COVID-19: How churches cope without regular services

‘Due To The Situation, Many Pastors Cannot Feed Their Families’
• ‘We Were Forced To Resort To Online Church Services’

Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, things have not been the same in every facet of life. There has been a standstill, and the church has not been spared. So, how are churches and pastors coping? CHRIS IREKAMBA, reports.

‘Lockdown Affected Fulltime Pastors’
(Archbishop Joseph Imariabe Ojo, General Overseer/ Presiding Bishop of Calvary Kingdom Church Int’l, Lagos)
The Lockdown affected people differently, depending on where they reside. For instance, it affected fulltime pastors differently from part-time pastors. Some pastors did not put all their proverbial eggs in one basket.

For the first two weeks in Lagos, for example, the churches were allowed to maintain social distancing and not have a gathering of more than 25 people. At that time, part-time pastors were still able to get income from their employers or personal businesses, while those who do no other thing than preaching were seriously disadvantaged. After those two weeks, it was extended for yet another two weeks, with the churches under lock this time. 

Then came the relaxation, which permitted some businesses to operate, while others remained closed. The Church was among those that remained closed. This is such a pity. It is alarming that banks and markets, which cannot observe social distancing, were allowed to reopen. 

The churches would have been a good platform to educate the people on the need to adhere to these regulations, as they go about their daily routines. But some people in high places have insisted that churches be closed.

This is what our leaders should have done. I mean leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) to be precise. Alas, they could not speak! As regards the security of the Church, Jesus said I will build my Church and gates of hell cannot prevail against it. And except the Lord watches over the city, they watch in vain that watch it. God has been protecting His people and His Church, and He will keep doing so. Amen.

‘Spiritual Life Of Worshippers Have Been Affected, As Well As Church Economy’
(Most Rev. Dr. Isaac Ayo Olawuyi, Archbishop of Lagos, Methodist church Nigeria)

THE sudden outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented shock that will take years to recover from its impacts. It is unexpected, inconceivable and unbelievable. It is an interruption that has shaken the world, the economy, the society and church to the fabric. For the first time in the history of our generation, the church was closed against public worship on Sundays, and to the extent that Christians could not go to church on Easter Sunday for worship. This has not only affected the worship, the fellowship, the administration and the spiritual life of worshippers but has also adversely affected the church’s economy. 

For about seven weeks of the lockdown now, no church service has been held, no gathering, no meetings, no offerings, no tithes and no thanksgiving offerings. Many pastors, due to this situation, cannot feed their families. Church members are crying because of hunger. They are looking up to the church for aids and palliatives. The government is doing its best, but this has not solved the problem. Therefore, the church is often called upon for help. 

As a pastor, I sometimes cry over the plight of many people. I receive text messages every day from so many people, including some that I know and some that I don’t even know. They are all asking for help. 

How have we been coping with this unexpected situation, which came so sudden and without notice? This has obviously created an embarrassment because nobody prepared for it. It is easier to cope with what you have envisaged or prepared for. But how do you handle a global phenomenon, which appeared just like a thief in the night, only to stop virtually everything from functioning? COVID-19 appeared suddenly, halted everything and all of sudden, everything came to a standstill. 

COVID-19 adversely affects the Church in two ways. First, it stops public worship and affects church finances. Secondly, it demoralises many believers.

Since the lockdown, there has not been public church worship in our various churches. So, we have been coping by devising means of encouraging members to begin Family Worship, which is also called Home Worship. In the early Church, the Christians worshipped in the house of some believers. (Romans 16:5). They usually met in the house of a believer to worship.

Another way of coping is by creating a house fellowship in all areas covered by our church. Even though this has been in practice ever before COVID-19, it has proved helpful in coping with the situation. Another method we have adopted is the use of social media, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Zoom to undertake church activities. We go online most of the time to reach the people with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through these means, members are encouraged, lifted and empowered. In fact, it has nullified the effects of the lockdown in the Church’s life.

With regard to church finances, the setback is great. This is because as a church, we consider it inhuman, self-centred and inconsiderate to place demand of the payment of tithes and offerings at this critical time we are all passing through. It is obvious that our people cannot go to work, buy or sell and even some have not been paid salary. How will it sound, therefore, to force them to pay this and that?

Many of them are hungry and the hope they have is the Government and the Church. The palliatives distributed by the government have not been enough to solve the hunger problem. At this time, the church has the responsibility to assist church members, to meet their demands. What we do is to personally appeal to some church elders, who have the means and could help the church financially to come to our rescue. We were able to raise funds through such means, not only to pay church workers but to also give financial assistance and palliatives to vulnerable church members.

On the positive side, however, COVID-19 has brought more blessings to the Church. It has helped the expansion of the gospel. The Church has reached out to so many lives during this lockdown. This has, in turn, served as an encouragement to lift up the hearts of church members. It has also opened our eyes to understand better that the Church is far more than the building. The Church is not the building, where we gather to worship, but the believers themselves. Through worshipping at home and online, we have been able to reach far more people, more than we would have reached the normal Sunday church service. The building may be locked down, but the hearts of true worshippers cannot be locked down.

‘Paying Salaries Of Ministers, Another Staff Is A Huge Challenge’
(Rev. Francis Ejiroghene Waive, General Overseer, Church of the Anointing, Warri, Delta State)

NONE of us has experienced something like COVID-19 before and nobody prepared for it. We read in History about past epidemics, but couldn’t relate with those who lived at that time. So, when the lockdown began, it was considered more or less a joke. Many of us felt it would only last a few days, but here we are today. 

Waive


We were forced to resort to online church services and a few Sundays airing previously recorded messages from our media ministry. Now, we’ve got to develop a permanent online Ministry, as things will certainly never be the same again. Online giving income during this pandemic has been extremely low. This may be because people are holding on to whatever they have out fear of the unknown, or because we never really encouraged this in the past. Now, we know better.

Paying salaries of church ministers and other categories of staff has been a huge challenge. We never knew we were that subsistent in our living. But worse still is the challenge of providing palliatives to the vulnerable and indeed all parishioners. While we struggled as a church to handle our normal responsibilities, we have provided foodstuffs severally to our church members and do not know how we can sustain this. No church member has not also benefitted from our palliatives, as those who live near our churches, as well as friends and family of our members couldn’t be left out.

We have been in serious prayers that all this will end soon. A few of our church members lost loved ones. Others who wanted to get married couldn’t do so. Indeed, everything is disrupted. This is the End Time, and we urge everyone to be prepared for the second coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which will be soon. 

‘Even Though Church Is Closed, We’re Still Connected’
(Pastor Johnson Odesola, Assistant General Overseer (Admin/Personnel) & Pastor-in-Charge Region 1, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Redemption Camp, Nigeria)

FOR the first time in modern history, places of worship, including churches are closed. In moments of crisis, people are looking for leadership. At RCCG, the leader’s first responsibility is to remain calm, which is the trademark of our Daddy GO. Panic causes tunnel vision, which is terrible for decision-making. Strong leadership reminds people that God is in control of every situation, and there is never a reason to panic.
 
As leaders, our first responsibility is to encourage ourselves through God’s word and teach others also from the Bible. We have a mandate to encourage the fearful. The biggest lesson we have learned from COVID-19 is the need to be humble as church leaders. There is so much that we do not know and have to learn. 

This has made it incumbent on us to seek God’s face on a daily basis, offer prayers and words of encouragement to our Church members, to keep them afloat the storms of the pandemic.

Even though the Church is closed, we still stay connected. The most dramatic result has been the exceedingly quick shift of religious services from in-person to online worship, as a result of the government’s directives. Sequel to the prolonged lockdown, the Church has adopted the following strategies: We have encouraged our members to turn their homes into home cell units. Through Daddy GO’s weekly broadcasts and our parish pastors’ weekly webcasts, our connectivity has been sustained. 

We are to develop body, soul and spirit of both the pastors and the church members, by preaching God’s word, as well as sharing food items for various natural groups of the church and their friends in the neighbourhood.

By God’s grace, we’ve achieved a great level of attendance during the COVID-19 outbreak through our weekly broadcast and webcast. Also, our regular Zoom meetings and prayer meetings with all the Ministers on how to move the church forward in times like this. The various natural groups in the Church are not left behind in these new initiatives, as several prayer meetings are going on weekly. Some of the arms of the Church, like the Choir, are meeting online to practise. Despite the situation, some of the House Fellowship Centres are still operated by connecting to national and local programmes in the Parish.

Daddy G.O has been preaching on Sundays centrally on our DOVE television that can reach people almost in every part of the world and he has assigned my humble self ... Pastor J. F. Odesola, A.G.O in charge of Admin/ Personnel to coordinate the midweek services, majorly on Digging Deep, which is the Bible Study and Faith clinics, which is our Prayer meeting. 

We thank God because we have been able to reposition the Church and adapt to the new wave of “Digital Church.” Some of our parishes also use Facebook and WhatsApp to connect with their church members. Besides spiritual encouragement, people also need the assurance that when they are in need, they will get help from the Church. We have used our Christian Social Responsibility (CSR) platforms to mobilise comfortable brethren to provide charity services, including donating foodstuffs, medical equipment to members, communities, and particularly vulnerable groups. 

As much as possible, we try to help meet the physical needs of the congregants through making phone calls to everyone, creating a food supply chain to supplement what some families may need like rice, beans, garri, Indomie noodles, egg, yam and of course, money, as well as assisting members in paying house rents and hospital bills. 

We’ve encouraged our members to religiously adhere to government’s directives, as they relate to the fight against COVID-19 and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); frequent washing of hands, sanitise their hands and use of facemask.
   
Concerning security during this lockdown, while our trust is in the Lord, we have employed the services of a security outfit to secure the Church facilities. Where possible, burglar proofs are put in place to complement the services of the security outfit. We also have good community relations with our neighbours, just as we collaborate with the local or divisional Police headquarters, to enjoy proper coverage.

The Bible says in Psalm 121:8 that God promised to preserve the going out and coming in of His children.

 

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