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COVID-19: Church leaders ask govt to reconsider restrictions

By Nelson Kiva, Juliet Lukwago

Added 24th September 2020 04:15 AM

The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda urged the government to amend a decision that fixed a number of worshippers during prayers at 70

COVID-19: Church leaders ask govt to reconsider restrictions

Archbishop Kaziimba Mugalu.

The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda urged the government to amend a decision that fixed a number of worshippers during prayers at 70

On Sunday, President Museveni lifted the ban on schools and places of worship, among other areas. However, the clergy have said the conditions for opening are too tough.

Religious leaders have appealed to President Yoweri Museveni to review the restriction of 70 people per church session after lifting the ban on religious gatherings.

In his latest speech on COVID-19 on Sunday, the President lifted the ban on communal worship, but with strict conditions. Key among the restrictions is that the congregation should not exceed 70 people, while overnight prayers remained banned.

Museveni also added that there should be no Sunday school for children.

However in response, religious leaders yesterday asked the government to reconsider the guidelines.

The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Stephen Kaziimba, urged the government to amend a decision that fixed a number of worshippers during prayers at 70.

"We appeal to the government to reconsider the guidelines and offer maximum sitting 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," Kaziimba said.

Kaziimba said some worship places have larger congregations to the extent that even when you host different prayer sessions for the entire day, you cannot cover them.

"My own Cathedral (All Saints Nakasero) for example, averages 4,000 people on a Sunday spread across three different services.

To cater for all 4,000 people in groups of 70, we would need to schedule 57 different worship services, which is simply not practical."

Kaziimba appealed for allowing outdoor gatherings for worship with all appropriate Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place.

He told journalists during a meeting at his residence at Namirembe in Kampala that he had an engagement on the matter with the health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng.

The minister, Kaziimba said, advised them to have screens to cater for those outside, but that this should be done in adherence to all the SOPs.

"Worship at home should also continue. The early church did both, and so should we," Kaziimba said.

On the issue of Sunday schools, the archbishop said they will continue to minister to the children through the media.

"We shall have children's services earlier recorded or broadcast," he said.

The chairperson of the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) and the Archbishop of Kampala, Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, said the idea of the President re-opening churches and other places of worship was welcome, though guidelines were not clear.

Churches, such as Rubaga Cathedral are big and can accommodate big numbers, as long as SOPs are adhered to, Lwanga said.

"It is not reasonable for big and small churches to have the same number," he said. He requested the President to make more clarification on this matter.

However, Lwanga pledged that the church was ready to follow the guidelines as set out by the health ministry for the "good of our lives."

Lwanga said the Uganda Episcopal Conference will provide further guidance. The chairperson of the Episcopal Conference, Bishop Dr Joseph Antony Zziwa, said they will sit and pronounce themselves on the new guidelines.

The director of communications at Central Uganda Conference of Seventh Day Adventist Church, Pastor Roger Kaggwa said: "Of course 70 people can congregate, but it is impossible to have all groups accommodated as it used to be. So others will continue attending service on live streaming, on radio, television and social media platforms as it has been for the last six months."

Kaggwa added that excluding the children from the church was absurd since they are the church of tomorrow.

The Dean of Orthodox Church at Namugoona, Fr Nicholas Bayego, said they were happy that the churches are finally opened, so that people can come back and worship together.

The presiding apostle, Dr Joseph Sserwadda, said it is unrealistic for a church of over 700 worshippers to only be allowed 70 people. I don't have much to say," he said.

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