Some churches opt to keep doors shut under level 3 lockdown
The Trans Orange Conference of the Seventh Adventist Church said its branches would remain closed until further communication.
Church leader Dr Paul Shongwe said: “We appreciate the fact that pastors are also essential service providers under lockdown level 3. No preparations to return shall be made until comprehensive feedback is released.”
The Anglican Diocese of Pretoria also said churches in the region would remain closed until at least the end of July, when their situation would be reviewed.
Its head Bishop Allan Kannemeyer said Ramaphosa’s announcement and its implications for them were discussed at length and in depth in meetings.
He said waiting until the end of July meant that the worst of the flu season could be behind them. “What we have done so far is to make preparations. Level 3 will see more movement of people, and the more people mix, the more there is potential for the spread of the virus. Places of worship are not immune to contamination.”
He said more than 60% of their members were older than 60 years, and many of them suffered from manageable health conditions. The demographics of the church were also considered.
Kannemeyer said some of their churches were small units where physical distancing would be a real challenge. “We considered our success and the lack thereof in developing alternative ways of being in church.
“The inequalities in our society impacted heavily on the ability of rural and poor communities to successfully migrate to the use of social media to participate in devotions and online worship,” he said.
Grace Bible Church Presiding Bishop Mosa Sono said their approach would be gradual as the safety of congregants came first. “We have to make sure our premises are deep cleansed, our people properly equipped to serve and have an operational plan on sanitising, screening and keeping records of those attending services.”
He said the church, which has a footprint countrywide, would open the Pimville branch to familiarise itself with requirements of operating during Level 3. It would then gradually move to other cathedralswith the confidence of having fully implemented Covid-19 norms and standards.
Sunday services on Soweto TV and social media would meanwhile continue, the church said.
The Mamelodi West Baptist Church, housing victims of a local flood since last year, said it would not be holding services.
Church elders said this was due to the high number of Covid-19 cases in the capital, and in this regard, they would continue with the social ministry of distributing food parcels, vouchers and running feeding schemes.
“The community will be kept informed of any changes on this decision should the need arise and circumstances change.
“Church members are encouraged to keep in touch with their cell groups and to tune in to the online devotions and services on the Facebook page every Sunday morning at 9.30am,” the church said.
The Zionist Christian Church also said it would not open, while the Ethiopian Holy Baptist Church Zion Inyanda Yezikhova in Mamelodi East said long discussions would take place to make sure all regulations were followed.
Bishop Freda Nkosi, leader of the church, said they understood that services would not be the same anymore, but in these trying times, their faith helped them to continue looking for solutions.
The South African Council of Churches, in its nine-page Church Covid Readiness Guidelines, stated that the opening of churches was not an invitation to do so immediately.
It said the earliest a church could open should be June 7, provided that all requirements of compliance were met.
Every church should also establish a Covid-19 task team to regulate how services were held.
Other guidelines included a ban on singing, a register of attendees for contact tracing, restriction of the service to an hour and no socialising.
In terms of the regulations, a maximum of 50 congregants will be allowed during a religious gathering.
Physical distancing should be observed, with no physical contact and at least 1.5m between persons.
The wearing of masks is compulsory for the duration of the church service.
Persons entering places of worship should be screened for symptoms associated with Covid-19.