Sun | Sep 20, 2020

FOR GOD’S SAKE! - As COVID judgement looms, churches open to new clampdown

Published:Monday | August 10, 2020 | 12:25 AMJason Cross and Rasbert Turner/Gleaner Writer
Worshippers at Shiloh Apostolic Church wear masks and observe social distancing during the Sunday service at Church Street in Kingston.
Worshippers at Shiloh Apostolic Church wear masks and observe social distancing during the Sunday service at Church Street in Kingston.

A Kingston bishop has rebuked fellow pastors for sacrificing the health of Jamaicans by undermining coronavirus laws for financial gain.

Bishop Tony Cousins, of the Christian Worship Centre on Orange Street in Kingston, said on Sunday that he was not averse to the imposition of tighter restrictions on churches on the grounds of safeguarding public health.

“Some of the folks might be worried about the Government shutting us down again, but I am not worried. I am with the Government for the sake of people being safe,” Cousins told The Gleaner.

“We are not the type of church to be caught up with money.”

Churches were ordered, in March, to limit the number of attendees to 10, but that restriction was lifted in May under the proviso of each congregant observing spacing of 40 square feet.

But alarm bells went off last week amid revelations that a pastor who returned from overseas flagrantly flouted coronavirus laws while officiating services at a church in Sandy Bay, Clarendon.

More than a dozen attendees at the church have tested positive for COVID-19, activating a quarantine in Sandy Bay and drawing a threat from the prime minister of tougher measures to be announced on Tuesday.

The Gleaner observed the approximately 20 members of the congregation wearing masks during Sunday’s service yesterday, but the small church made social distancing difficult. A hand-sanitisation station was set up, and temperature checks were being conducted.

CASHING IN ON CROWDS

Cousins’ church uses WhatsApp and Zoom to communicate with young and elderly members alike.

“The Government is not telling us that we cannot serve our God. They are just trying to avoid the growth of the coronavirus,” Cousins said. “Because of the offering, some people want the crowd so they can garner in as much cash as they can.”

Pastor at Outreach Feed My Sheep Ministries on Charles Street in Kingston, Brendalin Little-Brooks, who was spotted sanitising equipment within the church before service on Sunday, said she would understand if the State reimposed the smaller limits on congregations to curb the threat of COVID-19.

Like scores, if not hundreds, of churches islandwide, Feed My Sheep has embraced technology, conducting Zoom meetings on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

“To cut it back down would be a fair decision. What we have seen is that the spread of corona is still evident,” said Little-Brooks.

When the news team visited Shiloh Apostolic Church on Church Street in Fletcher’s Land on Sunday, a few congregants hurriedly fitted on their masks when they noticed photographs being captured.

A deacon there claimed that persons usually complied with the requirements for hand sanitisation and mask wearing.

Churches throughout sections of St Catherine were also observed enforcing compliance with the COVID-19 protocols.

At Jubilee Worship Centre at Valdez Road, congregants had their temperature checked and hands sanitised before entering what used to be a manufacturing facility.

“The church is being blamed for the latest outbreak, so we can’t be too careful. We spray and pray for healing of the nation from COVID-19,” a member said.

At the nearby Calvary Holiness Church, Deacon Alton Burnett was busily administering sanitiser to the hands of 10 persons who were worshipping there.

“We ensure that we pray and worship within the protocol as if one of the members is infected, all can get the virus,” Burnett told The Gleaner.

“We deal with safety here, and we are prepared to do the checks at every gathering.”

The five persons observed at the Faith Standing Church of God were observed complying with the prescribed distance.

“Come get you spray before you go inside,”an elderly lady, who did not gave her name, said.

At the Beulah Missionary in Kitson Town, the interior of the church was sprayed thoroughly before the general Sunday service commenced.

“The church must get clean before the members come worship,” a member told The Gleaner.

Commuters in downtown Kingston generally believe that churches should be in no hurry to increase their visiting numbers.

Oneil Smith said that Christians and other occasional worshippers should stay at home where God can hear them just as well.

“If you believe in God, you can stay a your yard and get holy, and maybe get even holier, too. Don’t watch the gathering,” Smith said.

But his view contrasted with 67-year-old Yvonne Walters, who is a member of East Queen Street Baptist Church. She defended in-person church services .

“The only entertainment I have is to go to church,” said Walters.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com