Dear Brethren in Christ,
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Paul began his joy-filled letter to the Philippian Christians with these words, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Phil 1.3-4)
My heart, too, is full of love, gratitude, and thankfulness for each one of you, especially during the transition between the time the House of Bishops elected me to be their Archbishop on 28th August 2019 until the time of my enthronement on 1st March 2020.
Each one of you played a vital role in this peaceful transition, and I thank you so very, very much. From dedicated members of the Organizing Committee to generous supporters to prayerful Christians at the grassroots – you have all done a great job.
I’m writing this Pastoral Letter for two reasons. First of all, to thank you for your support.
Secondly, to appeal to you to come together in confidence and unity so that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1.6)
We have only just begun our season together and I appeal to you to press on and allow the Holy Spirit to more thoroughly work on the conversion of our head, our heart, and our hand.
This leads me to address the topic of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization has described it as a pandemic, meaning it is a rapidly multiplying respiratory disease spreading over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of populations around the world.
It has not yet entered the general population of Uganda, and we pray that it won’t. But, that will only happen if we work together.
In response to the threat of the coronavirus in Uganda, the Ministry of Health has issued specific guidelines for how Ugandans can respond, and I would like to top-up their advice as your spiritual leader.
“Do Not Be Anxious”
Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about your life…. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6.25-33) I urge you not to panic or let your life be overcome by fear.
Jesus is Lord and Sovereign over the affairs of the world and over the affairs of Uganda. He even knows the number of hairs on your head, so he knows every detail of your life that may be affected by coronavirus.
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”
When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6.16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” We should not be anxious about our life and we should trust God for everything.
We should also make wise choices to keep healthy, practice good hygiene, and do as the President and the Ministry of Health have advised.
Do not ignore their good advice because you think that is the “spiritual thing to do.” No. We should not put the Lord our God to the test by neglecting what our elders have advised us to do.
Follow the Ministry of Health Guidelines for Personal Behaviour
1. If you develop cough or flu, stay home from work, school, and church. Do not use public transport. Keep two metres between you and care-givers. Make sure the place where you are recovering is regularly cleaned, including toilets, bath rooms, and other surfaces you may touch.
2. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Wash your hands many times during the day. If soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
3. When you cough or sneeze, do it in a handkerchief or a tissue or into the elbow portion of your arm. Wash handkerchiefs daily in jik and put all tissues in dustbins.
4. Do not shake hands or hug people. Greet with your elbows or waving.
5. Daily clean surfaces you touch with your hands – water taps, door handles, light switches, cell phones, etc.
6. After handling money, wash your hands thoroughly.
7. Do not touch your face – your eyes, nose, or mouth – with your hands.
8. If you are put under self-quarantine, please take it seriously and do what you are told to do.
9. Reschedule non-essential travel outside of Uganda to reduce the opportunity for exposure.
Recommendations for Churches
1. Use public gatherings to regularly sensitize members on coronavirus and personal behaviour to avoid transmission of the virus.
2. During baptisms. Those involved in a baptism should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water before the baptism – pastors, parents, and godparents. For infants, clergy should request parents or godparents to hold the child while pouring water.
3. For Holy Communion. All clergy involved in Holy Communion must wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before Holy Communion. Christians receiving Holy Communion should use hand sanitizer before receiving Holy Communion.
4. Greetings and Passing of the Peace. During greetings and the passing of the peace, all Christians should avoid shaking hands or hugging. Try to keep a distance of two metres between you and other people and greet by waving.
5. For all public gatherings – weddings, funerals, overnight prayers, Sunday services, etc. – avoid shaking hands and hugging. Try to keep a distance of two metres between you and other people and greet by waving.
6. For confirmation. Bishops and clergy should carefully and thoroughly wash their hands before confirmation. Confirmands should use hand sanitizer before going forward for confirmation. Bishops should use hand sanitizer before and after confirming each person.
7. Clergy, Lay Readers, and other small group leaders are encouraged to pray for the sick. If you visit the sick, wear appropriate protective clothing and pray for them without touching them; keep at least two metres of distance. Avoid stigmatizing those who fall sick.
8. All churches should have stations with hand sanitizer, and members should use hand sanitizer as they arrive at church, before Holy Communion, and when leaving church.
9. All churches must provide hand-washing stations near toilets/latrines with soap and water.
If the Ministry of Health updates their recommendations for churches, we shall inform you immediately. For now, we urge all Christians to set the example for godly and healthy living – Do not be anxious; do not put the Lord your God to the test; and follow all personal and corporate guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health.
Finally, I call on all Bishops, clergy and Christians to pray for Uganda to be spared from coronavirus and for the Lord to intervene in the global pandemic by reducing infections and healing those affected.
Archbishop Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu.