The raging debate over the number of people who should attend services offered by various religious groupings and organizations of faith has seen most of the local churches opt for no physical attendance.
The Standard spoke to Archbishop Anthony Muheria, the Interfaith Council on the National Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic chairman, to understand more in line with matters arising from the guidelines for safe reopening of in-person congregational worship issued yesterday.
My explanation on the announcement issued yesterday, August 11, 2020 is that Phase One starts on August 18. Please find the attached posters of the process of phased reopening of places of public worship. We are until now in the “pre-opening” phase.
We have noticed that a number of churches have chosen to increase the number of services and masses offered every Sunday; as such, the number of places of worship have also been added to include halls and other rooms in addition to the main sanctuary. Your Grace, kindly elaborate on whether there is a cap on the number of people who are supposed to be present in any church compound at any given time.
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The phased opening of places of public worship as proposed by the guidelines of the Interfaith Council, comprises of five phases; the pre-opening phase and four phases.
The conditions of the pre-opening phase were very strict, taking into account the pandemic rising cases, as well as aiming to indict people into the new procedures.
It is in this phase that a cap of 100 persons in any worship service was placed. The innovation of various churches has seen the increase of a number of services both in time and also in place.
The idea was not to congregate many people either in the premises of worship, or outside. However, there was no cap placed on the number of people in the compound. We must be led more by the spirit of avoiding interaction as much as possible to avoid infection, rather than mere legalistic discussions.
Should worship be restricted only to a building or the IFC allows for open air worship?
Given the advice from the Ministry of Health, it is in fact preferable to have open air services, as the infection rate is highly reduced.
This will be mostly the trend going forward, for those wishing to accomodate more congregants in one service. However, the social distancing rule must be strictly adhered to.
There are certain churches who have turned their parking lots into open air place of worship, is this right, and if so, how many persons can attend such a service?
The number of attendants is guided by the phase we are in. In the pre-opening phase, the maxum for any congregational worship is 100. However, going forward in the other phases, the number will be determined by those that can be accomodated in a given space, arranged according to the 1.5m social distancing.
How many people should attend a wedding and would the same be applicable to ordination?
Again, the guidelines stipulate according to each phase the number of attendants for the celebration. In the pre-opening phase we have had the 15 persons but in the phase 1 up to 50 will be allowed. On the other hand, ordinations are congregational worship, and the rules would apply.
Is it the prerogative of a pastor or priest to limit the number of attendants at a religious function like a wedding?
The pastor may limit the number according to his judgement, but cannot vary the maximum allowed or the other requirements.
Is there a chance for the church to celebrate mass weddings?
Once we overcome the Covid challenge this may be possible. But we must keep in mind that the guidelines aim at assuring safety from infections spread in places of worship. That is what will determine the prudence of any activity not directly envisaged in the guidelines.
What happens if the persons to receive Holy sacrament are more than 15?
We have avoided prescribing too many possibilities. Each must apply the guidines with prudence and responsibility.
Of all these religious rites, many a time there are persons attending as members of the press to either provide coverage either for live streaming or to document such functions, would the media crew also be counted among the restricted number of persons?
We have left to the discretion of the leaders to determine each case that arises prudently in the light of the guidelines.
What are the guidelines on certain sacramental functions that necessitate contact of persons like Anointing of the Sick and Baptism?
All rites that involve contact have also been addressed in the guidelines. Precaution must be observed following all the relevant measures of sanitizing and social distancing by the ministers involved. The KCCB has released specific guidelines to be followed by the Catholic Church.
To what extent has the pandemic affected the Catholic Church, would you be aware if there are any ordained persons or religious persons who have been directly affected.
As you may recall many priests and religious leaders were affected and died in Italy. We have also had several cases of clerics falling sick with Covid. However a bigger number of lay faithful have fallen sick and some succumbed to the illness. We as a Church have had to accomapny and counsel them.
The church heavily relies on offerings, tithes, and donations; would you kindly comment on the effects of new measures towards such contributions?
We are trying to reduce handling of cash, but still many are accustomed to cash collections. We have tried nevertheless to introduce sanitization after the handling of cash. We will see how this develops going forward especially in the rural settings.
Has the Catholic Church approved of collecting traditional Sadaka via Mobile money during Eucharistic celebrations?
It has been possible always to make contribution by any means and in whichever kind. The only thing that has happened during this covid period is that due to the long absence from the Church, many parishes activated and encouraged mobile contributions. People can continue making contributions in kind, by bank transfer, by M-Pesa or envelopes.
It is good to remember that worship is meant to be a moment of connection with God. That is why God must be at the centre of any plans or arrangements. We seek him and do so following his commands. The first of which is to love our neighbour. That is why we cannot take lightly the responsibility of protecting our neighbours, by protecting ourselves even while praying. That is a sign of a true worship that seeks the good of all and God's blessings for all.