Church faces dilemma of the ages


Church faces dilemma of the ages

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

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Jamaican Christians, in common with their counterparts across the globe, are wrestling with the fear that they will have to close church doors for an indefinite period, at least until the dreaded novel coronavirus diseases, or COVID-19, is brought under control.

Authorities everywhere are doing what China has done since December last year when the virus emerged in Wuhan — advising citizens to stay home where possible and avoid large gatherings as a means of slowing the spread of the highly contagious disease.

The World Health Organization declared the new virus outbreak a pandemic because of its rapid global spread, which up to Monday had infected more than 169,000 people and killed more than 6,500.

Last Saturday and Sunday, the first major weekend since Jamaica discovered its first confirmed COVID-19 case, followed swiftly by another nine cases, church attendance dropped dramatically.

In what has most likely never been seen before in Jamaica, worshippers were greeted at church doors by gloved and ungloved ushers with bottles of sanitiser which they sprayed on the hands of the faithful on entering the sanctuaries.

At the pace at which the disease is spreading there are fears that even churches which are minded to hold out might have no choice but to close their doors and suspend the greater part of their activities.

Many churches interspersed their services with presentations on COVID-19, telling congregants to scrupulously observe hygiene practices and to keep their distance from people who are coughing and sneezing. The customary hugs and handshakes were also being discouraged.

Ironically, there are few institutions more populated by the elderly than the church. The elderly is the cohort most in danger from COVID-19, as it has a strange affinity for that age group.

In one of the main bastions of Christianity, the United States of America, President Donald Trump yesterday instructed citizens to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people. Even the smallest church has membership well in excess of 10.

The big question for churches now is: How to keep the flock together while they are apart?

Like the rest of society, the church as a group will be forced to change its modus operandi. Much of its traditional practices, some of them dating back centuries, such as sharing bread and wine at communion, baptism, and collecting tithes and offerings by passing the plate will have to be discontinued.

There is the real possibility that, with the flock scattered, many will stray and it will be difficult to bring them back together. That means that some churches, depending on how well organised they are, could have to start over from scratch, at best, or go out of existence, at worst.

Philosophically, there is the view that the one institution which must survive the greatest tragedies that face humanity — storms, pestilence, war and other man-made disasters — should be the church, against whom “the gates of hell shall not prevail”.

Those who have resisted the march of technology will now have to resort to technological means of getting their messages across to worshippers and to provide pastoral care. Churches that were already streaming services, like the Kingston Open Bible Church, will be ahead.

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