Let’s bow our heads and Zoom: Virtual communion takes over as SA churches battle with Covid restrictions

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier poses for photography inside a small champel at Gordon Road. Photo: SANDILE NDLOVU

Hunger for the word of God, grief and having easy access to fellowship are among the reasons churches have seen an increase in the number of people who join virtual gatherings.

Most churches introduced virtual services when President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the national state of disaster in March following the outbreak of the coronavirus.

During this period, large gatherings, including church services, were prohibited.

With those restrictions in place under the “hard lockdown”, church leaders across the country adopted a new and innovative way of worshipping through the live-streaming of church services.

Rhema Bible Church, one of the biggest churches in the country, has been offering virtual services via its television and YouTube channels for years. When the pandemic hit in March, the church intensified its presence virtually.

“When the pandemic hit, we were already online. We literally moved to the platforms that were already there,” said pastor Giet Khosa.

There is a lot of need out there. Things have gone bad in every direction. People have lost their loved ones. People have been tested.

“We’ve seen a lot of people logging in. There is a lot of need out there. Things have gone bad in every direction. People have lost their loved ones. People have been tested.”

The number of people who log into their services, he said, had increased, with some people joining services for counselling or fellowship.

“We’ve seen a lot of people logging in to find encouragement, motivation and a hiding place. We’ve been able to pastor and minister to them. We’ve been able to help where possible.”

The biggest increase has come from viewership on television. The church is closed for services.

According to pastor Chris Mathebula of Hope Restoration Ministries, virtual churches enable people to access a service in the comfort of their homes.

“People, at this moment, need something that will empower their spirit. If they can access it in the comfort of their home, they do that,” he said.

He said he had seen “growth” in online attendance of his services during the lockdown, especially from people who were not members.

“They opened a door for other people who are not members to attend our services,” he said.

Apostle Makhado Ramabulana of the Apostolic Faith Mission also said virtual services brought a bigger following for his church.

“We’ve seen a huge following from members of our church and those who are not members.”

He said even when churches were allowed to reopen, a lot of members did not go back to church.

“People discovered they can fellowship at their preferred time and in the comfort of their homes. The internet has brought us new followers, especially people outside our surroundings,” he said.


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