After three months of lockdown, local churches will be allowed to reopen doors on Sunday for worship as Cayman enters Level 2 (minimal suppression) of government’s COVID-19 control tier.
Already, many churches, like the First Assembly of God Church and First Baptist Church, are ringing the virtual bells announcing the resumption of Sunday services on their social media pages.
“In our case, we have already set up chairs, six feet distance apart. We have sanitisation stations and adequate signs and so on,” said Pastor Torrance Bobb, chairman of the Cayman Islands Ministers Association told the Cayman Compass Saturday in a telephone interview.
He is also the lead pastor at the First Assembly of God Church.
Bobb said the association has issued about 16 guidelines for local pastors as the churches move to welcome the public back into pews.
“This has been disseminated to all of the pastors and churches and, of course, they, in turn, will be following up to ensure that that’s done,” he said.
On its Facebook page, the First Baptist Church’s stipulations for returning to church were published Saturday and include mandatory wearing of masks, social distancing and regular hand sanitisation.
“If you don’t feel well, please stay home and worship with the recordings as they are available,” the church statement said.
Last week, Premier Alden McLaughlin announced Cayman’s transition into the new phase of suppression which will see both the curfew and shelter-in-place provisions revoked, starting 21 June. This phase will run for four weeks and will see the further restrictions lifted later in July.
While the lifting of restrictions have been welcomed with praise from local pastors, the challenge now shifts to managing the continuing health protocols and keeping congregations safe.
Churches move to resume services
Bobb said he has been talking to pastors and “preparations are going quite well, and we are looking forward to the churches reopening because it’s been about three months”.
He said there have been a lot of online activities, but he believed the vast majority of pastors will be opening up churches.
However, some churches, like the George Town Wesleyan Holiness Church and the Church of God in West Bay, are being extra caution as they prepare to welcome their flock.
“It’s something we’ve been praying about and so we’re real excited about it, but what comes with that is a grave responsibility as well. We had a regional board meeting last evening and, as a result of that, there will be a phased re-entrance into church and activities and ministers within the sanctuary,” said Pastor Kim Evans of the George Town Wesleyan Holiness Church in Windsor Park.
He said there are still a number of measures that need to be implemented at the church before doors can be opened to the public.
“We are mindful of the resources we put in place and it takes a lot of time, a lot of finances as well, to get those things in place,” he said. “The social distancing, the sanitisation stations. You got to purchase all of the equipment. So it’s a whole lot to get in place.”
“We have 90% of our church [that are] elderly. We are actually trying to watch that as well, to see how that works, because it makes no sense to open and nobody comes to the church,” Evans added.
He pointed out that Sunday is Father’s Day and usually the service on that day is well attended.
“When we look at the statistics from last year, you had an average of 60 individuals worshiping on Sunday on Father’s Day. And being that the churches are opening up from March, plus it’s Father’s Day, I think it would be a larger influx of individuals. We are not in a position to really control that in terms of social distancing, wearing masks, we really not in a position to do that just yet. We want to comply with the law,” Evans told the Compass on Saturday.
He said services will continue via Zoom until physical church services resume on 5 July.
Garett Haylock, of the Church of God in West Bay, said he too was concerned about opening the church doors on Father’s Day.
“I thought that it [the reopening of churches] was forthcoming, you know, seeing that they had opened up so many other things,” he said. “However, realistically, I would have been willing to wait a little bit longer, but I would imagine with the restrictions of 25% capacity, I would say we would have to be very foolish if we do not observe those [restrictions] and recreate bigger problems for ourselves.”
Bobb agreed that opening on a popular day such as Father’s Day will pose a challenge, but he believes it will be manageable with the systems that have been put in place.
He said he anticipates the congregation will not be the same as years gone by.
“We have rearranged the seating so that we can accommodate a reasonable number of people because with churches been closed for so long, not many people would feel entirely free to start coming out until things are fully opened up, which will be next month,” he said.
He added that regionally, “it’s taking time for the people to have the confidence again to come back out”.
The local clergy praised McLaughlin and his government for their management the COVID-19 crisis.
“I think we must certainly thank the premier and his team for their leadership and the Caymanian public in general for their cooperation. And we should not underestimate the importance of the role that prayer played in this scenario. I think the Caymanian public must be commended,” Bobb said.
While church services will begin, other church activities, such as vacation bible school, Sunday school and prayer services, have been either suspended or will remain online only.