Churches hopeful, but bracing for rough times post-COVID-19

BRACING for the rough times expected to follow the COVID-19 pandemic, churches are still hopeful congregants will be able to offer tithes and offerings essential to their ministries, especially since outreach programmes for the needy must continue.

Anglican archbishop of the West Indies Howard Gregory says it is early days yet to assess the financial impact of the infectious disease, but that his church is cognisant of the global and local realities.

“It is difficult to say what the picture is like at the moment, because we are just beginning to absorb what it means for us as a nation, but it is clear that anything impacts the nation in terms of loss of jobs and shutdown of industries will impact the Church. The Church cannot expect that it will somehow be protected and people will be able to do all that they used to do,” he told the Jamaica Observer on the weekend.

The archbishop said, however, that it is still anticipated that individuals will do all they can, within their resources, to ensure support for the Church.

“The ministry must continue, because that ministry also involves helping persons. If you cut that off, you also cut off that point at which the Church responds, [such as to] children’s homes,” he explained. “So we still have to have contributions to keep the Church going, but we recognise that there will be challenges and there will be shortfall in any budget that has been set. It just means that we will be in line with what is happening with the national situation.”

Administrative bishop of the New Testament Church of God in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Bishop Wellesley Blair, agrees that it is inevitable that funding for the church will be affected.

“With programmes having been set already and everything, there must be some adverse effects,” he said in an Observer interview.

He added: “But we are not going to complain. As a denomination we try to work with the Government, we don’t work against it, as best as we can. We have some difficulties, but we’re coming through.

“The support for the church in the financial realm is pretty rough, but we have to make it,” he said.

Pastor of the Israel of God Church of Atlanta in Georgia, Deuel Hill, stressed that as far as tithes are concerned this is a pact between congregants and God in which the church does not intervene.

“We don’t make anyone feel they have to pay their tithes. Tithes are a commandment of the Lord. We have always had means, electronically, to have tithes paid, so that’s not going to be an issue. None of our ministers get paid from the church at all, so all the money goes into the ministry to preach the gospel and to take care of the buildings that we have,” he explained.

Another pastor, Reverend Errol Bolt of Kencot Christian Fellowship, said there could be a reduction in the intake of tithes, offerings and the freewill gifts from members. He, however, said his church is not yet seeing the fall-off, but added that if the COVID-19 crisis continues much longer, negative repercussions will lie ahead for the church.

“Many of our members give their tithes and offering electronically, and others still drop by the office because they realise it’s needed to keep the work going,” he explained.

Bolt, like Archbishop Gregory, pointed out that in times like these the church’s benevolent outreach programmes are critical.

“It (COVID-19 crisis) will impact financially, I don’t think it has started to do so in a visible way yet, but we pray it never gets there, because the work of the Lord must go on, and God provides for that through his people,” he said.

Meanwhile, with some congregations still showing some level of resistance to orders by the Government to limit gatherings to 10 people, and to restrict services to social media where possible, the church leaders are of one accord that the laws of the land supersede the need to gather.

Rev Blair noted that his church sends out regular reminders to its members and has found innovative ways of obeying the law while still worshipping as a group.

“Instead of having one service where we might have 100 people or more, sometimes we have about five or six services, staggering the hours,” he explained.

Archbishop Gregory noted: “We abide by the instructions of the health authorities and the Government as responsible citizens. Yes, we are a people of faith, but we are also subject to the laws of the land and what is in the public interest, so that our faith position must not put people at risk,” he stated.

The archbishop said instructions have been sent out to all the clergy that all gatherings must conform to the limit of 10 that the Government has set.

“In fact, many are not open at all because it’s not just about the numbers, it is about gatherings, and what we have tried to do in order to keep the people connected [is that] congregations who have the ability to [live] stream have been streaming their services within the limit set by Government,” he said.

Rev Bolt commented that, “the church, at this point in time, should not be seen in a position to be disrespecting the decisions made by those that we have placed in authority to govern the country.

“The scripture does say that we must obey the leaders of the land and the only time we refuse to obey them is when they say we cannot preach salvation in Jesus’s name,” he continued. “This is not what is happening. What is happening now is something understandable, that through social distancing we can reduce greatly the number of persons who would be affected, and reduce the pressure on our hospitals. We should be a contributor to the healing, not a spreading of the problem.”

According to the pastor, services via social media have turned out to be very fruitful for his church, with the number of people logging on for live-streams increasing to as much as twice the numbers that are usually seen in the pews.

He remarked that the church should be thankful that the crisis, though unfortunate, is unfolding in an age of advanced technology.

Pastor Hill pointed out that, although the scriptures speak to having a holy convocation, this does not mean that a large group of worshippers must be in the same space.

“A convocation can be a gathering of your family. The Lord also tells us we must obey the laws of the land, except when it breaks God’s commandments. This mandate by the Government isn’t breaking the commandments because we can still have convocation in our homes, and now we have means to still have lessons being taught through technology of today,” he said, noting that his church has been using all social media platforms to stay connected.

“We haven’t missed a beat, everybody is communicating,” he told the Observer.

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