By Mashudu Netsianda
Most churches in Bulawayo yesterday complied with the new lockdown regulations banning public gatherings with a majority of them resorting to conducting virtual services.
Under the 30-day lockdown regulations, all public gatherings are banned, except funerals where there should be not more than 30 people.
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also Health and Child Care Minister, recently announced fresh 30-day nationwide lockdown regulations as the country steps up efforts to confront the deadly Covid-19 following a spike in cases.
Before the announcement that left only a few essential services providers operating, the number of people at gatherings including for church services was limited to 100. During the lockdown period all people are required to stay at home, except for essential movement to seek health services, buy food, medicines, other essentials and critical services.
The Apostolic Faith Mission of Portland Oregon in Southern Africa urged its members to use WebEx, an application for web conferencing and videoconferencing for Sunday services.
The Apostolic Faith Mission of Africa posted sermons and songs on its Facebook page.
Church leaders said the cancellation of public services is in compliance with lockdown regulations to combat the spread of the deadly global pandemic, which has so far claimed nearly 2 million lives and left 90 million people infected globally.
A Chronicle news crew moved around the city and observed that a number of churches in the city’s western and eastern suburbs had their gates under lock and key in compliance with lockdown regulations.
However, some members of the Apostolic Faith sect worshipping in open spaces, defied the lockdown regulations.
Clergymen who spoke to Chronicle yesterday commended Government for banning public gatherings, saying the move will help curb the spread of the coronavirus. As at Saturday, Zimbabwe had recorded 20 499 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 483 deaths.
Senior Pastor in charge of Brethren in Christ Church (BICC), Bulawayo Central, Rev Ndabezinhle Nyathi said the ban on public gatherings by Government is a noble idea, which will help curb the spread of the second wave of
Covid-19. “As a church we are saying Government did the right thing by banning public gatherings because looking at the statistics, the number of people being infected by Covid-19 is on the rise.
“We have about 30 congregants that contracted the virus while some succumbed to it and this ban is a noble idea, which we are embracing,” he said.
“We encourage our congregants and the generality of Zimbabweans to wear face masks in public places, sanitise their hands and practise social distancing as well as avoiding unnecessary movements.”
Rev Nyathi said following the lockdown regulations they have resorted to livestreaming their main services every Sunday using Facebook.
“We also post our sermons and musical audios. Every morning, I send a devotion message and it is shared on various media platforms. We have also created chat groups where we record audios,” he said.
“Sharing our sermons and services online is now an advantage for the church in terms of spreading the Word of God as well as reaching out to many people. Before Covid-19, I was only preaching to our congregants but now I am preaching to people in the US and UK and some of the congregants that we lost are now seeing us online and they are returning to the fold and that is a positive development.”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe (ELCZ) leader for the Western Diocese, Bishop Michael Dube said: “We laud Government for the ban on public gatherings, which is very necessary given the spike in Covid-19 cases in Zimbabwe. There is need to protect lives and as a church we have resorted to conducting virtual services, which we livestream and share on various social media platforms.
“Sadly, our congregants in rural communities are missing out largely because of lack of access to modern communication tools. When it comes to Christianity, part of it is about coming together, which we call the ministry of presence and this ministry is now lacking because of the fear of the pandemic, but we understand the situation and therefore it is important for people to comply so that we reduce the number of mortalities and infections in our country.”
Bishop Dube said they urged their followers to open WhatsApp groups to share sermons, scriptures and songs during the lockdown.
A majority of churches have resorted to opening groups for services and using the cheaper WhatsApp platform.
Rev Jabulani Mafohla, who is the District Superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene (Zimbabwe West District) and a pastor at Emganwini Church of the Nazarene, said sermons on WhatsApp have enabled congregants to follow services during the lockdown.
“On Sunday like this one, we have just finished our services for the day. We sing and then record that singing and share with others and we are doing these as families because of the lockdown, which was necessitated by Covid-19,” he said.
Rev Mafohla said virtual services were so successful that they could be adopted even beyond the lockdown for congregants who cannot make it to church for various reasons.
“Through social media, our services have included members in UK, Binga and remote parts of the world. Everyone has received edification from God’s word. This Covid-19 could be a blessing in disguise as God’s word has reached people who were normally excluded from physical services,” he said.
Harvest House International Church leader Bishop Dr Colin Nyathi said the ban of public gatherings will help curb the spread of the Covid-19.
He said they were now conducting virtual services and sharing them on YouTube and Facebook where congregants get an opportunity to listen and watch the sermons and Bible teachings via livestreaming.
To promote social distancing and minimise the spread of the virus, most congregants yesterday worshipped privately in their homes with the necessary support in the form of livestreaming, downloading or printed worship packages and sermons, which were availed to members through their pastors.
Mr Samson Mukondo of the Apostolic Faith Church and his family of four conducted a family worship service at his home in Tshabalala. The Chronicle.