School-based churches remain closed, pastors hand over memorandum to Education Department
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Durban: A year has passed and churches that operate on school premises remain closed.
Some pastors have said that due to the relaxed lockdown regulations, they should be allowed to reopen to serve the community and to earn a living.
In March last year, all places of worship closed due to the national lockdown. Then, under level 1 of the adjusted lockdown regulations that were implemented in June, places of worship could open. But a limited number of people were allowed to enter the premises. Schools also reopened in June.
A circular, with a Section 41 clause, was released by the Department of Education to schools. It cautioned that no outside activity was allowed on the premises due to the safety of pupils and to limit the spread of the virus.
Pastors who leased rooms from schools for church services in Chatsworth, Phoenix, Isipingo, Merebank and Tongaat met and handed over a memorandum to the department for permission to operate.
This week, pastors in Phoenix said their concerns had not been addressed.
Pastor Cliffy Gengan, who has run a church from a secondary school for more than 20 years, said: “Some pastors have found other venues to worship but to us, our church is our home. We cannot close and walk away from it. I have been sending videos and voice notes to congregants since we had to close but not everyone has money for data all the time. I even call to pray for people but it’s not the same.”
He said the school’s circuit manager was unable to intervene.
Gengan said some schools disregarded the department’s circular and allowed church services. “However, the school I preach from said they cannot go against the department as they could get into trouble. I completely understand. But it is difficult.”
Another pastor, who operates from a primary school, said: “If we are allowed to reopen, we will abide by every rule. Our right to pray is being infringed upon. The Covid-19 numbers are decreasing but still, we are left to wait.”
A third pastor, who used to hold services from a secondary school, said he operated from a hall that was not used by the school.
“So it’s not like we pose a threat to the pupils. When the rules were implemented during the hard lockdown, we understood. Now it’s getting more difficult to remain quiet. I have about 70 congregants and I counsel a lot of people. But I have not been able to advise them for a while. The congregants are suffering.”
Pastor Eugene Perumal, of the United Christian Association of South Africa, who led the pastors’ meeting last year, said he wrote to the department several times thereafter to allow churches to reopen.
“But my letters were ignored. Sadly, the circular has destroyed many lives – of the poor and recovering drug addicts who have gone astray. Our religious freedom is stifled. Some schools are allowing churches to operate. However, most schools are still closed to us. I have erected a tent in a playground where I hold my services each week but it is not the same.”
The department did not comment at the time of publication.