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Some local churches reopen from coronavirus closure while others continue waiting

Sacred Heart Church of Ocean Beach demonstrates mask and distancing requirements for Mass in a video posted on YouTube.
Sacred Heart Church of Ocean Beach demonstrates mask and distancing requirements for Mass in an informational video posted on YouTube.
(Courtesy)

Many places of worship threw open their doors to welcome back their congregations and guests after last month’s release of new state safety guidelines for reopening. That followed a weeks-long closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Others, however, chose to continue having their services online and taking time to prepare for reopening in the weeks to come.

Newbreak Church

“For us — and each church is kind of making their own decision — we want to wait and see what California says and what the governor says,” pastor Carter Moss of Newbreak Church’s Ocean Beach campus on Cape May Avenue said during the Ocean Beach Town Council meeting May 27. “We want to be super safe like everybody else is, so we’re not gonna rush it.”

During an interview the following week, Moss said Newbreak plans to wait until the next guidelines are released June 15 before picking a reopening date.

The reopening guidelines outline safety steps that churches and other houses of worship must take before resuming in-person services.

Among them are:

• Limit attendance to 25 percent of capacity, or 100 people

• Require masks

• Perform thorough cleaning of commonly used surfaces

• Establish physical distancing by limiting the length of services, using partitions to keep visitors at least six feet apart, discouraging handshakes and other physical contact and discontinuing food or beverage service

The full document can be found on the California Department of Public Health website at bit.ly/cdphworship.

After some two months of figuring out at-home hair care and watching how-to videos on YouTube, San Diego County residents are able to return to salons and barbershops under government health and safety guidelines resulting from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

To follow social distancing rules, Moss said Newbreak will remove rows of chairs as well as use an overflow area with a TV so guests can watch a service live while not being too close to others.

“We’ll have to keep reminding them, ‘Hey, when you come back, everybody’s going to be in sort of different spots. Some will want to hug you and some won’t,’” Moss said. “I think people will be nice and gracious, we just want to remind them to be respectful. It’s OK that we’ll all have different opinions on it. We’re just going to be safe with it.”

Though Newbreak currently doesn’t offer children’s ministry like it would during pre-pandemic services, its day care is being used for about 10 children of essential workers. Moss said volunteers clean everything thoroughly throughout the day.

OB One Church

Determined to be part of the first wave of reopened churches, OB One Church on Santa Monica Avenue welcomed back its congregation with three separate services May 31, with necessary safety protocols.

OB One Church's overflow area is prepared to help guests keep physically distanced.
OB One Church’s overflow area is prepared to help guests keep physically distanced.
(Courtesy)

According to co-lead pastor Kris Langdon, the church operated with the concept of a “touchless service” introduced by Life Church pastor Craig Groeschel.

“To define it as a touchless service is what really did help us be able to decide through all the decisions we had to make,” Langdon said, “whether it was communion or coffee and cafe — no, we can’t have those things right now because that’s not touchless.”

He declared the reopening a success and said one of the church’s goals is to help people get back in the habit of attending church.

“I think it was good because what we’re trying to do is re-establish people’s habits that they’ve lost,” he said.

He said there was a slight increase in attendance from the day the church was reopened to the second Sunday on June 7.

The church’s large main sanctuary and overflow area are set up with a screen and camera equipment to livestream the sermons, helping the congregation be socially distant. The parents’ room also was beneficial, as children usually attend kids’ ministry during the service.

“Obviously if you’re going to have a touchless service, you can’t have kids’ ministry,” Langdon said. “Because kids — you know, it’s been hard enough for some adults to practice social distancing. Kids aren’t gonna be able to do that.”

Instead, OB One Church is holding children’s and student ministries online. The church aims to continue its online services to expand its digital reach, according to Langdon.

Bethany Lutheran Church

Also reopened May 31 was Bethany Lutheran Church on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, with some members returning in person and others watching on Zoom.

“People are being very careful,” said pastor Steven Duescher.

With not all church members returning in person, social distancing went smoothly, he said.

“In the past, we usually had a little social time after the service with food and coffee, but we’re not doing any of that now,” he said.

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church & Academy opened June 9 for Mass, which will take place at 8 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, with afternoon Mass at 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday Mass at 8 and 10 a.m., according to events coordinator Sherie Richards.

To prepare to reopen, St. Charles Borromeo, on Cadiz Street near Liberty Station, blocked off alternating pews to help maintain social distancing. Visitors will line up six feet apart and enter through one door after using the automatic sanitizer dispenser. After everyone is seated, all side doors and windows will be opened for air circulation.

A room at St. Charles Borromeo is set for overflow seating, with rows of chairs spaced at least six feet apart.
(Courtesy)

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego has requested that communion take place at the end of Mass, as opposed to during Mass, as is tradition. A church team member will stand ready with a pump bottle of hand sanitizer in case any accidental contact occurs when the priest, who will be masked, gives communion to church members.

For those not yet comfortable to enter the church, the Sunday 10 a.m. Mass will be played over FM radio so people can remain in their cars.

“They are so eager and excited to come back,” Richards said. “They miss us. They miss each other and they miss the Eucharist.”

Sacred Heart Church

Sacred Heart Church of Ocean Beach, on Saratoga Avenue, tapped the brakes on reopening, with the Catholic diocese suggesting a good weekend to do it would be June 13-14, which the church intends to do.

Protocol for reopening included shortening the length of Mass, if possible, to limit the time church-goers would spend in the same space together. Additionally, Sacred Heart is encouraging guests not to sing.

“It’s very hard to tell the congregation not to sing,” said religious education coordinator Stephen Williams. “But for the safety of others, we’re going to encourage this practice.”

Sacred Heart Church of Ocean Beach has pews roped off and placement mats on the floor to keep guests at a safe distance.
Sacred Heart Church of Ocean Beach has pews roped off and placement signs on the floor to keep parishioners at a safe distance during services set to begin the weekend of June 13-14.
(Courtesy)

Though in-person services haven’t been held, the church remained open to the community in the sense that Masses were livestreamed, along with Bible studies and youth group meetings, and religious education was available online, Williams said.

The reopening of city piers June 9 brought a return for many to a routine that had come to an abrupt end about two months ago when piers were closed to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Feedback from the congregation about the church reopening its doors is a mix of caution and excitement, Williams said.

“Since we kept that line of communication open and we have been very transparent about the Mass change, it’s been a mix,” he said. “They trust us, but there is that hesitation a little bit. I would say a lot of people are so excited to attend Mass in person, but they are nervous, especially our more elderly parishioners.”

Williams said he believes that once people see the caution the church is exercising to follow health guidelines, they’ll feel comfortable returning.

“Our faith is very communal and it’s centered around getting together and praying together,” he said. “I’m excited to get this aspect back to our church. Christ is all about being together in the community and praying together, and to get this opportunity back is just amazing.”

Rock Church

Rock Church in Point Loma’s Liberty Station, known for being one of the largest churches in San Diego, released a statement from pastor Miles McPherson in which he said the church would take more time to prepare for in-person services “so that attendees can worship in a socially distant setting.”

“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,” McPherson 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 U.S. being able to open again and provide that much-needed hope and service to their communities.”

McPherson is organizing a one-hour roadside pray-in called “We Pray San Diego,” which is set to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 20, at six locations around the county to seek “the blessing of God on San Diego and beyond.”

For more information, visit wepraysandiego.com.


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