Mon | Dec 6, 2021

Faith-based institutions dig in for COVID’s long haul

Published:Sunday | September 19, 2021 | 4:35 PMMark Titus - Gleaner Writer
File Photos 
Tariq Azeem, imam of Ahmadiyya Muslims Jama’at.
File Photos Tariq Azeem, imam of Ahmadiyya Muslims Jama’at.
Tariq Azeem, imam of Ahmadiyya Muslims Jama’at.
Tariq Azeem, imam of Ahmadiyya Muslims Jama’at.
Adventist Pastor Charles Brevett.
Adventist Pastor Charles Brevett.
Bishop Conrad Pitkin, senior pastor of Faith Tabernacle Assemblies of God.
Bishop Conrad Pitkin, senior pastor of Faith Tabernacle Assemblies of God.

With the COVID-19 pandemic lasting longer than local religious leaders had anticipated, some groups are reshaping plans to cope with restrictions, outreach and supporting each other in a new way for a while longer. And while some church and Islamic leaders have urged their flock to take the COVID-19 jab, others like the Rastafarians are scared.

“COVID-19 has revealed a paradox in worship,” says Pastor Charles Brevett, a respected voice in the West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists. “When we were able to come together, many people stayed home even if they were not sick, but now they are constrained to stay home, they are yearning to come to church.”

There are more than 700 Seventh-Day Adventist churches locally, with nearly 350,000 members, and while fellowship is a crucial component, the restriction on the number of worshippers has seen the church making greater use of its auxiliaries to offer emotional support and guidance from the congregants.

“Because of COVID, we have to be doing a lot of legwork, calling, networking, and arranging support groups, so we are able to stay on top of the situations,” says Brevett, a man of the cloth since 1985. “One of the challenges with church is that people do not come out and talk about their issues; they prefer to suffer in silence and I am concerned.”

He admits that the pandemic has outlived the church’s projection, which could force a revision of its outreach strategies to relate to the new realities.

“We unwittingly had a timeline in our minds,” he told The Gleaner. “We never expected that September 2021, we would still be dealing with COVID, so the short-term measures that we had in place must be revamped … . We have to get back to the drawing board for the long haul.”

The use of social media in ministry was nothing new for Bishop Conrad Pitkin, the senior pastor of Faith Temple Assemblies of God in Montego Bay, St James, who established ‘The Hour of Victory’ on national TV and Faith Broadcasting Network on local cable, but the pandemic has brought challenges never before seen in his 47 years in ministry.

“Persons don’t understand the kind of pastoral care that must be given to the church community. It goes beyond just a regular church service,” said Pitkin, who is also the custos of St James. “It has been difficult; it brings mental pressure on the people who are home.”

Since the Government-imposed restriction for no more than 20 persons present for services, only the technical team is on location to handle streaming on a Sunday to the more than 1,000-strong membership.

Pitkin says the pastor must adapt to the new norm in relating to his constituents, and must be sensitive to the needs of the total man. And, although operational expenses have increased significantly while contributions have dwindled, Pitkin says support to the needy in his congregation will continue.

Muslims urged to take COVID vaccine, Rastas scared of jab

Tariq Azeem, imam of Ahmadiyya Muslims Jama’at, noted that Friday is the primary day of worship, when a larger congregation would gather to pray.

Traditionally, practising Muslims pray five times per day, standing shoulder to shoulder, but social distancing is now observed as they adhere to the Government’s COVID-19 containment protocols.

“It is not mandatory for someone to go to the mosque if it is too far. Prayer services can be carried out at home,” Azeem explained. “Other than that, we have our regular meeting online via Zoom on Fridays, as well as classes for new converts each Sunday.”

The Muslim leadership began educating its members about the virus and the need to observe the protocols from the initial stage of the pandemic, he said.

“‘We have to take this seriously’ is the message that we have tried to give to our members and guests who would visit, and, if possible, go take the vaccine if there is no underlying health issues,” Azeem told The Gleaner. “I myself got vaccinated as soon as the people in my age bloc was allowed, because we have to do what we can and fight it together.”

Revivalism is a colourful expression of worship that blends different denominational beliefs with modified African practices, but the pandemic has put a damper on some of its rituals.

Popular revivalist and leader of the Mount Carmel Revival Mission Church in Port Maria, St Mary, Bishop Sharon Grant Henry, has pivoted to social media with her programme ‘The Church Online (UK) Daily Word’.

Grant Henry said that while she has not sought to influence her congregation to take the vaccine, she has advised them to pray and make their own decision.

The Rastafarian community gathers mainly for celebration, but while they do not support the use of the vaccine, members must observe the protocols established.

“The Rastafarian don’t deal with the vaccine, but observing the protocol is a must,” Lewis Brown, public relations officer of the Coral Gardens Benevolent Society, told The Gleaner. “Boosting the immune system is a must and there are herbs available that helps, but this vaccine … , we are very scared of it.”