Church leaders who are preparing to reopen their churches to welcome worshippers this weekend amid the COVID-19 pandemic are being required to follow the Government’s strict guidelines which have banned the sacrament of communion.
And in a late development, the Anglican Church, the first to impose public health restrictions on its mostly ageing congregation, tonight announced it was pushing back the resumption of church services to June 21 – Father’s Day.
Several church leaders interviewed by Barbados TODAY spoke of several concerns and proposals to adjust the protocols governing the conduct of services, which raised a number of “vague” and “extreme” restrictions on the resumption of public worship.
But the Government appears to be allowing the clock to run out on the public health emergency’s current order, which is due to expire on June 14, to be replaced by a fresh set of rules to take effect the following day.
Among the key restrictions for the resumption of services:
Absolutely no form of communion for the congregation
No choir. Singing to be led by one or two people
Everyone in the church must wear face masks throughout the service, including clerics, who may remove them temporarily to perform certain tasks
Temperature checks with contactless thermometers are also to be recorded on entering worshippers
Air conditioning to be switched off and windows are to be opened to allow natural ventilation
Any special services for over-70s should be exclusive to that age group
Air dryers should be installed in addition to soap and paper towels in church bathrooms
They voiced their concerns about these grey areas to Minister of Labour Colin Jordan. about some of the measures in the guidelines which they argued will severely affect their way of worship. Jordan has been assigned the ecclesiastical affairs ministerial portfolio during the pandemic, But the clerics told Barbados TODAY they are satisfied that their voices were at least heard.
A letter issued by Bishop Michael Maxwell to the Anglican Diocese said: “Due to these grey areas requiring further elucidations or revision, we would work towards the official reopening of our church buildings for regular worship on Sunday, June 21st, 2020.”
“A number of protocols we felt were either ambiguous or too extreme,” the Anglican bishop’s letter to clergy said.
Apostle Dr Lucille Baird of Mount Zion’s Ministries, who attended the three-hour-long virtual meeting on Wednesday afternoon, said the Labour Minister gave the church leaders the assurance that some misunderstandings in the guidelines may be changed by weekend.
But Apostle Baird said Jordan also informed them that while there was a two-week shelf life for the guidelines which ends on June 14, the requirements will have to be followed until that time has passed and the period is reviewed.
She said: “I am satisfied with the outcome of the very interactive meeting. We dealt with all of the concerns that we would have had and the Minister promised to look into them. But of course, he mentioned that at the end of the day he doesn’t have the last say.
“He said some of the things that are not clear, like 70-year-olds not being able to go to church is a misunderstanding and will be cleared up by this weekend because that is not really what is supposed to be said. Seventy-year-olds are allowed to go to church at any time at any service.
“So we have to follow the requirements until anything else is said differently and we have the go-ahead. He reminded us also that all of the things in this protocol have a shelf life of two weeks so by June 14 they will be null and void and we will have new ones so a lot of those things should be behind us by June 14.”
Last Thursday, it was announced that churches and faith-based organisations would be permitted to resume services effective last Monday.
Last Saturday, in an unprecedented weekend issue, the Official Gazette, published on the Government Information Service (GIS) website, outlined the conditions under which services must take place, including the sanitizing of hands, temperature readings, and the wearing of face masks.
The leaders are particularly concerned with the requirements which state that services can last for no longer than an hour and that communion has been banned. Only priests themselves may take communion on behalf of the congregation where the doctrine allows.
In a May 31 letter dispatched to Prime Minister Mia Mottley by religious leaders under the grouping National Network of Pastors and Leaders, evangelical church leaders proposed several adjustments to the guidelines.
These include, that face masks should not be a requirement for officiants and those participating in the conduct of service to allow them to properly execute their duties. They also questioned the directive for the temperatures of all persons attending worship, pointing out that the measure is not required of any private or public sector organization.
The religious leaders also raised strong objection to the order that there be no communion service, insisting that it was a vital element of worship and should, therefore, be included.
They instead offered to use prepackaged communion, allow members to walk with their own communion, or allow congregants to walk with the bread portion of the communion, while the church would serve the wine adhering to safety protocols. But the Government directive maintains there is to be no communion.
Chairman of the Barbados Christian Council (BXC) Major Darrell Wilkinson of the Salvation Army, commended the Labour Minister for accommodating the leaders through hosting what he described as a productive meeting. Major Wilkinson said he was pleased that the concerns raised will be taken into consideration.
Major Wilkinson said: “He [Jordan] said he will go back to the committee and look at it and get back to us as quickly as he can. But the protocols which started on June 1 have to go for two weeks and will change depending on what is happening with the pandemic.
“If it gets better most likely adjustments to the requirements will be facilitated. But I think we should see some changes in the coming weeks, at least by the 15th of this month changes should be in place.”
Barbados TODAY’s calls to Minister Jordan for a comment on the meeting with the clerics had not been returned.