Religious leaders have issued a set of procedures that will be followed as Worship centres reopen their gates, more than six months since they last congregated.
This comes after a pronouncement by President Yoweri Museveni allowing Places of Worship to open, although for only 70 parishioners for each service. The President who has in the last three months gradually relaxed the lockdown measures occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic noted that the places of worship can reopen with individual prayers or confessions under strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
Today, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Most Rev. Dr Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu welcomed the move, saying its a good beginning to have a smaller group to gather in a socially distanced way and offer prayers and worship.
Kaziimba said that since the early church did both congregational worship and home worship, the Church in Uganda will also continue implementing both methods until government fully reopens places of worship to the public.
“In the early church, the Book of Acts summarizes how the Apostles, who were the first church leaders, conducted their ministry. It says, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”
Asked how the 70 people set by the government will be selected to attend prayers, Kaziimba said that it will be impossible for the entire congregation to gather, even if they are split into different groups of 70 for worship Service. He gave an example of All Saints’ Cathedral where he is Bishop, noting that they have over 4,000 people attending on a given Sunday spread across three different services.
“To cater to all 4000 people in groups of 70, we would need to schedule 57 different worship services, which is simply not practical. We appeal to the government to reconsider the guidelines and offer maximum seating based on the number of square metres in the worship space rather than a fixed number of people, regardless of the size of the room,” he explained.
The Archbishop also appealed to government to allow outdoor gatherings for worship with all appropriate SOPs in place.
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Kaziimba also advised that if one’s local congregation is so big that not everyone can gather in groups of 70 on a Sunday, then they should take advantage of the media-based worship Services available. Regarding Sunday school, the Archbishop said that the Church is going to have recorded Children Services which will be broadcast for the young ones.
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On the other hand, the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) Secretary-General Ramadhan Mugalu also welcomed the reopening of places of worship irrespective of the set numbers.
“The UMSC has more than 12,600 mosques across the country and they vary in capacity. For example is you say 70 persons, at the Gaddafi National Mosque, is only one line during prayers compared to its capacity of 30,000 people. But we are going to comply irrespective of the small number that has been given,” he said.
Asked how the 70 people will be selected, Mugalu said that it will be on ‘first come, first serve’ basis and that every Muslim will be required to carry their prayer mat and carry out ablution from home. Regarding Juma prayers which bring together big numbers of people, Mugalu noted that further guidance will be issued on Thursday.
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Dr Joseph Serwadda, the Presiding Apostle of the Born Again Faith in Uganda had no kind words for the set number of people to attend prayers at a given time.
“I have no comment…I have the capacity for 700 people, all observing SOPs, I have no comment for 70 because I even have a choir bigger than 70 people. I have no comment for 70 if I have the capacity for 700,” said Serwadda who pastors at Victory Church, Ndeeba.
Efforts to get a response from the Catholic Church were futile after Fr. Philip Odii, the Director Communications at Uganda Catholic Secretariat referred our reporter to Bishop Joseph Zziwa, the Chairman Uganda Episcopal Conference whose calls went unanswered.
Earlier in August, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) developed SOPs for their members to enable them to prevent coronavirus spread when places of worship are reopened. Among the guidelines that they submitted to Ministry of Health and the National Taskforce on COVID-19 included having prayers in phases to observe the two-metre social distance among the believers, put in place handwashing places, sanitizing at every entrance, measure the temperature of worshipers registers all worshipers and others.