After coronavirus: Will the Church still be the same?
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated social distancing and the consequent shutdown of some high-risk places including churches in Nigeria, clergymen have come up with alternative methods to ensure their congregations’ spiritual life remains intact. These include online worshipping and the use of social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and websites, among others, to relay spiritual messages. But beyond this, what are church leaders doing to alleviate the suffering of members at this period? CHRIS IREKAMBA reports.
‘I’ve Directed Our Leaders To Ensure That Members’ Needs Are Met’
(Rev. (Dr.) Felix Omobude, President, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN)
The whole world is facing a challenge, and the Church has to respond in her own peculiar way. Church activities are no longer the way they used to be. The church is showing understanding, being a part of the global community. We thank God for the Internet and all other social media platforms that we use. But we must not forget that majority of our people live in the rural area and so many of them are not aware of the Internet, live streaming or whatever. The church is only using these because they are the only available alternative, though not that viable. We pray and hope that this whole thing will be over in no distant future and life will return to what God ordained it to be.
The whole thing is impacting churches definitely. All businesses have been affected, including churches. The church is not a garden of angels, but a garden of human beings. But all these notwithstanding, we believe that all things work together for good for those who believe in Christ. So, we will depend on the promises of God’s Word.
Regarding what the church is doing to assist members. Of course, this is a time the church cannot close its eyes to the cry of many that don’t have anything to eat. I just issued a circular to all our leaders and I know they will comply, as we don’t know what will happen in the days ahead. I told them to respond positively to the needs of the vulnerable in our midst, and I’m sure they are doing that already.
Naturally, we are missing a lot because the Palmist said: “I was happy when they say unto me let us go into the house of the Lord.” The church is a family and the family is not meeting the way they used to. Watching your pastor preach on television, YouTube or whatever is not the same as participating in the actual service. It can never be same, but we thank God for alternative platforms. I’m sure so many people miss going to church, though there are those who probably are not so church-friendly and they feel it is okay by them. But there is this majority, whose greater part of their life is connected to the church.
‘We Have A Welfare Package For Members’
(Most Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Chukwuma, Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province (Anglican Communion)
It’s very unfortunate that it is happening now that we are moving toward Easter celebration. One of the effects is that it is demoralising spiritually, and it is also going to affect church’s finances. Many people will be discouraged and I want to say that it is unfair to shutdown church activities. They told us to observe social distancing, which many of us complied with. It’s difficult because pastors cannot come to church and you expect them to be idle. Even the churches have to be open for priests to conduct services online or whatever. But people who come to church should not be stopped. I think the church should be opening partially for those who want to come and cry to God, because this is the time people need to come together to pray. I believe if the authorities want God to answer prayer for this Coronavirus to go quickly, then churches should not be shutdown totally. Otherwise, it will be difficult for people to cry unto God, as that is the only avenue through which they can petition God concerning the virus. So, I advise that on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, people should be allowed, albeit minimally, to cry to God over the virus. But if you shut the doors of churches, then you are shutting the doors of mercy and pardon totally. It is the sin of the world that has caused this confusion, and God won’t be happy if churches are completely shut.
Aside the spiritual demoralisation and discouragement, people will not be so comfortable to go to church on Good Friday, Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday. Most of us have organised our priests; we will do it on their behalf and if people still come around, we will not drive them away. Personally, I am not in support of churches being shut down totally. It is not fair and spiritually, it is an abomination at this time of resurrection.
Here at Enugu diocese, we have a welfare package to assist those who have no food and money. It is the church’s palliative measure for the members. The Church should not be quiet at this time. Rather, churches should have welfare packages for their members who are in need.
Inasmuch as we appreciate government’s good intention, efforts should be made to also assist the Church. With the kind of money we hear that government is spending, they should be able to help us contribute to the welfare packages we have for our members. Government should help in providing some health materials, such as sanitisers. On whether the church will be the same after COVID-19, I assure you, it will even come out stronger because people’s intercession will make the disease to go faster. What all this is telling us is that we should get closer to God and repent. It is during tribulation that God touches people’s hearts, so they will know Him.
‘True Christians Will Not Be Discouraged’
(Pastor Oladele Bank-Olemoh, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM)
The church is shutdown for now and the state government’s directive is very clear. So, there is no physical gathering, unlike before. And to reach our people wherever they are, we have online services.
I want to say that we are not missing anything, because the church is a body of Christ. All is well. We are not missing anything, because true Christians will not be discouraged; so we leave everything in God’s hand. He knows today and tomorrow, as well as what will happen in the nearest future.
I cannot talk for other churches, but be rest assured that our church is doing something to take care of our people.
‘Each Parish Is Mandated To Provide Packages For Parishioners’
(His Grace, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, Archbishop of Lagos)
I think the fact of the matter is that everyone recognises the need for the steps that have been taken to ensure that the virus does not spread faster than it has done so far. We know what makes it to spread is physical contact and so, everyone accepts that suspending worshipping in public is a step in the right direction.
In the first instance, the step was to ensure that people are not exposed to any danger. God forbid a whole group of people would be wiped away on account of the pandemic. We know also that this step is necessary because our health system cannot cope, if the virus is allowed to spread. So, I think everybody accepts and understands that this is necessary.
It’s a divine providence that the online channels are available. And I think it enables people connect with their churches and with their faith. Presently, it is the best thing to do. As for whether it will have a negative effect, I think it is only those who never really had deep faith in God that would be affected by the occurrence. In my own thinking, it shouldn’t have any negative effect.
My position is that, if you expose your church members to the risk of contracting the infection, you bear the responsibility for whatever happens to them. And if the virus spreads further than it is now, those who open their churches to members should be held accountable, if they continue to flout the regulation. And in any case, the God that we worship knows that we need to be alive to worship Him together. Unfortunately, we can’t gather together in a group to worship Him right now. But He is a merciful God and will accept the prayers we offer through the alternative channels. So, those who continue to flout the order need to be brought to book for putting people’s lives and public health in danger.
At the Catholic Church, all our parishes have been instructed. Indeed, many are already packaging things to support their members. Each parish is mandated through their welfare committee to ensure that packages are made available to parishioners.
For instance, at the Holy Cross here, even people who are not Catholics are being supported and given things put together by the church. We are also making contact with the state government to see in what ways we can partner them, perhaps, make our health facilities available for use, as well as organise supplies for the state government. In fact, this time should certainly increase the urge in people to desire God more than ever.The mass is a very important part of our lives in the Catholic Church, and so people feel very uncomfortable that they can’t gather together again. I’m sure people are looking forward to when this will be over, so that we can come together again to worship God like before. People who are able to find means of making their contributions to the church will do so, and for those who cannot, life goes on. Sometimes, things happen that prevent the normal way of going about life, and this is one of them.