Churches excited to open doors for congregants to worship under level 1

Congregants are returning to worship at churches but services will not look like they did before lockdown as steps are taken to limit the spread of the virus.
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With the easing of lockdown and the country slowly moving towards more freedom, churches are polishing their pews and stocking up on hand sanitiser.

The new Covid-19 alert level one regulations came into play on Monday.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement last week, he also announced an increase in the number of people allowed to attend religious gatherings.

The number of people who attend these gatherings must not exceed 50% of the normal capacity of a venue, with a maximum of 250 people for indoor gatherings and 500 for outdoor ones.

Pastor Bert Pretorius of 3C congregation in Centurion said he was thankful to the president for opening up religious gatherings, but added that even with the increased capacity limit it would have little impact on his church which has more than 25,000 members in attendance on any given Sunday.

“The nation needs the church more than ever before, so we are thankful to the president. For us the 250 capacity doesn’t make a difference, but we are exploring different strategies to see how to make it work,” Pretorius said.

One of those strategies is having open air services, which under the regulations allow for 500 worshippers. Another would be having ticketing Sunday services or doing multiple services at smaller church venues. The mega church has multiple venues, some of them 1,000 seater facilities.

“People still want to get together and come to church, there is a great desire for people to come to church, to be with their pastors and leaders. We have been contemplating doing church meetings per region and allocating a certain region to come a certain Sunday. But that means you’ll come to church once in two months,” Pretorius said.

Already implementing this booking system is Grace Bible Church in Soweto. The church, led by Bishop Mosa Sono, has been open and started live preaching two weeks ago.

Sono said the duration of services had been shortened and seating arrangements were altered to accommodate social distancing.

“We have a booking system where congregants will book their seat, the confirmation will be accompanied by a form that captures their details and they have to answer questions that will inform us of their health status. Upon arrival at the church, there will be further screening and sanitisation,” Sono said.

His church has about 30,000 members, many of whom have said they can’t wait to attend live services again.

Both 3C and Grace Bible Church are streaming their services online and will continue to do so.

Pretorius, who has been speaking to pastors from some of the mega churches in the country, said they felt strongly in favour of being allowed to cater for a 50% capacity as is the case with gyms.

Sono said he was excited to see his congregants. He added that, for many people, religion was personal and they wanted a personal touch which could only be satisfied by a physical presence in a church.

“I have missed our congregants, but it has been for a good cause. We are disappointed though that our main recommendation of using 50% of our floor space was not considered after making presentations to the presidency. We intend pursuing that because we don’t have the full facts as to what informed the 250 threshold,” Sono said.   ​

Wayne Chaff, pastor at Ray McCauley’s Rhema Ministries, said despite the congregation being eager to return to the massive ministry buildings, McCauley had “expressed his love for the congregation and a concern for their safety therefore opted to wait until it’s much safer to congregate in big numbers”.

“Rhema has been doing ministry throughout the lockdown and has maintained contact with its members and community. The building will remain closed until it’s safe for larger numbers to congregate. We will continue with online service and ministry.”

Chaff said once back in the building, they would maintain social distancing and hygiene measures at all entrance points, and the entries and exits to the building would be clearly demarcated.

Evangelist and author Angus Buchan called himself a roving preacher, saying he had two pastors working at the farm through lockdown. The Sunday service was held in three sermons each attended by 50 people, but Shalom Ministries had embraced new technologies to preach online.

“We obeyed the authorities and will continue to do so. From next week we will take the full 250 members, with others sitting outside to listen.

“But I’ll tell you — I’ve done more preaching during lockdown than I ever did in my 41 years in ministries. In 2010 250,000 men attended the Mighty Men conference at the farm. Since lockdown I’ve held the Mighty Men conference in Jerusalem, two in Australia, in Ireland and we’ve had a Global Zoom Mighty Men conference. So I am embracing new technology.”

BY LEONIE WAGNER AND ALEX PATRICK

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