On July 1st, due to the significant rise in COVID-19 infections in California and 56% increase in hospitalizations across the state, Governor Gavin Newsom reversed the phased reopening of businesses throughout much of California. Additionally, on July 3rd, updated Guidelines for Places of Worship were posted which now order that churches discontinue singing and chanting in gatherings in order not to increase the spread of the virus.
For the sake of the people we lead and those we are trying to reach with the love of Jesus, this is our guidance for all Free Methodist churches in Southern California:
Those of you who have not yet returned to public worship, please consider waiting at least these next three weeks before you do. For those of you who have already resumed public services, please strongly consider pausing in-person gatherings for the next three weeks in view of the recent spike in infections.
Why Delay or Roll-Back In-Person Gatherings?
You might be wondering why we would request that our churches delay in-person gatherings when the order did not include churches. While Governor Newsom did not specifically state that churches must close or be further restricted, he did call out movie theaters and restaurants which follow the same attendance and operational guidelines as churches to cease operations indoors, asking them to focus on outdoor only services in service to public health.
We understand all too well the pressure and tension that you as leaders are facing in this time. We too are hearing the questions from strong voices and leaders within the church asking for clarity and a commitment to regather in person as soon as possible. For those who have already started gathering for in-person services, the thought of having to defend a decision to pause may be seen as weakness, fear, or worse. Let us encourage you by way of reminder that your responsibility is to lead people to deep and abiding discipleship in Jesus so they can share Christ’s love with a world that is watching to see what we believe love to be.
Several of our churches who have already resumed public worship have not only experienced lower than expected attendance, but have also seen attendees and staff fail to follow the basic recommended safety protocols specifically designed to limit the spread of airborne illnesses. While many of our churches are technically able to provide a safe environment for gathering, the lack of individual compliance is turning our sanctuaries into unnecessarily high-risk environments.
Let us be clear: it is your responsibility to provide leadership by directing your people to obey the prudent and reasonable precautionary measures of physical distancing and mask wearing every time you are indoors. If possible, focus on outdoor services with limited numbers of people. Recognize the increased risk at this time and take the bold step to press pause on in-person gatherings in keeping with the recommendation of the Governor and County health officials.
Charles, Glen, Fraser