Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
THERE was excitement among congregants in Bulawayo after Government lifted the ban on public gatherings and gave churches the green light to accommodate unvaccinated members during services.
In the past few weeks churches in the city had a low turnout of congregants as they only allowed vaccinated people to attend.
However, yesterday the numbers increased because everyone including unvaccinated people such as children, were allowed to attend.
Cabinet last month gave churches the green light to resume physical services with only those fully-vaccinated against Covid-19 allowed to attend and this resulted in a low turnout.
The regulations have since been relaxed in line with Level Two protocols announced by President Mnangagwa last week.
According Statutory Instrument 228B of 2021 of the Public Health Act (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) (Number two) (Amendment) Order, 2021 (No. 34), gatherings inclusive of church services and burials that were permitted 50 and 30 people respectively can now take up to 100 people.
Vaccination cards can, however, be demanded only in areas that have been designated as Covid-19 hotspots.
President Mnangagwa last week also met representatives of church bodies during which it was agreed that church gatherings could take place without demanding vaccination cards, as long as they adhere to the WHO prescribed guidelines and the Government cap of 100 people.
Worshippers throughout the country had gone for months without congregating in their places of worship in line with the renewed Level Four lockdown regulations initially announced in January by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also Health and Child Care Minister.
Some churches had resorted to conducting virtual services and livestreaming their services.
A Chronicle news crew yesterday visited selected churches in Bulawayo and observed that there was largely some form of adherence to the prescribed measures aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 such as maintaining social distancing and hand sanitising.
At Brethren in Christ Church (BICC), Bulawayo Central where Women Affairs, Community and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister Dr Sithembiso Nyoni was also in attendance, the news crew observed that congregants were being sanitised and their temperatures were also being checked at the gate.
Inside the church, congregants maintained social distancing with less than 100 people in attendance.
Senior Pastor in charge of BICC Bulawayo Central, Rev Ndabezinhle Nyathi said they conducted three services with all health protocols being observed.
“Our numbers were low and the first service had about 60 people and the other two had less than 50 and this was caused by the confusion revolving around the issue of vaccination. Most people wanted to come but because they are not vaccinated, they couldn’t as they were not yet sure,” he said.
“By next week, we expect to have more people attending our services since the issue of vaccination has been clarified. We are however, continuing livestreaming and posting our sermons and musical audios on various social media platforms so that we reach out to everyone.”
Rev Nyathi said as a church they continue to urge their members to get vaccinated.
“People were quite excited when we resumed face-to-face services. What touched me mostly is that some of our congregants lost their loved ones to Covid-19 hence today’s service centred on comforting them. The services were more of a memorial session as we remembered our congregants who succumbed to the coronavirus,” he said.
The Apostolic Faith Mission of Africa (AFMA) leader Reverend Rosewell Zulu said they were excited to congregate at their traditional place of worship and thanked President Mnangagwa for easing the lockdown regulations by lifting the ban on church gatherings.
Rev Zulu said the church has 22 branches in Bulawayo and yesterday they were worshipping in groups of 100 people in various suburbs in the city.
“We are so grateful that we have been allowed to resume services because gatherings are for the edification of the church as the body of Christ. For us as Christians, fellowship is important as it spiritually toughens and revives us as we share the Word of God together in the house of the Lord,” he said.
“However, our appeal to the Government is that when they review the lockdown in less than two weeks’ time, they should allow worshippers to at least occupy 50 percent of the total capacity of the building without compromising on social distancing.”
Rev Zulu said they disinfected the church building before the start of the service in line with national Covid-19 guidelines and World Health Organisation (WHO) health regulations.
“Most importantly we are happy that God has protected us from Covid-19 because our salvation comes from God and remember he said ‘I am the Lord that healeth thee.’
‘It is also important to adhere to the health regulations and as the church we continue praying to God to protect us as a nation,” he said.
Rev Samuel Mavhundu of the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe in Makokoba said: “We are very happy following the lifting of the ban of church gatherings because this is our source of life.
“Although we did not stop worshipping during the lockdown, as Christians, it is our culture to physically gather as it revives us spiritually,”
Rev Mavhundu said during the lockdown, domestic disputes were prevalent.
“As church leaders during the lockdown we had a huge task of counselling couples some of whom had their marriages breaking down.
“Now that church gatherings are open to everyone, it will help people to listen to the Word of God thus reducing cases of violence,” he said,
“I am happy that President Mnangagwa has announced the reopening of churches. A church is like a dip tank for everyone whether vaccinated or not. Everyone is free to come and worship God without conditions.”
Spirit Filled Ministries International chairman, Rev Akim Moyana said prior to the latest development, they were only allowing vaccinated congregants.
“As a law-abiding church, we are excited now that Government has reopened churches with everyone attending notwithstanding the fact that they are vaccinated or not. This is our first day to resume physical services and everyone is in high spirits,” he said.
Pastor in charge of United Methodist Church (Bulawayo Central Circuit) in Matshobana, Rev Samson Muzengeza welcomed Government’s decision to reopen churches to everyone.
“We are thankful to God for allowing us to resume physical services after a long break due to lockdown.
“In the past few weeks, we were few because most of our members are not vaccinated. Today, the numbers increased because everyone including those not vaccinated came,” he said.
“As usually before the beginning of the service, we entered names of congregants in our register, took their temperatures and sanitised them before entering the church building.”
Gogo Kasiyamuru, a United Methodist Church congregant in Matshobana, was visibly elated as she came out of a church service.
“I am really so happy and my spirit has been revived because I really longed to attend church services and to me, this is a great day. I have been praying and fasting for this day to come and God has answered my prayer,” she said.
Chronicle also observed congregants at the Anglican Church at St Columba’s Parish in Makokoba being sanitised at the entrance before accessing the church building and after the service.
At the St Adolph Ludigo Roman Catholic Church in New Magwegwe, Sunday church services have been staggered to accommodate three groups of congregants.
Congregants at Harvest House International headquarters queued for temperature checking and hand sanitising before attending services. No vaccination cards were required. — @mashnets