How are religious bodies reacting to the Covid-19 disaster measures that ban gatherings of more than 100 people, especially in the Easter season of large church services?
“We don’t wish, at any point, to be calling out anyone to enforce mass separation,” International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor said. “The key issue is that all of us can act.”
Government leaders are set to meet with religious leaders on Thursday to further discuss the issue.
Dr Douglas Dziva, the CEO of the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council (KZNCC), said they support the ban on large gatherings.
Dziva said the KZNCC will meet with the KZN Church Leaders Group and the government on Thursday where they will discuss ways churches could reach out to their congregants, especially at Easter.
These could include broadcasting services on television and using social networks to pass on Easter sermons.
“It doesn’t matter if everyone is not together physically, all that matters is that we are together in spirit,” he said.
Rhema Bible Church North in Johannesburg, one of the largest charismatic churches in the country, has cancelled all Sunday services with immediate effect.
Mufti Taahir Hansa, from the Jamiatul Ulama Pietermaritzburg, Council of Muslim Theologians, said the mosques were doing everything necessary to adhere to limits on gatherings.
He said worshippers will be separated to smaller groups to prevent crowding at the mosques and prayers will be shortened. “We are currently trying to implement different times for smaller groups [to pray] and this directive has already been circulated to the Muslim community, so everyone knows what is happening.”
In terms of the ablutions, where worshippers normally wash their hands, face and feet before prayer, Mufti Hansa said that people have been advised to perform ablutions at their homes before coming to the mosque. Strict hygiene protocols will be adhered to.
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), said he has alerted all bishops to adhere to the call of the government on this pandemic.
“Attendance of Sunday mass is to be limited to 100. Priests are encouraged to celebrate more masses to smaller groups. Each bishop will grant a dispensation from the normal obligations to attend Sunday mass and the other sacramental celebrations to the elderly, the sick and children.”
Pertaining to the upcoming Easter services, Bishop Siphuka said safe alternatives must be considered for the Triduum Rituals such as the washing of the feet, Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday, Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night and so on.
Weddings must be attended only by immediate family members, numbers are to be kept below 100 for attendance of funerals. All wakes are to be suspended.
He added that all Catholic schools must follow guidelines of both Health and Basic Education departments.
Bishops of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa held a tele-conference on Monday and decided that churches must limit services to 100 congregants, and add extra services to accommodate all. Communion should be given in individual cups only, and not at all if this is not possible, they said.
All conventions and youth synods will be postponed. There will be no large circuit gatherings at Easter, and services must be limited to 100 people. Churches should use “creative means” such as livestreaming and recording to relay the Easter message.
Funeral and weddings must be limited to 100 guests and baptisms postponed.
The Zulu Congregational Church issued a circular cancelling all Easter services.