The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of Covid-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and a pandemic on 11 March 2020. We were shocked when the UK Government announced the first nationwide lockdown on 23 March 2020.
The flu pandemic in 1918 was the last global pandemic experienced. As a church, we had never gone through this lockdown situation before, and navigating our way through was a great challenge. Firstly, as a church family, we looked forward to meeting and fellowshipping on Sabbaths and during our weekly Prayer Meetings. We are used to hugging, shaking hands, and greeting one another with a kiss. Now having to refrain from this was questioned in some circles. Some felt this was a lack of faith by the church’s leadership. Despite trying to explain that the safety of our church members is paramount, some did not appreciate this.
Because our churches were closed, services were held online. Of course, those who were not computer-literate were at a disadvantage. This motivated many members to purchase laptops, iPads, and smartphones to participate in church services. Now members have choices to visit services not only across our conference but across the globe and in the comfort of their homes.
This placed further pressure on local churches because instead of members tuning in to their local services, some seized the opportunity to visit other church services. Members very soon got into the habit of not having to get dressed on Sabbaths to attend regular church services and also not having to travel. Putting measures in place when the lockdown was lifted brought other challenges. The wearing of face masks, the introduction of hand gels, the spacing out of seats, the restricted numbers in the sanctuary etc., didn’t sit well with some.
Some who had received the vaccines did not want to be in the same environment as those who had not been vaccinated. Others had been spoiled and used to staying home and tuning into church services on YouTube or zoom. Some congregations have suffered the loss of members due to this. Others, having been exposed to higher standards of professionalism and different worship styles, now don’t want to return to their local church. Some feel they are better fed spiritually by ministers other than their local pastor.
Many organisations have now adopted a hybrid work pattern. Apart from coming to work, many are allowing their employees to work from home on some days during the week. This is proving to be very effective in some cases. As a church, some congregations have also adopted this hybrid idea of holding an in-person service but streaming the services live.
There seems to be a general apathy among some to return to church. Those who are apathetic have been critical of church services and have made excuses for non-attendance. However, as members of any local church, we should not simply be consumers. We are to offer ideas and be willing to participate in making our local church services of great value
that our members and young people would want to be a part of. The pandemic has allowed us to revisit how we do church. I believe local churches should seize the opportunity and hold meetings with their members to discuss how local services should run.
Dr Emmanuel Osei currently serves as the President of the South England Conference