One month after the emergency orders were amended to allow for churches on New Providence to hold services, Bahamas Harvest Church (BHC) planned for its doors to swing open on the first Sunday in October, welcoming back its congregation to in-person worship experiences. Days before the anticipated relaunch of in-person worship experiences, Pastor Mario Moxey announced that in-person services were canceled indefinitely, after the church’s leadership learned that one of its staff members had been exposed to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19.
Moxey said the church’s leaders consulted with a medical doctor who he said also met with their staff, and the doctor advised them to voluntarily self-quarantine, as a safety measure. The senior pastor said they were also provided a plan of action.
“After preparing our environments (east and west campuses) with UV (ultraviolet) lights in the air conditioning, and electrostatically disinfecting our facilities, professionally cleaning our carpets, installing hand sanitizer and so much more, we do not desire to derail our efforts by proceeding to reopen knowing that there might be risk. We are not prepared to risk exposing our congregation to COVID-19, hence the elders of our church felt it necessary to suspend in-person worship experiences indefinitely,” said Moxey.
“I was so looking forward to us worshipping in person together again. And I know that you are also looking forward to that as well,” he said to his congregation via a virtual address. “Though we are equally disappointed in this sudden turn of events, our faith is not shaken, for we know all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”
To prepare for its return to the in-person worship experience, BHC redesigned its services to comply with regulations and guidelines to exist in a world with the novel coronavirus.
Services were shortened to accommodate the increased service times of six experiences each Sunday – three at the east (8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11:25 a.m.) and three at the west (8:45 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 12 noon) campuses.
In the new normal, BHC in-person worshippers will be required to reserve their seats for the service time of their choice, online. Once they have done that for their family, they will receive a confirmation barcode. They are to arrive 15 minutes before their chosen service, to be checked in using the confirmation code.
They then go through the sanitization check by greeters, and if they are giving during the service, they are then able to take a giving envelope from the desk. Requirements also include being seated at least five minutes prior to reserved service time.
Ushers are in place to guide them as they enter the sanctuary, using a specific flow they have organized with congregants walking on the left side of the hallway. The chairs and benches have been allocated to ensure physical distancing.
Masks have to be worn to enter facilities, and during the service; wearing a face shield in addition to a mask, church officials said, is optional. And in order to maintain a touchless environment, worship guides will no longer be provided.
Even with all the precautionary methods put in place to reopen, Moxey said they are not under any delusion that they can guarantee a COVID-free environment, because he said they can’t. But he said they have a corporate obligation to their staff, volunteers and the congregation who expect them to act responsibly.
“To this end, we are not prepared to risk exposing our congregation to COVID-19, hence the elders of our church felt it necessary to suspend in-person worship experiences, indefinitely.”
Moxey said BHC’s corporate offices were also closed until further notice.
BHC also put in place specific instructions for families that have to make use of the Family Life Department, with specific instructions in place for children.
Once the service has finished, worshippers were to follow the floor markings for traffic flow direction in and out of the building. Ushers were to be available to instruct people to exit via the outer aisles. Those people collecting children from the church’s Family Life areas were to use the middle aisle and exit door at the front. Drop boxes were set up as people exit, to allow them place their giving envelopes in them.
Moxey said the church no longer allowed congregating inside.
“We are a family, and we know that when you don’t see family in a long time, you want to catch up, talk and greet each other – however, no congregating in the sanctuary and hallways will be allowed.”
Any greeting with family and friends, he said, must be done on the outside of the building to allow them to sanitize and prepare for the next service.
Sunday, October 4 marked the 29th Sunday since BHC suspended in-person worship experiences on March 15.
Moxey urged the BHC congregants to continue to get together on Sunday at Live.BahamasHarvestChurch.org.
Moxey’s announcement came just days before Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ House of Assembly Communication on Wednesday in which he announced that restrictions are needed now on New Providence and Abaco to address persistently high COVID-19 case numbers, in an effort to reduce infections, as the country is averaging one death per day.
The new measures that take effect on Friday, October 9, beginning at 7 p.m., include full 24-hour weekend curfews, ending Monday mornings at 5 o’clock.
Owing to the Monday, October 12, holiday, the first weekend of lockdown will be a full three-day 24-hour curfew, lasting from Friday, October 9, at 7 a.m. to 5 a.m., Tuesday, October 13.
Besides essential services, the only other movement will be for one-hour worship services on Saturdays and Sundays between the hours of 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.
BHC will not be one of those churches holding in-person services.
During his virtual address, Moxey also said they were aware that many of BHC’s members are hurting – emotionally, relationally and financially – due to COVID-19, and that the church is doing what it can to assist as many as they can.
On April 19, BHC dedicated 100 percent of their offering toward assisting the BHC congregation. Moxey said they purchased $25,000 worth of food vouchers from Solomon’s Fresh Market through their parent company AML Foods Ltd. The corporate entity donated an additional $5,000 in food vouchers.
In addition to the food vouchers, BHC also provided financial assistance to its members. Moxey said BHC members’ faithful giving and generosity allowed them to be able to do what they did.
On October 25, Moxey said they, again, plan to dedicate 100 percent of their offering toward assisting members.
“We are our brother’s keepers, and we’re standing in the gap through prayer and fasting, and seeing about how we can help each [other] recover during this time,” he said.
Moxey reminded BHC congregants that on the way to the Promised Land, God led the children of Israel through the land of Canaan, which was filled with valleys and hills.
“For every disappointment that you experience, there is an appointment. For every test, there is a testimony. For every pain, there is a purpose. The only thing worse than when you’re going through a valley experience and thinking that it will always be that way, is when you’re on the mountaintop and you think that you will always be there on the mountaintop. Life is not like that. This is only a season, and every season has an opening and a closing. Every season has a beginning and an ending. This, too, shall pass.”
He encouraged BHC congregants to stand firm as they navigate through the storm together.
“We’re confident in this one thing – he that brought us in this, is going to faithfully take us through this. Our God is faithful. Just continue to hold on,” said the senior pastor.