Not all places of worship heed call to reopen

Light ministries in Brooklyn have been doing prayer walks during the allocated exercise times under lockdown. From left, Liam, Delia and Pastor Brian Preston on a prayer walk.

Places of worship were allowed to reopen on Monday under Level 3 lockdown but not all of them are rushing to throw open their doors.

According to the announcement last week by President Cyril Ramaphosa, churches, mosques, synagogues and temples can reopen but under strict conditions: congregations are limited to 50 or fewer people, depending on the size of the venue; they must wear masks and comply with physical distancing; and venues must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitised before and after services. And only solo or pre-recorded singing performances are permitted.

The decision to reopen the places of worship has drawn flak from both inside and outside faith communities.

Former Cope leader Mbhazima Shilowa said he failed to understand why church could resume while restaurants, where patrons could be seated at least 1.5 metres from each other, should remain closed.

Peter Storey, former Methodist Bishop and president of the South African Council of Churches, said no community, however respected or respectable, had any right to multiply a “murderous virus” by dangerous behaviour. He said talk of physical distancing in worship services was wishful thinking.

“People praise with their bodies as well as their voices and once they get going, pity the clergy, be they bishop or priest, who try to cut them short,” he said.

The Muslim Judicial Council of South Africa has also recommended mosques delay reopening for congregational prayers for at least another month and those in hot spots stay closed until the situation improved.

Pastor Brian Preston, of Light Ministries, said his congregation rented the MOTH hall in Koeberg Road to worship but that the venue was unavailable during lockdown.

He is now looking for a lounge big enough for 10 to 15 people observing physical distancing.

“We’ve been doing prayer walks every Sunday during the allocated exercise time. If we’re not ready with proper accommodation, we’ll continue with our prayer walks. We are people of faith but we’re not foolish,” he said.

Shafiek Benjamin, committee member of the Bothasig Jamaat Khana Mosque in Vryburger Avenue, said a meeting would be held to discuss safety measures before they opened.

He said they had started taking extra precautions with cleaning before lockdown.

Church on the Rise in Blouberg Rise will not be opening its doors and will instead continue with Zoom meetings and its YouTube channel which was opened at the beginning of lockdown for worship.

Pastor Brad Espin said it was important to make an “informed decision” rather than an “emotional decision”.

He did not feel it was responsible to open until he had done more research and gathered all the facts, he said.

“The lockdown has not been about the freedom of religion. It’s about the protection of the lives of people,” he said.

In sensitive cases where people needed counselling he would discuss with his leadership the best safety measures to keep everyone safe when making home visits.

Rabbi Malcolm Matitiani, from Temple Israel West Coast, said the synagogue board had decided to not open with Level 3.

“We are taking it very cautiously,” he said.

In the meantime they were using Zoom meetings as a form of communication, he said.

Professor Lynn Morris, interim executive director at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa, said it was vital for those attending places of worship to be proactive in following Covid-19 preventive measures.

“Such places are often indoors and include large gatherings that are associated with the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Social distancing is often difficult in small venues. It has also been shown that other practices such as singing can spread Covid-19,” she said.