Pastor Lee Fore
When the Covid-19 pandemic began to spread, a passage from the writings of Martin Luther did some rounds on the internet.
With his usual combination of down-to-earth wisdom and practical piety, Luther insisted that preachers and pastors should remain at their posts. As good shepherds, they should be prepared to lay down their lives for their sheep.
“If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me,” he wrote in a letter to a pastor friend. “I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely.”
The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHCD) has set guidelines for worshipping in the context of Covid-19 health regulations. The board comprise of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), the Zimbabwe Catholics Bishops Conference (ZCBC), the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) and Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches and Zionists in Africa (UDACIZA).
The ZHCD represents the majority of Christian churches in Zimbabwe. It has designed the guidelines to assist member churches to resume worship life and Christian fellowship in ways that minimise the chances of infection with Covid-19.
The guidelines are informed by the resources drawn from the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health and Child Care.
They are also drawn from best practices from other worship communities in the countries where worship has also resumed. The nation has been in lockdown due to Covid-19 since March 2020. This has resulted in suspension of all religious gatherings.
On June 11, 2020 President Mnangagwa gradually relaxed the lockdown conditions and announced the re-opening of places of worship with no more than 50 members. Church members were encouraged to adhere to physical distancing and good personal hygiene.
Following the Presidential day of prayer and fasting on June 15, 2020 it has been proved beyond doubt that Zimbabwe is a religious nation that puts God first.
On the day, people from all walks of life joined hands to pray and fast for the nation. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on our economy and social life hence the need to be prayerful. The church was praying for the re-opening of places of worship for the purposes of fellowship according to Hebrews 10:25, which says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another.”
However, there is need to emphasise the aspect of love by protecting one another in the midst of this pandemic as church members gather to conduct services.
Father Kennedy Muguti of Roman Catholic recently held his first Mass following the relaxation of the lockdown regulations on churches.
He emphasised that Zimbabwe must put God first in every facet of life.
Reverend Tigere Nyamakawo of Evangelical Church of Zimbabwe welcomed Government’s decision on the resumption of churches.
He highlighted that the church provides an essential service to the nation, including spiritual healing for the masses.
However, Prophet Elijah Shammah of Global Missionary Church said the Government’s announcement came as a surprise.
Although he applauded the President’s initiative, he said they had adjusted into the online services, adding that it might take them some time before they can gather for physical church services.
It is important to note that church buildings are not an escape from the world, but a bridgehead into the world. A proper theology of “sacred space” ought to see buildings for public worship as advance signs of the time when God’s glory will fill all creation.
Christians should therefore celebrate every way in which their living Lord is out and about, bringing healing and hope far beyond the visible limits of church buildings.
Through Covid-19, the Christian faith had been reduced to a “private” movement. Thus I could still go shopping in a crowded place, but I could no longer go and sit in the ancient, prayer-soaked chapel across the street.
Worship had become invisible.
I find myself caught between these two viewpoints, both of which seem so right. I totally understand that we need to be responsible and extremely careful. I am appalled by reports of misguided people who ignore safety regulations out of the belief that as Christians, they are automatically protected against the disease.
I actually heard someone saying, “You’ll be safe inside church because the devil can’t get in there.” That is the kind of superstition that gets Christian faith a bad name.
Fellow Christians, the devil knows his way in there as well as anywhere else.
The church and all its bits and pieces has been a vital part of some people’s spirituality, while for others all such things are irrelevant since one can worship God from anywhere.
But we may all learn from the present crisis, and we must remember one another in charitable prayer.
Pastor Lee Fore can be reached on +263 773 469 191 or +263 712 314 734