Cold comfort for bereaved during Covid second wave

Reverend Chesnay Frantz from St Saviour’s Anglican Church in Claremont.

Funerals carry the risk of being Covid-19 “super-spreader“ events, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, but Claremont cleric Reverend Chesnay Frantz is still there to help the bereaved say a final farewell to their loved ones.

Under the current lockdown restrictions, church services and other faith-based gatherings are prohibited, although up to 50 mourners are allowed at funerals, albeit under strict conditions.

When Reverend Frantz, 34, took over at the St Saviour’s Anglican Church in Claremont in mid July during the first Covid-19 surge one of his first duties was organising a funeral.

“My first experience meeting people from the congregation was by planning a funeral,” he says.

Before the pandemic, Reverend Frantz was an assistant reverend at the Christ Church in Constantia and more recently at St George’s Church in Silvertown – those were the days when he was used to having a lot more contact with his parishioners.

Now things are very different. He and bereaved family members must wear masks and physically distance when they meet to plan a funeral.

“We can’t hug them, or shake their hands,” he says. “They break down while you are talking to them. All I can do is say words to comfort them.”

There are no more open-casket funerals and only 50 people can attend – half the number permitted under level-1 lockdown.

Reverend Frantz must also act as a compliance officer. He and his colleagues sanitise the mourners’ hands, take their temperatures and keep a register of all who attend.

The mask-clad mourners must sit apart from each other in the church where many pews have been closed off to enforce this physical distancing.

The organist can play music but there is no hymn singing to prevent the aerosolised spread of the virus. The sermon and the mourners’ tributes remain.

The church has had eight funerals since the beginning of lockdown; two of those have been for people who died from Covid-19.

Reverend Frantz says he has done one burial at the graveyard, though traditionally the church is more for cremations. The after-service tea has also been cancelled. “That is a negative,” he says, “as that was the one opportunity for families to connect or for communities to connect after the service.”

Under level-1 lockdown, the church could accommodate 250 people – half it’s capacity – but Reverend Fritz says the biggest attendance was 120 people on one Sunday. The church has cancelled baptisms, confirmations, weddings and ordinations during the pandemic.

The church has been hit hard during the pandemic, says Reverend Frantz, because it can’t hold the usual collections and fund-raisers on which its livelihood depends.

“We would generate an amount of around R100 000, though because all our fund-raisers were cancelled, all the revenue was lost.”

However, he adds, parishioners have been supporting the church with non-perishable goods so it can feed 15 vulnerable families each month.

Church volunteer Pat Moloney says there was little she could do to help the church during the hard lockdown, but now she does flower arrangements and makes baby outfits and winter caps that are sold to raise money.

Reverend Frantz says that during these difficult times people should live cautiously but guard against being overwhelmed by fear.

“We are people of faith and hope, we are resilient people and we are called to live in hope that tomorrow will be a brighter day, and through the mists of all of this we are still able to stay connected through the gift of technology.”

Reverend Frantz is available to provide counselling around Claremont. Email stsaviours.rector@gmail.com or visit https://stsaviours.weebly.com for more information.

Alternate pews in the church have been closed off for physical distancing.