Christians yearn to be back together amid COVID crucifixion

Nadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter

Several churches remained closed on Good Friday as worshippers commemorated the most solemn day on the Christian calendar amid a resurgence of COVID-19 infections that have triggered three consecutive weekend lockdowns.

Padlocked gates, hollow halls, and empty parking lots were a common scene at religious sites across the Corporate Area, as many church leaders chose to have pre-recorded services streamed virtually to congregants.

Traditionally, Holy Week would have been brimming with activity as Christians celebrate the final week of Jesus’ life on earth, but there were no mass gatherings of the faithful or dramatisations of flagellation on the Via Dolorosa this Good Friday.

In cases where churches did open their doors, only those deemed essential for online streaming, like the pastor, musicians, worship team, and COVID-19 safety warden were present.

Pastor David Grant of the Jamaica Evangelistic Association on Waltham Park Road said this new paradigm is something he hopes the church won’t have to get used to, although he credits online portals for giving small congregations wider options for outreach.

“It is pretty unusual; I don’t think this is something that we will ever be comfortable with as Christians, because this is not our nature. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us, too, that we should not forget the assembling of ourselves,” he said.

Grant has been attending the church for more than 40 years, and since becoming a pastor, would normally scan the congregation to take note of absentees with the intention to call to find out if all was well. With only 12 persons allowed to attend services now, that is not practical.

“There is a level of fellowship that comes when we get together,” he said.

Along Waltham Park Road, a thoroughfare with one of the densest Christian populations in Jamaica, the JEA was the only one seen opened.

Under the latest editions of the Disaster Risk Management Act, a maximum of 12 persons are allowed to attend church to conduct services or broadcasts up to April 13 within stipulated times. Worshippers must have letters issued by the church.

At the Tarrant Baptist Church on Molynes Road, Pastor June Blaircastillo and a small team were observed getting the sanctuary ready for the broadcast of their Good Friday service.

“I am not happy that we are being suffocated, so to speak. This is not the norm, absolutely for no one,” she insisted.

“It is very sad, however, we are steadfast and understanding that overall, God is our creator and He rules and reigns over all,” said the pastor.

Along with a praise and worship session and the sermon, Blaircastillo said they also intended to partake in communion. Persons at home had already visited the church to collect their matzo, or unleavened bread, and had been encouraged to get their wine or water so they could participate in the ritual virtually.

Congregants at the Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic Church in Kingston also had communion, but the service was not streamed. The church would normally have more than 100 congregants at their Good Friday service, but at the 10 a.m. start yesterday, only six women, two members of the clergy, and one person tasked with monitoring infection-control protocols were seen. Deacon Chris Gooden said many more wanted to be there.

“They are obviously yearning to have communion, but as the body of the church, you could say that we stand in their place as representatives of the entire body, receiving not just on our behalf, but on the part of the body as well,” he said.

Father George Lopez, who is originally from Spain, wishes things were different.

“We think there could be a different way, because the space is big here. We can host here 50 people with all the distances and keeping all the protocols perfectly,” he said.

The Church has received commendation from Prime Minister Andrew Holness for observing the infection-control protocols over the last year, so many were surprised when the new orders were issued. Under the revised Disaster Risk Management Act , person who holds worship services in violation of COVID-19 protocols could be hit with a $100,000 fine.

“It is very important for the community to gather, because when the community gathers, the Spirit makes His presence in the middle of that, so it is very important,” said Lopez.

Despite the restrictions imposed by the lockdown, many Christians celebrated the prospect of the Easter resurrection celebration after the crucifixion’s sombreness.

“It is a day to know that deliverance is here,” said Pastor Al Miller, senior pastor at Fellowship Tabernacle, in a short preamble before turning over to the praise and worship team on Good Friday.