COVID curfew can’t cramp watchnight for Adventists
The New Year’s Eve 10 p.m. coronavirus curfew won’t be a problem for at least one popular denomination in Jamaica: the Seventh-day Adventists.
While most watchnight services commence around 9 p.m. and linger into the midnight hours, Adventists traditionally turn out for fellowship around sunset and wrap up worship by around 8 o’clock.
That convention offers a welcome advantage, says Keith Nugent, first elder at Andrews Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church on the outskirts of New Kingston, which means their prayers and praise can go to God uninterrupted by the Disaster Risk Management Act.
Nugent’s optimism is also grounded in his belief that the pandemic has expanded the church’s reach, demonstrating that in-person services wouldn’t be totally missed.
“It is not all doom and gloom. While our doors were closed for a while and the number of persons who can worship physically had reduced, the opportunity has arisen for us to spread the word far and wide,” Nugent told The Gleaner on the Sabbath.
Andrews’ livestreamed services have reached a low of 4,000 worshippers and a high of close to 10,000 when the outbreak was at its worst.
Viewers, he said, originate from as many as 40 countries each week, providing new opportunities “for the gospel to reach the ends of the earth,” he said.
For the church’s year-end thanksgiving service, Andrews will be pre-recording individual testimonies, praise songs, psalms “as we give God thanks for keeping us through a trying year and asking his guidance as we anticipate the new year and Him leading us in that period’, Nugent said.
Survival is a key message that has rung throughout Jamaica’s coronavirus crisis, with infections climbing to 10,709, with 40 new cases recorded on Saturday.
With 256 deaths and a Yuletide warning that infections may surge into the New Year, the spectre of more pain is palpable among the church community and the wider population.
Pastor of the church, Adrian Johnson, said he was not perturbed by the late-evening ban against watchnight services, pointing out that they won’t be affected by the time stipulations because Adventists are “kind of unique”.
“Unlike the other churches, ... we believe the day starts from sunset and not from 12 a.m. or one minute after 12.
“The year 2020 was a roller coaster. We had some ups and downs, but we are grateful for what God has done and continues to do for his people and the nation at large,” he said.
Things will go differently for Kencot Seventh-day Church, also in St Andrew, than at Andrews Memorial.
Weston Taylor told The Gleaner that his congregation would be staging thanksgiving services from December 26 to January 9.
“As usual, we will have our regular thanksgiving and praise service. ... It will be online on Facebook and all media. We are hoping that as many people as possible will be able to join us as we give God thanks for seeing us through a very hard year,” said Taylor.
Worshippers from other denominations that usually participate in watchnight services well beyond midnight must understand that the health and safety of the nation is paramount, says president of the Jamaica Council of Churches, the Rev Newton Dixon.
Eleven denominations and three Christian agencies fall under the banner of the Jamaica Council of Churches.
“I don’t sense that our churches are upset or totally put off by this. Many of us expected that something like this would happen. We have to comply with the demands for public health and safety, and so we have to work around it,” Dixon told The Gleaner.
“All our church traditions have been casualties of the pandemic in one way or another. Watchnight service is one of the casualties of the pandemic.”
With the pandemic upending church traditions, Dixon disclosed that some congregations were mulling over conducting services in the afternoon or early in the evening before beating the curfew deadline.
“I know that others are thinking of a virtual watchnight, which would mirror the traditional experience. Different churches, based on their resources and capacities, are doing different things,” Dixon said.