CONFUSION marred the reopening of churches yesterday with few congregants turning up, while other denominations remained closed in a development that exposed the low number of the inoculated among the faithful.
Last week, government gave greenlight to churches to reopen only for members who are fully vaccinated, but a countrywide survey conducted by NewsDay yesterday showed that most traditional churches like the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Reformed Church in Zimbabwe, among others, did not conduct services.
Members of the clergy, who spoke to NewsDay, said their church members stayed at home since most of them had not been fully vaccinated, while others were still making preparations for full compliance with government regulations.
However, in defiance of government regulations, Apostolic sects yesterday conducted services in the open throughout the country. Their members, including children, could be seen gathered at various shrines without exercising social distancing or sanitising their hands.
NewsDay also observed that the Apostolic sect congregants were not being asked to produce vaccination cards as they entered their shrines.
Madzibaba Shepherd Nzira of Zvakazarurwa Zvevapostori Church told NewsDay that his followers failed to come to church because they were not vaccinated.
“We formed WhatsApp groups where people are seeking spiritual healing,”
However, congregants of Johane Masowe WechiShanu WeAfrica Church attended a service at their shrine called “Pamatank” in Mutare.
Leader of the church, Andby Makururu said he had approached the government for his church members to be vaccinated.
“We have since approached government to facilitate vaccination of our members. The programme will begin next week in Zimunya,”
At the Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries led by Walter Magaya which usually attracts thousands of congregants, there were no worshippers when the NewsDay crew visited the place.
In Bulawayo, most churches were also closed, while a few that opened their doors for congregants had a handful in attendance.
At Holiness Apostolic Church in Entumbane, only three members attended the church service, a sign that most church members were not vaccinated.
At Apostolic Faith Mission Church in Sakubva, Mutare, congregants, who did not have vaccination cards, were turned away.
A Roman Catholic priest, who refused to be named, told this paper that most of the congregants were unlikely to have been fully vaccinated.
“We are yet to receive an internal communication within the church on how we have to conduct the services. But indications are that the majority of our congregants are not vaccinated. Moreover, youths and children constitute a significant number of our members, but they are not eligible for vaccination. As a result, even if we are to conduct full-fledged services, the gatherings will remain low as churches had been closed for a long time,” the priest said.
Joe Daniels, a church leader with Gateway, a pentecostal church in Mutare said they failed to open their doors to congregants because they were still in the process of ensuring the premises are fumigated and adhere to other safety protocols.
Founder of the Goodness and Mercy Ministries, Tapiwa Freddy said they would resume sit-ins next weekend.
“We have been working on the logistics this weekend with the hope of resuming sit-in services next Sunday. As of today [yesterday], we are continuing with our online services,” Freddy said.
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi yesterday said he would issue a statement on compliance with the COVID-19 measures by churches today.
“Today is still Sunday and the day is not yet over. I will issue a statement on what transpired at churches tomorrow (today),” Nyathi said.
On Friday, Nyathi issued a stern warning to churches that breach the Cabinet directive, saying the police will be in full force assisting health workers to enforce compliance.
Opposition Multi-Racial Christian Democrats leader Mathias Guchutu said the new measures imposed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government implied that people should to fear the coronavirus more than God as they were being stopped from worshipping.
“The church has been loyal to government ever since the pandemic started and has been religiously adhering to the guidelines, but these new measures will be difficult to implement,” Guchuchu told NewsDay.
“Several pastors haven’t yet received their jabs while thousands of congregants are still struggling to get them. Given the small proportion of the citizens who have been vaccinated, it means in practical terms, churches have not been allowed to reopen. Obviously, not all that have been vaccinated will be attending the services.”
Several church organisations which include the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and the Union for Development of Apostolic and Zionist Churches have raised concern over the ability of health workers to monitor adherence to the new regulations at churches since the health sector was experiencing staff shortages.
They also said vaccine shortages meant that imposing the mandatory vaccination rule on churches was insincere.
As of Saturday, only 1 198 381 people had been fully vaccinated throughout the country. Zimbabwe is targeting to vaccinate 60% of its population (approximately 10 million) to achieve herd immunity.