New Normal in Churchgoing

A Dose of Faith

Richard G. Mendoza, MPH, PhD.

Pr. Richard Mendoza works at the Central Luzon Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. An educator and promoter of health, he complements his advocacies with spiritual and values-oriented insights.

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While we can worship God anywhere for He said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20 ASV), it has been customary for us Filipinos, whether Christians, Muslims, or members of other religions to go to our churches, mosques and other places of worship to attend religious rituals and ceremonies led by our priests, pastors and imams.

While it was a blessed experience as well, to worship at home or online via Zoom or Live Streaming through social media, listening to clergymen preach and lead services that were held regularly inside worship temples before the Covid-19 pandemic, the longing to be able to get inside our churches again to serve God and fellowship with one another remains. It feels like you want to be able to sleep again on your bedroom, where you feel comfortable and at home, after spending several nights out on camping sites. We are used to worship or attend masses inside the church.

The Bible clearly teaches the importance of religious gatherings, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) We need to be with other Christians so we can worship God with other believers and be taught His Word for our spiritual growth (see Acts 2:42,46). While the Israelites were on the wilderness on their way to Canaan, through Moses, God instructed them to gather inside the sanctuary for religious services. “For six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God.” (Deut. 16:8 ESV). In Old Testament times, places of worship were so important, that the Israelites priorities building temples wherever they are.

Metro-Manila, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Pangasinan province, Central Visayas, Davao City and Zamboanga City is currently under General Community Quarantine (GCQ), based on guidelines, under GCQ religious gatherings shall be limited to not more than 10 people, unless otherwise modified by the IATF, while up to 50% of the capacity of the church in Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) areas is allowed.

Clergymen like me are hoping and praying that the government, whose policies the religious sector should follow, would consider allowing not just 10 people ,which is impractical and unreasonable, inside the church under GCQ the next time they make decisions if the situation becomes favorable, of course, with social distancing and other precautionary measures. If malls and markets where goers are harder to control can be allowed to open, why not churches, where leaders are known to be responsible and attendees are expected to behave, knowing that they will be worshipping the God of order!

At Area 10 (composed of 5 cities in Metro-Manila) under my jurisdiction as Chairman, I am thinking of two or three religious services held every Saturdays, if need be in our churches where only one was done before the pandemic, to meet social distancing requirements. The wearing of masks, our usual “Happy Sabbath” greetings will be done without the usual handshake. At the entrance: sanitizer, footbath or disinfectant mat for shoes’ sole and temperature scanner will be used. We also approved, with my council of pastors, to institute orderly entry and recessional to minimize contact inside and on church premises. Disinfection of the church facilities after services will be routine as well. Our deacons will help in reminding and implementing our precautionary protocols. We will still record live online the services, for the sake of those who choose to remain at home, worshipping, which will include those vulnerable to the disease, seniors, and minors that are not yet allowed to go out.

For the Catholics, the placing of footbaths in all churches and the mandatory wearing of face masks will become part of the “new normal” during religious services of the Archdiocese of Manila according to Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo. He said priests should allot at least 30 minutes gap in between masses before the faithful will be allowed to enter the church to give time for the sanitation activity. He also said that crowd control mechanisms would also be implemented to avoid congestion at public masses in all churches of the Archdiocese of Manila.

Regardless of religious affiliations each of us must help our country defeat Covid-19 and prevent another wave of the infection. Our government agencies have already stretched their finances to the limit. The lack of infrastructures, the limited hospital capacities, the economic and social impact is affecting all of us.

Churchgoers, when granted back our privilege to worship God, please abide by the New-Normal-Rules, be part of the solution, and not be another problem. Let’s continue to choose faith over fear, wisdom over worry, prudence over carelessness and prayer over panic, so we can experience the “PEACE OF GOD, WHICH SURPASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING” (Philippians 4:7).

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