Home Evangelist Amenla invokes God’s blessing at the beginning of the DABA’s Palm Sunday Service on April 5. Rev L Lima Jamir, Associate Pastor, DABA is also seen in the background. (YouTube Screenshot/Morung Photo)
Virtual, family and personal fellowships replace regular services
Morung Express News
Dimapur | April 5
For many it was surreal, while for others, it was the test of their faith, as Nagaland celebrated Palm Sunday today in a unique way under the current COVID -19 lockdown.
The usual activities associated with the start of one the most religiously significant and sacred week for Christians was missing.
Starting with the Palm Sunday signifying the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, the faithful will also observe His crucifixion on Good Friday, culminating with the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Most churches, instead, reached out to the faithful via several online platforms, stressing on personal faith and family fellowship rather than physical presence to adhere to ‘social distancing’ measures advocated by many heath authorities.
According to various reports, apart from services in some villages, whose members are completely isolated from outside interaction, most churches chose to hold virtual services.
Same service, different platforms
In many churches, the virtual services were held as the usual fellowship while others provided sermons.
Churches like the Chakhesang Baptist Church Kohima (Minister Hill), Sumi Baptist Church Zunheboto, East Dimapur Sumi Baptist Church, Union Baptist Church Kohima, Zunheboto Town Sumi Baptist Church, Meluri Town Baptist Church and the Chakhesang Baptist Church Council Mission Centre Pfütsero uploaded Palm Sunday sermons on YouTube for their members.
Most Ao Churches, including Dimapur, Kohima and Mokokchung Baptist Church resorted to holding fellowship with congregation with pre-recorded services streamed either through their YouTube channel or cable network.
The devotional, child and youth services, thus, were ‘held’ with uninterrupted with the congregation.
In a letter to its associate churches on April 4, the Ao Baptist Church Association (ABAM) called for observing the Palm Sunday, Passion Week and Easter Sunday through personal and family fellowship, in the absence of usual services.
“Renew your faith and observe the events prayerfully and clearly experience their significance,” stated the letter issued by ABAM Executive Secretary Rev Dr Mar Atsongchanger to the Ao churches.
For many, however, the ‘extraordinary measure’ is the new normal. Most churches resorted to ‘social distancing’ strategies since last week.
Adherence to social distancing
Likewise, at the onset of the lockdown period on March 25, Bishop of Kohima, Most Rev Dr James Thoppil wrote to the Catholic Community in Nagaland urging them to strictly follow the government and administrative decisions and advisories. Stating that “we are responsible not only for our life but also the life of others,” he said: “This year our Holy Week and Easter celebration will be totally different from other years.
Thoppil, however, stressed on “as a faith community, our first response must be to turn to God.”
Even as Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Holy Week, this is the first time believers in Nagaland will not be able to gather as a congregation to observe this special Sunday. This year, Easter celebrations will be different, if not unforgettable, as Christians worldwide spend Passion Week at home amid the spread of COVID-19, The Morung Express reported on Sunday.
Meanwhile in Tuensang, following the lockdown order in response to COVID-19, the association of four churches- Chang Baptist Lashong Thangyen (CBLT), Khiamniungan Baptist Churches Association (KBCA), United Sangtam Baptist Lithroti Ashimkhong (USBLA) and Yimchungrü Baptist Boru Amukhungto (YBBA in a meeting with Deputy Commissioner Tuensang on March 24 adopted several measures to combat the pandemic. Among others, churches under these four apex association decided not to meet with effect from March 25 until further notice. This includes seminars, workshop, revival, weddings and even worship services.
However, the meeting decided to keep the church doors open for individual worship.
Every Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday devotional and any other women and youth worship services, the respective churches would ring their bell at specified timing and every believer was “asked to begin their prayer and worship in their own respective homes as they hear the bell.”
A statement from the Executive Secretary of CBLT said that “the situation calls for faith in action and by not meeting, they are not ceasing their devotion to God,” and appealed for all to be united in prayer.
The closure of churches has elicited a big debate with some arguing that it is an ‘essential service’ for the believers and should be open. However, the common consensus is for closure
Accordingly, most churches have decided to adhere to Government advisory against holding huge congregations to maintain social distancing.
The faith deriving from Apostle Paul in The Holy Bible in the Corinthians which states: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (NIV)