Jamaica: COVID-19 ravages attendance at Sunday services

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(Jamaica Observer) – Congregations in churches across the capital city yesterday morning fell drastically as Jamaicans observed advice from the health authorities to avoid large crowds and fend off the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

As the Ministry of Health and Wellness confirmed two more cases of COVID-19 in the island, bringing the number to 10, worshippers were greeted at church doors by gloved and ungloved ushers with bottles of sanitiser which they sprayed on the hands of the faithful on entering the sanctuaries.

Attendance was sparse at St Mary the Virgin Anglican Church on Molynes Road when the Jamaica Observer visited about 8:00 am.

Kerene Latty, the rector’s warden, explained that membership comprises mostly senior citizens, and as such it was expected that many of them would not have attended yesterday’s service.

“Generally, we have from 150 worshippers upwards,” Latty said and estimated that there were about 70 people in the congregation at the time she spoke with the Observer. Latty, though, said she expected more worshippers to arrive as the morning progressed.

Low attendance was also the case at Kingston Open Bible Church on Washington Boulevard for the 7:00 am service.

Usher Devon Daley manned the main door with a large tub of sanitising wipes which he offered to members and guests on entry. A box lined with a large garbage bag was placed at the door for people to dispose of the wipes after using.

“In terms of what we’re doing, we’re making sure that everybody is aware of what is happening, how the virus works, the protective measures… We do it primarily from the platform [and] we’ll be doing more of it this morning. As you can see, we have sanitised wipes, we encourage everyone to wash their hands, observe social distance as much as possible,” Anderson said.

“We have been streaming online for several years now, and that is happening right now,” he added, pointing out that the number of worshippers in the church — which seats approximately 900 — was about 300 at the time of the interview.

At Boulevard Baptist Church, Rev Devon Dick estimated that his congregation was down about 30 per cent at minutes before the 9:00 am start of the service.

“We have Dr Stacey-Ann Brown who is coming to talk to us about COVID-19, and I’ll be doing a special prayer as it relates to the coronavirus,” Rev Dick said.

In addition to including useful tips on how to combat COVID-19 on the front page of the published programme, the church had dispensers with sanitiser at the doors. Rev Dick also explained that they made an adjustment in the way the offering is collected.

“We have a change with a walk-up offering, instead of the regular passing around of the bag because some people have fears, so out of an abundance of caution we have engaged in certain changes,” he said. Additionally, the practice of holding hands during sections of the service has been discontinued.

At Deliverance Centre, on Waltham Park Road, Bishop Herro Blair told his flock that the church board had taken a decision to suspend all activities.

We’re going to be under total lockdown in this church unless there are changes… and those changes will be communicated via WhatsApp and Facebook,” Blair said.

“If things remain as is, and there is no escalation and there is no further advice [from the health authorities] I can say right now we can have church on Sunday morning, but we are going to ask you to listen for public advisories.”

He appealed to members to shun the deluge of social media posts regarding the virus and get information only from the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Government “because you will run into problems”.

A few metres away, on Waltham Park Road, one of the officials at the Evangelistic Centre, Obediah Martin, explained that the church would be continuing its main Sunday morning service. “We’re keeping that so people can come and worship or they can do it from home as we are going to put in place a streaming service starting next week,” he said.

The church, however, has suspended all other activities and will make a decision on whether to go ahead with Monday prayer and Tuesday fasting.

“But the church doors are open for anyone who wants to come in and pray,” Morgan emphasised.

He also said that the church had not yet made a decision on funerals and weddings, but will abide by the advice of the health authorities.

Noting that the number of worshippers yesterday was approximately half of the usual 900 to 1,000, Morgan said the church had expected the drop in attendance.

The effect of the virus on activities, though, has strengthened his faith.

“I believe the church is doing a wonderful job at this time,” he said. “The church is the light of the world and if it shuts off then the world will be in darkness. We don’t walk by sight, we walk by faith, and we have consideration for the people who do not have faith.”

Yesterday, as well, a worshipper at St Andrew Church of Christ on Red Hills Road said he participated in his service online using the Zoom app.

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