NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The impact of the novel coronavirus on The Bahamas’ economy presents a very real challenge for the leadership of churches and the operations of those faith-based organizations, according to Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander.
As pointed Fernander pointed out, declines in offerings and church-sponsored organizations will impact the viability of some churches.
He indicated the virus’ impact on the country’s economy, which has been brought to an almost standstill since March will be felt by many, including churches.
Fernander said the church is not exempt from that burden, and he understands that the government can only supplement so many institutions and individuals.
In response to COVID-19, a state of emergency was declared on March 17.
Churches closed their doors to parishioners shortly thereafter in accordance with the government’s emergency orders, which prohibited social gatherings of more than 10 people, even at weddings and funerals.
But Fernander told Eyewitness News that the social outreach functions of the church, its private schools and the running of some churches will be threatened as the country’s economy remains at a standstill, and thousands remain unemployed.
“This will surely, I think all of that is happening to The Bahamas is happening to the church, so all our churches that our renting, landlords are giving them any break of any rent for example,” he said.
“And so, churches that [are] Over-the-Hill and in our communities will find themselves at the end of May in serious financial constraints.
“Those funds aren’t going to come back.
“People aren’t going to say, ‘I really appreciate what is happening here and I want to help organizations like NGOs’, so you are going to find there are going to be some serious challenges.
“Some pastors are biv-ocational (unable to be paid full salaries) and some pastors are not, and so technically they are unemployed. But there is no benefit for the pastor. There is no benefit for them.
“This is a brand new day. We are not considered in any of the packages, so this is going to be very, very challenging to the leadership of the church, to the church — and this is big and small.
“This does not discriminate. I know you might say well all the big churches were making [it], but try being a diocese with 30 churches, and 30 salaries and 30 schools that have had to make some hard decisions with that kind of headroom volume.
“This, in the trickle down economy, has a very, very strong effect and the first sign of that is the collapse of our private school system, which are basically church schools.”
Churches are expected to reopen during phase two of the government’s economic plan, but the six phases of reopening have no timeline.
As many as 40 percent of The Bahamas’ workforce could be jobless in coming months as a result of the pandemic, according to regional reports.
Fernander said church cycles funds that come in, right back out to help people, but this may be challenging when so many will feel the pinch of economic hard times.
Among the challenges of the church has been bringing in funds to keep them running.
The council president said the church will continue to do its part, including food drives and many other forms of assistance.
“I think a lot of people forget that a good part of the social arm of the country is the church by feeding programs, helping the homeless, shelters — the whole nine yards — is really run by faith-based organizations,” the council president said.
“And so, I think they really found out quickly that they could not respond the way we are used to responding because we were under curfew.
“We couldn’t just go out and say ‘hey, we are the church; we are going to feed some people, and so in our meetings we expressed that some of us were breaking the curfew to go feed the hungry.
“We were taking bags of groceries to our members.
“There was a quick understanding of the role of the church, and I think sometimes, the bashing of the church; we don’t have the luxury of sitting back and saying ‘okay, let’s not do it, let’s sick back and wait or let’s pull back our services.
“We don’t have that luxury because we are servants of Christ and so, even when people are bashing the church, we still do it.
“But it is a cycle and the state understands we get in to give out.
“The church is not the building, it’s the people. And if we are to move to the next phase of this volunteer army that he (Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis) is calling for, the biggest volunteer army is the church, and we have to activate the church again.”