Churches fall in line with reduction in congregants

Some of the major religious bodies have called off church services and suspended planned gatherings for Easter as part of government's plan to curb the spread of coronavirus.

But the biggest church on the continent, Zion Christian Church, remained mum yesterday on whether it would also cancel its annual pilgrimage to Moria in Limpopo that attracts millions of followers. Several attempts by Sowetan to solicit comment from ZCC were unsuccessful yesterday.

The South African Council of Churches on the other hand said it would heed the call to minimise and contain the outbreak of the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Reverend Mzwandile Molo said churches were deemed high-risk areas and that they would need to play their role in preventing the spread of coronavirus.

"Church leaders from churches that fall under the banner of the SACC will be meeting on Thursday to determine how we can respond responsibly and how we can align with the president's call."

Molo said even though the meeting would consist of broader church leaders, some churches had suspended services indefinitely.

"Some individual churches have taken steps themselves on how they will be dealing with this matter but we also need a unified approach."

A meeting of local government officials today is expected to outline plans to deliver relief to the millions of vulnerable South Africans. Cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will today meet with MECs from all nine provinces to discuss how resources would be distributed to some of the poor communities without access to water.

The meeting will also focus on how to make sure the directive to prohibit gatherings of over 100 people is implemented.

"The minister will brief the MECs on what directions they should take in dealing with this. She will engage with MECs on specific issues that affect their various provinces," Dlamini-Zuma's spokesperson Lungi Mtshali said.

"Circumstances in the different provinces are not the same. So we don't want to issue a blanket approach. The meeting will allow MECs to bring suggestions on priorities in their provinces."

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa said it would abide by President Cyril Ramaphosa's statement of having congregations of less than 100 people at a time.

Reverend Purity Malinga said churches with more than 100 congregants would need to be creative in how they conducted church services and divided groups.

The Enlightened Christian Gathering Church, led by controversial prophet Shepherd Bushiri, has postponed all church services until further notice.

"As the world continues to monitor the Covid-19 pandemic, your safety is my top priority. With that said, it is out of our great love for you that I announce that all services, in all our South African churches, will be postponed until further notice, and effective immediately.

"This includes midweek, diplomatic, home cells and Sunday services. All programmes tabulated on our timetable have also been cancelled indefinitely," Bushiri said in a statement. The services will be televised and live-streamed.

The chairperson of the Commission on Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities Professor David Mosoma appealed to all bodies to adhere to the safety measures and precautions set out by Ramaphosa.

"These include funerals, weddings, unveilings, baptismal services, stokvels, holy communions, attending services at the mosques, temples, churches, synagogues and the traditional ceremonies related to the return of Amathwasa," Mosoma said.

"After a thorough consideration of all the current and potential challenges posed by this virus, the commission appeals to the churches to adhere and embrace the call of the president with regards to small-scale services not exceeding 100 people."

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