Church organizations say the announcement by the government that they can resume services for only vaccinated congregants raises theological and practical challenges as sermons are not designed for a certain groups of people.
In a statement, Zimbabwe Heads of Church Denominations (ZHOCD) said, “The Churches cautiously appreciate the process of opening up of society, business, and public life after almost two years of restrictions because of COVID-19. Though welcome by the Churches, this staggered opening of Churches on the condition of being vaccinated raises both theological and practical challenges.
“Theologically, the Church is an open and welcoming space for everyone with no restrictions. No one qualifies for Church service as it is a place of God’s grace. The Church will find it very difficult to turn people home because they do not have a vaccination certificate. However, would it be responsible to meet in an uncontrolled environment where possibilities of spreading the virus are high?”
The ZHOCD said, “Practically, less than 10 percent of the population has been vaccinated. There is a group of citizens that does not get vaccinated due to age or because they have not yet had a chance to be vaccinated. It will be difficult for the Church to deny people to receive the means of grace simply because they have not been vaccinated when access to this vaccination is restricted.”
As a result of these challenges, the ZHOCD recommended that there is need to address several grey areas so that the implementation of the decision to open the churches can be done smoothly.
“The ZHOCD recommends that the Ministry of Health and Child Care is asked to provide the detailed protocol for reopening Churches clarifying all the grey areas such as how the licence affects those below the age of 18 who are not being vaccinated. Decisions relating to the Church could be enriched if Church representative bodies were consulted before the announcement. The ZHOCD recommends that churches be included in the National COVID-19 Taskforce so that they can contribute to decision-making from their lived experience.”
The ZHOCD said the church has demonstrated from the beginning of the pandemic its commitment to minimizing the spread of infections.
“Inspired by its theological commitment of care for one’s neighbour and the sanctity of life, the Church has promoted the WHO measures of putting on the mask, keeping social distance, and sanitizing. The ZHOCD recommends that its member Churches adhere to these WHO protocols if they choose to open their churches.
“The Churches have been consistent in encouraging their members to get vaccinated. Church leaders have led by example in this regard. We are confident that getting more people vaccinated should contribute to herd immunity. We believe that persuasion and clear information sharing should remain the main tool to achieve this target. We recommend that the Government continue to follow the persuasive route to get the population vaccinated. The church promises to do its part.”
The ZHOCD also encouraged its members to demonstrate leadership and responsibility churches open for sit-in worship services.
“We also respect those churches who may choose to continue conducting online services until the nation reaches herd immunity. We are confident not only the Church, but wider society will be opening up sooner than later if we contribute to the minimizing of the spread of the virus. The ZHOCD calls on its members to continue praying for the nation and the world to find healing and to discern on appropriate actions as we continue to deal with this virus and its effects.”
Information Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa on Tuesday announced that churches would be punished for failing to follow the new guidelines.
According to the Ministry of Health, 293 people died of COVID-19 since Friday last week in a nation that has so far recorded 4,047 deaths in the past 17 months.