Gov. Gavin Newsom has given the go-ahead for churches and other houses of worship to resume in-person services if their local health departments approve religious services in their jurisdictions.
He issued guidelines Monday, which would, in part, limit attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower.
“The risks continue to outweigh the benefits,” said Trinity Presbyterian Church of Pasadena Rev. Cynthia W. Crowell.
“I believe the Governor is bending to pressure and that reinstituting in-person worship at this time is premature,” added Crowell. “We have many elderly congregants who reside in care facilities who are still under ‘lockdown’ and not able to attend regardless. Children cannot attend Sunday School or [use] playground facilities. Singing is not allowed. There are so many restrictions that I don’t see much to be gained by returning to the church building for community worship.”
Pasadena Church Pastor Kerwin Manning sides with Crowell.
“I’m definitely not in agreement with our churches being ready to reopen in light of the fact that our country is not totally ready to reopen,” Manning said. “We have a considerable number of black and brown people in our churches, and in our church in particular.”
“The disproportion that we’re seeing in the numbers of deaths and cases among communities of color is alarming,” Manning added. “To just disregard that and disregard the fact that … the numbers in our community are not declining consistently enough for it to merit a reopening.”
The attendance cap will be in effect for the first 21 days, then state health officials will review the limits.
Churches must also arrange for social distancing of at least 6 feet between people.
“We, at Hill Avenue Grace Lutheran Church, have begun the conversation on what it would take to reopen our church building. These guidelines will help in that conversation,” said Rev. Zachary W. Johnson. “In my opinion, it will be several weeks before we are ready to reopen as we need to be intentional about coming up with a strategy to implement these new guidelines.”
“Until the church council and I decide we are ready to implement these new guidelines successfully, we will continue to offer worship through an online presence like we have been doing since March 15th,” Johnson wrote in an email to Pasadena Now.
St. James Episcopal Church in South Pasadena said “disinfecting surfaces, wearing masks and avoiding shared objects all seem like safe practices that we were already planning to be part of our reopening.”
“Returning to services in the church building itself will be a carefully thought out process and we will follow the State’s guidelines as a minimum,” said St. James Rev. Canon Anne Tumilty.
She also said she is happy to see the state discouraging singing, which increases the likelihood of transmission of contaminated exhaled droplets.
“Music has been an incredibly important part of the ministry at St. James and we are exploring how to keep music in our services without increasing the risk, such as using string instruments instead of singers or pre-recording our singers,” said Tumilty.
Many churches, including Harvest Rock in Pasadena, had already planned to resume in-person services May 31, regardless of Newsom’s updated protocols.
“The guidelines issued by the State largely correspond to those issued by Harvest Rock Church in our reopening protocols including but not limited to: functioning at less than 25% capacity, taking temperatures of all present (with a non-invasive thermometer), wearing masks, suspending pre and post service gatherings, etc.,” according to a statement by Harvest Rock Church spokesperson Adelheid Waumboldt.
Several churches contacted by Pasadena Now emphasized they have never closed, but instead found new ways to gather and worship.
“As followers of Jesus we are called to a way of life which supersedes our rights as Americans, and during this time that involves laying down our need to gather physically in order to protect the more vulnerable and our frontline workers,” said Rev. Mark D. Bradshaw of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Pasadena. “Therefore our church will continue to gather, worship, read the Scriptures, pray for and support one another, though not yet on our grounds.”
You can read more about the updated guidelines at https://www.pasadenanow.com/main/newsom-issues-guidelines-for-reopening-churches/.