A rift is in the making between the Keith Mitchell-led government and the Catholic Church on the island on an edict coming from the Ministry of Religious Affairs headed by Emmalin Pierre on rules to govern the re-opening of churches that were closed down in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Church members have called THE NEW TODAY newspaper to voice strong opposition to many of the protocol guidelines issued including a ban on Catholic priests conducting baptisms which is a sacred part of the activities of the Roman Catholic Church.
According to one prominent Catholic member, the Ministry of Religious affairs is moving slowly on granting African priests who were brought in by the church, the necessary documents to perform weddings.
He said that the Keith Mitchell-led administration is apparently unhappy with some of the sermons preached from the pulpits by these priests and consider some of them as being anti-government in nature.
“They don’t want the African priests to continue here because they are critical of the government. So they are doing everything to frustrate them. That might be the straw that would break the camel’s back,” he remarked.
The church member expressed fears that the edict issued under Minister Pierre’s leadership will give her the right “to pick and choose who she gives permission” to officiate in church services in Grenada.
He said that the Catholic Church is one Diocese and questioned the motive of government to asking individual priests to apply for permission to re-open their churches in keeping with the guidelines.
Minister Pierre who grew up as a practicing Roman Catholic is now a prominent figure in an Evangelical Church in Grenville, St. Andrew.
The friction between Church and State surfaced as some Catholic Priests decided on their own not to participate in last Sunday’s National Day of Thanksgiving to pray for Grenada and its continued “success” against the coronavirus.
THE NEW TODAY understands that government is planning to give the various churches on the island the go-ahead to re-open their churches for mass from Sunday.
As a public service, the edict from government on the guidelines to be followed by the churches is reproduced in full:
COVID-19 PROTOCOLS FOR THE REOPENING OF CHURCHES
RESPONSIBILITIES OF HEAD OF LOCAL CHURCHES
(1). Calculate the number of attendees to be allowed in the building. The measurement to be used is 30 square feet per person. Markers must be used on benches and chairs must be placed no less than 6 ft in every direction.
(2). Provide for each session, appropriate facilities and adequate supplies not limited to, but including hand washing facilities, running water, soap, paper towel, hand sanitizer and disinfectant. A sanitizing station must be set up close to the door, for people entering and leaving the building.
(3). Establish a separate room to accommodate an individual (s) who become sick during the service (with any COVID-19 symptom), until they can safely leave, to seek medical attention.
(4). Establish visible signs encouraging members to observe the protocols and practices to prevent the spread COVID-19.
(5). Share protocols and expectations with all members before the date of reopening.
(6). Limit gatherings to one day per week. All other weekly activities must be conducted remotely.
(7). Ensure that members with underlying health conditions; children under 12-years-old; pregnant and nursing women; adults over 70-years-old; individuals from a household with a Covid-19 infected person; individuals with disabilities and those who might not be able to wear a mask, for the duration of the service, remain at home, until further notice.
(8). The building must be sanitized before each session. Frequently touched areas must be carefully sanitized before, during and after each session. All cleaning products must be used according to the directions on the label. All cleaners must be guided by a health professional.
(9). Ensure that transportation arrangements are in place, to ensure that all individuals leave immediately after the session. The national regulations must be used to determine the number of individuals from different homes who can share a vehicle, and the seating arrangements.
(10). Announce to the hearing of all members present at each session, (before, during and by the end of each session), the hygiene, sanitation and physical distancing protocols to be followed.
(11). Physical contact among individuals is not allowed.
(12). Use stationary boxes for the collection of tithes and offering, ensuring a distance of six feet is maintained between those who are going to the box. Ensure a protocol is established for handling of monies. Six feet physical distancing must be maintained and hands must be sanitized immediately after.
(13). Consider suspending communion services. If possible conduct communion services remotely, or put systems in place to ensure that the ceremony is conducted with 6 ft physical distancing at all times, and the use of hand sanitisers, containing at least 70% alcohol, is in effect. There should be no sharing of emblems.
(14). One person must be allowed to use a microphone and podium for the duration of the session and they must be sanitised immediately after each session.
(15). Ensure services do not last for more than two (2) hours.
(16). Ensure that the application form for the reopening of churches is completed and submitted at least 3 days before the scheduled reopening date. A certificate which must be received by email before the reopening, should be printed and displayed on the door during each session. All forms must be submitted to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Religious Affairs and approval will be granted, based on approved national protocols and regulations.
RESPONSIBILITY OF COORDINATOR OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
(1). To ensure that all requests are responded to within three (3) days
(2). To ensure that only applications meeting the requirements outlined by the Ministry of Health are approved
FUNERALS AND OTHER CEREMONIES
(3). A maximum of 10 persons will be allowed to attend funeral services, or weddings, whether in the church, at the graveside, or the reception, in the case of a wedding.
(4). The same sanitary and sanitization measures, in place for gathering in a church, applies.
(5). All other ceremonies, including baptisms, should be suspended until further notice.
KEY POINTS FOR ANNOUNCEMENTS BEFORE, DURING & AFTER SERVICES
(1). Maintain a 6-foot distance.
(2). Stay home, if you are sick.
(3).Practice proper hygiene protocols. Wash hands often with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol, if soap and water is unavailable. Hand soaps must not be diluted.
(4). Cough and sneeze into tissue and discard the tissue right after use into a bin, or, if there is no tissue, cough into your inner elbow. Wash your hands after coughing.
(5). Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
(6). Avoid close physical contact with others.
(7). Wear an appropriate face mask, covering your nose and mouth, upon entering, leaving and whilst in the building.
(8). Stay informed and follow the advice given by the Ministry of Health.
INFORMATION FOR THE FORM (Give options for ticking, as far as is possible)
(1). Name of the Church.
(2). Location of the church.
(3). Name of the Pastor in charge and contact information.
(4). Name of the Assistant Pastor and contact Information.
(5). Name of the National Head of the church and contact information.
(6). The size of the building/room and its capacity, taking into consideration the physical distancing requirement and the 30 sq. feet per person.
(7). Size of the present membership and procedures for managing numbers to align with approved numbers.
(8). Sanitary measures in place.
(9). The order of service with time allotted to each item.
(10). The availability of facilities to separate persons who show up sick, or become sick at the facility.
(11). The availability to signs and posters to encourage proper hygiene and safety.
(12). Emails must be addressed to the Permanent Secretary, at the Ministry of Education, and must highlight the intended start date.
(13). All requests must be submitted at least three (3) working days prior to the start date.
(14). Any Faith-Based Organisation found in violation of the above protocols will forfeit the opportunity to continue its operations throughout the duration of the declared State of Emergency.