- 28 May
As things move from level four to level three of the COVID-19 lockdown on the first of June we wanted to inform you of what we believe our way forward will be as a church. Willow Hill is a wonderful family and community and we know that gathering together on Sundays is deeply missed, but we will continue to make decisions based on what is best for the Health and well-being of our community.
This is not policy, rather what we believe is a loving, principled, pastoral and wise way forward for us as a community. What is communicated herein is a live and working communication which we as a leadership will prayerfully and in consultation revisit and adjust as things develop in terms of our COVID-19 response.
We have not come to these decisions lightly but in consultation with our leadership team, churches within Vineyard SA, many denominations, as well as advocates from Freedom of Religion SA.
While President Ramaphosa’s announcement allows for places of worship to reopen with a limit of 50 people or less when the country moves into Level 3 on the 1st of June 2020; We do not believe this is wise at the moment. Our church moved out of the building in March. We have had the most amazing times of worship, prayer and ministry. We have had healings and ministry over Zoom and on our Live Facebook messages, our Father has been present, and people have found ways to engage with one another in new and meaningful ways.
We have seen the kingdom advancing in the most amazing ways. Checkout this link to see what has been happening with our engagement in terms of the poor - https://joynews.co.za/local-churches-and-npos-join-hands-to-feed-the-poor-and-needy-during-lockdown/?fbclid=IwAR20bW68D2fgR38YU6oCePy_IePaJ8MuaPM0mgdzSxgIfsAX1cwn_Lsgz6g
Lynda Smith put it this way, “The church is the people. We do not need a building to honor God. Our role, I believe at this time is to be the hands and feet, to feed, shelter and look after those who are vulnerable. To spread love and hope. Use the buildings for this but I do not believe now is the right time to be meeting corporately” Mandy and I, as well as our leadership team feel the same way.
The church has always championed the value of life. Our meetings are by nature tactile and draw together cross sections of society. Church gatherings could easily become a point of infection. We must choose life for the sake of the community and our church members.
For the moment we will not be meeting at our facility at Oakfield Farm on Sunday mornings. We will continue with Facebook Live, YouTube, WhatsApp, Zoom and other forms of connecting.
In terms of Life Groups, at level 3 we cannot meet. Life-Groups are classified as social interactions and as such are not allowed. What would be different in a Life-Group from a dinner party with friends? Nothing, the law stipulates church meetings in a place set aside for religious worship i.e. a church building. Over and above the legal implications, our region has being declared a COVID-19 hotspot, we cannot endorse Life-Groups meeting in homes at the moment.
Friends, as was said earlier in this document, what has been communicated herein is a live and working communication which we as a leadership will prayerfully and in consultation revisit and adjust as things develop in terms of our COVID-19 response.
We at Willow are grateful to King Jesus for His hand over us, Holy Spirit for His guidance, empowering, comfort and authority, and to our Father Who is in heaven, may His name be hallowed at this time!
May His Kingdom come
Andrew and the Willow team
Feel free to read on below the media statement made by the Jesuit institute for a balanced response to President Ramaphosa’s announcement.
MEDIA STATEMENT by the Jesuit Institute South Africa
ON OPENING PLACES OF WORSHIP
The Jesuit Institute South Africa has noted President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that places of worship may reopen with a limit of 50 people or less when the country moves into Level 3 on 1 June 2020. We wholeheartedly support the call for a National Day of Prayer on 31 May, Pentecost Sunday.
Many people of faith have suffered the loss and pain of not being allowed to gather in their respective communities for worship. We know this. Refraining from gathering was seen as a way of religious communities actively choosing to care by temporarily stopping a core practice – gathering for worship – for the common good. We do not need to open churches right now to practise our faith. Prayer, acts of kindness, reading sacred texts and service of neighbour can continue without gathering in the midst of this pandemic.
This sudden, seemingly rushed move is questionable. Evidence of cluster spread in other parts of the world suggests that even in places of worship where strict social distancing rules were upheld there were reports of infection. The more people mix, the more there is potential for spread. Places of worship are not immune to the virus. This move seems to contradict the President’s oft repeated phrase that we must be “guided by the overriding principle of doing whatever it takes to preserve life”.
The government is also sending mixed messages. While a ban on friend and family visits remains in place, it seems illogical that people can gather in places of worship.
The move creates yet another inequality at a time that has highlighted our profoundly unequal society: those who get to attend and those who don’t. How and by whom will this be decided - and monitored? It goes against the very spirit of being a community of believers to split that community. This is an almost impossible decision to make for religious leaders who may have to decide.
Many places of worship do not have the financial capacity to provide the prescribed personal protection equipment and/or personnel to sanitize the buildings, furniture and equipment that is necessary.
Will police check places of worship and break up gatherings of more than 50 persons?
The President insists that the government is learning from other parts of the world and listening to scientists. Fair enough. And we know opinion is divided, evidence uncertain, and the right course unclear. There is a logic behind saying that if we open up businesses, churches should follow. But there is a difference between opening up for economic survival, particularly as people start to starve, and opening institutions that could function differently in these times.
In ethical situations where there are no good options, an ethical response should err on the side of caution. Sadly, we do not believe this does.