Durban - AN EERIE silence will permeate churches in Durban, and around the country and the world on Good Friday tomorrow, as the holiest days on the Christian calendar are celebrated in the midst of the deadliest pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918.
Easter celebrations are central to the Christian tradition. They mark the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, it will be a not-so-good Friday as millions of churches around the world have been forced to close their doors, with national lockdown regulations prohibiting gatherings and forcing many to adhere to physical distancing.
The Diakonia Council of Churches in KwaZulu-Natal said churches are no-go areas until the government announces otherwise. However, church leaders are encouraged to use technology to send the word of God to adherents.
Diakonia chairperson Reverend Muza Zondi said as painful as it would be for congregants who would be barred from having church gatherings over the Passover Easter weekend, the church had decided to suspend all church services during the 21-day lockdown.
“We encourage church leaders to connect with their congregants electronically to pray and deliver sermons. We encourage Christians to pray and worship where they are with their families because God is everywhere. We appreciate the fact that they would have wanted to celebrate the normal way, but under the circumstances faced by everyone in the world, it couldn't be that way,” he said.
Zondi said church leaders at a meeting led by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier (leader of the Catholic Church in South Africa) a few weeks ago decided to advise other church leaders to put the lives of people first by closing all churches and suspending Easter church services and gatherings.
The church had to set an example and send the message advocated by President Cyril Ramaphosa to the people.
“Church leaders have long communicated the message of the dangers of having gatherings, including church services, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. We hope that people got the message loud and clear. We do not expect to hear of cases of people having church gatherings anywhere, not with their neighbours and not with fellow congregants,” said Zondi.
In Cape Town, Father Michael Weeder, dean of the Anglican St George’s Cathedral, said: “People have become out of reach. Easter season I believe is a consolidation, however this time without the happiness and gatherings of others within the church.”
Weeder, who holds mass via live stream on Facebook, said congregants should use this opportunity to stay connected to their faith. “Too often we become reliant on the priest or pastor and the believer has to dig within itself; this crisis compels us to go our own way,” he said.
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said: “Our clergy in churches from St George’s Cathedral to St Cyprian’s, KwaLanga, are adapting their Good Friday services in many innovative ways, including through Facebook, WhatsApp, Zoom and other platforms. We all obviously regret not being with one another physically, but on the other hand this crisis is forcing us to catch up with the modern world of young people on how we are the church.”
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, churches around the world have taken drastic measures. Some are using social media while others have decided to pre-record services and upload them on YouTube. African Christian Democratic Party leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe said: “Our main concern is the people in the informal settlements who do not have access to these sermons online. What ministers must remember is that this is only an interim measure and not permanent.”
The Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University, Professor Reggie Nel, said: “I think that these measures are creative and illustrate the adaptability of Christian communities, but more so it speaks of the need also for faith communities to be responsive to their context and the times we are living in.”