The decision by the Government of Liberia to extend the State of Emergency while, in the same breath, slightly relaxing restrictions against religious gatherings has received mixed reactions across the religious sector. Some churches embrace the permission to hold smaller than normal religious gatherings and some others are rather lukewarm about the pronouncement. Few others, however, have issued a “thanks, but no thanks” to the government, citing the increase in the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases in the country.
“Providence wishes to state that in view of the growing escalation in the number of cases and the seeming lack of control of this Coronavirus pandemic by our Heath system, we will continue to suspend all mass gathering to include all Worship Services, Bible Studies, Prayer Meetings, Weddings, Funerals, Choir Rehearsals, among others. Should things change and improve, we will notify you accordingly for the resumption of fellowship.”
“Remember, we missed you and we are PRAYING for YOUR SAFETY and partnering with GOD to help provide your needs in these difficult times,” said Rev. Samuel B. Reeves, Jr., Senior Pastor of Providence Baptist Church, in a WhatsApp chat statement to his congregation. “In God’s own time He will bring us through this with a testimony.”
Providence Baptist maintains that it will continue to provide you a full weekly digital service, including a weekly Facebook Ministry and regular radio and TV broadcasts. According to Rev. Reeves, the Church will continue to pray for and support the efforts of the Ministry of Health and the NPHIL in promoting and maintaining social distancing to limit the further spread of the virus.
“Providence Baptist Church remains prayerful and hopeful that the Government and Health authorities can get ahead of the virus by ramping up testing, tracing, isolating, and treatment,” it added.
In a statement appearing to be in concurrence with Providence Baptist, Bishop Jensen Seyenkulo of the Lutheran Church in Liberia reacted to the government’s relaxation as good, although he believes having a consultation with the health authorities will build more confidence than statements from politicians.
Bishop Seyenkulo, whose church was one of the first to decide on disassembling his congregation because of the virus, told the Daily Observer via telephone interview that it is better the experts provide the advice and, based on advice that will be provided by the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), he will regather his congregation.
“I respect the Baptists for their view, and I want to go back to work to gather my congregation, but it is better I do this in line with expert advice. The government’s relaxation is not bad though, it is good that we get advice from the experts,” Bishop Seyenkulo said.
Reverend G. Larque Vaye of the Calvary Baptist Church in reaction to the relaxation also said: “We had about 10 cases of the Coronavirus and churches were asked to close. Why will we be in 200 plus and churches are asked to reopen? I am also of the opinion that if churches would recommence congregational gathering, it should be done with advice from health authorities.”
He, however, said he has thrown the concern out to his members on their WhatsApp group chat for their views, and during the week he will meet with health experts of his church to discuss whether or not to recommence church services.
However, there are still other dissenting views to the providence Baptist’s view. For Reverend Eleazar Gbengan of the Evangelical Christian Assembly (ECA) in Ganta, Nimba County, he believes the church is very essential in controlling a large segment of members of the society, and therefore relaxing the restriction on gathering in the church is a “Good move.”
According to Reverend Gbengan, church leaders can help to inform their members during congregational gathering on policy issues emanating from the government, and therefore opening churches is a good idea. On the critical side, where some claim the suspension of churches is drying out the financial baskets of churches as tithe and offering are either slow or not coming in at all, Reverend Gbengan said: “If it is about tithes and offering then the church should not open, because the church is more than the tithes and offerings.”
Reverend John Baryogar of the Bethel World Cathedral and President of the Christian Community in Ganta also believes that reopening churches is in the positive direction on grounds that Christians who still need the spiritual food will come to get it and grow, and that leaders of churches will help the government to disseminate messages about the pandemic, as awareness and sensitization remain poor in communities.
He contended that while churches are shut down to promote social distancing, marketplaces remain active with people coming close together to transact business. However some critics contend that there is no comparison between the two as any individual can meet God in the privacy of his home but cannot to the contrary meet marketers in his home to shop. And this is why they believe that the ban on assemblies should hold until otherwise given the greenlight by Health authorities.