5th May 2020
Dear Bishops, Clergy, and Christians,
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
On 4th May 2020, His Excellency, the President of Uganda, addressed the country on our status of combatting the coronavirus and Covid-19. He lifted a few restrictions to allow a limited number of enterprises to re-open, and also added the requirement of wearing a facemask in public to the existing guidelines of hand-washing and social distancing.
The additional two-week extension of the shutdown of transportation, however, will come as a big disappointment to many who were looking forward to the lifting of these restrictions on 5th May. As disappointing as it is, we need to remember that it will give the Ministry of Health more time so they can accurately assess the extent of the virus in our communities. This was surely not an easy decision for the President to make, but we must willingly receive it so we can promote life and all its abundance, as Jesus promised in John 10.10.
Out of all of East Africa, Uganda has the fewest confirmed cases and no deaths. This is not something to boast about, but to thank God for His mercy and to appreciate the government and all Ugandans for working together so well. We have already been fully locked down for five weeks. I am sure we can pray for God’s strength to give us the grace to go for only another two weeks.
In my Charge on 1st March I called for each of us to experience a Conversion of our Head, our Heart, and our Hands. I never imagined that ten days later we would find ourselves in a global pandemic and not able to conduct ourselves with “Business as Usual.” Even when the lockdown is lifted, we are not likely to return to “Business as Usual.” We have begun a radical conversion process through “Business Unusual.”
For many of us, the impact of lockdown has been much harder than the coronavirus itself. We thank the Government for their support and all those who have contributed so generously to the National Task Force. We also look forward to the Government’s plans to further stimulate the economy and support affected businesses and livelihoods.
We sincerely appreciate all Ugandans who have patiently endured this season with great personal sacrifice. The vulnerable among us have borne the weight of this exercise more than others, and we continue to pray for the Lord to feed you, even as He gave manna to his people in the desert during the Exodus. (Exodus 16) and as He feeds the birds of the air (Matthew 6.26).
The Way Forward
As Archbishop of the Church of Uganda and her spiritual leader, I want to highlight several matters that will guide us as a church in the immediate future.
1. The need for regular pastoral care among Christians has not changed just because we’ve been under a lockdown. In fact, the need has increased because of the fear and uncertainty many are experiencing. I call upon the government to recognize clergy and lay readers as “Essential Employees,” particularly in providing psycho-social services to Ugandans. If there is a sickness or death, clergy and lay readers are essential to providing community-based care, and should be respected by security personnel when they respond to such calls for prayer. I also call upon ordinary Christians to be your brother and sister’s keeper. Please make sure they have enough food. Please reach out to them over the phone to check on them. Make sure no one comes out of lockdown saying they were lonely. The Bible says, “Faith without action is dead.” (James 2.17)
2. Large public gatherings are still not allowed. That means, we will still be observing “Worship from Home.” As I have said many times, we may be under lockdown, but Jesus was not locked down, nor is the Word of God under lockdown. Jesus rose from the dead, and He is alive and with us today, even in our homes. Church buildings may be closed, but thousands of home churches have opened up.
a. You can organize your own family prayers, Bible reading, and devotion on Sunday mornings, in addition to your daily family altar;
b. Many congregations in every diocese are offering live-stream services every Sunday through Facebook and/or YouTube. Save your MBs to watch one of those services;
c. We sincerely appreciate all the Media Houses, especially Radio and TV stations, for availing airtime to broadcast worship services. National stations as well as local stations are broadcasting services in English and all our local languages. Please tune in to one of those broadcasts with your family.
Remember, a family that prays together, stays together.
3. The first Sunday after this restriction is lifted will be a nation-wide General Thanksgiving in all our congregations to thank God for how He has preserved us. Please begin preparing now, even though we don’t yet know the date for the Thanksgiving.
4. 3rd June Martyrs Day. Just as we celebrated Easter at Home, we will also celebrate Martyrs Day at home. It is not possible for us to gather at Namugongo on 3rd June, but we will gather in our homes. Details of our special virtual observance will be shared over the coming weeks, but begin preparing now to organize your family for this special remembrance.
5. Family relationships. For many, the forced time together as a family has deepened and strengthened family relationships, and we thank God for that. At the same time, however, there has been an increase in domestic and gender-based violence. I call upon our church leaders to support survivors of gender-based violence with compassion and pastoral support. I also call upon our churches to develop programmes that will do a better job of teaching families better communication skills and conflict resolution skills. Violence is never acceptable. Never.
6. In the absence of a regular spiritual diet of Sunday church services and sermons, we have seen the need for our members to be better equipped to read, understand, and apply the Bible to their lives for themselves. I call upon our church leaders to develop programmes that will equip every Christian to be able to read, interpret, and apply the Bible to their daily lives in meaningful ways, and to also be able to teach their children in their homes the same skills.
7. I encourage Bishops and clergy to organize radio call-in programmes to give Christians an opportunity to ask their spiritual questions and get some answers. I encourage the media houses to avail airtime because of the value in providing such a community service.
8. Diocesan and Church Offices. We are still observing “Work from Home.” Directors of Provincial Directorates have been working from home during the lockdown, as well as Bishops and clergy. They are available by phone and should be contacted in the event of any need.
9. Weddings. Canon 2.36.2 of the Church of Uganda’s Canons states, “Every marriage shall be solemnized in the presence of at least five witnesses in addition to the officiating Priest.” From the perspective of the Church of Uganda, therefore, scientific weddings are also real Christian weddings. I can personally testify to the goodness of the Lord in such weddings, because my own son wed on 18th April in a scientific and Christian wedding. It was not the wedding we had imagined, but it was a glorious coming together of our son and daughter-in-law and our two families, and God blessed it powerfully. Another unexpected blessing was reduced stress for all of us and no one has any debt. So, I want to encourage those who have delayed getting married because of the cost. To youth and those who have been co-habiting, you may want to consider a scientific, Christian wedding.
10. Funerals. We offer our condolences to all those families who have lost someone during this time of lockdown. Burials will, obviously, continue, but with only the pastor and immediate family members in attendance and no more ten people.
We thank God for those who have experienced healing from Covid-19 and I urge the community to not stigmatize those who are survivors. In fact, please celebrate their recovery and their return home. They are heroes and a walking testimony to the power of God to heal.
We thank the Ministry of Health for their tireless devotion to ensuring the health of all Ugandans, and for the care they have given those who have tested positive. I also ask all Ugandans to remember we are also fighting malaria, a disease that claims far more people than Covid-19 has claimed. So, please sleep under a mosquito net!
It is clear that the world has been shaken during this pandemic; our own personal lives have been shaken, too. At the same time, the Bible makes it clear that such shaking of the world is intended to remove “what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12.27) This Bible passage concludes with this powerful exhortation, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (Hebrews 12.28).
Yours, in Christ,
— Signed —
The Most Rev. Dr. Stephen Samuel Kaziimba
ARCHBISHOP OF CHURCH OF UGANDA.