In mid-September, the government of Uganda lifted the suspension on all forms of religious gathering. It had been six months since congregants had gathered for worship and praise of God. When Re!gnite Africa issued a call for submissions of creative pieces from young artists, leaders, and activists about the impact of Covid-19 on their livelihood and wellbeing, the majority of submitted pieces explored commonly discussed topics pertinent to daily existence such as loss of jobs, the ban on transportation, closure of arcades and shopping malls, etc. However, a few submissions were focused on the impact of the state’s suspension of all religious gatherings. Some of the poems shared about this included;
Psalms 23 part 111
“Quarantine is my shepherd, I shall not want
It maketh me to lie down at home with stocked food
It restoreth me with a new honeymoon now my husband is home daily
Yea though I walk through the empty streets of the city, I will fear no virus
For social distancing will be my sword and thy directives keep me safe
Thou taketh away my enemies, for we are now equal
Thou bringeth LDU guards to prevent me from moving at seven o’clock
Thou anointest my hand with sanitizers, and my pot is filled with government food
Surely coughing and sneezing shall get behind me all the days of my life.
And I shall adhere to the presidential directives all the days of quarantine.” By Cynthia Zalwango
Here is a small excerpt from another piece;
‘…In the depth of pain and apprehension,
Amidst cold hopelessness
Coated with incomprehensible uncertainty,
We can only ask:
Is there an end to this?
Shall we smile again?
Shall we develop the itchy feet again?’
from the poem, LETS PRAY by Kaijuka Ezron Musoke
Could the suspension of congregational gatherings for worship have impacted the livelihood and wellbeing of young people? That is a question we explore in this case study. The poems above illustrate how young people were using prayer to creatively express their feelings and struggles during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown life. Media reports indicate that during this season, the number of people who prayed to God in their homes more than doubled. This is not a surprising discovery for a religious country such as Uganda. Our country is well-known for its religiously diverse background and majority being of a Christian denomination. It is no secret that Ugandans are religious people, and many value the importance of going to a church or mosque to gather in congregation and worship their God. It is no wonder that many felt affected by the closures of religious sanctuaries.
The suspension of congregational worship by all Abrahamic religions took effect immediately after the first Presidential Order issued on March 20th. Worshippers were reached through different channels and appealed to about the importance of observing social distancing amidst the outbreak of a deadly pandemic. One critical point we discuss explores the impact of this order on the mental health and wellbeing of especially young people.
It prompts the discussion about the impact of prayer on the mental health and wellbeing of (young) people during the lockdown. How was virtual congregational prayer different from the usual in-person communal gatherings, especially regarding its impact on people’s mental health. Although there is little to no data about this topic, some young people shared that they turned to prayer and God to deal with the anxiety the outbreak of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown caused. For example, in a survey conducted by Re!gnite Africa at the beginning of the lockdown, approximately 45% of the 78 young people who took the survey in April shared that they were dealing with mental health challenges such as fear, anxiety, and depression through prayer.
On the other hand, other young people have somewhat different views on the topic. Mwesigwa Lucky Patson has doubts about this but believes the suspension could have heightened the degree of morality in society because, he argues, congregation prayer and religious activities that accompany it share people’s behaviors and character traits. He says that the church has been used as one of the vehicles for shaping and guiding youth and closing these places of worship means that many young people could easily go astray.
‘’To an extent, rules were followed until many gave up and lost hope since some are unemployed.’’ He adds. We liken his reasoning to that of many media reports in Uganda that attributed congregational gathering to the Uganda way of building community and promoting social gatherings and commune.
As a key channel for communicating important messages, especially those to do with behavior change, there was a slow down in getting believers to accept the message many were communicating about the outbreak of a deadly virus called coronavirus. However, later, many religious opinion leaders took to mainstream media channels such as radio and TV to appeal to the masses to take messages from the Ministry of Health and government of Uganda about the pandemic seriously.
And this is why young people such as Mwesigwa continue to argue that everyone should be held responsible for the spread of the virus and its effect on the economy and those around them.
‘I think everyone should be (held responsible)! Accepting the new normal is everyone’s responsibility, and I think the government has played a crucial role in executing these directives…In fact, relaxing some of these orders to allow people move about without masks encourages the thought that things are okay and that people should not guard themselves against contracting the covid-19 virus.’’
Dein, S., Loewenthal, K., Lewis, C. A., & Pargament, K. I. (2020). COVID-19, mental health and religion: An agenda for future research. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 23(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1080/13674676.2020.1768725
“For Buddhists it’s like, ‘This is our moment’”: How faith has offered solace during coronavirus. (2020, July 8). https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-09/meditation-prayer-faith-cope-anxieties-coronavirus/12434824
Practical considerations and recommendations for religious leaders and faith-based communities in the context of COVID-19. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://www.who.int/publications-detail-redirect/practical-considerations-and-recommendations-for-religious-leaders-and-faith-based-communities-in-the-context-of-covid-19
read, T. P. L. updated: 8 J. 2018 ~ 1 min. (2014, September 18). New Study Examines the Effects of Prayer On Mental Health. //spiritualityhealth.com/blog/traci-pedersen/praying-loving-god-guards-against-anxiety
says, A. R. C. (2020, April 17). Religions play a crucial role during Uganda’s lockdown. Africa at LSE. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2020/04/17/what-role-religions-play-uganda-lockdown-covid-19/