More than 1,200 pastors, including some in Pasadena, have electronically signed a letter declaring they will reopen their churches on May 31, in defiance of the governor’s phased reopening plan, according to an attorney representing a church in Lodi suing the state.
The declaration comes after the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on Tuesday informed Gov. Gavin Newsom his stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic discriminates against churches and places an “unfair burden” on them.
Harvest Rock Church, at 131 S. St. John Ave. in Pasadena, is among the houses of worship supporting the reopening declaration.
“The church has been called to reopen by the people, who in this dark time are in need of the in-person pastoring of the church leaders,” Harvest Rock spokesperson Adelheid Waumboldt wrote in an email to Pasadena Now. “The church, to this day, has been faithful to the laws of the State of California and to the Constitution of the United States, going above and beyond to protect both the community and congregation by using caution and suspending in-person services for the last 10 weeks.”
Waumboldt said her church is taking strict health and safety precautions, following the lead of essential businesses that are back open or never closed during the pandemic.
“Precautions include but are not limited to: functioning at limited/reduced capacity, suspending pre and post services, requiring attendees to preregister, social distancing while both standing and seating, the taking of temperatures of both the congregation and staff members before entry using a non-invasive thermometer, the requirement to wear masks upon building entry, and the wearing of gloves by staff members, etc. Additionally, the building will be completely sanitized before Sunday service.”
Waumboldt added that for May 31 Harvest Rock has set a maximum attendance of 225 pre-registered congregation members who will be distance-seated among 1,215 auditorium seats.
Calvary Chapel Pasadena Pastor Xavier Ries says his church is undecided. “We’re praying about it. We may. We may not,” adding that the governor’s stay-at-home orders violate the Constitution.
“You can go to Home Depot, the Walmart, but you can’t stand in line to go to church inside? Once you get to Walmart and Home Depot everybody’s rubbing hand-to-hand. It’s all over there,” said Ries. “The church is going to go out of the way to be safe.”
But one of Pasadena’s largest churches, Lake Avenue Church at 393 North Lake Avenue, is not reopening early.
“We are not confident at this time that large-group gatherings involving the traditional elements of Christian worship (singing, prayer, etc.) are safe for individuals or the broader communities in which we live,” according to a May 20 update on Lake Avenue’s website.
“The New Testament repeatedly instructs us to submit ourselves to governing authorities unless they order us to do something that violates our Christian faith,” continued the statement by Lake Avenue, which says it has a membership of approximately 4,500 people.
Masjid Al-Taqwa, the local Mosque which serves the Altadena and Pasadena Islamic community, said through an email that it has decided “to continue to adhere to the suggested conditions to the Safer At Home measure.”
Prism Church, at 61 North Hill Avenue in Pasadena, is also not reopening early.
“We don’t feel like, for instance, that the state is, what they’re asking us to do now rises to the level of persecution … that would require civil disobedience,” said Prism Pastor Chuck Ryor. “We see the regulations pertaining to every segment of society, not just religious organizations.”
Murrieta attorney Robert Tyler, who represents Lodi’s Cross Culture Christian Center in a lawsuit against the state, says he expects as many as 3,000 churches throughout California to have in-person services at the end of May.
Gov. Newsom’s reopening plan doesn’t allow religious services to resume until Stage 3. Newsom says that could happen in the coming weeks, if science supports such a move. The state is currently in the middle of Stage 2, which has allowed some curbside retail, car dealership showrooms and golf courses to resume operations, with health and safety measures in place.