Low turnout as churches resume service

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The resumption of sit-in church services for fully-vaccinated congregants got off to a slow start countrywide yesterday, with different Christian traditions driving the decision to reopen, while compliance with Covid-19 control regulations appeared to be high.

A lot depended on the church. For example, the Catholic mass centres on holy communion, which requires physical attendance, and Catholic bishops and clergy have since the beginning of the national vaccination programme been encouraging their parishioners to be vaccinated while enforcing precautions at services.

So yesterday, a range of Catholic parishes, including the Harare cathedral, opened with parishioners having their vaccination certificates checked and temperatures taken before sanitising and proceeding inside.

In the evangelical tradition, where the teaching sermon or address by the minister or pastor dominates the service, most churches chose to exercise caution by continuing with online services, since listening to the sermon does not require physical attendance, while finalising preparations for the resumption of face-to-face sermons.

Although police were checking churches, there were no reports of the conditions being breached and no reports of any worshippers being arrested by late yesterday afternoon.

The Government last week allowed churches to reopen for fully vaccinated worshippers along with the standard Covid-19 control measures of social distancing, masking up and sanitising.

The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations, which groups the leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Apostolic strands of Christianity and deals with their relationship to the civil authorities last week said churches appreciated the process of opening up of society, business and public life.

But the leaders noted that for practical or theological reasons, some churches might opt to skip the reopening at the moment.

The heads made it clear that the secular Government rules for attendance had to be followed by all.

At the Roman Catholic Cathedral in the city centre, parishioners were asked to produce their vaccination cards and there were also temperature checks and sanitisation.

As an extra precaution, worshippers were being registered in a book for easy contact tracing in case a congregant tested positive for Covid-19.

Sister Redempta of the Sacred Heart Roman Cathedral in Harare sanitises before entering church yesterday ahead of their first service since the Government recently announced the resumption of sit-in church services under strict Covid-19 containment regulations-Picture: Believe Nyakudjara

At Mount Hope Harare International Church along Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa Road (formerly Enterprise Road) in Newlands, only vaccinated congregants were allowed in, but attendance was low.

The church conducted a blended session of live and online sermons to allow those that were yet to be fully vaccinated to follow proceedings.

“We checked vaccination cards and took other precautionary measures like temperature checks and sanitisation. Our numbers are low because some of our members have only taken first jabs so we advised them to get the second one, but those who came were very happy to gather after such a long break,” said a church deacon, Mr Bruce Nyoni.

Apostolic Faith Mission in Glen Norah was open, with chairs spaced in a manner that allowed social distancing.

Rooted in Christ Ministries leader and gospel music star, Pastor Charles Charamba yesterday encouraged people to take vaccinations.

“Vaccines, like the polio ones which we were administered at a tender age and the ones our children get even up to now have never been interrogated for their safety as we live by faith.

“If there is no other alternative to save us from Covid-19, what is wrong with taking the available vaccines? I encourage people to get vaccinated and we cannot go against the Government’s position,” he said.

In Harare, two churches with some of the largest followings in recent years, United Family International Church (UFIC) led by Emmanuel Makandiwa and the Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries led by Walter Magaya remained closed.

Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) leader Johannes Ndanga implored apostolic sects to get vaccinated and follow all Government regulations before resuming live church services.

“We encourage all leaders under ACCZ to make sure that only fully vaccinated members attend church services and those not yet vaccinated should not expose others and themselves to Covid-19,” he said.

The Methodist Church in Zimbabwe said it would officially open its churches this Friday after full disinfection and procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE).

National Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said police were on the ground monitoring the churches and would give a detailed report today.

In Chitungwiza, ZAOGA Forward in Faith continued with virtual services while the Roman Catholic St Alois parish had vaccinated congregants who were also asked to produce national identity cards to verify if they were the owners of the cards.

In Masvingo, most churches remained closed but the Roman Catholic Church had two services from 7am to 8am and then 9am to 10am but attendance was low.

In most suburban areas such as Rujeko and Mucheke, churches were deserted as worshippers stayed at home.

Some church leaders said most of their members were awaiting full vaccination after either receiving a single shot or none at all.

The situation was also the same at mosques across the city which remained closed with elders giving a minimum of four weeks more ahead before resuming prayers.

In Marondera, several churches were open to congregants and their leaders heeded Government’s directive to allow only vaccinated congregants to attend services.

At ZAOGA Church, congregants were asked to produce vaccination cards and had temperature checks and sanitisation.

There was low turnout of congregants in the few churches that opened in Chinhoyi yesterday and these included the Salvation Army, Roman Catholic and ZAOGA.

There was strict adherence to Covid-19 control regulations including verification of vaccination certificates.

It was business as usual for most apostolic sects who gathered in open spaces despite most of them being unvaccinated.

Some Chinhoyi churches which remained closed included Faith Ministries, Living Waters, African Apostolic Faith Mission (AFFM) and Prophetic Healing Deliverance (PHD) Ministries.

In Beitbridge, most churches were by yesterday yet to open for sit-in sermons as most of their congregants were yet to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

“We welcome the decision to by the Government to reopen churches for sit-in sermons. However, we have decided to be cautious. We are delaying reopening until we get to a stage where cases go down or the lockdown is reviewed,” said Pastor Givemore Tomu, the overseer of ZAOGA Beitbridge.

He said they would continue with virtual sermons.

In Kariba, churches complied with Government conditions to resume services as ushers screened congregants at entrances.

There were around 15 congregants at AFM Church in Batonga Township with officials advising church members not to turn up if they were not vaccinated.

“There were no problems as people were advised prior to Sunday that they should not come if they are not vaccinated,” said an official who preferred anonymity.

A survey around Kariba showed that most churches resumed services with few congregants attending.

More than 25 000 people have been vaccinated in Kariba district. – Herald