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…Most Christian denominations have not instituted vaccination requirement for in-person worship
By Lisa Hamilton
The majority of Christian denominations in Guyana will not be requiring their members to present a COVID-19 vaccination card or a negative PCR test for face-to-face worship.
On September 4, 2021, the Government issued an update to the COVID-19 Emergency Measures that to enter a public building – meaning a building to which the public has lawful access – persons in Guyana will now need to be vaccinated or enter by appointment with a negative PCR test.
Since then, a few Christian denominations have relayed to their membership the gazetted requirements and have asked them to operate in keeping when attending church.
VACCINATE OR STAY HOME
For instance, Leaders of the Assemblies of God (AOG) Church were instructed by the Executive that “all congregants must be vaccinated” before attending in-person church services.
“We are recommending full compliance with the order of the law as stated above with immediate effect. If in-person services are held, all congregants must be vaccinated, all members should sanitize, wear a mask and practice social distancing,” the Church stated in a letter to its leaders.
While persons may opt to attend church online, the Executives noted that technical personnel, as well as those participating from the church, must be vaccinated. The letter continued: “…we have also taken this position because we are also compelled to be our ‘brother’s keeper’ and we will not in any way coerce anyone to make any decision which they may deem to be unconscionable.”
Meanwhile, in a message on its Facebook page, the Living Stones New Testament Church of God informed members that proof of vaccination is required for in-person participation. Those unvaccinated were urged to attend church via Zoom, Facebook and Youtube.
“Vaccinated persons could send an image of your immunization booklet and we will add you to the in-person register. Otherwise, you must bring the booklet with you on Sunday,” the message stated.
NO LONGER A PLACE OF REFUGE?
Learning of the decision of the AOG Church, Apostle Nigel London, who has become more well-known for his resistance to the Government’s mandatory vaccination measures, referred to church leaders who have enforced a restriction on church attendance as “weak” and “fearful”.
He pointed out that the AOG Church made no room for exemptions and, even so, the church is now ironically prohibiting persons from fellowshipping in-person when this is their duty.
London questioned: “Is this the best that you can arrive at when the measures have become more stringent, more crippling, more destructive to Guyanese people including your ‘members’? When this has become the worst of the worst, this is the best you can do?”
He also humoured that it now appears that a demon-possessed person and his/her demon will have to be COVID-19 vaccinated before they can enter the church for deliverance. He called on AGO members to take up placards like Guyana’s teachers and protest such hindrances by the church to religious freedom.
“Can you imagine, after these people been through so much hell, lost their jobs, some of them got fired because they said they’re not taking any vaccine, now you’re telling them they can’t come to church for solace? For peace of mind? Just for hope? What happened to the church being a place for refuge?” London questioned.
WE WILL NOT MANDATE VACCINATION
Meanwhile, in response to the Government’s most recent mandate as it relates to public buildings, Roman Catholic Bishop of Guyana, Francis Alleyne announced that Catholic churches in Guyana would rather close their doors to in-person worship than to require COVID-19 vaccination of their members.
The Bishop said that requiring vaccination will result in many of the Catholic churches’ members being treated unequally and this cannot be tolerated.
“Our churches will be closed for public worship until further notice,” Bishop Alleyne said in a statement to church members. “We ought not to leave part of the body detached from the whole. Therefore, in solidarity with these brothers and sisters, and beginning on Friday, September 10, we will conduct all our worship virtually and refrain from gathering in any number.”
Even so, he urged members to be vaccinated if they choose to do so and to remain united in prayer in their homes and through their church’s virtual platforms.
Bishop Alleyne said: “The severe threat of the pandemic and the increasing numbers of infections and deaths warrants strong measures and this asks of us, not only that we comply with reliable scientific guidance but out of our Christian conviction, to go beyond the call and act in favour of the common good to the extent that it is necessary and involves sacrifice.”
DOESN’T APPLY TO PLACES OF WORSHIP
On the other hand, President of the Guyana Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Pastor Exton Clarke said that the doors of the denomination’s over 200 congregations will not be closed to unvaccinated members.
Referring to the recently gazetted measures, he said: “As far as our understanding goes it doesn’t relate to churches because that is not stipulated under Places of Worship, Section 13 [of the gazetted measures]. So, we’re continuing, we’re open, we’re continuing as normal until that provision changes. We clarified that it doesn’t relate to churches or mosques or temples.”
According to the COVID-19 Measures regarding Places of Worship, there is no specific vaccination mandate. Instead, it states that religious leaders must ensure that attendance at religious services and gatherings are restricted to 40 per cent the capacity of the building where the service or gathering is to be held.
Where there are multiple services, there should be no less than 45 minutes between each service to allow for sanitation and cleaning of facilities. Elderly persons should be given the option to attend services separately and apart from the normal services, preferably early in the morning.
Meanwhile, the place of worship must be cleaned and sanitized immediately before and after all gatherings and service. Sanitisation or handwashing stations should be provided for persons to use before and after the service or gathering and where persons enter the place of worship barefoot, it must be ensured that feet-washing facilities are provided. Where applicable, when attendees enter a place of worship barefoot, shoes and sandals should be placed separately in bags.
The notice states that, as far as is reasonably practicable and where persons are not from the same household, all persons, whether sitting or standing, should maintain a physical distance of six feet from each other in or outside of the place of worship.
Religious leaders must also ensure that every person is wearing a mask fitted to cover the nose and mouth of the person while in the place of worship. Greeting practices should be adapted to avoid handshakes, hugs and other forms of physical contact.
In other cases, in serving religious or ceremonial foods, including communion, it must be ensured that individual and pre-packaged boxes are used instead of shared portions from communal containers.
Where applicable, persons should bring their own personal prayer rugs, covering or fabric to place over the carpet for daily prayers. The resume in-person worshipping also caters to prayers, weddings and funerals but in the controlled and restricted manner as outlined.
Importantly, religious leaders must ensure that any person who has any flu-like symptoms or respiratory symptoms does not attend services or gatherings. Even so, a room or area should be identified where a person could be isolated if he or she becomes ill or begins to develop flu-like symptoms or respiratory symptoms. In this case, the leaders must ensure that the Ministry of Public Health is informed of any person who has those symptoms.
These measures do not restrict virtual religious worship and must be in keeping with the COVID-19 curfew applicable to the country.