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Nov 4, 2021

The Impact of COVID on the Churches

Tonight on COVID Chronicles, we look at the role of the churches in abiding by the existing COVID-19 regulations, as well as the impact of the pandemic on the religious community and the ability of the churches to serve the less fortunate.  We also get a multi-denominational perspective from the Catholic, Methodist and Evangelical churches on the need for vaccinations.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

COVID-19 has virtually ravaged all sectors of Belizean society. While a lot of focus has been placed on economic recovery, education, and healthcare, spirituality has taken a backseat to the goings-on in this country. Being physically present at daily and weekly church services has dwindled considerably, making it twice as difficult to attend to the needs of parishioners, including the less fortunate.


Father Noel Leslie

Father Noel Leslie, Pastor, St. Joseph Parish

“We are used to celebrating Mass almost every day. We don’t celebrate Mass on Good Friday, so every other day of the year we have Mass and people come because of their awesome love for the Eucharist and their devotion that they have been observing for many, many years. That was a, that played a very major impact on parish life. For myself, I am not encountering the parishioners as usual. It was kind of dramatic in the sense that, you know, you’re not seeing folks that you normally see almost every day or on weekends.”


That means that collecting tithes from churchgoers, in order to run the financial affairs of the community, has been quite a challenge. Contributions from baptisms, weddings, and funerals have also petered out. Bishop Moses Benguche heads the Methodist Church in Belize and Honduras.


Bishop Moses Benguche

Bishop Moses Benguche, Methodist Church

“It is by the grace of God and the church is thankful to its committed faithful members who continue despite the challenging situation we are facing, who continue to give. But of course, that membership has dropped and it means then that the church has to scramble around in other areas. For example, we’re happy for our membership, those in the Diaspora who would assist from time to time and honestly speaking, when we speak, for example, of the church giving up hamper baskets, it is not only the local membership that continues to encourage that kind of giving to those who are in need, but it is also those from those from the Diaspora who have also sent some funds.”


Perhaps the greatest obstacle encountered by the church recently was government’s initial position that worshipers who wished to attend service would have to produce a vaccination card in order to participate in the celebration of Christ.  The church exists to accept all sinners into the house of God.  Turning away the unvaccinated naturally presented a quandary.


Pastor Lance Lewis

Pastor Lance Lewis, National Evangelical Association of Belize

“To tell people, a person comes up and he doesn’t have a card, he or she doesn’t have a card, to come into the church, you are going to tell them no? You realize the implication of that? It’s the church, you know. It’s a very serious situation to hear no, you can’t come in.”


From the perspective of the Methodist Church, whose bishop is also the senator representing the Council of Churches, the need for vaccination is fully supported.


Bishop Moses Benguche

“The Methodist Church, working with the Belize Council of Churches, has always advocated for the use of vaccines and for our citizens ensuring that they are vaccinated.  And so we, the Methodist Church has been at the forefront and promoters of the vaccine insofar as taking the vaccine is concerned.  In fact, we have sat down with the government on numerous occasions to encourage them and to remind them that our buildings are also available for a part of the vaccination campaign.”


In St. Martin’s, Swift Hall has been designated as a vaccination center.  At St. Joseph, however, Father Noel Leslie has had to determine who amongst his flock is vaccinated based on casual conversations.


Father Noel Leslie

“As a pastor, it’s something that kind of baffled me.  It’s something that I, myself, did not really want to do and I would say happily, happily because of my knowledge of the people who come here and when I knew about them before that regulation there, in ordinary conversations, I found out who were vaccinated and not vaccinated.  And so it was those regular ones who are vaccinated that I knew, that kept on coming and I didn’t have to bother too much.”


But is there a moral responsibility for the church to uphold in reducing the spread of the virus by avoiding contamination between vaccinated and unvaccinated churchgoers?


Pastor Lance Lewis

“The persons who are fearful and are vaccinated and now know people who are unvaccinated will be allowed to come, they don’t necessarily have to come and the service will still be online and they will still get it.  Yesterday was our anniversary service and it was online and people got it.  Interestingly, we are having people outside of our area, outside of our country joining the service with the new way of doing things.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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