Good news for houses of worship came on Monday when the state allowed services and funerals to be held beginning Pentecost Sunday, May 31, with stringent health practices to ensure the coronavirus is not spread.
Pentecost is considered the birthday of the church when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and empowered them to preach the Gospel after they were living in fear since the crucifixion of Jesus.
Under the guidelines, attendance must be limited to 25 percent of a building’s capacity, but no more than 100 attendees.
Face coverings should be worn by congregants who are engaged in singing, particularly in the choir, and in group recitation because these activities dramatically increase the risk of transmission, according to the guidelines.
When possible, these activities should take place outside with more than six feet of distance between participants.
The guidelines strongly recommend that places of worship continue online services for those who are vulnerable to the virus including older adults and those with underlying conditions.
Upon 21 days, the California Department of Public Health, in consultation with county Departments of Public Health, will review and assess the impact of the re-opening on public health and provide phased-in restoration of activities.
“This is a great first step for our residents of faith who have refrained from gathering for more than two months,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman.
He advised that with the sudden opening of places of worship, dine-in restaurants, stores, and malls it is more important than ever to practice physical distancing, wear face coverings in public, and wash hands frequently.
For large churches like St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Chino Hills with 7,386 registered families, it will be a time of adjustment.
Gerald R. Barnes, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, said public celebration for all parishes in the diocese will resume Sunday, June 13.
“I know it has been so painful for our communities of faith to be unable to gather together and partake in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist (communion),” said the bishop. “Let us receive this opportunity to be together again with patience and gratitude to God, who has continued to walk with us in this time of uncertainty and fear.”
Calvary Chapel Chino Valley will hold two services Sunday, May 31 following the guidelines.
Childcare and children’s ministry will not be provided until further notice.
Offering plates will not be circulated but donation boxes will be available.
Livestreaming will continue for those who are not comfortable attending or are sick.
Pastor Mike Shipman of New Community Church in Chino said the church plans to open Sunday, June 21 on Father’s Day.
Doors will remain open to avoid touching door handles. A non-contact forehead thermometer will be used to scan church members as they enter wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
The church will be disinfected, and hand sanitizers will be available.
In the meantime, the church will continue drive-in services on Sundays, as it has been doing since March 15, Pastor Shipman said.
Chino United Methodist Church is awaiting guidelines from its bishop who is consulting with a panel of experts on what steps need to be taken to offer the safest space for members, many who are in the “at-risk” population.
Pastor Matthew Seargeant said the sanctuary has been measured and the church is evaluating how it might safely distance and come to a new understanding of worshipping without hymn singing, offering plates, and fellowship following worship.
“Our congregation is very much in favor of being overly cautious if it means no one is exposed to any more danger than necessary,” he said. “We are the Church whether we meet face-to-face or not.”
Pastor Mark Shiraki said Lifesong Community Church in Chino does not plan to open until it is clear it will not contribute to a second surge of the pandemic.
“Our hope is to be able to physically gather in the near future,” he said. “We are reassuring our congregation that we want to take every possible precaution when the time comes to assemble.”
Living Word Assembly in Chino will reopen in phases, with the first opening Sunday, June 14. There will be smaller, soft openings with leadership, staff, and board members the prior Sundays to allow preparation and adjustments, according to Pastor Victor M. Ruiz.