Rock Church has first indoor services in over a year after state lifts capacity mandates on places of worship
More than 5,000 people attended indoor services at Rock Church locations across the county on April 18, including in Point Loma.
For the first time in more than a year, when pastor Miles McPherson looked out into the Rock Church auditorium during the April 18 service in Point Loma, the faces of his congregants were looking back. He was beaming.
“It was so good to see our family back together,” he said. “It was like Thanksgiving or Christmas, when you get to reunite with your family and reestablish your relationships.”
Unlike some other large churches, The Rock hadn’t held indoor services since the state first announced restrictions for places of worship aimed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Following the state’s decision last week to lift mandatory capacity restrictions for churches, The Rock welcomed people inside. More than 5,000 attended indoor services across four campuses April 18.
The decision, leaders said, was months in the making. Planning began in February when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted California’s ban on indoor church services but maintained that the state was still allowed to cap attendance at 25 percent of a building’s capacity.
Then, on April 12, the state announced that capacity limits on indoor church services were no longer mandatory, though still strongly encouraged. The updated guidance from the state’s Department of Public Health recommended that in counties in the state’s purple and red tiers, where the spread of the coronavirus is considered widespread or substantial, capacity be limited to 25 percent. In counties in the orange, which includes San Diego County, and yellow tiers, capacity was encouraged to be capped at 50 percent.
Leaders at The Rock did not choose to limit capacity, but they did institute several safety precautions. Auditoriums are cleaned between services, and high-touch areas such as bathrooms, handrails and door handles are cleaned every 20 minutes. Congregants were required to wear a mask while entering and exiting the building but could remove the mask during the service if they desired. At the Point Loma campus April 18, many guests removed their masks once seated.
Social distancing was not required, but ushers were available to help people find seats in less-crowded areas if they wanted more space to themselves. People who weren’t comfortable with the idea of sitting indoors could watch the service on monitors outside or stream it digitally.
On April 18, more than 300,000 people were watching Rock Church services online. During the pandemic, more than 9 million have streamed services.
“The truth is, people are dying, and we want to keep that in the forefront of our mind and be careful and be safe,” said Ricky Page, the pastoral overseer at Rock Church. “We do believe, though, that with the precautions we’re taking and the amount of folks that we have supporting our reopening efforts that we are a very safe environment. Probably safer than we’ve ever been.”
Karla Ghancous said The Rock’s online services have helped her share the church experience with her dad, who watches the same sermons from Poland. But she was overjoyed to be back.
“It’s my birthday today, and we’ve been gone for so long that it feels like a gift from God and Pastor Miles that we can all be together again,” said the newly turned 27-year-old.
She said she still remembers the first time she walked into a service at the Point Loma campus. “I kid you not, the Holy Spirit just caught me the moment those double doors opened and I heard the music. I’m ready to run back in right now.”
It was always the church’s intent to welcome people indoors again.
“We don’t realize how much we need each other, to look each other in the eyes, to see our faces and the expressions we’re making,” McPherson said. “Because we’re made for relationships. And when you take that away and when you get used to that, you lose something and you just don’t realize what you lost until you get it back.”
According to a recent county epidemiological report, about 2 percent of the people who were interviewed by county contract tracers after testing positive for the coronavirus reported visiting a place of worship in the two weeks before they got sick. Since March 2020, the county has investigated 72 outbreaks at faith-based locations, about the same amount reported at restaurants without bars and health care locations.