Precautions in the pews

The nave of Christ Church Constantia with alternate pews roped off to ensure physical distancing during services. This picture was taken a week before lockdown.

Places of worship could reopen from Monday under level 3 lockdown, but many religious leaders feel it’s still too risky to do so.

The rector of Christ Church Constantia and Archdeacon of Constantia, the Venerable Terry Lester, said their church would possibly open towards the end of June at the earliest.

This comes after the church’s lockdown task team concluded this past weekend that the church would not reopen until it was safe to do so.

“This will not be done in a rush nor just for the sake of opening. We are committed to it being done with other Anglican churches and under the guidelines provided. We remain at a very crucial stage of this disease so it will be a case of festina lente… hastening slowly!”

He said that when their church opened, there would be sanitising, distancing and safety protocols in place before and after gathering and they would follow the advisory that those aged over 60 or with underlying conditions should refrain from attending.

For now the church continued to provide care to those who had lost loved ones and ministered over the phone, social media and the church website.

The church’s newsletter noted income had dropped due to lack of services but the church continued to provide food parcels for the needy in Hout Bay, Lotus River, Parkwood and Westlake during lockdown.

Stephen Kopakopa Mwasili, chairman of St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Westlake, said his church of some 60 to 70 members would not start gathering until there was a big drop in Covid-19 cases.

“It is very difficult to go into the church and follow the Covid-19 protective measures like social distancing, and we cannot sing with our mouths covered with the masks. The preacher cannot preach with the mouth covered.”

Covid-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets that become airborne when an infected person coughs, sings, talks, or sneezes, so places of worship have been identified as super-spreader environments.

Mr Mwasili said that while level 3 restrictions limited church gatherings to no more than 50 people they didn’t account for smaller venues where physical distancing would be impossible.

“It was so early of the president to announce the opening of the churches. This month is flu season and it’s very quick for the virus to be transmitted at this time.”

Rector Nick Louw, senior pastor at St Mark’s Plumstead, said their church applauded the decision to recognise religious workers as essential services.

“In Luke 12 verse 5, Jesus teaches us that being in the right relationship with God is even more essential than being healthy. However, we also recognise that these two things don’t need to be in conflict. While gathering physically is ideal, the fact is that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has enabled us to connect with God even when we’re isolated at home.”

The church was working hard to connect with people over social media, he said.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has urged mosques to stay closed for another month. In a statement last Thursday, the MJC said it believed the decision to reopen places of worship should not be made hastily while Covid-19 infections continued to rise, especially in the Western Cape, which had over 60% of the country’s infections and most of its deaths.

The MJC advised mosques in hot spots not to reopen and worshippers over the age of 60 or those with underlying medical conditions to not to return for prayers.

However, mosques that could afford to rigorously enforce safety and sanitary procedures should open within the limits allowed by level 3, it said.

The Darul Karaar Masjid, in Park Road Wynberg posted on its Facebook page last week Thursday that it would be closed during level 3 lockdown until further notice.