Pastor Brian Pattison of Victory Baptist Church

Pastor Brian Pattison of Victory Baptist Church in Chino preaches to his congregation from the back of a truck Easter Sunday. He has been holding drive-in services for the past eight weeks.

Hundreds of churches across the state will petition Gov. Newsom to consider allowing them to open on May 31, Pentecost Sunday, in compliance with federal and state guidelines for social distancing.

Pastors from northern, central and southern California gathered at a press conference Thursday in San Bernardino, asking the governor to declare churches as “essential.”

Pastor Roy Robbins of Christ Lutheran Church in Chino agreed with the consortium that churches are an essential part of the lives of believers and should be allowed to reopen if they follow social distancing and proper sanitation procedures.

Victor M. Ruiz of Living Word Assembly in Chino said churches offer spiritual services that are essential to the health and well-being of congregants, communities and society in general.

“The rationale to put churches in phase three while other non-essential businesses are in phase two makes no sense and is an affront to people of faith,” said Pastor Ruiz.

Gov. Newsom on Monday announced a four-phase plan to re-open the state. In mid-March, the governor had ordered all but “essential” businesses to close to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

Birthday of church

Pastor Ruiz said Pentecost Sunday is an ideal day for reopening because most Christians recognize it as the “birth” of the New Testament Church.

The Book of Acts in the Bible describe the apostles huddled in fear in an enclosed room after Jesus was crucified until he appeared to them and imparted the Holy Spirit that emboldened them to spread the Gospel throughout the world, which was the beginning of the church.

Pastor Brian Pattison of Victory Baptist Church in Chino said he has been holding Sunday morning drive-in services for the past eight weeks in addition to online services.

“I would like to wait until May 31, but God is leading us to open on May 17,” he said. “I believe Christians should submit to our earthly authorities but there comes a point when our highest authority has to be obeyed,” he said. 

Church members who are 60 and older will be recommended to stay home, he added.

The pastor said he was concerned when Gov. Newsom did not talk about churches in his speech announcing the state’s plan to reopen but later mentioned on his Twitter account that churches would be in phase three, which is months away.

Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills on his Real Radio broadcast urged all pastors to open their doors May 31 regardless of their denomination. 

The pastor said while praying three weeks ago, the date of “May 31” came into his mind to reopen the doors. When he looked at his calendar, he saw that it was Pentecost Sunday.

“I have this date in my heart and I had pastors reaching out to me and they said they were all thinking about May 31,” he said. “My heart was just exploding.”

He said his church will hold a 7 p.m. outdoor service this Sunday, May 10, abiding by social distancing guidelines.

The church will also hold outdoor services at 7 p.m. Sundays, May 17 and 24, he said.

Safe reopen

John Andrews, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, said the focus right now is on a process to safely reopen but not on a specific date.

“We are eager to open our churches again for public worship so that our people can receive Sacraments that are so central to the Catholic faith,” he said. “At the same time, we know this must be done in a way that honors life and protects public health.”

Pastor Paul Lehman-Schletewitz of Gateway Community Church in Chino said, “We do not wish to provoke either state or local authorities, but we strongly support re-opening churches for in-person worship on or before May 31.”

Pastor Paul Cho of Chino Valley Chinese Church said May 31 would be ideal, but the church would open slowly and limit attendance to just 20 members at first, with social distancing strictly imposed.

“Members are calling me saying they miss church very much,” said Pastor Cho. “We look forward to having our fellowship and prayer together soon. We want to pray for Gov. Newsom and President Trump, for their leadership and health.”

Seeking meeting

Robert Tyler, president of the political Christian non-profit Advocates for Faith and Freedom, that is involved in the movement, said the churches hope to meet with the governor to allow the religious community to be heard and respected so that a resolution can be reached.

“The mandated closure of religious organizations is having a significant and detrimental secondary effect on the citizens of California, preventing services to the poor, unemployed and distressed,” he said. “The clergy of this state are convicted they must reopen their ministries to fully serve the needs of their communities.”

Pastors observed that governors in several other states have designated houses of worship as providing essential services. 

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