28 July 2021
Dear Ministers, Leaders, Organizations and Members of the Cape of Good Hope Synod
Greetings to you all in this cold wintry season across the Western and Northern Cape.
As you are all aware by now, President Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday evening 25 July 2021 and
spoke to the current status on where we are as a country on Covid-19 related matters. We also know that the
alert level was changed from alert L4 to Alert L3 which saw a relaxation of a number of matters including the
regulation on gatherings by religious groups / churches.
The current alert L3 has allowed churches to gather for in-person worship with the strict proviso in terms of
the regulations that the maximum of 50 persons may attend an indoor service or gathering and a maximum of
100 persons in an outdoor setting. The new regulations came into effect on Sunday 25 July 2021. As a religious
institution we are therefore legally allowed to open our doors for in-person worship if we are deemed to be
compliant in terms of the regulations.
As a church and particularly in this Synod, we must remain compliant to the regulations published in the
Government Gazette following the President’s address on Sunday evening. As a Synod though, we don’t take
the narrow view of just following the regulations but review what is happening in the communities where the
church finds itself serving the people called Methodists and beyond. We also believe that we should act in the
best interest of the safety of people, just as we did when it was recommended that we do not have any inperson
worship until at least the end of July 2021, irrespective of the date that the Government Gazette
stated at that time.
In this regard, an urgent meeting with the Synod Covid Advisory Team was called by our Synod Vice
Chairperson on Monday evening to discuss the way forward for our churches to open safely for worship. Prof
Greg Petro and Adv Nonkosi Cetywayo in particular guided us on matters of infection statistics and the legal
interpretation of the Regulations as published in the latest Government Gazette. (Attached in the email
correspondence). The statistics on the infection rate as presented to the meeting gives a clear indication that
the infection rate in the Western Cape remains significantly high and although it is plateauing out, it is not yet
on a decisive downward curve. This in itself is of concern for the Covid Advisory Team, and we therefore
recommend a cautious approach to opening Churches for worship.
The legal interpretation reminds us again that ultimately the resident Minister is the legal authority and will
be held liable for any non-compliance to the regulations. Please note that the Minister may be fined or be
imprisoned to six months or be fined AND imprisoned to six months if found guilty of non-compliance. Also
note that the regulations also state that any person who attends a faith based or religious gathering and who
knows or suspects that the number of people exceeds the limitations of numbers, is also liable before the law,
and may be fined or imprisoned if found guilty of non-compliance. This would leave both the minister and the
person with a prison record!! (See Par 36, no (5), (6) and (7).)
Legally we may only have 50 or fewer people attend a service depending on the seating capacity of the
building, and 100 people outside. If the building cannot accommodate 50 people with the appropriate social
distancing, then only 50% of its capacity may be occupied. Note however, that this is NOT the case for
funerals, when only 50 people or less are allowed, irrespective if they are inside or outside. Services should be
restricted to no more than 2 hours. (See par 35, and 36 (iii))
It is critically important that each Society will need a certificate of occupancy setting out the maximum
number of persons their church / hall or meeting space may accommodate at a time. The certificate must be
displayed at all times. (See par 36 (3)). The Department Certificate of Occupancy as attached in the email can
be copied and used by churches.
By law, we are still required to record the contact details of persons attending the service for the purpose of
contact tracing. What is critical in this respect is the POPI Act whereby we are required to protect the personal
information that we have recorded i.e., in a safe or locked cupboard with access granted only to the minister
who is deemed as the Information Officer of a Church. The Act protects against illegal collection, keeping,
sharing, and using personal information of other people. Churches or their leaders cannot share this
information with any person other than authorised government officials. They cannot keep it or use it for any
purpose other than contact tracing.
Other new Regulations to note is Par 33. (3) (l). This reads: “Closing time for the following establishments,
whether indoors or outdoors is 21h00. Par (l) names one of these venues as those hosting faith based or
religious gatherings, and therefore includes churches. Please note this when planning meetings or services.
The Regulation pertaining to the mandatory use of masks, sanitizers and social distancing remains in place,
and must be strictly adhered to at all times.
In the presentation by Prof Greg Petro it is clear that we are not yet out of danger in the Western Cape, which
is about 4 weeks behind Gauteng when the Lockdown level 4 was announced. There are new challenges that
face the Circuit & Society Covid Teams. The symptoms of the Delta variant, demands of us to relook and revise
our questionnaire when people attend service, and consider very seriously various matters such as singing
particularly since the virus is airborne. This is one area where we notice Societies and Organizations have
become less vigilant. We have also noticed in some instances that Covid compliance officers and Covid teams
have become very small, or are not present at services or funerals, and that there may be new members or
volunteers on teams who have not received formal training or information. We therefore wish to offer further
training in this regard and implore that ministers and Superintendents ensure that they and their Teams are
up to date with all that is needed. To this end the Covid Advisory Team has committed ourselves to do the
training on Tuesday, 03 August 2021 at 19h00 on a virtual zoom platform. This will also be recorded so that it
can be shared widely with all Covid Teams and Local Preachers in particular too. We do expect representation
from all our Circuits, with the Circuit Covid Compliance officer in attendance. Every Circuit is asked to forward
the name and contact details of this person to the Synod office (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Vice chair
(email@example.com) by Monday, 2 August so that the zoom link can be sent.
With the training in mind, we are recommending that Circuits / Societies do not rush to commence with inperson
worship services until every facet of the compliance regulations can be guaranteed. All indications
currently point to a decline in the infection rate by mid-August and is our considered recommendation that
Sunday 15 August 2021 should be the date Circuits can work towards for reopening of worship services.
Should a Circuit or Society not feel ready to do so by then, they should be free to set their own timelines.
Decisions should always be made with the Leadership of Societies and/or Circuits, so that this may have
collective support. The Synod Office should be informed when Circuits and Societies re-open for worship for
information purposes, and in order to support Circuit decisions should disgruntled members seek for these to
be overridden. Organizations are reminded that they can only meet if Societies are open for services and
meetings in consultation with the Circuit or Society Minister.
Helpful matters to consider when deciding on how, when and if to open are the practical dynamics of the
congregation, e.g., age, use of public/private transport/ congestion in the community, technical matters such
as the ability to livestream services, access to data/Wi-Fi, other vulnerabilities that may be dominant in the
context and the availability of trained and available Covid teams. It is also helpful to check actual numbers of
infections in particular areas which is feely available on the Government website and updated on a daily basis.
Remember that vaccination cannot be used for access or permission to attend services or meetings and
should not feature on questionnaires. Nevertheless, ministers are asked encourage people to get the vaccine
in our effort to curb the spread of serious illness. If asked by the Department of Health, Churches should avail
their premises for registration and vaccination sites.
We trust that all our Superintendents, clergy and Covid Teams would consider this recommendation very
seriously as we ease our way into a safe space for our people to gather for small groups, meetings, worship,
and other activities, understanding that we are ultimately learning new ways of learning to live with the virus.
Our motivation should not be fear, but love for God and one another.
Yours in Christ’s Service
Rev Zamani Sikupela (Covid Advisory Team Convenor) and Rev Yvette Moses (Synod Bishop)