In devoutly religious Nigeria, the closure of places of worship to stop the spread of coronavirus has been keenly felt. The sound of church organs pulses through drowsy streets, puncturing the Sunday quiet for the first time in five months. Worshippers stream into Resurrection Praise Ministries International and find a somewhat unfamiliar place.
Sink units with motion-sensitive soap dispensers line the entrance through the gates. Security guards point temperature sensors at foreheads. At the church entrance, contact details are taken by staff in exchange for a pass to enter. Inside the building, stickers mark the two designated seats on each pew, while ushers patrol the aisles, gesturing reproachfully for masks lowered under chins to be promptly raised.
The Resurrection Praise Ministries International, (aka Jehovah Sharp-Sharp) reopens her church on 6th of September, 2020 after the state government has easy the lockdown on place of
Resurrection Praise Ministries International, one of the most populous open to half of its usual capacity of worshippers, under strict government guidelines. The church is one of the biggest worship center in the whole of Ojo, Badagry axis of Lagos State.
“In this period we can’t do things the way we want to,” says the Archbishop of the Resurrection Praise Ministries International, Samson Mustapha Benjamin, as he addresses the faithful from his pulpit draped in green fabric. “We must do them the way we have to.”
Glimmering gele head-ties wrapped like giant rose petals dot the cathedral hall. Many dressed in Sunday best wave at fellow members, stealing embraces over pews and gently dancing through hymns. At every stage of the service, physical distancing is enforced by vigilant ushers. After the service, no meetings or groups are allowed. Worshippers are guided out through exits, which lead away from the open premises and directly into the street. For many the service provokes an odd mixture of relief and loss.
“There’s really nothing like being present physically,” he says
There is no hugging, no holding, these things are important connections. For me, something was missing.”
The impact of the closure and subsequent new regulations for places of worship has been deeply felt by Christians across Nigeria, a devoutly religious nation. Weeks back mosques reopened across the country, where the vast majority of the population is evenly split between followers of Christianity and Islam.
The Archbishop explained that the gesture was a practical demonstration of the Biblical injunction for Christians to love their neighbours as themselves , adding that it was also aimed at complimenting government’s efforts to ameliorate the sufferings of Lagosians, especially those who relied on daily income to feed.
After the church service, the archbishop asked everyone to desprt to avoid roaming around the premises.
The scale of loneliness in Lagos, particularly for older people, makes places that foster community vital.
“Most of them have kids who have left Nigeria or live further away in Lagos,” he says.
“An elderly woman will walk all the way to church just to tell me she’s having a headache and I will think, ‘You should have rested’.
The next week she’ll come back and say ‘Thank you, after I got home I ate and I slept and felt better’.
Really it was the connection that was important, the ban has universally been a burden, but has also divided reactions”.
From some, it has meant a greater willingness to adapt and offer aid. For others, a hostility towards lockdown measures has led to dangerous conspiracy theories.
Archbishop of the Resurrection Praise Ministries International, Samson Mustapha Benjamin which draws thousands of people, has been among the most ardent critics of the lockdown.
“There is something wrong; for people to be allowed to be in the market for six hours, all day and can’t be in church for two hours,” he says, pointing out that shopping areas and hospitals were allowed to open, stating that Church is more organized than the market so it should have been open firstly and church can control her members.
Engr. Ben Eigege a Deacon in the church stated that the pandemic was a challenge for the church in Nigeria to reassess its obligations to society.
Rtd Commissioner of Police, Deacon Ebere Onyeagoro says that health centres have been offered to the government to support its outbreak response.
“We’ve had to reflect on what pastoral care looks like during a pandemic,” he adds. Visitation to vulnerable or sick people had become complicated by the pandemic” Onyeagoro said.
“We’ve quickly transitioned to online, and began airing live services on Facebook. It is an unusual phenomenon, giving services to an empty church, but with our virtual services we’ve also become more accessible to others. We’re using social media to keep in contact and connect with people” Mustapha said.