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Some pastors supportive of restrictions on church services

With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing on New Providence, some local pastors yesterday expressed that while the data provided by health officials does not suggest churches are contributing to the spike in cases, the new restrictions implemented by Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis on Wednesday were needed as the cases are “out of control”.

“Something had to be done,” said Bishop Neil Ellis, who is the Bishop of Global United Fellowship and Mount Tabor Church.

“I don’t know whether the lockdown is necessary. I don’t know. But I know they had to do something because the numbers were out of hand, actually, which is the reason why I didn’t bother to open up the first Sunday in September. I wanted to see the numbers go down a little bit. If we hadn’t got this body sanitizer, I would not be opening [on] Sunday.”

Administrative Bishop of Church of God Moses Johnson shared the same view.

“The competent authority had to make a decision with the COVID-19 numbers being where they are and going up every day; sometimes 75 to 100 going up every day. I think that they had to make a decision as to what to do,” Johnson told The Nassau Guardian.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis this week announced new restrictive measures to assist in decreasing COVID-19 numbers on New Providence and Abaco.

Churches are currently allowed to operate within their buildings within the health guidelines.

However, new restrictions only allow them to operate on Saturdays and Sundays for one hour between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Bahamas Faith Ministries Senior Pastor Dave Burrows said that one hour may not be an ideal time frame.

“An hour seems to be restrictive because, you know, most church services don’t happen in an hour,” the pastor said.

“At least an hour and a half would have been better. But, as I said, I wasn’t involved in that process.”

However, Ellis said he had no problem being allowed one hour, as his services last between 60 and 70 minutes.

“Churches, since they are permitted to open, they have to be very careful and make sure that people are following the protocols and they aren’t keeping people in service two and three hours,” he said.

Johnson also said the new time churches were given to operate still allows for members to benefit from the services.

“I don’t think it should be more than one hour. I think the one hour is sufficient. If you deal with the one hour and you put the important stuff up front and give time for the word,” Johnson said.

“If persons get a half an hour for the word, I think that’s quite a bit of time. You can say a whole lot in a half hour. Quite a [number] of people are in church for sometimes two hours and sometimes there is still like 20 or 25 minutes for the word.”

Burrows said he is hopeful that the government’s decision is in line with health officials.

“In cases like these, I tend to defer to the experts. So, for example, in this case the government would have consulted with the [Bahamas] Christian Council and the health experts to come up with their recommendation,” he said.

“Whatever the government decides, I’m trusting that it’s based on the proper consultation and I think the regime that we came up with previously was that the supervision of churches will be done in conjunction with the three parties: the government, the health officials and the churches. Whether it is a difference in spread, whether it’s one hour or less or more, I really couldn’t say.”

Johnson conveyed that while the new measures are much-needed, churches are feeling the brunt of the pandemic.

“You would have known from March until now the church services have been off and on,” he said.

“For about six months, many of the churches have really been struggling.”

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Italia Clarke

Italia Clarke joined the Nassau Guardian in August 2020. Clarke covers national, human interest and social issues. Education: University of The Bahamas, BA in Media Journalism

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