Church leaders discuss the enormous challenges of opening up services in level 3
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday night announced that religious gatherings in limited numbers could go ahead under lockdown three regulations.
This after the country's worshippers were discouraged from attending services when lockdown began not long before Easter, celebrated by Christians and the Jewish Passover. Eid was also affected as services at mosques were prohibited.
This latest move has been welcomed by Berry Behr, chairperson of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, but has been slammed by Father Russell Pollitt, Director of the Jesuit Institute SA.
Father Pollit says this shift has been made very quickly.
I question the sudden rushed move because evidence of cluster spreads in other parts of the world suggests that even in places of worship where strict social distancing rules were upheld, there were cases of infections.Father Russell Pollitt, Director of the Jesuit Institute SA
The more people are together in an enclosed space, the more the infection spreads, he adds.
It seems to me the government is sending mixed messages and then it creates another inequality as well...who gets to attend and who doesn't, and who decides that?Father Russell Pollitt, Director of the Jesuit Institute SA
Are the police going to monitor churches, he asks?
If there are 52 people are the police going to go in, and as we have seen them doing in the past weeks, act in a way that is going to bring harm to people as they break up these crowds?Father Russell Pollitt, Director of the Jesuit Institute SA
He agrees with the South African Council of Churches has commented that the online digital services were excluding the poor who did not have internet access.
And this is the real dilemma you are in, there are many excluded from digital access, but these are the same people that are often vulnerable. So they are excluded, but now we bring them into a space where there is another vulnerability.Father Russell Pollitt, Director of the Jesuit Institute SA
He adds that churches, especially in rural areas, do not have enormous amounts of money, and putting directed safety measures in place will be a challenge.
Berry Behr, the chairperson of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, says many of the churches have received the news with some caution.
Some of them have turned to their governing committees and said please help us find a prayerful way forward.Berry Behr, Chairperson - Cape Town Interfaith Initiative
She says some churches have said they will hold three services on a Sunday and they will be one and a half hours apart and others say it will be by invitation only taking the first fifty worshippers.
Not all churches have the space to allow the required physical distancing between 50 people so the churches are really going to be careful and mindful of how they proceed.Berry Behr, Chairperson - Cape Town Interfaith Initiative
She hopes government will assist churches in putting these safety measures in place.
Churches are going to have to be very responsible.Berry Behr, Chairperson - Cape Town Interfaith Initiative
It is going to be very challenging for religious services to find a new way forward, she says.
People in worship situations are not conditioned to social distance, she says.
But what we have learned - those of us privileged enough to have been able to gather on Zoom and other internet platforms - we have learned that our connection without the physical presence is very, very strong. And that has been an amazing and beautiful learning.Berry Behr, Chairperson - Cape Town Interfaith Initiative
And that has been an amazing and beautiful learning, an evolution in how we work together energetically. Because energetically, of course, we don't have to all be in one place.Berry Behr, Chairperson - Cape Town Interfaith Initiative
Pollitt doubts government will be able to provide places of worship with the necessary PPE and sanitisers as it is already under pressure to do so in schools and other areas.
Let's proceed with caution...there are alternative ways religious groups can connect with one another. and even if they cannot go online...they can pray.Father Russell Pollitt, Director of the Jesuit Institute SA
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