Three weeks after the state provided guidelines for California churches to reopen their public services, many are still struggling to accommodate both the regulations and the needs of their congregations.
Shadow Mountain in El Cajon will be having its first in-person service this Sunday, June 21, but it will be held outside with first-come-first-serve indoor seating available in private rooms with a streamed version of the service for those who do not feel comfortable sitting outdoors.
For some larger churches, like the Rock, it takes 100 volunteers just to put on a worship service.
The Rock Church’s East County campus remains closed because of the coronavirus. Their services and midweek engagements are still being held online.
Pastor Kenneth Colman of the Alpine Community Church, United Church of Christ, said much of their 90-some member congregation are in demographics especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.
“Our leadership has been in a lot of conversations of when to repon because our congregation is 80 to 90 in the high risk category,” said Colman. “We’re being very cautious about how to go back to in-house worship.”
Colman said the leaders in his church have been examining state guidelines, which have been helpful to them in determining how to safely reopen – wearing masks, keeping chairs six feet apart, wiping down surfaces between gatherings and having people bring their own coffee from home. But, he said, some of the safety procedures are not without cost, like having someone to clean and sanitize the premises.
“There are expenses with some of their suggestions,” he said. “With our budgets being as tight as they are because of COVID-19, that’s a part of it… We haven’t made any final decisions. We’re still trying to decide what is best and safe for all people.”
The Alpine Community Church is the oldest congregation in Alpine, founded in 1894, but it is by no means the only church working hard to protect its members while keeping them connected.
Alpine Lutheran Church finally reopened its doors on June 7 after streaming its services throughout the shutdown.
Pastor Roger Wagner of Bayview Orthodox Presbyterian in Chula Vista said larger churches are put into a difficult position because of the state guidelines. State regulations have capped attendance at 100 people or 25% capacity, whichever is lower.
“Shadow Mountain can feed people,” Wagner said of the church’s food ministry. “Their whole parking lot is set up for people to go through. One time, I drove out there and they were in the process of this food distribution. I just thought it was ironic that you can distribute food en masse, but you can’t let your people go in and worship.”
Restrictions have not stopped churches from reaching their communities. Colman said his church has continued their blessing box, which helps distribute food to Alpine residents in need, as well as a community prayer sheet and midweek Facebook live prayer service.
“We got three prayers on the first day,” said Colman of their new prayer outreach. “You don’t have to be a church member. If you have any needs, feel free to find us and reach out.”
Alpine Community Church can be found at alpineucc.org.