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CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN ANGLICAN MODE OF WORSHIP IN COVID-19 ERA

INTRODUCTION:
Text - Ecclesiastes 9:11
I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favour to men of skill; But time and chance happens to them all.

Other versions put it this way:
Good things and bad things happen to us all. (Easy English Version)

We each have our own share of misfortune. (Contemporary English)

But time and unpredictable events overtake all of them. (God s Word Translation)

This is the summary of the year 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic that left no one out. We were all affected but some were infected.

Charles Dickens in his book, The Tales of Two Cities written in 1859 said: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of foolishness, it was the age of wisdom; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; it was the season of light and it was the season of darkness.

The year 2020 is a year that will not be easily forgotten by individuals, families, institutions, (the Church inclusive), and nations of the world.

In recent times and especially in our own generation, there has never been an occurrence that shook the nations of the world to its foundation like Covid19 did. The shaking affected the so-called super powers. It affected the individuals, families, corporate bodies, institutions and nations. The shaking was without age, gender, colour and status barriers. Believers in God, atheists and unbelievers were not spared.

Churches, mosques, shrines and, temples had their own share of the shaking by being locked down. Shopping malls, markets, trade centres and finance houses closed down for months because of COVID-19.

Movement in towns, cities and nations were seriously restricted.

Flights were cancelled and social programmes were suspended indefinitely. Football matches were put on hold and International meetings and annual festivals were all cancelled. The situation got so bad to the point that the Easter celebration and other festivals were cancelled. For the first time ever, the Pope announced the closure of Church at Easter. Death used to be the only leveler between the poor and the rich but COVID-19 became a serious leveller to be reckoned with. Both the poor and rich were locked down.

Homes became zoological gardens with doors and gates locked to prevent anyone from coming in or going out.

As a result of COVID-19 and its attendant problems, individual life style changed, family life changed, business method changed, trading changed, church services and mode of worship changed, institutions, societal and communal way of living changed.

Today, the new vocabulary is the “new normal”. There is a new manner of greetings – No more handshakes, no more hugging, no more kissing, no more holding of hands, and the greetings of peace have turned to waving. The sitting pattern in public places changed because social distancing was introduced. A new method of coughing and sneezing was introduced, no more coughing or sneezing into hands. It is now done into the elbow. The regular washing of hands and the use of sanitizers became the vogue. In those days in the villages, the way to control a stubborn goat is to mask its mouth in order to prevent it from putting its mouth into your food stuffs. The new normal today is that everyone must put on a mask and so we have all kinds of face masks and shields. The face masks and shields are even of different type, style and material to show status.

As a result of COVID-19, governments were empowered to direct us on how to live our lives, when to go out of our homes, what we had to do, where we had to be, the expected number of people at any gathering etc. Our lives operated on dos and don ts as directed by the government and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

In order to curtail the scourge of the pandemic, virtual meetings replaced physical meetings, we began to hold virtual Bible studies, virtual conferences, virtual synods, virtual church services, may be virtual Holy Communion service etc.

In all of these, the silence and hiddeness of God was felt. It appeared that God just sat and watch us. It was like another inter-testament period in the life of the church and the world at large. Necessity is said to be the mother of invention. All the aforementioned explains why a new mode of worship was introduced.

Gradually, the traditional mode of worship is being replaced with the new mode of worship. Today, the method of doing things is no longer as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end.

THE HISTORY AND FACTS ABOUT CORONA VIRUS
Corona virus is a family of viruses which can cause the common cold or more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome and the new corona virus disease that first appeared in Wuhan, China in late 2019. It was called COVID-19. The virus brought sickness to millions of people globally and claimed the lives of many around the world. The United States has the largest number of cases in the world.

COVID-19 is a contagious disease with symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath. It can be transmitted through person-to-person contact, mainly through respiratory droplets that become airborne when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020. That declaration placed countries on alert to do all they can to identify, isolate, and care for people who are infected in order to prevent transmission; and to help other countries with weaker health systems. The WHO later declared COVID-19 a pandemic, meaning it is spreading globally.

The pandemic threatens to reverse decades of progress in the fight against poverty and it jeopardizes future generation.

The pandemic has become one of the most discussed topic in recent times. There are so many materials to read and so many lies and rumours about it. There are many hypothesis and theories about it, so many conjectures about the disease and so many unfounded and confusing statements that one is not sure of what to believe.

HOW CAN WE PREVENT THE DISEASE?
The World Health Organization has the following recommendations for the general public to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses, including the new corona virus:

a). Frequently clean your hands using an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and running tap water.
b). Practice physical distancing and social distancing, by limiting your time in public places to essential trips, staying at least 6 feet from other people, and not greeting others with a handshake or other body touch.
c). When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with your flexed elbow or tissue. Then throw the tissue away immediately and wash your hands.
d). Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough.
If you have a fever, cough, and experience difficulty in breathing, seek medical care early and share your travel history with your healthcare provider.
e). Avoid the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products. Handle raw meat, milk, and animal organs with care to avoid cross-contamination.

The contemporary issues involved in COVID-19 include economic, political, social and religious issues

ECONOMICS ISSUES
The virus caused serious damages to the economic lives of individuals, families, institutions, nations and the world at large. The lockdown caused by the virus locked down so many lives.
?? Many people lost their jobs because businesses collapsed.
?? Employers cut down salaries and wages in some institutions.
?? Workers now have many months of unpaid salaries.
?? Imported raw materials were unavailable.
?? Cost of importation become unbearable.
?? Cost of transportation of goods became a challenge to profit making(air flight).
?? The price of crude oil which is the major export product of the nation fell.
?? The disease brought pressure on our currency – the naira which eventually impacted negatively onus.
?? There are many financial institutions that are still wallowing in their losses.
?? The Nigerian nation is having another session of recession because of the virus.

SOCIAL ISSUES
? Loss of communal relationship and freedom of movement. Everyone sat at home and their smart phones became their companions and the only window to the world.
? Planned activities and celebrations, especially weddings and funerals were put on hold.
? Abuse, rape and exploitations of women and girls increased.
? There were increase in domestic violence.
? The fear of death gripped so many, especially when many rich people were victims of the COVID-19 infection.
? Death by COVID-19 created ripple effects and impacted on the mental health of surviving family members.

POLITICAL ISSUES
?? The people in government were not seeing to be truthful with the published figures of COVID-19 victims.
?? Many state governments used fake number of victims to collect money from the federal government.
?? The government played lip services to the treatment of the disease.
?? The government were seen to be making mockery of fumigation efforts.
?? Like Ebola, corona virus is a curse on finances. Money that could have been used for something beneficial was used to fight the pandemic.
?? Many government officials fed fat on the proceeds from COVID-19
?? Palliatives that were meant for the populace were either diverted or hoarded.

RELIGIOUS ISSUES
The soul of worship is fellowship and it is when children of God gather together physically that souls are lifted up. This is why the Church is mostly affected by this pandemic. Unfortunately in the Anglican Communion, our worship is Priest-centered. The congregation depends largely on the priest for their spiritual survival and we did not prepare for a time like that. We enjoyed doing it without making provisions for a change in our mode of worship. Some of these changes include:
? Disruption and interruption of regular Church activities.
? Psychological loss of divine connection.
? Online Church engagement replaced traditional worship.
? Some of our Church members went through a lot of challenges (emotional, financial, relationship, health, stress and psychological).
? Economic effects of loss of offerings, tithes and other sources of Church income.
? Loss of members to other denominations.
? Some members saw no reason to go to Church again even when the ban on public worship was lifted.
? Some members enjoyed online worship since offerings are optional.
? The time of worship as directed by the government did not give room to serving the Holy Communion.
? The directives given by the government are tasking, money consuming and time wasting.

COVID-19 AND THE CHANGES IN THE MODE OF WORSHIP
The technological age brought with it ease, innovation and subtle changes in the mode of worship for Christians all over the world. With it came the option of live streaming via platforms like YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Google Plus, Periscope etc., during church service for members who are unable to be in physical attendance.

Even with this, the physical gathering of worshippers in church was preferred by many in obedience to Hebrews 10:25; Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another and so much more, as ye see the day approaching.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic, global lockdown and ensuing era has added another dimension to how worshippers come together and experience worship service. There have been both positive and negative outcomes from the global COVID-19 pandemic.

THE WAY FORWARD.
The facts that parishes are not the same also suggest that the way forward cannot be the same. Churches have categories:
(a). There are churches that have a large congregation but small sanctuary.
(b). There are churches that have a large congregation and large sanctuary.
(c). There are churches that have a small congregation but large sanctuary.
(d). There are churches that have a small congregation and small sanctuary.

No pastor will like a situation where members will die of corona virus, therefore consideration must be given to the directives laid down for the prevention of the spread of the disease. We must know that the negligence on the part of any of us that led to the outbreak of the pandemic, may inform the government to lock down all churches again.

We must come out of the delusion that COVID-19 is not real. The disease is real, and it is a killer. We must also understand that there is no hundred percent assurance of a vaccine or cure for it as at today and remember that prevention is better than cure. Our members must be reminded of these facts regularly.

More importantly, we must be ready and prepared for a new mode of worship lest we be left behind and ‘out of business’.

Another important thing for pastors is that we must not be carried away by so many assumptions about COVID-19, rather we must be well informed biblically and scientifically. Few of such assumptions are that COVID-19:
(a). is punishment from God as a result of global sin. Remember that this is not the first of such plague.
(b). is a sign of end time and prophetic agenda.
(c). is a biological weapon by super powers.
(d). is the evil side of technology, especially the 5G theorists.
(e). is a means to gain supremacy in economic matters over other nations.

SUGGESTIONS ON WHAT TO DO IN THE ERA OF COVID-19
This is the era of COVID-19. We are already in it, and we don t know how long it will last.. Unfortunately there is no where that is free in the whole world. We must fight it and determine to stay alive.

As a result of the pandemic, the mode of our worship has to change. The mode of our ministry and our lifestyles must change. The mode of our prayers, evangelism, visitations, follow-ups, e.t.c., must change as well. We must not be seen to be guarding slabs that are meant to be guarded for three weeks for many years. We must ask ourselves, “What are the modes of worship that must be questioned today in order to be relevant tomorrow?” There is need for change in the church and our mode of worship.

The change must begin with us. This is the time to do things differently, and we must start with ourselves.

1). Isaiah 54:11 says "You suffering, comfortless, storm-ravaged city! I will rebuild your city with precious stones. I will reset your foundations with sapphires". God s Word Version.
The year 2020 is to RESET us. - Dr. Vernon.
R stands for re-evaluate, re-imagine, rethink, re-focus, re-do, re-introduce ourselves.

2). There should be a deliberate strategy to train pastors and other assisting Church members in the use of technological tools for the ministry. During the lock down, I watched online services and some were an embarrassment to the Church because of poor and unprofessional handling. Some came on air to fulfil all righteousness and did things poorly. The Church must be ready to invest in the multimedia ministry and learn to do things right.

3). There is need now to include in our pre marriage counselling how couples could hold services in their homes. We must come up with the slogan, "Every home a Church" where the husband/father is the priest, the wife/mother is the curate and the children are the congregation/choir/usher etc.

4). In order for the Church not to suffer economically, the Church must invest in profitable a venture that is suitable to its locality for her members.

5). The Church must be sensitive to the needs of the members by giving assistance and not only prayers and preaching. Offering of financial aid and food palliatives could be the answer and solutions to members ‘predicament. We must not intimidate members with frivolous demands that may make some who can t stand the pressure to quit. So many of our members that we assume to be rich may not be.

6). Innovations are needed in pastoral ministry to mitigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We must be careful in our innovations not to do anything that is not biblical.

7). Because of our peculiarities, regular phone call to members who are not literate enough to access online programs will be useful.

8). We must be seen to be performing our ministry to the full. We must do more of teaching, praying, visiting, counseling and follow up, of our members. We must not be afraid of losing them to other denominations. Like Paul our motto must be "Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" Colossians 1:28. Bishop T.D. Jakes says "The ones that are with you can t leave and the ones that are not can t stay.”

9). In this era of COVID-19, our ministry must involve more of giving than receiving.

10). We must allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and avoid doing ministry with sentiments.

CONCLUSION
The Rector, Ibru Ecumenical Centre, Agbara-Otor, Delta State, The Ven. Dr. Princewill Ireoba aptly captured the narrative in the Anglican space by noting that the most dramatic effect of COVID-19 on worship, ministry and mission of the church is the unexpected shift of church services from in-person to online service.

He noted that COVID-19 has taught the church to do ministry differently, and that the church needs to review members’ hygienic personal practices, discipline and ethics, and intensify its teaching ministry, not only on issues of faith but also on other topical and practical issues.

To help the church play a key role in restoring economic prosperity amidst the COVID-19 crisis, he advised that “the Church of Nigeria must restructure her administrative style in line with the Early Church s goals of meeting congregational needs and exemplifying God s Grace.” (Acts 2:42-47; Acts 4:32-35)

The church is our family; it needs us just as we need it. Corporate worship is the essential business of our life.
The church is a body, “For just as the body is one and has many members… so it is with Christ:” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). It is only in the assembled body we can experience the fullness of Christ our Head (Eph. 1:22-23)

Christian life was never meant to be lived alone. Right from creation, God established the basis and importance of congregational life when He declared that, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18)

Scripture enjoins us to, “Consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,…but exhorting one another…” (Hebrew 10: 24-25)

The lifes of our members are in our hands and we are to see to their well-being spiritually, physically, financially, socially and more importantly their health must be our concern in this era of COVID-19 and beyond.

Thank you

Ven. Stephen A. Oluwawalemi

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