With the pandemic coronavirus still ravaging the whole world, some churches in Nigeria, have resorted to online services as a way of circumventing the scourge. Here, SEYI SOKOYA chronicles how churches are being limited and the steps they are consequently taking.
Congregating is of the essence among religious worshippers all over the world. During this period, people of like minds, irrespective of their different backgrounds, gather for the celebration of their common faith.
In Christendom like in other religions, church attendance is central as this underlines the extent to which the Great Commission has been carried out. The Good Book stresses the importance of congregating. In Hebrew 10 vs 25, the Bible enjoins Christians not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
But the outbreak of the coronavirus across the world is putting that in check, at least for now, since large gatherings potentially spell the spread of the virus among hitherto unaffected populace.
The coronavirus pandemic is obviously coming at a critical moment for Christians in Nigeria like any countries of the world as they need more engagements in the church to boost their spiritual lives during this Lenten period.
Already, two of the states where coronavirus have been reported in the country, Lagos and Ogun states, have swung into action by suspending religious and social gatherings of over 50 persons till further notice as a precautionary measure to curtail the virus from spreading.
Since this directive was handed down by these two state governments, the Church at large has been on the edge for the need to heed the directive in order to avoid any uncontrollable situation that could be traced to the activities of churches. To this end, while some churches are already mooting ideas to address the issue, some have taken drastic steps to avoid any messy case.
TribuneChurch also gathered that the fear of the deadly virus has also halted many church activities such as scheduled revival programmes, crusades, religious summits, missionary tours and Christian pilgrimage.
However, the decision to control social gatherings by government has not gone down well with the Church as some clerics have expressed worries about the decision which will in effect disconnect church leaders and members physically until situation improves.
As result, it is believed that some churches, especially those that don’t have the sophisticated e-offering facilities, for instance, would suffer some monetary losses as the government’s pronouncements might affect the churches because of the low or non-payment of tithes and offerings while the situation lasts.
TribuneChurch investigation shows that virtually all churches, especially well-established denominations have announced to their followers to switch to their online platforms as they shut down auditoriums across Lagos, just as they have embarked on massive online sensitization in order to educate members from contracting the disease.
Despite adhering to the directive of the government, churches, especially those with the large followers, including the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Day Star, the Fountain of Life Church, Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC), the Anglican Communion, Lagos Diocese, Covenant Centre Church, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM), Celestial Church of Christ (CCC), Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), House on the Rock Church and Harvesters International Christian Centre, among others have started to adopt other methods to go about their activities, while some have publicly held special programmes to rebuke the disease.
The president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and president, Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC), Reverend Samson Ayokunle, directed that all services and gathering at church base should be in small cell groups not more than 40 in number or as decided by the state government and that all planned group or conference should be suspended.
In the release, Ayokunle noted that pastors should preach and disseminate information online to members and use skype or any other online service providers to conduct services like naming or any similar function.
“Burial service should be conducted in line with the instruction on normal church service, joint contribution, tithes and offerings should be done from the different small groups. Sanitizers should be used and be put at each worship centre, homes and offices. Hugging, handshake and other physical contacts should be avoided. All Baptist churches should join the rest churches of CAN to observe prayer against coronavirus on Sunday 22 and 29,” he added.
In an effort to comply with both the Lagos and Ogun State governments’ directive to put the spread of coronavirus in check, the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), has altered services in its parishes in the two states.
According to the church’s Assistant General Overseer (Administration and Personnel) Pastor Folorunsho Odesola via an internal memo, the leadership of the church has amended its worship schedules as a precautionary step towards managing the spread of coronavirus.
“Parishes that have an average attendance of above 50 members are directed to make use of their House Fellowship Centres to run simultaneous services with the main church,” Odesola said.
TribuneChurch also gathered that the General Overseer of the church, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, has embarked on a sensitisation tour as well as educated his household and members on the need to keep their environment healthy as part of precautionary measures.
The Senior Pastor of Day Star Christian Center, Pastor Sam Adeyemi has also complied with the directive of the Lagos State government to restrict public gatherings for religious activities with more than 50 worshippers over the COVID-19 pandemic. This was made known in a statement he signed informing members that the church in all its locations, including Lekki, Ikorodu and Badagry centres have been shut from physical gathering for worshippers till further notice.
He noted that the church henceforth would hold online services on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays only on the platforms.
Excerpt of the three-page statement reads: “We will recall that the Lord gave us a word this year: REST! He, being all-knowing, saw there would be storms, and has been instructing us that as long as we listen to Him and obey Him, we will be in alignment with His plans and we will find rest as He intervenes on our behalf.”
Also, Pastor Taiwo Odukoya of the Fountain of Life Church took to the social media to inform members of the church last Wednesday of the cancellation of the popular Thursday programme of the church tagged: “Thursday Showers” just as he noted that the online channels of the church are accessible for recourses to feed faiths.
The Methodist Church also welcomed government’s decision though authorities of the church expressed sadness on the suspension of the activities of the church in line with government’s order.
According to the release, “We would encourage people who lead services to think about how worship might be offered in different ways, including online and using worship at home sheets. During this difficult time when people might want to spend time in prayer in their Methodist Church, local trustees should consider whether it is possible to open up their churches to enable people to come and pray or sit quietly, perhaps offering prayer stations as a point of reflection with precautions around physical distancing.
“Suspending services means that we advise that baptisms will not take place in public worship and if you have a wedding planned in a Methodist Church you should speak to your minister. While funerals may still take place, we would advise that the number of people attending is limited as per the government’s advice,” it added.
In response to the outbreak, Catholic churches in Nigeria have the announced precautionary measures to be adopted by parishes and parishioners across the country.
The step was taken after the first case of the virus was reported in the Lagos Archdiocese in South-West Nigeria, through Archbishop Adewale Martins in a statement release on the coronavirus scourge. The Archdiocese said shaking of hands are forbidding at Mass. Some of the activities during the Lenten period were also suspended by the archdiocese, directing parishioners to pray the Stations of the Cross privately.
The archdiocese also directed that Holy Communion be received on the palms instead of directly in the mouth. Use of hand sanitizers was encouraged and the use of holy water fonts forbidden.
The leadership of the church of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM), have joined the leagues of church that have complied to the directives of the state governments, the church announced the closure of church activities of all church branches in restricted areas due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Assistant General Overseer (Administration), Pastor Gbesan Adebambo, made this known at the church’s headquarters, Onike Iwaya, Lagos, adding, “In strict compliance with the government’s directive, we hereby instruct that no services, including deliverance ministrations must hold in any of MFM branches at all levels in the region under your supervision until further notice. Likewise, all house fellowship meetings at any of the centres are postponed until further notice.”
“All members are to engage in 30 days personal prayer retreat, beginning this Sunday and the prayer booklet would be made available free. Church premises should not be opened to members/worshipers for services. However, pastors/ministers must be positioned at the church entrance gates(s) to attend to the uniformed members, anoint them and hand personal prayer booklet over to them. Members are to be encouraged to hook up to an online page on which ministration on video will be streamed live from the International Headquarters covering the period of the interim arrangement,” he added.
Reacting to the effect of the pandemic outbreak, a former General Evangelist, Christ Apostolic Church, Prophet Samuel Abiara, urged world leaders to seek God’s intervention by convening national prayer sessions as it is the only cure to the virus.
While advising people across the world not to panic, Abiara, noted that the killer virus would mysteriously fizzle out the same way it came, just as he stressed that all legitimate means should be deployed in combating the scourge.
Speaking to newsmen at the Christ Apostolic Church, Agbala Itura, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, the renowned cleric lamented the poor state of health facilities in the country, saying, “There is need for the Federal Government to equip revive the health sector, especially primary health centres across the country. This is the time for government to provide sophisticated equipment in our hospitals. If this is done, the rich and the political office-holders would not engage in medical tourism as being done today.
“I can say that what is happening currently in the world is a warning sign that Jesus Christ is coming. Let the whole world be prepared. God doesn’t want anybody to perish, so, COVID-19 will fizzle away the same way it came. It is only prayer that can solve this problem because science cannot explain so many things about it. Let the presidents of nations of the world proclaim one day and one night prayer and Coronavirus would disappear.
On government’s directives that social distance should be maintained to curb the spread of the virus, he said: “We shall obey the rule and maintain social distance and comply with the precaution measures stated by the government. I have given directives to my branches to the most affected states to maintain not crowded session, but ensure we pray fervently to cast out the virus from the surface of the earth.”
Resident pastor of the Kingsway International Christian Centre Lagos, Pastor Femi Faseru, also informed members of the church on Friday that all church services have been switched to online, as the pandemic outbreak of the coronavirus has increased drastically over the week.
In a related development the leadership of the House on the Rock Church headed by Pastor Paul Adefarasin, advised members to stay back at home as services will be streamed online. Also, church members should adhere strictly to the precautionary measures given by the World Health Organisation in order to contain the virus and to remain safe.
He also admonished church members to stay in faith and remember that God has not given us the spirit of fear, but that of love, power and a sound mind. “Remember that a thousand may fall at your side. The church also declared all services to be streamed online, in a bid to control the spread of the virus.”
Speaking on behalf of the church, the Secretary the Christ Apostolic Church Missionary Headquarters, Oyo State, Pastor E. E. Mapur, has directed all the churches under CAC in Lagos to split all services into two or three sessions as the case may be, with gatherings not more than 50 people.
The Diocese of Lagos (Anglican Communion) also directed that diocese in the affected states to ensure strict compliance with the government’s directives in line with the position of the church as a law-abiding entity.
All Diocesan programmes that attract more than 50 people have been postponed until further notice; vicars of congregation of more than 50 members are advised to schedule their services into more than one, to increase the number of their services to give room for compliance and to encourage their members to worship with congregation with less than 50 members.
All members have been implored to adhere to the directives of personal hygiene, including frequent and thorough washing of hands, with soap and running water, as well as the use of alcohol-based sanitizers. Members are also encouraged to join online services on all Diocesan platforms.