Churches on Canouan in the Southern Grenadines have had to make adjustments to weekly worship in the wake of a spike in COVID19 cases on the island about two weeks ago.
SEARCHLIGHT spoke to the heads of three faith-based organisations on the island and found that all three had discontinued face-to-face worship; however one, the Seventh Day Adventist denomination migrated theirs to an online platform for members both on Canouan and Union Island which together, make up the Southern Division of the church.
“Union was online for Sundays and Wednesdays already but Sabbaths we use to meet in person until the spike and then we just decided that we will close, just to be safe because we are not sure how it would have affected – because there were cases on Union and cases on Canouan,” Pastor Romano Daniel said.
He added that while the church has been strong in observing the protocols recommended by the Ministry of Health, there were a few persons with respiratory problems who did not remain masked for the duration of the service.
The decision to transfer to the online platform for worship was made on September 10 and will remain in place “until further notice”.
Just under three weeks ago, health authorities had to undertake extensive testing among the islanders, many of whom SEARCHLIGHT understands, were not adhering to the COVID19 protocols. The churches and their leaders were not spared and some are among those on the island who have been isolated.
Pastor Osbert Garnes of Wells of Living Water church, who is himself in isolation, said the church building has been closed for in-person worship for the past two and a half weeks since four persons from the congregation tested positive for the virus but, “I’m still praising my God because church is not a building”.
He however made it clear “straight up” that he will not be taking the vaccine.
He said there is no truth to any report that members of his congregation are discouraged from wearing masks to church, stressing that this is “totally false”.
“Anybody want to worship who want to wear they mask, they wear they mask that’s their choice we cannot stop them, that’s their choice their liberty,” Pastor Garnes said.
He added: “We always have protocols in place; we sanitise, we do what we are supposed to do … if persons decide that they want to wear a mask who is me to tell them don’t wear a mask, that’s their choice. Everybody has that freedom just the same way they have a freedom to worship and to praise God. Everybody have a freedom of choice”.
The pastor said attendance had fallen off somewhat since the discovery of COVID19 on the island, but people have begun to come out of quarantine and, “as long as persons are out of quarantine they could go and worship, I don’t have to be there”.
Monsignor Harcourt Blackett of the Catholic Church was not in Canouan for the past two weekends, having gone to Barbados for his mother’s funeral. However as a fully vaccinated church leader, he plans to continue to encourage his parishioners not only to continue to observe the COVID19 protocols but to also consider getting vaccinated.
“As in every other place, there are those of us who believe that people should get vaccinated. I have a double dose of vaccination, I encourage the people to observe the protocols and to keep the social distancing. This has to be re-emphasized and when I get back I would do so,” said the Catholic priest who expected to return to Canouan from the mainland today.
Monsignor Blackett said he has also, “criticised in the church the erroneous assumption that men would become sterile” if they become vaccinated pointing that many of those who are using this as a reason not to take the vaccine “are not young men”.
He spoke about an issue where someone reportedly associated with one of the churches on the island made it their business every morning to move through the community using a bull horn to urge persons to not use a mask nor get vaccinated.
“To me, that is irresponsible, if you have your private belief that you shouldn’t take this or you should not do that fine, but you encouraging people to do it is in my mind wrong,” monsignor Blackett pointed out.