Worshippers gather online for prayer and fellowship

Worshippers gather online for prayer and fellowship
Major religious events such as Easter, Ramadan and the Jewish Passover will be observed very differently this year. (Illustrative image | sources: Unsplash / Adli Wahid / Fahrul Azmi / Priscilla du Preez)

As important occasions like Easter, Ramadan and Passover are set to take place, worshippers across SA are going online to stay connected to their brethren.

The lockdown has forced churches, mosques and other places of worship to shut down for the foreseeable future.

With faith playing such a pertinent role in the lives of many South Africans, the thought of empty pews and silent Charismatic churches is almost unfathomable and quite daunting for those firmly embedded in their faith communities.

Major religious events such as Easter, Ramadan and the Jewish Passover will be observed very differently this year.

Unable to gather physically, many congregants are going online to connect with their communities and find hope during these trying times.

Zoom, Facebook, YouTube and other social platforms have become virtual places of worship. 

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb from the Cape Town Progressive Jewish Congregation said her community has shifted over to some of these platforms to “interact, learn and pray together”.

We are calling members regularly. WhatsApp all the time! And using Zoom and Facebook for classes, gatherings and worship services,” she told Daily Maverick.

“Of course, at this time of year, a huge challenge is also Passover, which begins tonight. This is a holiday that is celebrated by families coming together over a big ritual meal.”

Many families are separated and unable to celebrate the Seder feast together – which marks the beginning of the Passover celebration. Those who enjoy attending community Seders at synagogues and temples are also unable to do so.

“We have sent out lots of resources for people to use in their Passover Seders and we are also live-streaming seders for people to join.”

Many of the Baháʼí Faith are also using online platforms to maintain friendship networks, arrange devotional meetings, and study the holy texts.

“In addition to these local online gatherings at the local community levels, there is a wide range of online materials ranging from structured courses and training programmes to free subject-specific talks recorded by various professionals and communities for education and inspiration during these trying days of lockdown,” said Iraj Abedian who serves on the board of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of South Africa.

Abedian said the local and national Baháʼí spiritual assemblies are urging their communities to stay connected and reach out so the lockdown period doesn’t lead to isolation and loneliness.

“We have been encouraging the members of the Baháʼí community to remain actively involved in the support for the broader communities around them, to promote empathy, humanity, spirituality and social solidarity.” 

For Muslims across the country, Ramadan, the month of fasting, is rapidly approaching. Attending mosque for communal prayers or having large gatherings to break the daily fast is not an option.

But before the lockdown, the Muslim Judicial Council of South Africa (MJC) had already suspended Jumuah (Friday prayers) to adhere to the 100-person gatherings ban.

The MJC was unavailable for comment but has been posting daily teaching and encouragement videos on its Facebook page, as well as urging the Muslim community to donate to worthwhile causes during the lockdown.

It seems the MJC is still giving support to its community. For example, the council’s Social Development Department is offering daily marriage counselling from Monday to Thursday for couples in distress.

Smaller communities like Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap are using Facebook to share Jumuah prayers from various mosques in the area. One mosque, the Auwal Masjid, is also using Facebook to live-stream prayers.

For Christians, SA’s dominant religious group, Easter weekend is around the corner. The celebration, which usually features packed churches, Easter egg hunts and people travelling home to spend the weekend with family, will see many switching on their screens to mark the occasion.

DSTV, for example, is launching the African Easter Channel (DSTV 344) a pop-up channel in collaboration with TBN Africa on Thursday 9 April to screen church services and other Christian-based content over the Easter weekend.

Local churches like Rivers and CRC are live-streaming Good Friday and Easter Sunday services for their congregants.

Despite shutting their doors, both churches, like others around the country, are still ministering online. Congregants can access daily devotionals, prayers, and Bible study material via their websites.

Smaller churches like Church on Main in Cape Town are sharing daily pre-recorded messages to congregants via email and are hosting their weekly “home groups” online.

Before lockdown, the Methodist church had cancelled its Easter services, as had the Zionist Christian Church (ZCC), South Africa’s largest Christian and faith community which holds Africa’s largest Christian gathering at Moria in Limpopo.

The only gatherings allowed during the lockdown are funerals, which can have a maximum of 50 people present.

Although most churches seem to be complying with the regulations, reports had circulated of pastors flouting them.

A pastor in Nongoma, northern KwaZulu-Natal, was arrested and granted R1,000 bail after holding a church service for 150 people.

Controversial Zionist Bishop Bheki Timothy Ngcobo, of Nkanyezi Church of Christ in KwaZulu-Natal, had insisted that Easter services should continue despite the disaster regulations and in a nutshell, renounced Ramaphosa’s leadership, as he wasn’t “God”. DM


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