In support of efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the North Caribbean Conference complied with mass gathering restrictions and closed all congregations in March, 2020. Governments across the ten-island Conference began to relax the restrictions in June and local congregations are optimistic that attendance will eventually return to normal. By mid-July, all congregations on Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Anguilla, Virgin Gorda and Tortola will be open for weekly services and 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.
Pastor Desmond James, President of the North Caribbean Conference (NCC), commented, “Anguilla was the first to open its doors to normal 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.”
At the mid-year Conference Executive Committee Meeting in June, 2020, a list of protocols was voted and sent to district pastors, to assist congregations with the reopening process. The SDA Coordinating Council, on each island, was expected to meet and merge the local government regulations with the NCC protocols. The resulting document was to be submitted to the NCC Administration which was empowered to give reopening clearance. Pastor Desmond James explained, “We want to be sure that our congregations are in compliance with all the regulations.”
St. Eustatius, Saba, Sint Maarten, Tortola and Virgin Gorda have slowly reopened their doors to members under strict guidelines which include temperature checks, social distancing and the wearing of face masks. Pastor Wilmoth James, Executive Secretary of the Conference, said, “We need to ensure that all is in place for the safe opening of the congregations.”
Pastor Desmond James stated, “The phased opening should create the balance of safety for members during the pandemic, while giving them the opportunity for fellowship. The only place where we are yet to have the blended services is in the [United States Virgin Islands] USVI.” At the beginning of July, the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the US territory rose drastically – this created a concern for leaders and mostly the senior church members who are anxious to return to their congregations. The North Caribbean Conference Office continues to operate and holds staff worship twice per week, via Zoom.
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, Sister Eleanor Letang, shared, “You cannot hug and kiss but we are still thankful that we can see each other, after such a long time.”
Church leaders continue to analyze the reopening process and pray that God will guide. On Tortola, Pastor Jerome Bevans leads the East End, Maranatha Ministries, Purcell and Spanish congregations. He stated, “Members continue to wear their masks. The mission continues and we are thankful that there is no social distancing from God. We are excited to see the members sing and praise their God.” Congregations are prepared to offer masks to members and visitors who attend the weekly services.