Johnson Ayantunji, Tai Anyanwu, Musa Pam and Regina Otokpa
henever the lockdown on places of worship is lifted either completely or partially, there is a category of clergy men that will not resume with the congregation.
General Overseer, the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye, leads the pack.
Others are: General Superintendent, Deeper Life Bible Church, Rev Williams Kumuyi; Presiding Bishop, The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), Dr. Mike Okonkwo; Presiding Bishop, Living Faith Church, Dr. David Oyedepo; Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Citadel Global Church, formerly Latter Rain Assembly, and Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo of the Kingsway International Christian Church (KICC) to mention a few.
This stems from the fact that the guidelines on the protocols for the reopening of the places of worship, which have been shut down since March on account of the coronavirus pandemic, does not allow those from the age of 65 to congregate.
All the above-mentioned clergymen are older than 65 years.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State brought this home when on Thursday, June 4, he announced that the places of worship would be opened to service on Sunday, June 21, before he hurriedly suspended the opening until further notice.
Sanwo-Olu had said amongst other things that: “There will now be restricted openings of religious houses based on compliance that we have seen and reviewed with the Safety Commission.
“We will also be advising very strongly that persons below the age of 15, because of how well they walk around and difficult to hold down, should be excused from the places of worship and citizens that are above the age of 65 should not be allowed into these places of worship.”
Pastor Adeboye has already tacitly rescued himself when he announced last Sunday during the online service that when the church reopens, his wife, grandchildren and himself will not be in church.
“My wife and I are above 65 years of age, while my grandchildren are below 15 years. We will meet every Sunday on this platform.”
However, Sunday Telegraph’s findings revealed that it may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement the restriction of aged ministers or deny them the opportunity to continue to impact on their flock.
Bishop Charles Ighele of the Holy Spirit Ministry put it in perspective: “I am the Bishop of Holy Spirit Ministry. Does it mean that I shouldn’t go to church? To me, it depends on how healthy one is. Government should urgently reopen the churches and remove the restriction on the elderly and children because there is a spiritual hunger in people that must be fed.”
He explained that he will not succumb or retire prematurely stating: “That’s impossible. There are certain things which cannot be practiced. This is one of them. I am 65 years and few months old. It’s like saying that Pope shouldn’t go to church, the Prelate shouldn’t go to church and the General Overseer should stay away from church. That’s impossible, except on medical grounds.”
The Presiding Minister of House of Prayer, Bishop Segun Adewunmi, said it’s wrong to deny persons who are 65 years and above the chance to worship God. According to him, the aged have greater need for God, especially in the evening hours of the life.
“My advice is that government should explore other ways to protect the senior members of society. Similarly, asking elderly clerics within that age bracket to stay away from congregational worship amounts to denying their flock the experience, spiritual wealth and wise counsel which the elderly provide to the young.
“I am above 65 years and as the General Overseer of House of Prayer, compelling me to retire prematurely will rob my members and younger ministers the superior knowledge, counsel, and wisdom they get from me, as well as render the spiritual benefits under the guidance of the elderly watery. I will not retire prematurely because I have not yet impacted enough people as much as God wants me to,” Adewunmi stressed.
Are the affected clergy in the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos likely to vacate the pulpits? The Director of Social Communication, Fr Anthony Godonu, was evasive: “Since everything is put on hold for now. No comments for now,” he said.
The former President, Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), Dr. Jeremiah Gado, however, believes that what government gave is just an advice, not a directive.
“Ministers of the gospel are led by the Holy Spirit and it is not everything government says that is in alignment with the will of God. So, I think that whether or not a minister who is 65 and above will comply with the advice should be left to his or her discretion. Many people die for lie and all what not, but those of us who choose to die declaring the truth of the word should be left to follow their minds,” Gado added.
On his part, the fiery Spiritual Head of NRI Evangelical Church, Primate Elijah Babatunde Ayodele, said: “Government is just playing. I think government said that because of scientific and medical convictions, but the Holy Spirits confounds all scientific and technological discoveries. It will not work.”
In Plateau State and some other parts of the country, there is no restriction on places of worship.
The state capital, Jos, is the Headquarters of most churches, especially the Church of Christ in Nations and Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), which instructed all their branches to adhere strictly to physical distancing, wearing of facemasks and washing of hands based on the directive of government.
However, Governor Simon Lalong had on June 11 suspended the lockdown order and directed citizens to adhere to the guidelines, but did not bar any category of people from attending church services.
The CAN Chairman in the state, Rev. Fr. Polycarp Lubo, told Sunday Telegraph that Christians will obey government directives and guidelines in the fight against COVID-19, adding that churches have not taken any decision on the restrictions of certain categories of people from attending services.
The leadership of CAN, who spoke to our correspondent through Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, the Senior Adviser on Media and Communications to the CAN President, Rev Samson Ayokunle, stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic will not in any way force its members into early retirement from devoting their services to God.
“From the looks of things, COVID-19 is satanic and wicked. It is against everything that is of God and that is why most of the guidelines are against the fellowship with our brothers and sisters in worship.
“We have been accepting all the guidelines from NCDC/PTF in order to prevent a situation where the government may be blaming us for not allowing them to do the needful that could have ended the pandemic because we know that it is only God who can tame the monster called coronavirus.
“Another reason for accepting the guidelines is simply because COVID-19 is a pandemic and until recently, many countries had closed down all their worship places.
“On the implication of the guidelines for the children and the adults of 65, the guidelines cannot lead to early retirement of our pastors. After all, the pandemic is not here to stay. It will soon become history in Jesus name.”