Many South African churches say no to reopening

indafrica May 30, 2020
Updated 2020/05/30 at 10:17 AM
Cropped shot of pews in an empty church

South Africa enters Level 3 of the lockdown from 1 June. This will see schools and most of the economy reopening, as well as religious gatherings being permitted under strict conditions.

Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing on Tuesday that religious gatherings of up to 50 people would be permitted under Level 3, some religious institutions have decided to keep their doors closed for safety reasons, while others are advising that strict measures be in place before congregants gather.

The rules for services were released on Thursday night.

Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other recognised places of worship will not be allowed to have more than 50 congregants, and services will only be permitted to run for two hours.

Fatwa Committee of Muslim Judicial Council and Muslim Judicial Council (SA).

The Fatwa Committee of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) said, while it had noted Ramaphosa’s announcement, it had also taken note of the continued rise in infections.

The committee said, in light of the situation – especially in the Western Cape, where there were over 17,000 cases – it had encouraged masjids (mosques) to remain closed for another month.

Mosques that do decide to open would expected to be able to implement and enforce safety and sanitary procedures for Level 3.

The committee also directed that masjids in hotspot areas should not open and that those congregants identified as vulnerable and aged over 60 should not attend.

“When considering the ability to enforce these procedures, masjid committees must consider the fact that within our hospitals and health facilities, despite the implementation of stringent precautionary measures, there have been over 1,000 infections of health workers, including doctors and nurses.

“No masjid that opens within the regulations, and at which infections occur, should be held liable.”

The MJC also recommended a staggered approach if a masjid decided to open, rather than the having the full 50 allowed by government.

“Masjids which are not ready to undertake this responsibility, and who do not possess adequate resources to ensure the safety of congregants, should remain closed until they are able to guarantee adherence to regulations.”

Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference
The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said it endorsed the precautionary measures that places of worship need to have in place before reopening, to avoid an increase of infections.

“Our churches must avoid every risk which might expose worshippers to infection. We call on all members who suffer persisted cough, who have colds or flu, not to attempt to come to church.”

The body also said that a parish was within in its right to not reopen.

“Should individual communities represented by their priests and parish councils feel unable to meet these precautions, they must keep the church closed.

“Elderly and sickly people must refrain from coming to church since, from worldwide experience, they are the most vulnerable to infection”

Jesuit Institute
The Jesuit Institute South Africa said it was worried about the mixed messages being sent out by the government following Tuesday’s announcement.

“We wholeheartedly support the call for a National Day of Prayer on 31 May, Pentecost Sunday,” the institute said in a statement.

“Many people of faith have suffered the loss and pain of not being allowed to gather in their respective communities for worship. We know this. Refraining from gathering was seen as a way of religious communities actively choosing to care by temporarily stopping a core practice – gathering for worship – for the common good.

“We do not need to open churches right now to practise our faith. Prayer, acts of kindness, reading sacred texts and service of neighbour can continue without gathering in the midst of this pandemic.”

It said it found the rushed move questionable, and noted evidence of cluster spreading in other parts of the world suggested that, even if strict social distancing rules were upheld, there were still reports of infection.

“The more people mix, the more there is potential for spread. Places of worship are not immune to the virus,” said the institute.

Methodist Church of Southern Africa
In a statement issued on Wednesday by the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church, Reverend Purity Malinga gave synods and circuit leadership the power to decide on whether to resume services.

“The Synod bishops will communicate with superintendents and ministers and each Synod will be guided by the context, eg, there are hotspot areas that dare not begin gathering, etc.

Should local churches, under the leadership of their ministers and leaders meeting, believe that they are unable to meet the precautions, they must keep their church buildings closed.”

Rhema Bible Church North
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Rhema Bible Church North said it would suspend church gatherings with immediate effect in order to limit physical contact and prevent the transmission of Covid-19.

“The health of our congregation is our priority,” the statement read.

“We will be live-streaming our Sunday services in order that we maintain our spiritual health and not our physical health only.”

Maraisburg Family Fellowship Church to continue live streaming
The Maraisburg Family Fellowship in Florida, Johannesburg, also released a statement on Wednesday saying it would not be reopening, but would instead continue streaming services.
The church said its decision was based on several factors, including scientific data on the rate of infections.

It added that it noted there were a number of members over the age of 60, and others with comorbidities who would be excluded if contact services resumed.

“So how do we go about selecting 40 or so people to attend church, and who comes, who stays behind?

“Given the fact that we have been able to livestream every single service without any member being excluded since the lockdown started, the leadership of our church has taken the following decision:

“As of the 1 June 2020, all services will now be livestreamed and broadcast directly from the church with a small technical team to assist pastor. There will be no gathering of believers at the church,” said senior pastor Marlin McKay while reading the statement, which was also shared on his YouTube channel.

The church said services would be broadcast in this manner until the church’s leadership deemed it safe for congregants to return.

Mamelodi Baptist Church
News24 reported on Friday that Mamelodi Baptist Church would also not be operating, citing that it was concerned about the high infection rate, especially in Tshwane, which is a hotspot.

The church said its members and community were welcome to visit should they need counselling, but that it would continue conducting services via its social media platforms.

Hope Restoration Ministries
Hope Restoration Ministries, which includes six campuses, chose to put “the lives of God’s people first” and not open its doors when Level 3 lockdown regulations take effect, which allow places of worship to resume services.

This church said it would only revise its decision based on developments over the winter season.

“We do yearn for the spiritual fulfilment and connection that comes with the fellowship that we have always enjoyed as a church. However, we have reached the decision to put the lives of God’s people first,” the church’s Reverend Chris Mathebula said in a statement on Thursday.

“We will therefore wait and observe the developments between now and the end of the winter season, at which point we will revisit our decision,” he added.

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