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City churches prepare to reopen

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No singing and clapping and sitting one metre apart is some of the commitments made by churches in Kimberley following the lifting of the ban on religious gatherings.

File image. Picture: AP Photo/Eric Gay

THERE will be no singing and clapping at some local churches, while future fellowship will also see congregants sitting one metre apart and church buildings will be sanitised between services.

These were some of the commitments made by churches in Kimberley on Wednesday following the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that places of worship could resume their services under Level 3 of the lockdown, with strict conditions in place.

In March, places of worship were forced to close their doors to congregants as the government implemented a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Tuesday night, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other recognised places of worship may from June 1 resume services, but these will be limited to 50 people or less, depending on the space available. Social distancing will have to be observed and all congregants will have to wear face masks, in line with the current lockdown regulations.

In preparation to resume services, all religious organisations will be required to thoroughly clean and sanitise places of worship before and after services.

Tuesday night’s announcement by the president was met with restrained positivity by many local church leaders, many of whom are facing financial constraints in keeping their places of worship running under lockdown.

Although all churches contacted on Wednesday pledged to adhere to the strict regulations laid out by the president, many indicated that they still needed to plan their strategies on the way forward.

Church leaders are also waiting for further guidelines from the government on the implications of the Level 3 regulations.

Many local churches on Wednesday indicated that they had kept contact with their congregants during the lockdown through live screenings and sharing sermons on internal WhatsApp groups. 

From June 1, however, the churches will be able to reopen and many are likely to hold more than one service on a Sunday in order to accommodate more churchgoers.

The Centenary Methodist Church in Kimberley indicated that it was looking at hosting up to four services on a Sunday.

The national office-bearers of AFM Church, meanwhile, stated that they were in the process of drawing up an urgent document with guidelines that will be forwarded to all assemblies across the country.

The general secretary of AFM of South Africa, Dr Henri Welderman, indicated that the document would, however, only be finalised once the government regulations were gazetted.

“We just want to do everything in a safe way,” he said.

Welderman admitted that AFM was among those churches that had suffered financially under the lockdown.

“Many families were affected by this, including pastors, who did not have an income coming from the churches. Some members of the congregation did not have access to EFT or the internet to honour their pledges. Fortunately we had a Covid-19 salary support fund which we could use to assist the pastors financially.”

The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church meanwhile stated that it too was waiting on a directive from its head office in America.

According to the AME Kimberley district presiding elder, Madodana Bikwa, their churches in America were not hosting any services yet. “We need to wait for a way forward for South Africa to be determined.”

St Mary’s Catholic Church Dean of the Kimberley Diocese, Father Victor Thole, indicated that they were also waiting for regulations to be gazetted as they did not want to rush “unprepared” into hosting services.

“We are opting to host more masses with less people in order to have time to sanitise the church buildings between services. This also means that our services will be shorter as there will be no singing and clapping, as the objective is just to portray the preaching that people come to hear,” said Thole.

“We have been sharing our services on Zoom over the lockdown period.”