Church takes fight to virus
Declaring that the Church was made for crises such as the coronavirus outbreak, pentecostal pastor the Rev George King charged Christian believers on Sunday to seize opportunities to be a light dispelling the darkness in their communities.
“Your church started in a time of crisis, so, Lord, we were made for war,” King said, framing the health dilemma as a battle narrative, during prayer at the Pentecostal Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church in central Kingston.
Jamaican churches have been hit hard by the pandemic, with social-distancing laws and fears about spread whittling congregations to a fraction of their memberships. Outreach, maintenance, and pastoral upkeep have also taken a dive, with offertory drying up in an economy that has shed tens of thousands of jobs and shuttered numerous businesses.
PenTab, as the Wildman Street church is well known, has not been spared those ravages and has had to pivot to online worship sessions to keep in touch with a significant swathe of its followership.
“All the operations of various activities have been affected, including the church,” Pastor Leroy Laing told The Gleaner.
“We had to organise things so that the membership were able to come out, and so we weren’t able to accommodate everyone on one shift, so what we started to do was to alternate the Sundays. So from A-L will come one Sunday, and the other Sunday, then we would have M-Z,” he said.
Laing admitted that the church was still adapting to the new normal of virtual interaction but said that it was trying to keep other channels open to meet the needs of the community by delivering care packages to residents.
“We try to still maintain our outreach activities. We are also a distribution centre for Food For The Poor, so you know that persons would have come by, like, for foodstuff,” he said.
Jamaica totted up 104 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, bringing overall cases to 9,884. Deaths mounted by two to 231.
PenTab, which is celebrating its 85th anniversary, was founded by the late Mother J.C. Russell, who initially started hosting open-air meetings in Rockfort, east Kingston, until she secured the property at Wildman Street, making it the first branch of the United Pentecostal Church in Jamaica.
“For 85 years, it has been an example to the world, a leading influence in Jamaica and a place of refuge for the hurting and loss in Kingston,” said general superintendent for the United Pentecostal Church International, the Reverend David Bernard.
“Pentecostal Tabernacle is a bright light in a dark world. Because of the church, thousands have come to experience the saving power of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Pentecostalism is a generic term that encompasses Jamaica’s charismatic Evangelicals, marked by shrieks of hallelujahs, emphasis on speaking in tongues, and noisy live-wire services. But fundamentalist Pentecostalism diverges from that umbrella primarily on the basis of an insistence on a ‘Jesus-only’ dogma and strict baptismal rites.
Jamaica’s last census, in 2011, showed Jesus-only Pentecostals as one of the largest denominations in the island, recording 295,195 adherents.
Former pastor Winston Stewart has described the church’s existence as a gift but said that reaching that milestone was no easy task.
“The road travelled was not without diversity. Some portions were smooth, rocky, steeped, slippery, and winding. This diversity resulted in contrasting experiences of joy, sorrow, grief and pain, success and failure, victory and defeat, triumph and tragedy,” he said.