A number of major churches in Ghana shifted their fellowships online as they observed the ban on public gatherings amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic which will last for at least two more weeks.
Some of the household names like the International Central Gospel Church, Action Chapel and Lighthouse Chapel international already had systems in place to serve church members digitally.
But a number of other churches tried their hands at online broadcast of services for the first time.
Some of them also put in place digital avenues to ensure that members contribute offerings and tithes via mobile money or debit card.
Around Accra, churches that usually get excess members on normal Sunday’s were empty and under lock and key, with only administrators and security personnel in sight.
There was also very little vehicular traffic on roads giving the indication that the President’s directive to halt religious activities, among others, was being adhered to.
The move to digital platforms came with its own challenges though, as the Adabraka Circuit of the Methodist Church learned when the challenges of Ghana’s unreliable power supply came to bear.
There was a power cut when its Superintendent Minister, Very Reverend Samuel K. Quartey, was speaking into the camera, leaving the room, occupied by a few singers, a technical team and a keyboardist in darkness, as attempts were made to get the church’s generator online.
Some other churches had a smooth transition to virtual services, like the Assemblies of God Holy Hill Chapel which broadcasts on TV on normal Sundays.
This meant adjusting to the ban on religious gatherings was not as difficult for its administration.
Also, they were not leaving anything to chance as they run on generators as their service was broadcast online.
Its premises, which are used to holding over 2,000 people on a normal Sunday, were virtually empty save for the lead pastor, Rev. Kwadwo Bempah and a few other church members.
The extreme changes notwithstanding, a confident-sounding Rev. Bempah felt there was a positive side to the disruption the coronavirus pandemic has brought.
“Today, many pastors who have never even been on social media are forced to go there…The gospel is not losing effect. We are rather gaining more grounds and the church is marching on,” he declared.
Globally, some churches in the hardest-hit countries have relied on the internet for reaching their congregations.
In the UK for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby held a virtual Sunday service earlier on Sunday after the Church of England suspended public services.
In Italy, a country known for devout Catholicism, prayers are being organised on WhatsApp and many priests are now streaming masses on Facebook or on YouTube channels.
Isaac Sakyi-Armah, the Society Steward at the Adabraka Circuit of the Methodist Church, stressed the need for churches to go the extra mile as a show of love during these trying times.
“We want to still engage with each other, we want to keep a bond and family relationship with them. We do not want to neglect them. We also want to feed them with the Word and also engage them as well.”
He also remarked that his church was aware there would be some members who will not be able to access sermons which are live-streamed.
“We have a weekly bible lesson we have shared with our members so that keep reading them and we keep updating them on our [Whatsapp] platform and all that,” he noted as one of their alternative forms of communication.
The next major item on the Christian calendar is Easter and its accompanying celebrations which mark the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“I am praying and believing God that [coronavirus threat] will not get to Easter,” Rev Bembah retorted when faced with the possibility of churches being closed during Easter.
“But if nothing changes, then we are going to use the same method [online to reach our congregations],” he added.