Although the government of Jamaica has eased the restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather in one location, most of the Seventh-day Adventist membership on the island continues to worship virtually.
After its first positive case of the coronavirus in March 2020, the government of Jamaica imposed several restrictions on mass gatherings, which caused most of the more than 750 Adventist congregations and other religious groups to be closed.
On May 16, churches were given permission to reopen under strict guidelines, including temperature checks, social distancing, and the wearing of face masks. Most of the Adventist churches were not reopened until May 30, however. In a letter to the churches, Everett Brown, president of the Adventist Church in Jamaica, recommended that the members continue to worship virtually.
“The Jamaica Union Conference recommends that our church members continue to worship virtually from their homes as we have been doing since March 21, for the next two weeks,” Brown said. “Local conferences should initiate the process to begin the phased reopening of our church buildings for worship services starting Sabbath, May 30. This is being done as the church creates a balance between ensuring the safety of members in this pandemic, while allowing them to fellowship and worship in their church buildings.”
In the meantime, some churches that were doing worship on a small, restricted scale during the period of closure continued online, and some resumed services on May 30.
“We are ensuring that everything is in place for the effective carrying out of the stipulated guidelines, but Adventist churches which have met the guidelines went ahead and had members within the church space,” said Nigel Coke, communication director for the church in Jamaica.
“Many of our church buildings are small, while things like thermometers and other sanitizing items need to be purchased before members can worship in them. This for some of our churches took a little time,” he said.
All the conference headquarters and a number of churches are maintaining a virtual worship presence with Wednesday and Sunday night services in addition to the regular Sabbath worship.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to return to church, which allows me to fellowship with my brethren in a more intimate way,” said Claudette Morgan, a member of the Boundbrook Adventist church in the parish of Portland. “However, I am feeling a keen sense of loss, as I am missing the close contact that we had before.” Not being able to hug or get close to others doesn’t feel normal, explained Morgan. “The atmosphere at church has really changed.”
There’s a sense of feeling incomplete because many of the members are not present, she said. “One aspect of the church that I really enjoy is the blending of our voices in praise. Thank God we still have that.”
The Jamaica Union has organized a “JA Adventist Online” brand, which facilitates each of the five conferences to join weekly in virtual worship. It is carried live on NCU radio and television.
The Mandeville Adventist church, a 2,000-member congregation in the parish of Manchester, is accommodating 150 persons. Those attending adhere to the guidelines set by the government for a distance of six feet between worshipers. The church hosts one service on Sabbaths in the morning, and the afternoon program is done virtually via video conference.
“The experience is good so far,” said Francis West, pastor of the Mandeville church. “In addition to the live streaming of the service, what makes it good is the fellowship in testimony and songs,” West said. “The mask doesn't affect the singing. The song service goes on for 15 minutes, and the congregation enjoys it.”
The church has seen new and old visitors, and there are masks available for persons who may turn up and do not have one, West added.
Local leaders said more and more churches will be opening their doors to a limited number of persons during Sabbath worship services this month.