COVID-19: The Church and the new order

•CAN, PFN, Abiara, Akinfenwa, others speak

Worship centres in some states are now witnessing a new lease of life following the decision to relax the policy on public gatherings in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. SEYI SOKOYA and ADEOLA OTEMADE went round some churches to see how they adjusted to the new social realities of human relationship.

The Church is just one of the institutions that have been caught in the heat of the coronavirus pandemic following the ban on public gatherings for about three months as a way of controlling the spread of the virus by the federal and state governments.

The development raised serious concerns and complaints from Christian bodies and many religious leaders who claimed that the officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and government were partial, given that some public institutions relatively enjoyed freedom to operate.

The decision to relax the order has thrown Christians in the country into a frenzy. The atmosphere, precisely in Oyo State in the last two weeks was more lively as the Church is gradually coming back to life.

TribuneChurch’s investigation after the Oyo State government announced a two-week relaxation of the order revealed that churches in the state can’t wait to return. Many worship centres were seen observing precautionary measures while some were yet to fully comply with the order.

In the last two Sundays, Christian worshippers were seen exuding excitement as members expressed their happiness towards the reopening of churches after a three-month closure due to the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic which crippled all social and religious activities in Nigeria and the world at large.

However, now that the Oyo State government’s two weeks review window has closed, church leaders and Christians at large are hopeful that government, very soon, will throw the churches open again. TribuneChurch also gathered that conscious efforts are being made by the two notable Christian bodies in the state, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and church leaders to ensure that worship centres abide by the government’s directives.

Speaking to TribuneChurch, the chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria Oyo State chapter, Reverend Samson Adetunmobi commended the thoughtfulness of the Seyi Makinde-led government in adhering to the yearnings of the people in the re-opening of the religious centres, just as he described it as a welcome development.

“It is thoughtful of the Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde and also the COVID-19 team to Oyo State to consider the opening of churches. I have personally believed that orderliness and commitment to instruction is better in churches than any other place in the society. However, for the fear and general concern about the control of the spread and the lockdown that includes the church. We are glad that there is a consideration and the governor has done well to unlock the Church.

“It is for the benefit of the people and the entire state because we pray in the church; we pray for the government and that the pandemic will have a short lifespan and the whole world will be free one more time. So, when you close where prayers are being generated, then there will be a problem. It is a welcome development that religious worship centres are reopened,” he added.

On the level of compliance with the government’s directive, Adetunmbi told Tribune Church that he was confident that the Oyo PFN has since kept to the directives issued by the government and the basic standard of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“We ensured that all churches enforced the use of hand sanitizers, temperature gauge and that social distancing was sustained in the churches as well as wearing of nose masks. We are monitoring churches and we have seen them comply. We have a network that is in charge. The database of Pentecostal churches in Oyo State helps us to give instructions. It is now two weeks of unlocking the churches and there are no incidences because the Church doesn’t breed coronavirus. Instead it is the safest place in any society,” he said.

He, however, advised Church leaders and Christians at large to ensure not to relent in ensuring the compliance of the government’s directives as they are for the benefit of all and sundry from contracting the deadly disease, just as he urged government to be holistic in its control and that the society should put more searchlight on the marketplace, the public transportation system, social and government-driven gatherings instead on the Church.

The immediate past Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), chairman in Oyo State, Pastor Benjamin Akanmu, expressed delight at the reopening of the Church after several complaints on the restriction of church activities unlike other organisations and institutions.

“It is a welcome development. We are praying that the pandemic will be over soonest. It is true that churches were opened as a result of the two weeks review, but we are confident that the Church has the ability to control any situation whatsoever. We have ensured strict adherence to the preventive measures.

“The Church is made up of with law-abiding people; we are keeping to the directives strictly. We will not work against it; we will always wash and sanitize our hands, sanitize our hands; use our nose masks and maintain social distancing. Even after the two weeks review, we will still comply with the government’s directives so as not to spread the virus,” he added.

Renowned cleric and the former General Evangelist of the Christ Apostolic Church worldwide, Prophet Samuel Abiara, also commended the Oyo State government for considering the reopening of churches, just as he urged Governor Makinde to fully reopen worship centres  after the two weeks review, saying Christian leaders would not flout the government’s directives.

Abiara noted that the Church so far has been complying with the 25 per cent capacity of worship centres among other measures, adding that, “Personally, I have instructed my church and others to comply with the government’s instructions as well as not relent in their efforts to continue to pray for the state, country and the world at large to be free from the deadly virus.”

He also advised the Lagos and Ogun state governments to adopt suitable measures as well as create a synergy with religious leaders for an extensive control of worship centres in order to put an end to the ongoing restriction of religious gatherings in the state.

In his own take, the Bishop of Ibadan Anglican Diocese, the Most Reverend Olatunji Akinfenwa, appealed to all religious leaders to adhere strictly to the rules and regulations given by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control NCDC and the government.

Akinfenwa said: “Worship is a major part of the lives of our people and the face of systemic failure, the religious community remains the topmost line of social (and perhaps economic) support for many Nigerians. Thus, a shutdown of organised religion in Nigeria can be likened to a shutdown of the social welfare department in the advanced nations of the world – it can only spell doom for the society in the long run.”

“We hereby appeal to all religious leaders that as we open our places of worship, let us ensure that all the safety measures stipulated by government and health authorities are adhered to. The NCDC has published a toolkit for opening religious gatherings. Let us study the document and implement it faithfully. We also encourage churches to go beyond these minimum requirements and go the extra mile to protect people from infection as they come into the sanctuary to worship.

“As churches reopen in Oyo State, we appeal to all to dedicate ample time for fervent prayer that this pandemic should come to a quick end. In this nation, we have experienced the power of prayer at several moments of need, let us collectively pray to God once again and the mighty hand of God shall be stretched forth to save our nation from this scourge,” he added.

Reverend Kola Bamidele of the Triumphant Baptist Church Erinkojaobe, Apata, Ibadan, told TribuneChurch about the measures they have in place and how they have ensured strict adherence.

“No member would be allowed into the church premises without their nose mask on. Temperatures would be checked the entrance to the church gate, then each member will proceed to wash their hands before they are allowed into the church. As a body of Christ, churches are expected to follow strictly the rules and regulations given by the government and the NCDC. These are trying times and one can only hope that things will get better. As for our church services, we divided our services into three sections and each service is only for one hour. On a row, three people would sit so as to follow the social distancing directives,” he added.

Pastor Richard Okeke of Christ Care Bible Ministry, Alade Owo, Apata, Ibadan said: “Though we have few members in the church because we are relatively new, we are not faced with the challenge of social distancing. However, we have not hesitated to comply with the directives of the government. As you can see, we have a bucket of water with soap outside the church premises for people to wash their hands.”

The presiding pastor of the Christ Apostolic Church, Gbaremu Centre, Imalefalafia, Ibadan, Pastor Claudius Olaiya, noted that it was imperative that church leaders and worship centres adhere strictly to the Oyo State government’s directive.

Speaking to TribuneChurch, Olaiya acknowledged the effort of Governor Makinde in not allowing the gate of hell to prevail over the Church at large and also the state, adding that, “All church leaders should not shun government’s and NCDC’s directives. All they are doing is for the benefit of us all and to save lives. The Church has been instrumental in the development of the state and the country. So, no form of attack from the pit of hell will prevail over the church of God and the world. We appreciate Governor Seyi Makinde and we promise to continue to abide by government’s directives. I have instructed all members to always take precautionary measures and anyone that doesn’t comply will not be allowed in any of the church’s services.”

TribuneChurch noticed that churches including Saint Anne’s, Molete Baptist Church, Global Harvest Church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God parishes, Abundant Grace Baptist Church and St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Odo-Ona Apata, among other worship centres observed the precautionary measures in different ways. Some placed a water system at the entrance to their church premises with soap as members were seen washing hands with their temperatures being checked before they would be allowed into the church auditorium. TribuneChurch however noticed that not all worshippers used nose masks in some of the churches.



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