The government Sunday banned gatherings in all places of worship in a renewed bid to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe outlawed weddings and communal worship, saying it was illogical for people to attend gatherings where they risked infection.
“Let us not forget that Italy began its unfortunate experience through the decision of some people to continue attending gatherings, including religious ones as if nothing had happened. Sunday, Italy lost 784 people within 24 hours. We will not escape a similar fate if we do nothing to address the risk in such gatherings,” he said.
Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho directed administration officials to ensure all places of worship remain closed.
“Ensure all churches, mosques and temples are closed. If any are found open within your area, you will be held personally responsible,” said the PS.
Houses of worship yesterday came under heavy criticism as being ‘the weakest link’ in the fight against the pandemic, with netizens, under the hashtag #IgnorantKenyans, criticising those who defied the government directive.
In Mombasa, police used force to disperse worshippers at the Jesus Celebration Church in Bamburi, headed by Bishop Wilfred Lai, and Zion Fire Ministries. Catholic Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde of the Mombasa Archdiocese, however, denied claims that the church had defied the government’s directive on large gatherings.
“We were part of the consultative team that reached the decision. It has to be repackaged in a manner that will be clearly understood by the faithful,” he said.
Archbishop Kivuva said it was unfair to label the church as a possible contributor to the crisis, saying it had always played a critical role in providing healthcare to Kenyans.
In Kisumu, Sunday masses and services were conducted as usual.
At St Teresa’s Cathedral in Kibuye, the parish increased the number of masses from three to seven to stagger attendance.
“The three usual masses, except the dawn mass announced last week, shall all be split and shortened to last an hour each,” read an online WhatsApp text sent out to worshippers by the Parish Council.
At the Redeemed Gospel Church, in Eastleigh, Nairobi, Pastor Daniel Mutune said worshippers had been spread out on the pews to enforce social distancing rules.
The church held the service to follow the Biblical teachings of Solomon, who said Christians should turn to God for healing during times of pandemic and calamities.
In Kakamega, police officers moved across churches to disperse worshippers who had defied the directive. At the St Joseph Cathedral, the gates were closed with only a few members allowed in, leaving a section of the faithful an angry lot.
“What is going on cannot be accepted. It’s in times of calamity that we need to turn to God and seek His intervention. We believe it is in the Church that we can pray with devotion,” said a churchgoer, Mr James Khalayi.
In Siaya, Bishop David Kodia of the Anglican Church of Kenya’s Bondo Diocese urged the government to be considerate of the unique environment that most churches operate in.
Speaking at St Michael Church yesterday, Prof Kodia said rural churches were not able to provide their services online.
In Kisii, priests were forced to conduct six masses to avoid overcrowding. Each constituted about 100 members who were distributed in a building designed to accommodate more than 300 people at a go. On Tuesday, Bishop Joseph Mairura ordered priests to conduct masses in smaller groups.
“I ask priests, brothers and sisters to be careful as they minister during this difficult time,” he said.
Christ is the Answer Ministries (CITAM) did not hold a service as advised by Presiding Bishop David Oginde.
Through the #ChurchIsOnlineThisWeek, the church broadcast its service on various social media platforms and through its radio and television stations.
Last week, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) said holy mass would continue but directed priests to cut back on large gatherings.
“Priests are asked to give Christ’s faithful the messages of hope and encouragement. These messages touching on the coronavirus must not create panic and anxiety, but rather, should encourage the people to confront the current situation with serenity and courage knowing that we shall overcome the virus with the help of God,” the bishops said in a press statement issued on March 19.
The KCCB also recommended that the diocesan bishops grant a temporary exemption from the Sunday obligation for the next three weeks for any faithful who may need it.
The Anglican Church of Kenya, however, suspended all its Sunday services for the next 30 days.
Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit will conduct special broadcast services every Sunday at 8am and Wednesday at 6 pm.
“This will be streamed live on the official Archbishop and ACK Facebook pages and other platforms. Additionally, we encourage the use of technology in the Ministry,” said the Archbishop.
The Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) has also suspended its Sunday services and all other church activities. PCEA Secretary-General Reverend Peter Kaniah said they have suspended the services for the next 21 days.
The Nairobi Gospel, City Church and Kenya Assemblies of God also suspended their services. The Jamia Mosque in Nairobi also suspended all its services.
Reporting by Aggrey Omboki, Siago Cece, Justus Ochieng, Dickens Wasonga, Ondari Ogega, Shaban Makokha and Benson Ayienda, Stella Cherono, Francis Mureithi, Lilian Mutavi, John Njoroge, Onyango K’onyango, Barnabas Bii and Dave Opiyo