Governments across the ten-island territory of the North Caribbean Conference (NCC) began to relax social distancing restrictions in June and local congregations are optimistic that attendance will eventually return to normal. Adventist churches complied with mass gathering restrictions due to the coronavirus and closed all congregations in March 2020.
By mid-July, all congregations on Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Anguilla, Virgin Gorda and Tortola resumed weekly services with a limited number of in-person attendees. Leaders are required to comply with a host of reopening safety guidelines and will continue to stream most programs, church leaders said.
Pastor Desmond James, president of NCC, stated that Anguilla was the first to re-open its doors to church services. “We see God’s hand in stabilizing the situation in the territory and we are delighted that the island is back to normal and members can continue worshipping together,” he said.
During the recent mid-year meetings held by the conference, a list of protocols was voted and sent to district pastors to assist congregations with the reopening process. Every Adventist Coordinating Council on each island was expected to meet and merge the local government regulations with the NCC protocols. The resulting document was submitted to the church’s administration which was empowered to give the clearance.“We want to be sure that our congregations are in compliance with all the regulations,” said James.
Churches have slowly reopened their doors to members under strict guidelines, which include temperature checks, social distancing and the wearing of face masks.
“The phased opening should create the balance of safety for members during the pandemic, while giving them the opportunity for fellowship,” said James. “The only place where we are yet to have the blended services is in the [United States Virgin Islands] USVI.”
According to a recent NBC News report, the U.S. Virgin Islands is now one of the hotspots, with a spike in coronavirus infections since the islands were opened to tourists in early in June.
At the beginning of July, the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the United States territory rose drastically, so church leaders stated “This created a concern for leaders and mostly the senior church members who are anxious to return to their congregations,” added James. Staff worship services are held twice per week via Zoom at the NCC office, leaders said.“Cases across the territory are at manageable proportions in some of the islands,” said Pastor Royston Philbert, communication director for the church in the North Caribbean. “All congregations on Anguilla, St. Eustatius and Saba are back to normal, and thus members are free to associate with no restrictions and no virus cases.” According to reports, the number has been reduced to manageable proportions on the island of St. Maarten.
Pastor Virgil Sams, who leads the Cole Bay and St. Peter’s SDA Churches on Sint Maarten, said, “The members were happy to return to church. While many outside of the required vulnerable age were absent, you could see the joy in the faces of the members as they congregated for worship and fellowship.”
One member of the Cole Bay congregation was more than happy to be part of the worship services in person. “You cannot hug and kiss but we are still thankful that we can see each other, after such a long time,” said Leonor Letang.
On Tortola, Pastor Jerome Bevans, who leads the East End, Maranatha Ministries, Purcell and Spanish congregations reported that church members continue to wear their masks. “The mission continues and we are thankful that there is no social distancing from God,” said Bevans. “We are excited to see the members sing and praise their God.” He said congregations are prepared to offer masks to members and visitors who attend the weekly services.
The North Caribbean Conference has more than 16,000 members in 41 churches and congregations across 10 islands including Anguilla, British Virgin Islands (including Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda), United States Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas), and the islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten.
To learn more about the North Caribbean Conference, visit northcaribbeanconference