Joseph Madzimure in HARARE and Brenda Zinyuke in BULAWAYO
MOST churches yesterday heeded Government’s directive to suspend mass gatherings as part of measures to control and prevent the transmission of Covid-19, although a few apostolic sects continued with services as normal.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed getting reports of some churches that had more than 100 congregants.
A survey by The Herald around Harare showed that churches such as Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Zaoga Forward in Faith and Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) complied with the directive to reduce the number of congregants.
There was no one at the Roman Catholic Church’s Sacred Heart Cathedral in Harare at 10am yesterday, a place that is normally a hive of activity on Sundays.
A timetable stuck at the main entrance shows there has been a change to the church service programme.
Church members will attend masses according to their sections and in some instances, they are paired to ensure members will not exceed the stipulated number.
A church member manning the main entrance at Sacred Heart Cathedral said the leadership rescheduled the programmes in line with Government’s preventive measures of Covid-19.
“The parish priests will visit section by section conducting masses to ensure they adhere to the Government directive. The church leadership has already informed its congregants about the change of programmes,” he said.
Our news crew also saw Anglican Church members washing hands at the Cathedral of Saint Mary and All Saints’ entrance, as is encouraged by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
An official who declined to be named said: “What we did is we closed all entrances except one and directed all church members to use one entrance.
“The idea is to physically count our people. We also prepared 100 tags after people have washed their hands, then we tag them as they get into the church and we count our tags to monitor numbers.
“Once we run out of tags, we then proceed to close the doors and ensure our house is in order.”
The morning service which started at 7:30am had 72 congregants while the main service which ordinarily attracts about 300 congregants, had 97.
ZAOGA FIF Baines International Christian Centre in Harare was limiting the number of congregants through the use of a timetable that has been crafted.
Resident pastor, Apostle Tedious Mike said they have informed the congregants on the effects and precautionary measures taken by the church to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
“We are the best church in terms of complying with the laws of this country especially concerning this situation of the coronavirus.
“We have a very big membership here, we used to come together, but now we have divided our church into smaller groups of less than 100 and we are happy our members are following our instructions,” said Pastor Mike.
They have set two-hour church services to accommodate everyone, with the first batch starting at 8am.
Some apostolic sects also complied but others defied the directive, saying they were unaware.
Johanne Masowe eChishanu, led by Madzibaba Steven Mugariri, complied and urged members to help in the fight against Covid-19.
A church representative, Madzibaba Samuel Musikavanhu said: “We are urging our members to abide by the directive. Today, (yesterday) only 94 members attended the church service.”
However, Johanne Masowe eChishanu led by Madzibaba Ramey situated opposite Hopley, along Chitungwiza Road, had about 400 congregants.
Over 100 light vehicles and a bus were parked at the shrine.
When The Herald crew arrived, congregants were singing praise and worship hymns.
A senior member of the church who preferred anonymity said: “We told church members to give each other opportunities to seek deliverance, but they are not heeding our call. Some of the people who are coming here are not even our church members, but they are just seeking deliverance.
“We have been chasing them away, but they are playing hide-and-seek with us. We warned them about coronavirus, and that it affects everyone despite one’s status or position.”
Johanne Masowe eChishanu led by Madzibaba Stalin in Glen Norah close to Mbudzi Bus Terminus had over 300 congregants.
In Bulawayo, churches largely took heed.
An apostolic sect near Luveve Road and Masiyepambili Drive that usually worships in an open space had occupied their usual spot in smaller numbers but the congregants failed to observe the social distancing rule.
“We are safe because we are less than 100,” a congregant declared cheerfully.
The Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church closed its branches on Saturday and congregants had services at their homes.
The church’s West Zimbabwe Conference live streamed services for congregants to follow on social media.
Prophet Magaya’s Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries (PHD), which usually occupies the Small City Hall, did not meet while Harvest House International located at Corner 9th Avenue and George Silundika Street had split services into three to accommodate 100 people or less.
Chairs had been spaced for about a metre or more apart and at the entrance, ushers with masks and gloves were sanitising those entering or exiting.
Said Pastor Tinashe Gwarimbo: “We have limited our services to accommodate only 100 people. Our chairs are a metre apart, there is no laying or shaking of hands.
“We have also banned people from hugging, those who want to greet each other can do so using their elbows. All our microphones, chairs and any other equipment have been sanitised.”
At Guta Ramwari Zvimiso located at Mpopoma suburb, there were just a few congregants unlike the other Sundays when the church will be packed.
However, at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Mission located in Makokoba it was business as usual, with congregants queueing for holy communion.
Ass Comm Nyathi urged churches to comply with the Government’s directive.
“We have heard reports of some churches who are defying the Government directive to reduce the numbers at gatherings to 100. They will face the wrath of the law.
“As the law enforcement agency, we are monitoring the situation, certainly some corrective measures will be taken,” he said.