GENERAL SANTOS CITY – The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) City Church here recently resumed for the first time its regular Sunday worship services since it was locked down in March following a declaration of a national health emergency on Covid-19 pandemic.
Executive Pastor Hernanie Deita in a phone interview said that because of the growing clamor from the members for its resumption, their Council of Elders met and unanimously voted for the resumption of church services. The elders’ decision came after the church first consulted Doctor Claire Tan who is a church member and a daughter of one of the elders. Doctor Tan who is also actively involved as one of the frontliners of Royeca Hospital’s Covid-19 facility in this city, conducted an information forum with the church leaders and the pastoral team emphasizing the strict enforcement of safety protocols during worship services.
Despite other religious congregations in the city have resumed services since the declaration of a Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ), Pastor Deita said they already held an earlier meeting during the first week of July for the resumption of services but grew apprehensive to open church doors because of routine inspections by policemen.
PRE-BOOKED WORSHIP ATTENDANCE
Following the approval for the resumption of Sunday worship services, the church immediately posted via its Facebook page with an announcement for a pre-booked attendance by reserving for a slot among the worship schedules by calling their pastors or designated church representatives. In case the particular service is already booked, the excess were transferred to the next schedule. “Katong mga dili kaayo maka-techy, gi word-by-mouth na lang gyud ang information that we have already started.”
NO ELECTRIC FANS AND QUICK DISPERSAL
Pastor Deita said they resumed on July 12, 2020 celebrating “Rural Health” Sunday with Pastor Rein Amoro’s preaching entitled “God’s Not Done Yet” anchored on Haggai 2:9. Three worship services were held at 7:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 3:00 p.m. The 6p.m. service was removed. The midweek worship service is just pre-recorded or live streamed online.
Among the protocols they agreed upon was to minimize the worshipers’ exposure to only one hour of service compared to the maximum one hour and 30 minutes of service. They achieved this by modifying the flow of the liturgy. At the end of the service, members were immediately ordered to disperse and discouraged of the usual after-service fellowship. Each pew had two or three seating number. He added that the Council even lowered the attendance below the 50% mandatory attendance by allowing only 60 persons per service.
“Kinahanglan your exposure with someone for 1 meter should only be at 15 minutes maximum.” Other common health protocols were wearing of masks and contract-tracing forms to be filled up.
Aircon units were switched on. “As of the use of electric fan, zero gyud ang use kay spreader of disease. Foot bath, hand sanitation. Tapos avoid touching anybody gyud. Bring your own ballpen,” he said.
SENIORS MAY ATTEND
Since it was unavoidable that senior citizens and children below 21 may arrive to join the services, the Pastoral Team was advised to first seek a clearance from the Church leaders in the event a senior wishes to join the services. Once approved, the senior will be lead to a secluded area of the church. “Dili man namo sila ma stop from coming kay siyempre it is a church. They are just placed in a secluded area of the worship sanctuary with a very minimum contact with everybody.” But Pastor Dieta said they hardly had senior citizens. “So far this week, wala man senior citizen nga naga adto kay they cannot travel from their homes because the senior citizens are being checked at the checkpoints, although Gensan is not that strict when it comes to senior citizens.”
The church also earlier conducted a “worship drill” and a “Test Communion”during the first Sunday on July 5, 2020 being a communion Sunday. Only present were the pastoral team, prayer and worship team, and a few church members.
“May mga parishioners nga nag adto man. I cannot stop them from entering the church kay we are having the live worship. We just allowed them in as long as they can keep a distance with everybody.”
During the test communion, they prepared about 40 sets of the elements of ‘bread and wine’ already laid down across tables strategically positioned along the pews and infront of the altar. Church members will just reach out for the bread and wine already placed in separate containers instead of the customary serving by the Elders. A pastor just stood infront to consecrate it.
CHOIRS A ‘NO, NO’
Choir was discouraged but allowed a “physically distanced” band members. Pastor Deita said since the actual worship service is also simultaneously livestreamed via Facebook, he raised fears that the sight of a crammed choir on Facebook “Mahimo siyang evidence against us.”
TITHES AND OFFERING
“Ang among offering, instead of collecting through the offering bag that is circulated (at the pews), we provide baskets accessible or near them.”
Pastor Hernanie Deita was once invited to UCCP Davao City for a talk on “Prayer and Fasting.” UCCP-General Santos City Church is under the supervision of the Soccsargen Renewal Fellowship district. (GAFlaviano)