With the national 21-day lockdown falling during some of the holiest days on the Christian calendar, churches in Mitchell’s Plain are still unsure whether they will be allowed to continue hosting services with 100 and fewer people in attendance.
The national lockdown, aimed at halting the coronavirus, starts from midnight on Thursday March 26 to midnight on Thursday April 16.
Eddie Andrews, ward councillor for Ward 78 (Westridge and parts of Portland), said he had received enquiries from churches with congregations larger than 100, asking if they could still meet.
They proposed having multiple services with attendance limited to 100 in order to comply and still meet. “Quite a few churches have enquired from me if they can have attendance under 100 people. It’s a concern. Those people will interact with one another, and they’re at a heightened risk of contamination. We need to prevent these engagements for the safety of the people,” he said.
Mr Andrews asked that churches not meet physically but find alternative ways to interact with their congregations.
One theologian who is making use of technology to spread the Gospel is Father Jeremiah Gama, from St Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Lentegeur, who streams their mass services live on a Sunday from Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube. Their parishioners might meet in small groups at their homes.
The church also has Radio Veritas on Channel 870 on DStv and on 576 AM on radio, in addition to the many social platforms in which people can join for spiritual fellowship.
They have suspended their Easter celebrations and weddings and funerals are to be attended by close family members only.
“Many have become despondent, but we need to remember that we need to obey the relevant authority. As people of faith, we need to preserve life. Let us all desist to test God in the midst of the coronavirus and be obedient to both our government leaders and religious leaders and keep to the stipulated protocols. History has taught us, if we work together, we can overcome all obstacles. We continue to pray for the cure and all who are affected be cured,” said Father Gama.
Pastor Jeremiah Willemse of Petra Life Centre Church in Rocklands said he held five church services at 8am, 9am, 10am, 11am and 6pm on Sunday March 22 after the president’s speech on Sunday March 15.
They explained the Covid-19 information, what lockdown would mean and what they would do during lockdown. “The building is not the church, the individuals are the church,” Pastor Willemse said.
Their church communicates on WhatsApp, sharing information on Covid-19, and the pastor’s wife, Dr Juliana Willemse, who has her PhD in nursing from the University of the Western Cape, shares tips on how to remain hygienic and stay emotionally and mentally healthy.
“Tithes and offering are not important right now; the well-being of humanity is important. We have to encourage one another. We should be agents of hope and optimism, we shouldn’t glorify Covid-19 over humanity,” he said.
Pastor Willemse will be going live on Facebook and spreading a word of encouragement today Wednesday March 25 and Sunday March 29.
“We should continue praying for the leaders of this country and those affected by Covid-19.”
Mr Ramaphosa said in a speech with religious leaders in Pretoria on Thursday March 19, that religious services were an integral part of life for the country.
“This is the practice we have utmost respect for. We thank you for understanding and encouraging your respective communities, with giving accurate and timely information,” he said.
The president said there was no event that was exempt from the new regulations published in the Government Gazette that had now become the law of the land. “We encourage all to take precaution with this virus.”
Mr Andrews said the church should continue to practise personal hygiene and good communication at this time.
Stay aware of the latest information on the Covid-19 outbreak, available on the websites and social media of the national Department of Health (www.health.gov.za), the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (www.nicd.ac.za) and World Health Organization (www.who.int).