Happy Memorial Day to everyone, and a salute to all of our military veterans and a tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We honor them on this day. As a modern tribute, let us also include all of our front-line workers, both emergency and health care professionals, who every day risk their own lives working in this time of COVID-19. We thank them for their dedication and courage, and pray for their safety!
We have witnessed some of our national and state leaders proclaim that it is safe for our churches to return to open and public worships. I do not believe these decisions are based solely on sound medical advice and practice, but rather a rush to reopen everything due to the pressures of popularity or the bottom line of reviving the economy. I also realize that our churches are hurting financially, but we need to value people’s health and lives over any material possessions. If it is a choice of protecting people’s health and saving lives, versus whether or not our churches financially survive, it is clear to me that people matter far more than physical objects. Hopefully, we can attend to both of these. But, on a priority list, there is no question that people rank far higher than any church property. I do want to share our phased plans for reopening of in-person worship. We, as your California-Pacific Conference leadership propose a process for your own local church. Here are the broad steps involved:
- Follow the protocols set forth by your state, county or city in reopening in-person worship services.
- Develop a detailed plan of action that will be implemented before the date of resuming in-person worships.
- Create a local church task force that will create and implement the plan.
- Have the plan approved by your Administrative Council or leadership equivalent.
- Submit the final plan to your District Superintendent for final approval.
We are working on a check-off form to guide your local church plan, and this should be available later this week, as well as a document that includes all the relevant information involved in relaunching your in-person worship services.
We have been told that Governor Newsom will be making some specific announcements about reopening churches in California today, and already Governor Ige of Hawaii has approved churches to reopen. Our proposed Cal-Pac steps outlined above can be worked on immediately, and if followed, they will not take long to be approved by your District Superintendent. Please remember that this applies to any groups who currently rent from your local church.
According to our Book of Discipline, all appointed clergy do have the authority over the worship service itself, and clergy do have the authority to delay the reopening of in-person worship if they feel it is not yet safe. We have full confidence that our appointed clergy and lay leadership will be able to work this out amicably. For those who will be receiving a new pastor this coming July, we ask that you include your incoming pastor in the plans for relaunching.
There will be major adjustments to our worship services until a vaccine is discovered, mass produced and administered to everyone. We really hope that some form of outdoor worship can be created to begin with. Our sanctuaries are some of the worst places to protect people from the virus, due to poor ventilation and an enclosed space. So, outdoor worship is preferred if possible. This also involves the banning of public singing as all the research shows that this can spread the virus precipitously. The Skagit Valley choir practice in the state of Washington is the prime example, where one person infected 87% of those attending the three-hour choir practice, and tragically two died of COVID-19.
One additional caution will be very difficult for us: We strongly urge that those over 65 or who have underlying medical conditions avoid public worship at this time.
Our Book of Discipline is quite clear that we cannot ban anyone from attending our worship services, so those who are in those categories and are willing to risk their health and safety by coming to physical worship must be accepted. However, the church must make some kind of arrangement for their safety, in a separate room or section of the sanctuary. This will be part of your plan for relaunching your worship services.
This is the reason that online or streamed worship services should be continued indefinitely. It will be a way for those who are 65+ or who have medical conditions can safely participate while remaining at home.
There will be much more detailed information coming to you this week, but I wanted to brief you on how we will proceed to relaunching our public in-person worship services. As always, we are available for counsel or questions, and just contact your own District Superintendent.
For inspiration this week, I recommend that you take a look at this video of Chino Hills High School students:
Be the Hope, as these students are the hope for our future!
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop