Rethinking Church in Zimbabwe

The Mushambi family celebrates Palm Sunday at home in Harare, Zimbabwe, during 21 days of lockdown in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo provided by United Methodist News Service.

By Pricilla Muzerengwa –

Traditionally, United Methodists parade through the streets carrying palms on Palm Sunday. Communities would also typically see Christians marching in the early morning on Easter Sunday singing praises of victory.

That’s all changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Zimbabwe is on lockdown and everyone is expected to stay at home. As of April 8, Zimbabwe has confirmed 11 cases and two deaths.

Prior to the lockdown, The United Methodist Church suspended all activities in Zimbabwe from March 24 in an effort to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa said in a statement that in consultation with other leaders, the church suspended all church gatherings until further notice.

The Rev. Alan Gurupira, administrative assistant to the bishop, reminded all pastors that they are on call as always. “Continue to shepherd the flock by means of making good use of technology to reach members with words of comfort,” he said.

The Rev. Gift Machinga, Zimbabwe East Conference Board of Discipleship chairman and Cranborne United Methodist Church senior pastor, said the church is feeling the impact.

“By nature, the church is an institution that traditionally meets physically for worship,” he said.

The inability to meet physically calls for churches to adopt alternative methods to remain relevant.

The Rev. Sophrins Sign, Zimbabwe East connectional ministries director, explained that the church’s doors may be closed, but church activities are continuing in isolation.

“Members are conducting services in their homes and, as for the areas where some families cannot be reached through WhatsApp or SMS text messaging, pastors are improvising or finding best ways to communicate with their people,” Sign said.

Despite all odds, Palm Sunday was observed in different ways. Families decorated their homes and gates with palms and tree branches and sang “Hosanna” as they marched around their homes waving branches.

Meanwhile, Cranborne United Methodist Church is continuing to feed members spiritually despite the restrictions. Before the coronavirus epidemic, the church livestreamed services every week on Facebook.

“I predicted the lockdown coming and started putting things together. All sermon recordings were done by March 29,” Machinga said. “We already have pre-recorded worship services … ”

Machinga called pastors to uplift the flock spiritually and encourage social support during this time of fear, panic, anxiety, and hopelessness. “We can encourage our congregants to create space in their homes and be in a position to feel God’s presence, thereby, keeping hope alive,” Machinga said. “Our primary responsibility is to be in the trenches ensuring safety and protecting the welfare of our flock.”

Priscilla Muzerengwa is a United Methodist communicator in Zimbabwe. Distributed by United Methodist News Service.

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