Preacher appeals to TV channels to telecast Easter service
KARACHI: Last year, Reverend Shahid Anwar commemorated Good Friday surrounded by thousands of his parishioners.
But with all religious gatherings suspended this year – in Pakistan and around the globe – he is commemorating the solemn Christian occasion at the vicarage, his residence on the grounds of the Central Brooks Memorial Church in Karachi where he is the priest.
Together with his son, who is in the church choir, and his wife and daughters who are gospel singers, the reverend conducted the service that was later relayed to others via Facebook and WhatsApp.
“Sermons and prayers are being delivered online and it is better to pray from home,” Reverend Anwar told The Express Tribune.
Churches across Pakistan are holding online services as they try to cope with the coronavirus outbreak, some with more success than others.
One challenge is that much of the city’s Christian population, numbering around 750,000 people, belongs to low-income groups, with limited access to internet.
“We also lack the expertise to carry out a service this way but we are trying,” the clergyman said of his efforts to conduct an online sermon using his cell phone. “Once, there were audio issues and a lot of echo while I delivered the sermon,” he said, adding that this had an adverse impact on the service and its message.
He said that certain churches and denominations, like the Catholic Church, were having their services broadcast on Christian channels and web services to ensure that the community could easily access it. “But most of these channels are based in Lahore and often are not available on local cable services.”
There are also issues of legality. Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority banned at least a dozen Christian channels for operating without a license four years ago.
“We urge private television channels to help broadcast our services, which will also send a message of solidarity with the country’s minority communities,” he said, adding that though the state broadcaster had televised a service from Lahore, not many people knew about it.
Anwar also pointed to the recent decision by European governments to permit the recitation of the azaan, the Muslim call to prayer, from loudspeakers, and the BBC’s decision to broadcast imams delivering sermons and leading people in prayer.
He urged people to stay strong in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, citing scripture: “No harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your way.”