Saturday, 11 April 2020

EASTER CANCELLED IN ZIM


CHURCHES in Zimbabwe have, in an unprecedented development, this year cancelled their traditional Easter retreats with most religious organisations resorting to live streaming their services during the 21-day lockdown.

The cancellation of Easter church meetings follows a directive by President Mnangagwa banning all gatherings of more than 50 people as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country.

During the lockdown period, all citizens are required to stay at home, except when seeking health services, buying food, medicines and other essentials as well as to offer critical services.

In separate interviews yesterday, church leaders said the cancellation of public services during the Easter holiday, which starts today, is in compliance with lockdown regulations to combat the spread of the deadly global pandemic, which has so far claimed about 90 000 lives with more than 1,5 million people infected globally.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe (ELCZ) leader for the Western Diocese, Bishop Michael Dube said they have joined other churches worldwide in calling off this year’s Easter meetings due to Covid-19.

“We have a challenge as you know that since the advent of Christianity, this year is a year in which the whole world will fail to conduct Easter during which people would traditionally gather in one geographical space. We have resorted to exploring other avenues such as utilising social media to spread the Word of God, although it will benefit mostly urbanites who have access to modern communication tools unlike those in the rural areas,” he said.

Bishop Dube said they are also encouraging their followers to open WhatsApp groups for the purposes of sharing sermons, scriptures and songs during the Easter holiday. “Some of our congregants have created WhatsApp groups for our members and I believe, it is quite an effective way of spreading the message of salvation as it reaches a wider audience. We have already come up with Easter programmes and there are people who will be coordinating and people are already geared for that,” he said.

“We start with Maundy Thursday, which is the Christian holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the Washing of the Feet and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the canonical gospels. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, preceded by Holy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday.”

Harvest House International Church leader Bishop Dr Colin Nyathi said they will be running a virtual church for the congregants who will access Easter services via livestreaming.

“We are conducting Good Friday services on livestreaming including Easter Sunday as well as the Holy Communion. On Good Friday we will primarily focus on the Cross and then Sunday on the blood and all this is done via livestreaming. We cancelled our traditional gathering this year in compliance with the Government ban on large gatherings as well as conforming to the lockdown regulations,” he said.

Rev Lot Mateza of the Apostolic Faith Church (Ivangeli) said congregants staying in the same neighbourhood will gather in small groups during Easter. “In addition to livestreaming our services, we are also encouraging our members to gather in small groups or alternatively conduct family worship services in their houses as part of measures to combat the spread of Covid-19. We also urge our members to observe the principle of social distancing and avoid social contacts during services,” he said.

The Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church cancelled its services and adopted a lengthy period of long-distance worship with congregants encouraged to turn to digital platforms.

“To promote social distancing and minimise the spread of the virus, members will worship privately in their homes. Necessary support in the form of livestreaming, downloading or printed worship packages and sermons will be availed to members through their pastors in order to facilitate similar worship and study themes for church members until the end of the lockdown.

“Offertory readings will be given out to members through the same channels for their convenience,” the head of the SDA Church in Zimbabwe, Pastor Micah Choga, said in a statement.

In a statement, the Apostolic Faith Mission of Portland Oregon in Southern Africa directed its branches in the region to cancel all public church services and events until further notice.

“We recommend that all our branch churches follow the guidelines issued by the Government. Kindly take advantage of services being posted by our brethren in South Africa and we will also liaise with them to also broadcast local services on YouTube and for those on WhatsApp, audio messages will be sent. Until we can gather again, we recommend that our congregation members join hands in their homes in prayer, and this is an opportunity to engage in family worship time with those in our households,” read the statement.

Pastor Goodwill Shana of Word of Life Church posted on the church’s Facebook page notifying members on the cancellation of services during Easter.

He said the church will reach out to members via live stream on Facebook and other social media platforms.
The Catholic Church in Zimbabwe has also indefinitely suspended obligatory Mass and banned some traditional church rituals such as shaking hands and  receiving communion with one’s tongue to contain spread of coronavirus.

“All priests should, however, continue to celebrate Mass in their parishes without a congregation on a daily basis. The continuing celebration of Mass ensures that the faithful can be joined in the spiritual communion with the priests of the Church . . . Knowing that the Mass is being celebrated, joining in spiritually in that celebration; watching the livestreaming of the Mass where possible; following its prayers, making an act of spiritual communion: this is how we will share in the sacrifice of Christ in these days,” the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) General-Secretariat said in the statement.

The ZCBC, made up of eight bishops, said congregants can follow church services on live streaming and can pray at home as a family or individuals.

The leader of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) in Southern Africa Reverend Sikhalo Cele said his church will not congregate until the situation normalises.

“We will continue with the shutdown until it is resolved. We will only change our stance when we get new knowledge that is grounded on scientific and empirical evidence,” Reverend Cele said. Chronicle

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