager for customers.
And the faithful are anxious to return to church for solace and fellowship.
As Government further eased COVID-19 restrictions a week ago, churches were given the green light to resume services but with strict guidelines including a maximum of 20 people, the wearing of masks and physical distancing – six feet apart.
This triggered swift reaction from churches who, like many businesses and services, had to go online.
But like everything else, some churches are growing weary of cyberspace and have teamed up to petition the Government to reopen churches for regular services.
The group, the National Network of Pastors and Leaders, said it has been invited by the Prime Minister to suggest the maximum capacity of churches while adhering to physical distancing.
The network’s spokesman Apostle Reverend David Durant said: “While we have respected the rules regarding the numbers in the congregation as we do live streaming broadcasts – 10 people at first, and eventually 20 – ideally we want to see churches reopening full time, but respecting the social distancing protocols in the process.
“We are putting together a proposal, which the Prime Minister requested, to ascertain how many people each building can hold in a way that they can respect the rules.
Ironically, up north in the US churches today got the green light to open their doors this weekend from no less than President Donald Trump himself. Never mind the still escalating infection and death rates from COVID-19, and mounting evidence of loud singing and talking as efficient aerosol spreaders of coronavirus.
Trump, who enjoys strong support from white evangelicals declared: “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.
“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united.”
His controversial decision ignored the warning of medical experts that in-person religious services have been hotbeds for transmission of the virus. Reports from North California tell a grim tale of a person who attended a Mother’s Day service at a church in Northern California that defied the governor’s closure orders and later tested positive, exposing more than 180 churchgoers. The first person to die from COVID-19 in West Virginia infected about one in three members of the congregation in one church service. And then there was a choir practice at a church in Washington state that was labelled by the Centres for Disease Control as an early “super-spreading” event.
Throughout the world, the pandemic has claimed the lives of priests and parishioners alike.
Hardly can anyone deny that religious services are vital to believers. Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples have a critical role to play in our society, not just for a two or three-hour service but for spiritual guidance and inspiration.
Still, one would expect that over the last few weeks, church leaders and members alike must have realized that the God they choose to worship is not confined to four walls, and that virus is not religious.
Their very belief systems are based on the notion that the Divine is alive, omnipresent and dwells within.
The closure of places of worship and indeed the limited re-opening of their doors is not an issue of religious freedom nor should it be guided by the false equivalence that if rum shops are open, then so should the churches.
The church is still the church when online.
Christians, the majority of our population, are not called to foolishly act like snake charmers, insisting on defying danger as proof of their faith.
They are called to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
Closing or reopening places of worship is not a moral issue but a matter of public health.
With no vaccine in sight, the best defence against COVID-19 remains proper hand hygiene, wearing of masks and keeping distance from each other, preferably at home. Sacrifice is an essential article of faith to believers; this is a lively and life-affirming sacrifice.
Soon the time will be right to safely return to the buildings and for the televangelists to fill their television screens with masses of the faithful. Now is not that time.
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