Jamaica: Churches go online with pews near empty

Jamaica: Churches go online with pews near empty
Astley Thomas and Coralee Fearon sanitising their hands at East Queen Street Baptist Church in Kingston on Sunday.
Astley Thomas and Coralee Fearon sanitising their hands at East Queen Street Baptist Church in Kingston on Sunday.

(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – Churches in Kingston and St Andrew have been adhering to Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ order against mass gatherings, holding services with 20 persons or fewer as they observe social distancing to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in Jamaica.

Some have made provisions for congregants to access worship sessions online via social media platforms such as Zoom, which facilitates video and web conferencing. The faithful few who did show up for church had their hands thoroughly sanitised before entering.

Yesterday morning when The Gleaner visited a near-empty Wesleyan Holiness Church on Mannings Hill Road, a congregant was getting the technology ready to facilitate those at home to engage, through a digital platform, in prayer and worship.

Pastor Michael Cummings whispered a lengthy supplication in front of the pulpit in observance of the governor general’s proclamation that the nation engage in two days of prayer and fasting from last Friday evening to yesterday evening.

“Normally, we have 80 adults and 70 children. Right now, we use the Zoom app to accommodate the young people and the middle-aged,” Cummings told The Gleaner.

“For the elderly, all we can do is call them during the week to have devotions and pray for them, to encourage them. Funnily, the elderly are the ones who encourage us. … The elderly are more grounded because they are strong believers in the end of times,” he said, following prayer.

Monroe Wisdom, pastor of Clifton New Testament Church of God, just up the road from Wesleyan Holiness, said that social-distancing guidelines forced them to host six separate services. For the 8 a.m. service, 20 persons were accommodated in the main church hall. Two additional buildings to the back of the grounds hosted 20 persons each.

Wisdom said that the same procedure was repeated for the 10 a.m. service to ensure that its members’ spiritual well-being was catered for “at a time like this”.

“We think that if persons can still go to work, the pharmacy, and the supermarket, then indeed, we should abide by the PM’s instructions but still have services. We have the facility where we can house persons in three groups,” Wisdom said, adding that they hosted 157 persons overall last week.

At East Queen Street Baptist Church in downtown Kingston, the size of the congregation was thin and had a similar set-up as Clifton New Testament.

Usher Astley Thomas said: “We have 20 persons inside the church. We send the additional people over to our education centre, and if more come, we send them upstairs to our education centre.”


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