Few congregants turned up and many churches remained closed in Zimbabwe last Sunday following last week’s announcement by the government that churches could reopen but only for members who are fully vaccinated.
The government announcement received a fairly cool reception from churches who noted that only 10% of the population is vaccinated and there is uncertainty about what to do with young congregants who do not qualify for vaccination.
In a statement last week Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) say the reopening 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 statement says.
“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? 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,” they argued.
“It will be difficult for the church to deny people the chance to receive the means of grace simply because they have not been vaccinated when access to this vaccination is restricted. After considering all the other factors, the ZHOCD has recommended there are several grey areas that will need to be clarified so that the implementation of the decision to open the churches can be done smoothly. The ZHOCD recommends that the Health ministry 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,” they say.
“Decisions relating to the church could be enriched if church representative bodies were consulted before the announcement, it said.
“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 Church has demonstrated from the beginning of the pandemic its commitment to minimising 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 sanitising.”
“The churches have been consistent in encouraging their members to get vaccinated and church leaders have led by example in this regard. We are confident that getting more people vaccinated should contribute to herd immunity and we believe that persuasion and clear information sharing should remain the main tool to achieve this target.”
“We encourage our members to demonstrate leadership and responsibility as we open our sit-in worship services and 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 minimising of the spread of the virus.”
As of last Saturday, only 1 198 381 Zimbabweans had been fully vaccinated throughout the country. Zimbabwe is targeting to vaccinate 60% of its population (approximately 10 million) to achieve herd immunity.
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