COVID-19: “Be patient, endure”, “this isn’t time for church services” – Otabil to Christian clerics pushing for lift of social gathering ban

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Pastor Mensa Otabil has urged his fellow Christian clerics to be patient until the time that it is deemed safe for churches to gather and fellowship as they used to prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

In his virtual service on Sunday, 10 May 2020, the founder of the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) said: “Well, as you know, our world is going through some interesting days; the last few months from January, especially for us in Ghana, from March, have been extraordinary months as we have sought to mitigate the effect of this rampaging virus that is attacking men and women indiscriminately and just when we thought in Ghana that we were having control over the situation, we are beginning to realise that the virus has a mind of its own and doesn’t seem to correspond to some of the efforts we are making, so, it looks like things are getting a little uncomfortable for all of us”.

“Definitely”, he added: “It also means this is not the time for churches to consider gathering together in assemblies because the crisis before us is not going down and it’s important that as churches, we play our role in protecting society, which is made up of our members and ourselves as pastors, as part of society, and we trust that we will endure the arrangement as it is now.

“It may seem uncomfortable, it may not be suitable to us but that is the price we pay for making the world a better place and I trust that each one of us will be patient and wait till we can safely gather, not gather under Marshall law but safely gather and safely worship and have fellowship together as a church and I trust that day will come very quickly but if it tarries, we will wait for that day so that we can gather together as God’s people, not in an atmosphere of uncertainty but in an atmosphere of certainty of faith and trust in the Lord”, he said.

Dr Otabil’s admonition comes a few days after some Christian leaders forwarded a tall list of measures they intend putting in place in their churches to mitigate the spread of the virus as they push the government to lift the ban on social gathering.

President Nana Akufo-Addo placed a ban on all social gatherings including church services, as part of the measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Churches have, thus, been closed for about a month-and-a-half.

Despite the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country, which has killed 22 out of the 4,263 confirmed cases so far, some Christian leaders, in a joint statement, said the Church is ready and has the capacity to comply with COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols.

The Christian leaders, including Most Rev Dr Paul Boafo (Chairman, Christian Council of Ghana), Rev Prof Yaw Frimpong Manso (President, Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council), Most Rev Phillip Naameh (President, Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference) and Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams (President, National Association of Charismatic and Christian Churches), said they have identified the risk areas in their churches and will put in place the necessary measures to keep the congregants safe.

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Among the measures include: compulsory handwashing and sanitisation before entering the church, social-distancing in seating arrangements, special sitting arrangement for the aged, no handshakes and the compulsory wearing of facemasks.

Below is the full statement from the church leaders:

PREPARATION TOWARDS REOPENING OF CHURCHES IN GHANA: GUIDELINES TO MITIGATE POTENTIAL SPREAD OF COVID-19

Submitted by: Heads of the Christian Ecumenical Bodies in Ghana

BACKGROUND

As the COVID-19 pandemic exacts global toll on lives and livelihoods, Ghana’s case count keeps increasing steadily since the first index case was reported on March 12, 2020, and the government’s response towards slowing and stopping the transmission, government issued several preventive protocols (social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene practices), partial lockdown in epicentres, and imposed several restrictions on public gatherings including temporary suspension of communal Church activities. Impliedly, the suspension of religious gathering constitutes a form of lockdown, owing to the Church’s inability to congregate for communal worship. And following the President’s meeting with heads of churches and ecumenical councils on April 2020 at the Jubilee House where His Excellency the President charged the Christian leaders to develop modalities and guidelines to mitigate the spread of the virus should the ban on public gathering be lifted, the Christian leaders developed these intervention strategies.

In assessing the Church’s readiness and capacity to comply with COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols, it is important to note that addressing COVID-19 “requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-society response.” The Church being a major stakeholder is indispensable in the State’s overall COVID-19 containment and mitigation strategies. Given that 71% of Ghanaians identify as Christians, the Church, with its wide social network, access to communities, captive audience, unquestioned authority, and influential actors of public support for government measures is best placed to help in numerous ways with educating, counselling and sustaining the populace.

1. GUIDELINES TO MITIGATE POTENTIAL SPREAD OF COVID-19

As the Church prepares to come back for communal worship, the tables below show the potential risk areas and what to do to mitigate potential spread.

RISK AREAS

SPECIFIC AREAS

Entrance points to churches

1. Doors

2. Door handles

3. Rails

4. Pillars

Utility areas in the church

1. WC handles

2. Washroom door handles

Seating arrangements in the church

1. Close seating arrangement in the church that breaches social distancing regulations

2. Group sitting e.g. the choir

Nature of church building

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1. Poorly-ventilated churches – having few and small windows

2. Entirely glass windows that impede free flow of air

Nature of service

1. Handshakes during welcome sessions

2. Singing groups congregating at one side and singing

3. Group meetings – Sunday schools where teachers speak to small groups. Those in the front roll are at risk

4. Communion services where cups are handed to individuals

5. Communion service where many people drink from one cup

6. Communion services where packaged loaves are handed to individuals

Devices and items

1. Microphones used commonly by more than one person, faucets, telephones

2. Money handled by more than one person through giving offering and tithes

Vestries & Pastors’ offices

1. Door and seat handles

2. Rails

3. Poorly ventilated rooms

4. Common surfaces including Pastors’ tables

SPECIFIC RISK AREAS

INTERVENTIONS TO PUT IN PLACE

Church Entrances and Lobbies

1. Hand washing: Make available hand-washing materials for all to wash hands before entering the church or touching rails, door handles and pillars. A running tap or Veronica bucket should be put at all entrances for every church member to wash hands before entering the church. Hands-free soap dispenser must be fitted to avoid cross-contamination.

2. Sanitisation: Make hand-sanitiser (preferably a dispenser) available at near church entrances, outside washrooms, pastors’ offices, vestries and lobbies for members to sanitize their hands.

3. Enforce hand washing and sanitization: have one person (usher) dedicated to the entrance to enforce the above, making sure that every church member at least, washes the hands for 20 seconds under running water and also sanitizes the hands after washing. Enforcement is more important than instituting the measures in order to achieve sustained compliance. In addition, churches should put up signs reminding people to wash hands, cough/sneeze into their elbows and remind people from the pulpit/stag.

Utility areas

1.   Clean utility areas, surfaces and items touched by different people routinely. Preferably clean surfaces every 1-2 hours depending on utilization. Door handles, WC handles, faucets, microphones. Seat arms/handles should be disinfected before and after service for the next session.?

Sitting in churches

1. Observe social-distancing through seating arrangements: seating should be rearranged to allow social distancing rules. Contiguous seats should be 2 arms-length reach (2m). So should be the distance before and after one seat to ensure that cough, sneeze and talking from one church member does not predispose the neighbours to the virus particularly from asymptomatic carriers.

2. Provide separate seating areas for the aged and families.

3. Organise churches services in sessions: because of the need for social distancing as described above, there will invariably be the need to organize churches in more than one session with at least one hour in between services.

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Wear facemasks

All citizens/church members including pastors, are to wear facemasks to enter churches. It is particularly important for those who will engage by talking e.g. pastors, Sunday school teachers etc. The mask will prevent droplet infections from getting to the others. For all others, it will also prevent them getting droplets from others in the church. Masks are to be kept on until one comes back home. This will reduce the risk of spread from asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

Nature of building

1. All windows should be opened fully during church services to allow good ventilation. There should be no use of air conditioners. This will diffuse and reduce the concentration of the virus (should there be anyone infected) in the room.

Nature of service

1. All handshakes are to be avoided in churches during this period of COVID-19. This leads to cross-contamination and spread of the virus.

2. All who speak in churches must wear N95 facemask during service. This will reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.

3. Singers/Choristers: observe social-distancing and also avoid second row of singers. As much as possible prerecorded music may be used.

4. Communion Service: Offer individual cups for communion. Reduce hand-to-hand transmission by providing individual bread and cup servings. Hand hygiene and food safety precautions must strictly be observed by those who prepare these communions.

5. Giving/collection of offering and tithes: It is advisable not to pass offering bowls and baskets around. Items that are frequently handled can be sources of contaminants for the COVID-19 virus. The virus can be retained on the offering/tithe bowl for hours and can be passed on to others. The best option will be for a stationary bowl with a wide opening to be put in front or entry point where people do not need to handle the bowl before putting in their offering and tithes. Where practicable, churches should advice their members to use mobile money for offerings and tithes as this means of giving reduces the risk of transmission

Education on COVID-19

1. Communicate with and educate church members, and persons in the communities that the church is located

2. Select members in the church should be trained and be made responsible for COVID-19 education and coordination of resources to help the church.

3. The church should mobilize resources to help individuals in need including church health facilities

Presented by:

Most Rev Dr Paul Boafo (Chairman, Christian Council of Ghana)

Rev Prof Yaw Frimpong Manso (President, Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council)

Most Rev Phillip Naameh (President, Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference)

Archbishop Nicholas Duncan Williams (President, National Association of Charismatic and Christian Churches)

Dated: Thursday 7th May, 2020

Source: classfmonline

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