Poor turnout as churches resume services amid strict rules

Monday, July 20th, 2020 00:00 |
Worshippers attend mass yesterday at Holy Family Minor Basilica in Nairobi following the re-opening of churches. Children below the age of 13 years and adults above 58 were not allowed to attend. Not more than 100 people attended the session which was conducted in bits. Photo/PD/JOHN OCHIENG

The re-opening of places of worship yesterday was marked by a low turnout across the country.

A spot check by People Daily in Nairobi, Mombasa, Central Kenya, Rift valley, Garissa, Western and Nyanza regions, saw churches operating even below the recently reviewed policy of 100 congregants per one-hour worship session.

In most churches, unlike in the past, the faithful streamed in one-by-one as they adhered to the social-distancing  rule and underwent screening, washed their hands and had their temperatures checked  before they were allowed in to the church.

Contrary to the norm before the advent of Covid-19 where church services used to run for long hours, yesterday mass and services offered in various places of worship was reduced to one hour per session as per the guidelines issued by the inter-faith council. 

In Jericho, Jerusalem and Kimathi estates, at Bahati, the African Independent Church of Africa (AIPCA) with capacity to hold about 1, 500 worshippers at one go, the church held two prayer sessions of 100 people each.

The church chairman, Samuel Muchiri said the church has adhered to all the requirements that are needed to ensure that the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Covid-19 protocols are addressed through the Ministry of Health guidelines.

“We have been preached to stop fearing, and come to church so that we can worship.

We are therefore appealing to the government to look at the size of some churches that have a bigger membership.

If we are allowed to bring in more worshippers, we will still keep that social distancing and other guidelines since we have put in place the required measures,” he said at the Bahati archdiocese after mass.

Numbered benches

At the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, all the benches had been numbered with faithful told to observe social distancing.

One person, contrary to the norm did the liturgical reading, and congregants acknowledged one another with a sign of peace as opposed to the shaking of hands and hugging.

After the mass, designated church officials fumigated the facility with the worshippers still seated.

“It is good to have you back in the church. It feels so refreshing to see some of you, but as you are well aware we have no option, we must adhere to the guidelines spelt out recently to avoid any chance of Covid infection,” Father Moses Kago of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, Buru Buru said after the mass. 

At the Donholm Catholic Church in Upper Savannah Ward; Holy Family Basillica, Consolata Shrine in Westlands and All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi, it was a similar situation with a paltry worshippers coming in for the Sunday service.

Worshippers at the Deliverance Church in Donholm stayed away awaiting communication from the leadership as the phased re-opening of churches takes shape.

In Mombasa, churches in the Coastal town recorded low numbers of worshippers during the Sunday service after months of closure due to Covid-19 pandemic threat.

In Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Kongowea, with a population of over 3,000 worshipers, it was only the 100 allowed in at intervals of one hour as recommended by the government.

 “We had anticipated 100 people but in the first sermon we received 60 people, in the second sermon we had 50 while in the third sermon we had 40 people.

We don’t know why many decided to stay away but we just believe that many feared that they would be blocked from entering the church,” said Joseph Mwashigadi Irina, the church Father

The Jesus Celebrations Center (JCC) churches in Mombasa remained shut, with worshippers following online services. JCC has a membership of more than 10,000 worshipper’s.

The main church, JCC Bamburi, has a capacity of about 5,000 people while the Buxton branch can host about 3,000.

“It will be difficult to implement because our church has a lot of members who,” Lai said in a statement sent to media houses,”Church Pastor Wilfred Lai said 

In Kisumu, the churches opened doors for worshipers in the first Sunday service which was characterized by low turn-out.

At the St Joseph Catholic Church in Kisumu, there was full compliance with the government directives. Pews were marked with only two congregants allowed to sit per bench.

Across the County’s boundaries to the south, in the larger Kisii and West to Vihiga; it was mixed reactions.

Whereas, in Kisii and Nyamira counties, several faithful flocked churches as they re-opened doors, in Vihiga, Western Kenya, most places of worship did not open despite the nod. Worshippers stayed away from their churches.

Failed to open 

In Vihiga County, People Daily established that most of the churches failed to open while those which opened their doors for worshiping recorded low turn-out.

Upendo Pentecostal Churches in Kenya bishop Charles Sande said many places of worship could not open because of the strict rules issued.

“Most of the churches could not open because many of the reverends and bishops are above 58 years old.

And it is the same as the people who go to church. They are old, and most of them above 60 years and children bellow 16 years,” he noted.

In Garissa, several churches in the town and neighbouring Madogo and Mororo, Tana River County resumed worship services that were characterised by low turnout of worshippers.

“The same people the government are restricting to attend the church services are allowed to travel by public means and eat at restaurants.

I am still appealing to the President to relax the restrictions for places of worship.

The clergy should be allowed to manage their services,” added Rev David Matolo of Mororo Redeemed Gospel

In Nyeri and Kiambu, it was the same situation where re-opening was marked with a low turnout.

At PCEA Karatina Parish, the church had gone ahead and erected an isolation tent manned by a nurse and equipped with a bed and first aid kit to take care of any emergency such as a member who would record an above normal temperature.

More on News