While Mount Tabor Senior Pastor Bishop Neil C. Ellis has said he will not be “pressed” to abruptly end his services after 59 minutes after the government imposed a one-hour time limit on religious services in New Providence and Grand Bahama, he along with a number of pastors say some restriction needs to be put in place – but they don’t agree with the one-hour time limit for church services.
Bahamas Faith Ministries (BFM) Senior Pastor Dave Burrows says a one-hour service is “extremely challenging.”
Church of God National Overseer Bishop Moses Johnson says while restrictions are needed, he also agrees with Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander who on Monday said the state cannot dictate to the church.
Evangelistic Temple Senior Associate Pastor Reverend Dave Cash said the one-hour dictate is “disappointing”. He too agrees with Fernander.
On the other hand, Bahamas Harvest Church Senior Pastor Mario Moxey says he was under the impression all churches were doing whatever it took to maintain church services for one hour seeing as congregations are required to wear masks for the duration of the service.
Bahamas Faith Ministries Senior Pastor Dave Burrows says they always want to be good citizens, and if the government calls for something and asks people to do their part to ensure that the current spread is reduced, that they are obligated to play a part.
A 33-percent edifice capacity restriction was also put in place on Monday as The Bahamas grapples with its latest wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
Moxey says as church leaders it is fitting that they lead their society in taking safety measures to assist in protecting their congregation.
“Under normal circumstances, no church leader would stand for the Government mandating the length of our worship services, but these are not normal circumstances. If any group should set the example for the nation to follow, it should be Christians.
“I dare not seek to tell other church leaders how to conduct their church services, but I do recommend that under these circumstances, we do whatever it takes to reduce the risk of our churches becoming super-spreader events by sanitizing our hands and environments, wearing mask, social distancing and reducing the length of time that we worship together.”
Moxey is one of those pastors whose services have finished just under the one-hour mark since returning to in-person worship. He says it was a process of trial and error, especially in reducing the length of the message to get to the point where they were finally able to conduct one-hour worship experiences with some success.
“We are not experts – however, we have a team that works hard behind the scene to do whatever it takes to accomplish the objectives of our church without compromising the leading of the Holy Spirit.”
Moxey’s advice to churches who are having trouble reducing their service to one hour is to begin the process in prayer, asking God to lead them through each step by providing clarity and divine wisdom. He says to then evaluate every segment in the service, and categorize them into two groups – essential and optional – and what ends up on the side of optional, he said, can probably be done online. He also says to time each essential segment and evaluate to see how it can be done more efficiently, and evaluate transitions between each segment, adding up transitions which he said can sometimes account for 30 minutes, depending on the personalities involved in the transitions. He says they then must build the church service around the main thing – whatever it may be, allotting the lion’s share of the time to it and managing everything else with the remaining segments.
Johnson questioned how people are allowed to work multiple hours and are allowed to go other places and stay as long as they want, but church service is only allowed one hour.
“I think that’s really not fair to the church in that they have already reduced the church to one-third, and so I am in full agreement with the statement made by the president of the Bahamas Christian Council that we have to be very careful how we tell the church how to operate. That’s a dangerous standard we’re setting there.”
Cash says the 33 percent attendance is not an issue for them as that means they can accommodate 450 people, but the one hour he said is a “different story.”
“It is a little disappointing. I agree with [Fernander] that that is not a good precedent, but this is a situation where I believe we have to be seen to do the right thing and I don’t think this is the time for us to defy, not at a time when COVID cases are so high, deaths are increasing, the healthcare system is taxed to the limit, so for this, while I don’t like the restrictions I am not sure it will actually help.”
Cash said at Evangelistic Temple they have been vigilant in ensuring they follow all protocols.
“So, for us, it’s disappointing because of that, because you can do all the things you’re asked to do and you’re still affected by the restrictions, but at the same time we want to be sensitive to what is happening in the county – people are losing their lives and as a church, we don’t want to be seen as selfish,” he said.
For Burrows, the issue that is arising is consultation and ensuring decisions are not made on an arbitrary basis.
“Let’s say for example the government says to the church you have to restrict your services to one hour, if there’s consultation and a scientific explanation that indicates this makes sense then it’s easier and more palatable for everybody to be on board with it, however, if it appears to be an arbitrary decision then you have to wonder why didn’t we consult. When you look at it, what’s the difference between one hour and one hour and 15 minutes or one hour and 20 minutes? I think the consultation process makes the whole idea easier to digest. To date, I haven’t heard the logic behind the one hour versus any other time.”
Burrows said they of course want to have service as short as possible to keep people from congregating in as short a time as possible.
“But when consultation is done with churches, there may be things about a church service that we need to discuss and together we can come up with an optimum time. The optimum time may be an hour and 10 minutes – but 10 minutes can make a big difference in terms of being able to conduct a service. But I think it’s better for us to not be adversarial – to be complementary, to work together with the Government and we do our part to solve the problem.
“I heard the scientific explanation on the one-third, you can practically social distance – I haven’t heard an explanation for one hour. I don’t know who made the decision, I don’t know the basis the decision was on. Once we can consult, I think the way forward is going to be easier.”
Burrows said partnership requires mutual discussion and mutual decision making and that he thinks the church has been, and is a partner with the Government, but that they have to be mutually involved and not just an edict that says just obey.
“In the Bible it says if you are a believer, that you are supposed to obey those in authority, but what that means is, you obey the authority if they don’t violate the tenets of the laws of God. So, basically in certain cases, the state in critical times, can implement things that affects everyone, and the church just happens to be a part of it – but it’s a delicate balance and that’s why consultation is so important, because you don’t want it to appear that the Government is just arbitrarily telling the church what to do. So, you are telling people how to practice their faith. So, I think the consultative process, the revealing of scientific information – sensitivity, I think all of those things can go a long way.”
Burrows says in regular times a BFM service can run from one-and-a-half hours to two hours, but he says they have made adjustments as best they could. But he says one hour is “extremely challenging.”
“I doubt that most churches end up at exactly one hour, because it’s very constraining for what a normal service looks like. If your service is normally two hours and you have to shrink everything to one hour, then it really limits what you can do.
“The thing about it is, I remember this happening before, so there was a previous occasion where the government said one hour, so when I heard it, it was not a shock to me, but it reminded me about the consultative process. I didn’t know last time why it was an hour – I don’t know this time why it’s an hour, so I would like to know, and I would like for us to consult together, and come up with a time that’s reasonable,” said Burrows.
“We understand and appreciate all that the Government is endeavoring to do,” said Ellis. “We see the numbers – we see the spike – there is legitimate concern on all of our part. And in the Government’s quest to bring things into order they’ve put in place some restrictions. As it relates to the church, I think everybody has accepted the fact that we only could go to a third of our capacity in terms of attendances. I think for the most part, every responsible ministry in the country has put in place sanitizing stations, and doing the social distancing, and they’re enforcing everything that’s been asked of them. I think the Government just has to be very careful in its attempt to legislate or regularize the service time. I think that’s when it becomes a little tricky, and that’s where they can cross the line.”
When Mount Tabor returned to in-person worship, Ellis said it did so with a reduction in service times to between 75 and 90 minutes.
With the new restrictions for the month of August, Ellis said Mount Tabor’s choir will not be singing and they will see how much closer they can get to the one-hour time limit.
“I am certainly not going to be hard-pressed in ensuring that I’m no more than 59 minutes. We’re going to go there to worship our God and do what is required of us to do for him from whom all blessings come. And we will try to work with the desires of the Government as best as we can as it relates to the time, but we are not going to be hard-pressed to end our services abruptly after 59 minutes if we have not come to a place of a good conclusion for the worship experience.”