By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
The members of various church congregations are divided on whether services should resume after the Bahamas Christian Council announced a proposal they are making to the government for churches to reopen, albeit with strict social distancing policies.
There have been mixed reactions from church-goers who since mid-March have not been able to worship in the traditional way.
Last week, the BCC sent a letter to the government proposing the reopening of churches, laying out its plans to ensure congregants’ safety.
This week the government listed churches among the entities which will resume operations in the first few phases of the economy’s opening. However, a date has not yet been set.
May O’Neal, who attends church frequently, said she supports the move by the Council.
“Much of the noise in the market and people giving their negative comments about the churches opening are coming from people who do not even go to church, cannot appreciate what the church does or why it should be open,” she told Tribune Weekend.
“I see the Church as an essential service, and I believe they should not have been shut down in the first place. The Church is doing the work of God and is a beacon of hope to many people every day. You know how many people rely on their intervention every day and on the soup kitchens to eat?”
The council’s proposed operational guidelines for churches are: operating with a maximum occupancy of 30 percent of a church’s normal seating capacity to allow for social distancing; provide markings along the pews so that there is clear delineation of the required spacing between individuals; worship spaces with chairs will be required to arrange seating so that physical distance standards are maintained; sanitisation stations placed at every entrance to the facility and congregants will be asked to wear masks when entering churches.
“COVID-19 is not going anywhere so we have to take the proper action steps to ensure we are safe with this virus living in our communities while also not allowing it to stifle us and the way we participate in our community,” said Michelle Saunders.
“I am all for social distancing at church. If churches can prove that that they are able to fully enforce these socially distancing rules, then why not let us convene as we use to. There is just something special about coming together and having church,” she said.
Steven Burrows said he is a bit apprehensive about going to church during the initial reopening and will wait to see how things turn out.
“I want to go back to church but I also want to be cautious about it too, so I will be waiting and seeing how all of this plays out,” he said.
Terry Knowles said she believe the council is making a wrong move here.
“I will be watching church from home. What do churches need to open for at time like this when the virus is spreading in our communities? I think it best to wait and not rush any opening. Until I know it is safe, I am staying put,” she said.
Nigel Ferguson agreed.
“Ministers and leaders better use wisdom, and unfortunately I do not think this is the wisest thing right now. The virus spreads in large groupings and we are still in the thick of this, so a move like this is just too soon. I am looking forward to the day though that we can worship without the worries of corona,” he said.
The council said it believes with the introduction of new operational standards, churches will be able to fulfill their civic mandate as the “moral standard bearers” of The Bahamas while also fulfilling their divine mandate as “heaven’s representatives” on the earth.