I have to hand it to Bundibugyo: church resumed today after a six month moratorium. And they managed to be scientifically cautious and faithfully joyous in the proper paradox.
As per national guidelines, a church that would normally be skin-to-skin crowded, children flowing in and out, a veritable sea of aerosols and sweat, with no particular concern for time, was transformed. Worshipers arrived and lined outside to wash hands with soap and water. Then they were registered (in case contact tracing needs to be done) in a numbered list with a limit of 70, with their temperature taken and recorded. Each number corresponded to a chair. Everyone wore a mask, and sat in their carefully spaced assigned seat. Mid-service, a deacon moved around and sprayed everyone's hands with alcohol spray again. The government limited services to two hours, and they began and ended exactly on time. The elder leading the service gave public service education on COVID prevention measures. Masks were pulled under chins for singing which was probably not 100% wise, but otherwise the protocols were quite strictly adhered to. Surely if this level of decorum, order, spacing, caution can be achieved in Bundibugyo, no one should be excused from trying.
Our building is a spacious community centre with excellent airflow, no screens or window panes, a high roof, huge double doors on three sides. It was a sunny day with strong breezes. And whether everyone was just curious or so longing for fellowship after a long drought or afraid of being left out, I don't know, but we went at the normal time things would start to trickle towards a start and found ourselves #64 and 65, a near miss, with the choir in full swing.
Note the assigned seat numbers, Bundimulinga Presbyterian Church of Uganda
Yes, we sang, and danced, and had offering and announcements and prayer and a sermon. We waved from our seats instead of greeting by handshakes and hugs all over the church as usual, and the offering buckets were brought to us instead of allowing a crowd to swarm the front. But the feeling was festive. The praise was heartfelt. A widow who had recovered from illness gave a passionate testimony and donated a basket she had made. And the texts were picked to be relevant to the current situation:
Deuteronomy 31-be strong and courageous, God is with you.
Leviticus 13-sensible words about leprosy prevention by case identification and isolation, with a little history from the pastor who remembers his parents talking about leprosy care and elimination here in the 1940's and 50's. Quarantine is Biblical.
2 Kings 5 and Matthew 8-two leprosy healing stories, with the point that Jesus heals, that no disease is too hard for God to disrupt, that we should not hide but come with hope to find healing.
When did you last hear a sermon on Leviticus 13?
All in all, it was a very encouraging morning to see the community that has been hammered with isolation, anxiety, potential disaster, come out in faith and respect science while looking to God to work. The world should take note.