In anticipation of the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Ghana, which would see the resumption of public worship, heads of the Ecumenical bodies in the West African nation have proposed guidelines to ensure the safety of worshipers when the churches are allowed to open.
The guidelines range from the sitting arrangement, time between services, hygiene, the handling of offerings, among other practices aimed at preventing the possible spread of the coronavirus.
“Contiguous seats should be 2 arms-length reach (2m). So should be the distance before and after one seat to ensure that cough, sneeze and talking from one church member does not predispose the neighbors to the virus particularly from asymptomatic carriers,” the representatives of the various Ecumenical bodies wrote in their jointly signed letter dated May 7.
They added, “Provide separate seating areas for the aged and families.”
“There will invariably be the need to organize churches in more than one session with at least one hour in between services,” the Christian leaders stated in their collective letter co-signed by the President of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC), the Chairman of the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), the President of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC) and the President of the National Association of Charismatic and Christian Churches (NACCC).
Addressing the practice of handling offertory containers, the leaders of the Ecumenical bodies advised that “a stationary bowl with a wide opening be put in front or entry point where people do not need to handle the bowl before putting in their offering and tithes.”
“It is advisable not to pass offering bowls and baskets around. Items that are frequently handled can be sources of contaminants for the COVID-19 virus. The virus can be retained on the offering/tithe bowl for hours and can be passed on to others,” the leaders noted and added, “Where practicable churches should advise their members to use mobile money for offerings and tithes as this means of giving reduces the risk of transmission.”
Public worship in the West African nation was suspended since March 15 when President Nana Akuffo-Addo restricted public gathering as one of the measures to curb the possible spread of COVID-19.
Ghana has recorded at least 5,127 cases of the pandemic with 494 recoveries and 22 deaths.
In his Sunday, May 10 address to the nation, President Akufo-Addo extended the restriction on public gatherings to May 31, including conferences, workshops, political rallies, religious activities, sporting events as well as educational facilities, which are to remain closed.
The President’s directive is a result of his consultation with different stakeholders in the country, including religious leaders.
In their collective May 7 statement, the leaders of the various Ecumenical entities recommended that hand washing and sanitizer materials be installed at the entrance of church buildings.
“Make available hand-washing materials for all to wash hands before entering the church or touching rails, door handles and pillars. A running tap or Veronica bucket should be put at all entrances for every church member to wash hands before entering the church. Hands free soap dispenser must be fitted to avoid cross contamination,” the leaders recommended in anticipation of the resumption of public worship.
They added, “Make hand-sanitizer (preferably a dispenser) available at near church entrances, outside washrooms, pastors’ offices, vestries and lobbies for members to sanitize their hands.”
The Christian leaders went on to recommend “enforcement” in the process of ensuring the faithful adhere to the measures.
“Enforcement is more important than instituting the measures in order to achieve sustained compliance,” the leaders said and recommended that churches “have one person (usher) dedicated to the entrance to enforce the (measures), making sure that every church member at least, washes the hands for 20 seconds under running water and also sanitizes the hands after washing.”
“In addition, churches should put up signs reminding people to wash hands, cough/sneeze into their elbows and remind people from the pulpit/stag,” the church leaders stated in their collective letter.
Further, the leaders will want surfaces and items such as microphones, door handles, seat arms/handles that are touched by different people routinely be cleaned “every 1-2 hours depending on utilization.”