With the state this week lifting the prohibition on religious congregations meeting in-person due to the pandemic, the Catholic Diocese of San Diego announced it will resume live services on June 14.
“We’ve encouraged the beginning of live services in the majority of our parishes,” said Kevin Eckery, vice chancellor communications and public affairs, Diocese of San Diego, “But to take pressure off folks who might be unable to attend Sunday masses, the bishop is giving a dispensation to them, not making it obligatory. We don’t want people medically fragile, or otherwise vulnerable, to put themselves at risk.”
But not all congregations, including the evangelical “megachurch” Rock Church with locations countywide, are as eager — or able — to return so soon to live services after holding them remotely the past 2 1/2 months.
“As for this Sunday, we need a bit more time to have things in place so that attendees can worship in a socially distant setting,” said former NFL player Miles McPherson, pastor of Rock Church, which has five campuses in Point Loma, San Marcos, El Cajon, San Ysidro and City Heights.
“We will continue to follow the county’s guidelines implemented during this time,” he said. “We look forward to worshiping together in-person as time permits.”
McPherson said he was “glad that churches are finally being acknowledged as essential.”
“Churches have long been the cornerstone of our communities, from serving the community, to being a place for people to gather and worship God, to honoring lost loved ones,” he said. “The community often turns to their local church in a time of need. No one can find `hope’ in the aisle of a department store or by sitting in a restaurant. Churches specialize in offering hope and spiritual support through prayer and counseling. We look forward to churches across the United States being able to open again and provide that much-needed hope and service to their communities.”
Those attending live services by places of worship throughout San Diego under the new state guidelines will find a host of new changes. Among them:
- Limited attendance to 25% of building capacity or 100 attendees, whichever is lower.
- Social distancing of at least 6 feet.
- Shortened services to limit time congregants/visitors spend at facilities.
- Closing places of worship for visitation outside of scheduled services, meetings, etc.
- Discontinuing large gatherings that encourage congregants/visitors to travel and break physical distances during concerts, large holiday and life event celebrations and remembrances.
- Temporary closure of children’s play areas and activities and services for children where physical 6-foot distancing cannot be maintained.
- Closing or restricting common areas, such as break rooms, kitchenettes, foyers, etc. where people are likely to congregate and interact.
- And face coverings strongly recommended at all times for congregants/visitors and staff.
Roman Catholic services have been held remotely since March 14, and one problem with that is “they haven’t been interactive, just livestream,” Eckery said.
He added the state’s new regulations for allowing live religious gatherings are “a set of guidelines, best practices from around the country. They’re not substantially different from what we were preparing for.”
Since March 15, thousands of people have been gathering online to watch the Rock Church’s livestream services at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. Special guests have included San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer; and the mayors of El Cajon and San Marcos.
Guests have shared messages on how not to live in fear, how San Diego and the country can come together during this crisis and ways to help one another safely.
In addition to the livestreamed service at Rock Church, viewers have been able to engage with others both locally and globally via an online format. Visit www.sdrock.com to watch the livestream and for other resources.
Eckery said Catholic parishioners will be allowed to stay together in family groups during renewed in-person services, and social distancing will be enforced.
To discourage crowds too large to observe social distancing and maximum-capacity seating requirements on Sundays, Catholic congregants are being encouraged to attend daily services if they are able, which are generally considerably less crowded than Sunday services.
Eckery said the Catholic Diocese of San Diego has been busy “training volunteers and pastors to ensure social distancing and other health practices are observed.”
Those complete guidelines, as well as a letter from Bishop Robert McElroy, can be found at sdcatholic.org.
— City News Service
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