Patrick Ekpoh, Uyo
There was palpable tension as Christ Embassy, Uyo Akwa Ibom state on Saturday rejected the guidelines issued by the state government for reopening of churches, describing them as impracticable and unacceptable.
The guidelines were issued by the state government after due consultation with the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, led by Rev.Dr. Nduese Ekwere, as a means of containing the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic in the state.
But in a media briefing held at the church headquarters in Uyo, the pastor of the International Worship Centre Emmanuel Effiong, said CAN’s agreement with the government on the guidelines cannot be binding on members of the church because Christ Embassy is not a member of CAN.
He said CAN Leadership acted within the limit of it knowledge adding the state government too failed to carry out wide consultations before issuing the guidelines.
According to him the use of face masks throughout the Congregational worship as stipulated in the guidelines exposes worshippers to health hazards while the seating arrangement of not more than 200 no matter the size of church is a clear attempt to gag the church.
Citing a number of constitution to butress his points, Effiong said the guidelines issued by the state government derogate the fundamental right to worship and makes it difficult to exercise one’s faith as a Christian.
He said “Our church is a global ministry and we do not believe or advocate unionism, rather we believe in the unity of faith. Today, we state without equivocation that we are not members of CAN or any other association in the country and as such hold the strong belief that we cannot and should not be bounded by whatever decision, the association reaches out with government.
“While we do not question the right of any body of churches forming association nor are we against CAN or any association setting up guidelines for their members, it is unacceptable to believe that such guidelines will be binding on non members of their groups.
“Government on the other hand failed to involve all parties with vested interest in Christendom in the consultation to reopen churches, thereby arrogating non-existent powers to the association which acted only to the limit of it leadership knowledge.
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“The strict guidelines laid out by CAN make it impracticable for the church to exercise their rights. A cursory look at the said guidelines will exposed a clear picture of experimentation with the church as a guinea pig
“The use of face masks for the entire duration of Congregational worship is an act which has been scientifically proven to be hazardous to the health as uninterrupted use of face masks over a long period of time may cause hypoxia- the absence of oxygen to sustain bodily functions.
“Also, we are expected not to sit more than 200 worshippers during each church service among others. This is a clear attempt to gag the church”
The pastor questioned the rationale for the strict guidelines for a body that has it internal protocols and mechanism to regulate it members during service, stressing that the church is ready to challenge government’s decision in court if the need arises.