Zion Baptist Church Pastor T.G. Morrison yesterday blasted new protocols that permit churches on New Providence to hold services in parking lots amid the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the government “does not have the power” to tell the church what to do.
“…No government has the authority to tell the church it can’t keep Sunday school,” Morrison told The Nassau Guardian.
“The Eucharist, the Lord’s supper, the table of the Lord, is the highest form of Christian worship. It is recalling the salvific activity of God and Jesus Christ on Golgotha’s hill and no government has the authority to tell the church that it cannot keep the Lord’s table.
“The government does not have the power to tell the church that it can only keep service for an hour. The government does not have the power to tell the church that it must keep service in a parking lot.
“Those things are out of the purview of the government. I would dare say, to go further, that more pastors need to take their stance and more persons who practice their faith and take their faith seriously ought to take their stance and act on the courts of the house of the Lord.”
A new order released on Friday outlines that worship services not exceeding an hour could resume on New Providence and several Family Islands, as long as worshippers stay in their vehicles and adhere to social distancing protocols put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Offering baskets are not allowed to be passed from vehicle to vehicle, but offering stations are allowed.
Individuals over 65 or with comorbidities have been asked not to attend drive-up services.
Morrison said his church on Shirley Street and East Street will not host “any parking lot service”.
“We’re not having any drive-in service,” he said.
“We’re not having any curbside service. We’re not having any drive-by service. We’ll have service inside the courts of the house of God as persons have done on this site for 185 years.”
Morrison added, “There’s a house that is set aside for the worship of God, just like Parliament has a place that the parliamentarians meet to do their business. The church of God has a space where we do business in the name of God.
“When the parliamentarians have a meeting in their cars, when the Cabinet… has a Cabinet meeting in their cars, when all the other people do these things in their cars, then it’ll reach to the church. But the church has a space where she worships and when her people gather.”
He said no democratic government has the “right to tell the church what the church can and cannot do”.
“If the rum bar can be open, if the number houses can be open, if Kelly’s can be open, if Super Value can be open, if the bank can be open, if the pharmacies can be open and no one has made any concern about social distancing, I don’t see why there is some prohibition for the courts of the house of God,” Morrison added.
Many churches across The Bahamas have been holding virtual services over the last two months after the prime minister, the competent authority under law, issued an order restricting in-person services.
In a social media video message that circulated on the weekend, Bishop Neil Ellis, pastor at Mount Tabor Church, asked his congregants to stay at home yesterday.
“We will not be doing the parking lot gig,” Ellis said.
“We are greater than that. So, I want you to stay at home and I will be coming to you with my team in the same way that we’ve been doing over the last eight weeks.”
He added, “The parking lot one-hour service is not for us.”
Mount Tabor is continuing with virtual services.
Anglican Bishop Laish Boyd noted that “We rejoice at this news because we have been languishing in our present circumstances of not being able to gather. However, it is wise to proceed with caution and to ensure that each step forward is firmly planted,” he said in a church memorandum.
“The diocese began a discussion about protocols and procedures to govern a phased reopening. A guideline document is being produced. This process is well-advanced and should be allowed to run its course, so that we might resume in the best of form and function. Therefore, in The Bahamas, our parishes will not resume any gatherings at this time.”
Likewise, in a letter to church members, Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder said, “We are pleased that we are moving toward the resumption of worship services. However, we need time to assess and work out how best to resume our liturgical life given the specific conditions stipulated.”
Both the Anglicans and Catholics said they will continue to hold services virtually.