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No hugs or massive gatherings: 6 ways your religious worship will change come next week

27 May 2020 - 08:32 By Kyle Zeeman
Places of worship will have to observe several protocols and safety measures when they reopen next week.
Places of worship will have to observe several protocols and safety measures when they reopen next week.
Image: phartisan/123RF

As South Africans come to terms with the “new normal” brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced several regulations for church services under the nationwide lockdown.

Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday that churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other places of worship will be allowed to open from June 1.

“Places of worship may reopen, subject to strict restrictions — which are absolutely necessary if we are to prevent infections from rising,”

Ramaphosa added that religious leaders will be classified as “essential religious front-line workers”.

It comes after the government's discussions with religious leaders over the opening of spiritual worship and counselling services “subject to certain norms and standards”.

The announcement by Ramaphosa means that many South Africans will be returning to places of worship next month to a different experience than the one they had before the lockdown came into effect.

Here are six changes you can expect:

Places of worship will have to be cleaned and sanitised before and after services

Ramaphosa said that safety measures would need to be put in place to protect all worshippers.

“All religious organisations must put protocols in place for, among other things, thoroughly cleaning and sanitising places for worship before and after services.”

Congregations will be limited to 50 people or less

To stop the spread of the coronavirus, congregations would be limited in size.

“Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other recognised places of worship may resume services, but these will be limited in size to 50 people or less depending on the space available,” Ramaphosa said.

Some rituals may not be practised

While services will resume, some of the rituals ordinarily performed may not. This is to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Our faith communities must ensure that any religious rituals that carry even the slightest possibility of exposing worshippers to risk should be avoided, and that where they form an essential part of religious practice, that sanitisation is paramount.”

Masks will have to be worn and social distancing (including no hugging or shaking hands) observed

The wearing of face masks in public is mandatory and this will be extended to places of worship.

Social distancing will also be practised to make sure that worshippers are not at risk of exposure to the virus.

“Social distancing will have to be observed and all worshippers and participants will have to wear face masks in line with the current regulations.”

The government's Covid-19 portal explains social distancing as “avoiding handshakes, hugs and other forms of direct contact as well as keeping a distance of at least two metres from others”.

Leaders to provide counselling and raise awareness of Covid-19

Religious leaders have been encouraged to counsel worshippers and “play a proactive role in raising the level of public awareness about the coronavirus”.

“Our religious leaders will be recognised as essential religious front-line workers for purposes of spiritual counselling to members of their faith organisations.

“Our religious leaders occupy positions of immense trust and authority in our communities, and need to play a proactive role in raising the level of public awareness about the coronavirus in their services, in faith communication groups, and through their pastoral work and activities.”

Leaders can officiate at funerals, but only if there are less than 50 people.

Ramaphosa said that religious leaders may still officiate at funerals but regulations on the size of funerals will remain.

“Religious leaders will continue to officiate at funerals of no more than 50 people.”