News emanating from Rome is that the Catholic Church in Rome has ordered the closure of all their churches and the scrapping of compulsory Sunday Mass to combat the spread of Coronavirus. According to Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, Rome's 900 churches will remain closed till April 3.
This is food for thought for churches and religious congregations in Africa. Desperate conditions such as these should necessitate drastic actions. Nations are closing their doors to foreigners and residents are being advised and constrained in some cases to stay at home to halt the spread of this rampaging pandemic. The nature of church gatherings in Africa would need to be reassessed and restructured to address the threat posed by the virus to congregants in the region. The time has come for our churches to start working on strategies that would minimise the impact of the situation on members and the wider society they interact with. Churches should apply some common sense to reorganise fellowship meetings in ways that would not jeopardise the flock.
We do not all operate at the same level of faith and understanding. The weak should not be exposed to tempting conditions greater than their faith can endure. The African Church must be particularly cautious, our health systems are fragile, and ignorance is rife. Ecumenical organisations (like CAN and PFN in Nigeria) must be at the forefront of this crusade to guide the flock from the looming catastrophe.
This is both a matter of faith and a matter of knowledge. My people perish for lack of knowledge. While living by faith, we must learn from the Early Church and from the experiences of God’s people all through Church history. The Bible tells us that:
'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven...a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.Ecclesiates 3:1,5.'
'And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. Exodus 13:17.
'After several days had gone by, the Jewish leaders plotted to murder Saul, but their plot became known to him. They were even watching the gates day and night to murder him, but his disciples took him one night and let him down through the city wall by lowering him in a basket.' Acts 9:23-25.
As we can see from the passages above, this is a time to refrain from embracing. There were times when instead of manifesting foolish faith, the saints made use of their legs to flee from dangerous situations. We must not tempt the Lord our God. As we begin to see more coronavirus cases in Africa, instead of encouraging mass gatherings which is a common phenomenon in African countries, we must now start exploring possibilities of temporary protection measures like doing church in smaller units such as homes or utilising technology where possible, for online fellowship meetings.
Church fellowship strategies must reflect a healthy balance between faith and commonsense. For those of us who are too ‘spiritual’ to embrace such advice, it is pertinent to remember that the hour cometh and now is when true worshippers shall worship the Lord, not in a physical building, but in spirit and in truth. While we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, we must remember that where two or three are gathered together, He is there in the midst of them.
Pastors are generally acting with wisdom when they employ ushers, church security and bodyguards to protect them from physical harm during church meetings. The same principle must be applied in this trying period to protect their vulnerable sheep. As members of His Body, we can both act in faith and walk in wisdom.
It is almost inevitable that multitudes are going to die during this perilous period. Africa our beloved and resilient continent is still largely unscathed by this ravaging pandemic. But this is obviously a case of the calm before the storm. We must all start preparing now for the flood that is certain to follow. We must pray and we must prepare. Basic health and hygiene teaching must become a staple in our Sunday schools for adults and children in churches across the continent. Many of our people live in slums and rural areas with no access to technology and information, we must all be proactive in educating the faithful, our family, our friends, and even foes, in the spirit of love.
We must teach them to wash their hands. We must teach them how to do the washing. We must tell them to use sanitizers. We must remind them to use a tissue when coughing and sneezing or to use their sleeves if tissue is not available. We must remind them of the danger of touching their eyes, noses, and mouths with unwashed hands. They must also remember to avoid close contact with people who are unwell and to self-isolate and seek medical help if they are experiencing fever, persistent cough, and breathing difficulties.
May the Lord spread His protective Wings over our beloved continent, and indeed over all the earth. May multitudes be drawn to seek solace at the foot of the cross. May the Lord’s flock be shielded from this aggressive pestilence that is wasting away many. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Remember, a thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right side, but it shall NOT come near you. May the Lord protect and preserve you and your loved ones.