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Mixed reaction from clergy as churches prepare to resume services

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday announced that places of worship may reopen subject to strict restrictions under level three of the lockdown.

Picture: Pixabay.com

JOHANNESBURG/DURBAN/CAPE TOWN - The South African Council of Churches (SACC) on Wednesday said it would set up a COVID-19 task team to ensure that all churches under its control complied with the regulations when religious gatherings resume next week.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday announced that places of worship may reopen subject to strict restrictions under level three of the lockdown.

Up to 50 people will be permitted to enter churches, temples, synagogues and mosques.

The council's general-secretary bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said they had been working with various interfaith leaders to prepare and protect congregants from contracting the virus.

He said that this included rotating services and ensuring that face masks were worn and continued sanitation.

“We want to make sure that none of our churches can ever become gateways to the grave. So, the churches have then set up norms and standards to ensure that we go through every detail of these norms and standards, which we will be publishing in the next day or so. But these have gone to churches to ensure there is COVID-19 readiness at each church.”

There are growing concerns on how churches will implement level three guidelines amid failure to regulate some religious organisations and the exploitation of people's belief systems.

WATCH: Ramaphosa: Places of worship may reopen under strict conditions

SOURCE OF INCOME RESTORED

The Kwazulu-Natal Christian Council has welcomed government’s easing of lockdown regulations, which will allow for religious gatherings from next week.

The council’s chairperson Cardinal Wilfrid Napier on Wednesday said this would also allow many religious leaders to earn an income again.

However, Napier has raised concerns with government placing the maximum of people who can be allowed to congregate at 50, saying some churches can accommodate more people and still manage social distancing.

Napier said they have started preparing to resume church services under level three regulations next week.

He said that ensuring safety was at the top of their priorities: “All the things we have been told to do, wearing of masks, washing hands, sanitising the churches and making sure people keep to social distancing. Local churches will have to make sure they’ve got all the material they need.”

He said some religious leaders would now no longer go hungry: “But for some ministers, what it means is that they will now have some sort of income.”

Napier has appealed to government to reconsider the maximum number of people allowed per gathering, saying the size of each church must be considered in relation to the number of people it can safely accommodate.

CONCERNS OVER PREPARATION

The Jesuit Institute South Africa said that government's decision to allow religious gatherings under Level three lockdown was questionable.

There've been mixed reactions from religious leaders.

Worshippers will have to stick to strict guidelines and only 50 people will be allowed to gather at a time.

The president has also instructed religious organisations to put protocols in place to ensure places for worship are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised before and after services.

The Jesuit Institute South Africa's Father Russell Pollitt has questioned what he called a sudden rushed move because evidence of cluster spread in other parts of the world suggests that even in places of worship where strict social distancing rules were upheld, there were reports of infection.

“Especially churches in rural areas, they don’t have huge amounts of money, so where is the money to get PPEs going to come from? This is a really difficult one and I just think we need to be very cautious.”

Pollit has raised concern over how decisions are going to be made about who gets to attend services and who does not.

He's also worried about how such gatherings will be policed amid claims of heavy-handedness by law enforcement to ensure lockdown compliance.

For official information about COVID-19 from the Department of Health, please click here.