Government issues subtle warning to defiant churches and worshippers

The government sounded a subtle warning to rebellious religious institutions dithering on suspension of services and ceremonies over coronavirus fears.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe put churches and other religious institutions on notice that the law will catch up with them if they continue to defy health measures announced to tame the spread of the virus.

Kagwe also asked individual worshippers and faithful to decide whether to attend church services, knowing that they have a responsibility to mind their neighbours.

“I was not aware that the evangelicals have said that but I would like to ask them to familiarise themselves with the Public Health Act,” he said.

Many churches across the world have cancelled their worship services but some have decided to stay open.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops said that church services across the country would continue albeit with some changes, while Deliverance Church Umoja, among others, put out a statement to their members telling them that the service would go on for those who wished to attend. This was despite a directive by the government suspending all public gatherings, sporting events, open-air religious meetings and all events that are of a huge public nature after the first coronavirus case in the country was confirmed.

When two more cases were confirmed, President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation and reiterated the issue, saying that in line with the directive to avoid crowded places, citizens are encouraged to avoid congregating in places of worship, among other places like weddings and funerals.

On Thursday, the police stormed Kibirigwi Deliverance Church in Ndia, Kirinyaga County and dispersed members who had gathered despite the directive.

Addressing their decision to remain open, Bishop JB Masinde of Deliverance Church Umoja said in a video uploaded on social media sites that going to church on Sunday was voluntary and that no one was being pressured to do so.  “…it is not a decision that we took lightly. We would like to reiterate from the start – nobody and I repeat again (sic) nobody is being forced to come to church. All we said is that we shall be open. You come on a voluntary basis and you shall be welcome. The services shall be short and brief. There’ll be space. The seats have been re-arranged to give you space where you sit without touching anybody,” Masinde said.

Other churches have, however, opted to remain closed in the meantime and conduct their services online and suspend other meetings. Those churches include CITAM, Presbyterian Church (PCEA), All Saints Cathedral and Nairobi Lighthouse Church and others.

“Funeral services shall be attended only by the extended family. No viewing of the body should be done at the mortuary to avoid people congregating...weddings should either be suspended or be done as per the gov’t registrars of marriage directive. A ceremony of five people, the bride, the bridegroom, the best couple and the officiating minister,” read a statement from PCEA.

The issue of churches remaining open is at the forefront of the global battle against Covid-19, especially after what happened in South Korea.