The New Today

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Reaction to limits on church gathering

Emmalin Pierre – the controversial Minister of Religious Affairs

A controversial decision to permit only 20 persons to attend worship in churches in Grenada has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Catholic faithful.

Leading churchman, Reverend Osbert James of the Presbyterian church has said that the number was not a directive from the Keith Mitchell-led government but a “majority decision” taken by religious leaders during a meeting with the Minister of Religious Affairs and Education, Emmalin Pierre.

Some Roman Catholic priests chose not to hold mass last Sunday due to the short notice given to them to make preparation for mass as an official statement with the numbers only came out on Friday.

One leading Roman Catholic member told THE NEW TODAY that the decision to allow only 20 persons to attend mass is nothing but “crazy” by those who arrived at that decision.

“I think the authority is catering for only the small churches … not the Catholic Church and some Adventists. The Devil is out to rule and using Covid as an excuse,” he said.

One priest who did not open his church last Sunday said he will be opening up this Sunday to his congregation for Mass and whoever shows up will not be turned back.

Asked if more than the required 20 persons showed up as part of the congregation what he will then do, he said: “I am celebrating mass – let them lock me up.”

The priest labelled as “ridiculous” the policy that was reportedly agreed by a majority of religious leaders in a session with Minister Pierre.

THE NEW TODAY was unable to ascertain whether the head of the Roman Catholic Church on the island, Bishop Clyde Harvey was among those who took the decision on allowing only 20 persons into the church for mass.

The priest recalled that when the churches were re-opened last year after the initial Covid-19 pandemic, a protocol was worked out and agreed upon for 6ft Social Distancing among the congregation.

He said that each church on the island was measured and then it was determined based on the 6ft model how many persons can form the congregation.

According to the clergyman, the churches were required to put 6ft markers on the floor and some priests kept it that way even when the requirements were narrowed down to 3 ft. distance by the authorities.

The priest is now questioning the rationale for changing the protocol and not keeping the 6ft measurement in place.

“I do not know what their motive is,” he remarked.

Speculation is rife that Minister Pierre who is involved in a small evangelical church in the heart of Grenville might be supporting the 20 person protocol to facilitate worship in her own church.

Catholic faithful’s have often expressed reservations about the minister, a former member of the flock who is now a leading figure in another religious sect.

Another religious leader pointed out that it is well known that some of the small churches on the island are not able to hold even as many as 20 persons in keeping with Covid-19 protocols.

He said it is ridiculous to request the Roman Catholic Cathedral in St George to open up for only 20 persons when it can accommodate over 100 with strict social distancing protocol being followed.

“Most of our major churches can hold on average 50 persons quite easily and even if the 6ft is rigorously followed there will be more than that inside the church,” he added.

According to the religious cleric the problem that is confronting the Roman Catholic Church in particular is which member of the flock to invite to be part of the congregation of 20 given the size of many of the places of worship.

He said the church is not in the business of showing favouritism to any segment of its congregation as this 20-person protocol amounts to a divide and rule policy.

Speaking on the 20 person policy in an interview with another church leader, Pastor Stanford Simon of the Baptist church in Springs, Rev. James said it was reached at a meeting of members of  Conference of Churches of Grenada (CCG), the Alliance of Evangelical Churches (AEC) and the Muslim Community.

He said that Minister Pierre informed the religious leaders that Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell will most likely be making a statement on the day in question and she wanted to get the views of the religious leaders “about what we should do about churches.”

“She (the minister) did not come with any idea of her own but she had rather us to discuss it so people made different suggestions.

According to Rev. James the consensus among the church leaders was that “we not go back fully to church and open up the church fully but 20 persons for technical reasons to provide the technical support for Virtual services should be allowed to go to the church”.

He said it was a decision made by the majority of religious leaders and that when the minister relayed it “she was relaying a decision that was come to by us who were gathered by zoom for that meeting.”

Rev James described it as a consultative process on the part of government with the churches and at the end of the meeting Minister Pierre basically summarised the discussions “to make sure that she had the right position and then that was what was relayed.”

Asked if there was a timeline for the church services to remain at the level of only 20 persons, he said the decision was to run it for 2 weeks in the first instance and then review it afterwards.

“It is not something that was put in stone for a long duration but it would be reviewed similar to the No Movement weekend for a specified period,” he said.

In response to Rev. James remarks, a top Anglican follower in the country commented: “He is trying to clear Emmalin. Why do these NNPites feel the need to justify their stupidity like that? Can you imagine Archdeacon (Michael) Marshall/Bishop Harvey opening the two big churches for 20 people? The devil is clearly controlling these people.”