SOME churches have indefinitely cancelled services and religious rites that involve mass gatherings while others are limiting the number of people that can attend a service in light of the threat posed by Covid-19.
A number of churches have opted to live-stream services so that congregants can watch from home.
The Catholic Church in Zimbabwe has indefinitely suspended obligatory Mass for the vulnerable and banned some traditional church rituals such as shaking hands and receiving communion with one’s tongue to contain spread of coronavirus.
Churches that include Apostolic Faith Mission, Harvest House International, Celebration Church and Word of Life have resolved to split services to ensure there are no more than 100 congregants at any given event.
The Church of Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Zimbabwe has already called off services following instructions from church leaders in Utah, United States of America, who have suspended all worship globally following the spread of the coronavirus.
Zimbabwe has not recorded any case of the coronavirus.
However, the Government declared the coronavirus a State of National Disaster and postponed major social events including the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), the 40th Independence Day celebrations, religious and public gatherings of more than 100 people for the next 60 days.
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) on Tuesday said the congregation can follow livestreamed obligatory Mass.
Pope Francis recently started livestreaming Mass in response to the pandemic.
In a statement, the ZCBC urged the catholics to adhere to education given by the Ministry of Health and Child Care and other agencies about coronavirus.
“In the wake of the global outbreak of Covid-19 we wish to add our voice to the many other voices including the World Health Organisation, our own Government and in particular the President and Ministry of Health on the pandemic.
“At present prevention proves to be a fundamental weapon to fight the virus and it is even more essential in our country where hospital structures are not fully equipped to support the influx of a greater number of seriously ill people.
“The Sunday obligation to attend Mass for the elderly, children, the sick and the vulnerable is lifted until further notice. Reception of the precious blood by concelebrants and congregants, sign of peace during Mass and placing of hands on people’s heads by priests have been suspended while reception of Holy Communion must only be on the hand not on the tongue and Holy water fonts at the entrance of the Church should be drained,” read the statement.
Individual confessions are not to be done in the confessional box but in an open space in line with recommended health guidelines, the bishops said.
The church will be engaging health experts to assess the situation with a view of coming up with alternatives with regards to holding of the Easter week activities such as washing of the feet and veneration of the cross.
Baptism, weddings, first Holy Communion, confirmation activities and anointing of the sick were not suspended but the ZCBC urged church members, including the clergy, to exercise extreme caution by washing their hands.
In a statement directed to the church’s congregation yesterday, Pastor Goodwill Shana of Word of Life Church gave provision to members of the church to make further personal decisions that do not violate the Government’s directive.
“In the context of Zimbabwe, only Sunday services and Thursday prayer meetings with 100 people or less will take place. Congregations that are larger than 100 people will need to break up into sections of 100 or less, and use multiple services of the same venue or different venues to meet or ensure other forms of ministry are in place,” he said.
Pastor Shana said the Sunday and Thursday services will also be conducted via life stream on Facebook and other social media platforms to be accessed by those who will be unable to attend to the public services.
“In this regard, the Faith Convention has been postponed to a future more suitable date. Please maintain contact with the church through the official departmental WhatsApp groups or church social media platforms and the Facebook page,” he said.
Harvest House International Church Senior Reverend Sarah Nyathi said the church will break its main services into sections for the period of 60 days in line with to the Government’s directive.
“We will make sure that on Sunday the congregates will join the small services comprising of 100 people or less to ensure that we help contain the spread of coronavirus. We have implemented further precautionary measures as a church and that is there will be no hugging and no handshakes during the church services. We will make sure that we have sanitisers well,” she said.
Celebration Church banned gathering for main church services.
A congregant from Celebration Church Ms Percy Dube said the services will be streamed on the church’s social media platforms.
She, however, declined to give further information, citing that he was not in a position to disclose information.
Contacted for comment, Seventh Day Adventist church Pastor Bongani Ndlovu said they were still compiling a statement which seeks to address their stand as a church following the Government’s directive.
The district superintendent of the Apostolic Faith Mission of Portland Oregon in Southern Africa Mr Oniyas Gumbo said he has directed the congregation to carry out multiple Sunday services to ensure that their number does not exceed 100 people.
He said the church has banned the regional Easter meetings. “We have, however, stopped various meetings for example the regional Easter meeting. We have advised people to cancel the regional meetings but have branch meetings.”