Dear Bishops, Clergy, and all Christians
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Today, His Excellency, the President of Uganda, announced the decision of the government to close down all public religious gatherings, including churches, for 32 days effective immediately. He did this as a father who advises his children on the best way we can stay safe and healthy.
This decision will have a big impact on how we live and worship as Christians for the next few weeks, and I want to provide some additional guidance to what our President has shared. While it will be very difficult for us to not gather together, we stand with His Excellency in this decision because it will help save lives. As Christians and as the church, we value life and support all efforts to promote life. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10)
In my Charge I encouraged the church to develop new tools for ministry and outreach, including radio, television, and social media. I never expected the need for these new tools to come so quickly. But, here we are. A great evangelist once said, “Your setback can be a setup for our comeback.”
As I shared in last week’s pastoral letter, I want to begin by reminding you of Jesus’ command to not be anxious. In Lamentations 3.21-23, the Bible says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18.18)
People have asked me, “If we can’t meet for worship in church on Sundays and mid-week, how will we have church?” Yes, it will be hard to not meet together on Sundays, but we should be assured of Jesus’ words, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18.18)
1. I have already encouraged Home Cells in my Charge and they are the ideal place for Sunday worship to take place. Some cells may need to sub-divide so they are no more than 10 people. But, Sunday worship can take place with home cells in homes, observing, of course, the appropriate behaviours of not shaking hands or hugging and keeping at least one metre of distance between you and others. If you’re sick, please stay home.
2. I am calling on all husbands and fathers to step up and take responsibility for leading your families in daily home prayers and in Sunday worship. The Family is the smallest church, and every home needs its “Family Altar.”
3. Some churches have developed the capacity for online streaming of worship services. I call on you to expand that capacity for also broadcasting services without the presence of a congregation. Please also share with your diocese and the provincial office the times and online address for these broadcasts, so others can benefit.
4. We are asking all Bishops to develop “Radio Church,” and asking all radio stations to collaborate with the church under these extraordinary circumstances and provide airtime on Sunday mornings to broadcast local language worship services into every home.
5. We also encourage all Bishops to link with local TV stations for ways to broadcast a local language Sunday service through television. I want to emphasize how this situation reminds us of our great need for a church TV station, as I identified in my Charge, and I hope we will now understand the urgency for it.
6. I will be recording a daily devotion to be circulated on social media and I encourage you to access the devotion through the Church of Uganda’s Facebook page and Twitter accounts. Please use it with your family and home cells.
7. There is an African Proverb that says, “When an African sings, he prays twice.” In Italy, where communities have been locked down for several weeks already, residents in apartment buildings and nearby homes are singing together from their balconies and front doors. Please, take the initiative and be a blessing to your neighbours by singing songs of praise and worship together in our communities…but at a distance!
8. I also want to encourage Christians to reach out to one another in as many ways as possible – phone calls, text messages, social media – so we continue to encourage one another in our faith. This is especially important for the elderly and those who may be isolated. Please make sure they have the practical, emotional, and spiritual support of the Christian community.
9. Do not neglect to worship God through your tithes and offerings.
a. Bishops and Clergy should explain to their Christians how to use online banking, if available, to continue giving weekly tithes and offerings.
b. Alternatively, using Mobile Money may be another means.
c. It may be possible to pass by your local church during the week and give your offering privately.
d. If none of those are available, I urge every Christian to set aside their weekly tithes and offerings. When we do come back together again – and, we will! – we will have a big in-gathering as a Thanksgiving to God for his great faithfulness (Lam 3.21-23).
Warnings and Encouragement
We all know that there are some bad people in the world who will try to take advantage of this crisis. I’ve already heard about people posing as health officials selling or giving away face masks, but the face masks will sedate people who then get robbed and abused. Likewise, waragi is still not your friend. Stay away from it. Be careful.
Finally, I want us all to seize the spiritual opportunity that is being given to us through this crisis. The Bible says in 2 Chronicles 7.13-14, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I call for this season to be a season of prayer and fasting for our people and our land. When the Lord shows you areas you need to repent personally, please do it.
When we have a State of Emergency, we also need Prayers of Emergency. So, I also call on the President to declare a weekly Day of National Prayer during this season to bring us all together in repentance and faith.
Finally, don’t forget to sing about God’s faithfulness in your homes and communities. Why? Because “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3.21-23)
Yours, in Christ,
The Most Rev. Dr. Stephen Samuel Kaziimba
ARCHBISHOP OF CHURCH OF UGANDA.