Just days after California church leaders penned a letter announcing churches would open May 31 – the Day of Pentecost – in defiance of the coronavirus lockdown, Governor Gavin Newsom backed off his lockdown rules.
Consider this a case of running to the front of a parade and pretending to lead it.
While it isn’t a complete removal of all rules on churches, synagogues, and mosques, Newsom’s new guidance allows houses of worship to reopen with fewer people and social distancing.
The governor has faced heavy pressure to re-open California’s churches. President Trump reiterated in a special statement last week that churches are “essential,” calling on governors to “open them up.” Trump took a shot at governors who “have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right, so I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
Newsom’s lockdown order won a round in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals late last week, which ruled that a state of emergency allowed him to interfere with the expression of religion. By Sunday, protesters were out in front of one the state’s most noted Catholic churches.
Church Is Essential
Protesters in front of the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles held signs reading, “Mass is Essential” and “Eucharist is Essential.”
When you get the ladies from one of the more important parishes on picket lines demanding you open the church, you’re losing. Newsom undoubtedly saw the protest on his local news.
KABC News reported that the quiet protesters just wanted to go back to church.
“We’ve been brokenhearted for all this time and ever since March 13,” said churchgoer Pilar Chavando. “Next week will be 80 days, 80 days without the eucharist.”
“Churches are communities for a lot of people who live by themselves and right now we have a lot of people – I think it is up to 40 million – unemployed who are by themselves and a lot of people suffering with depression and isolation,” said Sarah Halpin of Pasadena.”
Susana Varela came with her daughter. A cancer survivor, she is optimistic parishioners will be able to safely gather.
“It’s up to all of us” the La Puente resident said. “If we take care of each other there is no reason to be afraid to go back to church and to get infected because we all take care of each other. Everything should be fine.”
Pastors and rabbis from of some of California’s largest gatherings sent Newsom a “Declaration of Essentiality” letter last week supported by 1,200 clergy members announcing their defiance of his orders. It’s believed that hundreds more churches around the state were planning to join the jailbreak services.
— Suman Priya Mendonca (@sumanpriya) May 23, 2020
Newsom Issues New Church Guidelines
On Monday, Newsom had cried “uncle.” He issued the new guidance for churches, which, in some cases, was even more lenient than the guidance the defiant churches planned to use.
- Staff, volunteers and congregants are strongly recommended to wear face masks when in the vicinity of others
- Congregants should be screened for temperature and other symptoms
- Staff must be screened with temperature checks before their shifts
- Offering plates (and similar items) should not be passed around between worshippers
- The sharing of items like prayer books, cushions and prayer rugs is discouraged
- High-traffic areas, like pews and lobbies, should be frequently disinfected
- Microphones, instruments and other items on pulpits and podiums should be disinfected between uses
- Consider shortening services to minimize the amount of time people are congregated together
- Places of worship should consider using disposable seat covers and dispose of them between services
- Seating and podium areas must be rearranged to allow for 6 feet of space between people
- Open doors and windows to encourage fresh air to flow inside
A Chula Vista church, which sued Governor Newsom, had planned social distancing rules that, in some cases, were more strict than the governor’s guidance, as I reported.
The Chula Vista church, which is located in South San Diego County, has offered a plan for social distancing and keeping people safe while they worship. The church-goers will wear masks, sit six feet apart, and refrain from singing, hugging, and holding hands, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
Newsom’s guidance requires the county health departments to check within 21 days to determine if there’s been an outbreak following the loosening of the church rules.
Mega Churches Left Out
Clergy planning to open this Sunday with or without Newsom’s approval also had social distancing rules in mind. The “Declaration of Essentiality” said they would “strictly follow CDC and social distancing guidelines.” They noted in their letter that the state allowed businesses to open with social distancing but specifically excluded churches with the same numbers of people.
It was an absolute joy to welcome 240 cars to our campus for our first ever drive-in service! We loved gathering together to worship and seeing your smiles, your dance moves, and your voices. We can’t wait to see you all again soon! #mycccm pic.twitter.com/ZChY0yj57G
— Calvary Costa Mesa (@calvarychapelcm) May 18, 2020
By limiting gatherings to only 100 people, the governor’s re-opening rules specifically preclude California’s mega-churches. These churches include Saddleback, Mariners, and Calvary Chapel outlets, which include some of the same church leaders who planned to officially defy the governor’s orders on the Day of Pentecost.
Loosening the standards for smaller churches to meet means that the larger gatherings will still take place, with social distancing, but in defiance of the governor’s orders.
The governor encouraged virtual services to continue.
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