Written by: John Semakula
Article source: religionunplugged.com

Thousands of worshipers in Uganda flocked to places of worship over the weekend, for the first time in six months since the government imposed a countrywide lockdown on Mar. 20 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

President Yoweri Museveni partially lifted the lockdown on Sept. 21. The president allowed places of worship to reopen as long as they observed the government’s COVID-19 guidelines, including that worshipers wear face masks, sanitize and sit at a distance from one another during the service. Houses of worship in particular are allowed only up to 70 people, and Sunday school and night prayers are banned.

Across the country, many clergy struggled to control the huge numbers of worshipers that turned up. While restricting worshipers to only 70 per service, Museveni didn’t explain how the clergy should control the overflow. At some places of worship, the clergy were so overwhelmed by the number of people waiting outside their building that at some point, some gave up and let in everyone in total disregard of the restrictions.

Others, like the Supreme Mufti Sheikh Siliman Kasule Ndirwangwa of Kibuli Mosque, the headquarters for one of the two main Muslim factions in Uganda, urged the government to relax the restriction on the number of worshipers per service. He noted that some places of worship, like Kibuli, are very large and can safely accommodate many more than 70 worshipers.

Since March, Uganda has recorded a little more than 8,000 COVID-19 cases, and 75 deaths, according to government figures.

At Our Lady & St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish Church in Kamuli town, eastern Uganda, as early as 6 a.m, more than 200 Christians waited outside for the first Mass to begin.

Herbert Batale, the usher in charge of enforcing COVID-19 rules, counted the worshipers one by one as they entered until he reached 70. He told the rest to follow from outside or wait for the second Mass. When the service started, the melody of songs of worship once again swept through the town on a Sunday morning.

Rev. Richard Okao, the parish priest who led the Mass told the flock that day one was for celebrating the breakthrough, after the six-month lockdown. “The Lord has enabled us to prevail through and here we are fellowshipping again,” he said.

The service lasted for 90 minutes. Rev Okao lauded the flock for its commitment to Christ.

“The multitudes jostling to attend the prayers manifest the spiritual thirst you endured during the lockdown,” he said.

At 7:30 a.m, the first group of worshipers left the church through the northern entrance and the new group came in using the southern gate.

Mary Namulindwa, one of the worshipers in the first Mass, told Religion Unplugged that she suspended all the activities at her restaurant in Kamuli to receive blessings as the churches reopened.

Rev. Okoa said all the 450 worshipers who turned up had a chance to attend a Mass.

Pr. Moses Jeremiah, who led three services at the New Destiny Christian Centre in Kamuli between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m, commended the government for easing the lockdown and urged the flock to observe the safety rules, emphasizing that COVID-19 is real. Jeremiah compared the lockdown to the suffering Israelites went through in Egypt. During the lockdown, some Ugandans have run out of food and starved, lost their jobs and others were abandoned by their families. 

At the Holy Ghost Miracle Centre in Kamuli town, there was a temperature gun used for screening worshipers, unlike at most of the other churches. Bishop Eddy Munene, who led the service at the church, was all smiles, lauding the congregation and the clergy in Uganda for their prayers, which he said had worked.

“I am appreciative of the easing of the lockdown. We are going to use this opportunity to plead to the Lord to suppress the infection and the death rate in Uganda,” he said.

Bishop Munene compared the lifting of the lockdown on places of worship in Uganda to Noah’s Ark and the floods, when the rains stopped and the Ark rested on Mt. Ararat as occupants waited for the water levels to fall in order to disembark.

He added that he was pleased that his flock didn’t scatter during the lockdown, observing that most of the worshipers had returned moreover with new friends.

Worshipers wash their hands before entering St. Mark’s Church of Uganda. Photo by John Semakula.

Worshipers wash their hands before entering St. Mark’s Church of Uganda. Photo by John Semakula.

At St. Mark’s Church of Uganda in Soroti Zone in Kamuli, the parish priest, Rev. Can. Rebecca Mudondo delivered a triumphant sermon.

Speaking with a clenched fist, she decreed having chased away all the COVID-19-related mischief, before declaring a new era and pandemic-free congregation. “We are saying ‘No!’ to the pandemic; leave God’s people alone to serve him,” she said, before the crowd went into frenzied praising and clapping.

At the church’s entrance, a woman was stationed to ensure that whoever came first washed their hands. But she was lenient with some of the elderly and disabled who came without face masks allowing them in, and allocating them seats on one side.

The choir at St. Mark’s Church of Uganda sang hymns for the congregation at the church’s first reopening since the COVID-19 lockdown. Photo by John Semakula.

The choir at St. Mark’s Church of Uganda sang hymns for the congregation at the church’s first reopening since the COVID-19 lockdown. Photo by John Semakula.

Meanwhile at the headquarters of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) at Old Kampala, the Mufti Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje urged the Muslim fraternity to observe the COVID-19 rules to stop the government from considering re-imposing another lockdown.

Worshipers in some places fundraised for the purchase of temperature guns. At Our Lady & St. Joseph Catholic Parish Church in Kamuli, the fundraising conducted during the Mass raised sh130,000 ($35.03). Despite the numerous challenges places of worship faced, worshipers could not hide their joy that once again, they were fellowshipping.

About the issues raised by the clergy as the places of worship reopened, government spokesperson Judith Nabakooba said they will consider them at the right time.

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Date published: 08/10/2020
Feature image: Worshippers wait to go inside for Mass at Our Lady & St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish Church in Kamuli, eastern Uganda. Photo by John Semakula.

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