Although this guidance is specific to California churches, the principles addressed apply in other jurisdictions as well. California has eased restrictions on places of worship but continues to have significant restrictions on gatherings and a fairly complex set of guidelines.
California has issued new guidance for reopening places of worship. The guidance is law, not mere suggestions, so EFCA West encourages church leaders to comply with the guidance as a matter of obedience to scripture.
Here are some issues to consider regarding meetings on or in church facilities.
California’s guidance provides for counties to have more stringent regulations that those required by the state, so be sure to be familiar with both California and local regulations.
Do not rely on press conferences, media reports, persons you know or had contact with, an elected official or someone who answered the phone at a government agency for your knowledge of and understanding of the regulations.
- There is no substitute for locating the actual written regulations and reading them completely yourself. Have the document in hand before making decisions.
- Be sure to read all the documents and sub-documents. For example, Los Angeles County amended its Safer at Home Order to allow places of worship to open under limited capacity requirements. They also published 6 pages of regulations in Appendix F which is not attached to the main health order. To be in compliance, one needs to read the order and find, read and follow regulations in Appendix F. All the important details are in appendix F.
Remember there are three decision components to make regarding holding services again.
- May we open? This involves compliance with the laws and regulations for gatherings at places of worship. Are we allowed to do what we plan to do?
- Can we open? This involves all the logistical considerations. Are we actually able to comply with the regulations? Do we have enough cleaning supplies? Will we be able to timely replace items as they are used? Can we set up parking and facilities and single-points of access? Do we have enough volunteers to clean and manage the movement and seating of people week after week after week…, until such time as restrictions are further eased? Will our health and sanitation efforts be sustainable over time?
- Should we open? The first two components apply to any business or meeting venue – this one requires thinking unique to churches. Should we do so? Do the advantages of reopening in a limited capacity significantly exceed the disadvantages and risks of doing so? This is where our care and concern for the other comes into play and is a uniquely local decision.
We recommend that churches strive for more than “minimal legal compliance” with health directives when possible. We also recommend that churches follow the recommendations that say churches “should” do something if possible. We are trying to avoid needless infections and following the “shoulds” as well as the “musts.”
It’s easy to get excited when we read or hear that “churches have been reopened!” But, it can be disconcerting to read the actual limitations and requirements for doing so. It is important for church leaders to be equipped with first-hand and
information upon which to base these decisions.
As always, if any of us at EFCA West can help you as you consider these issues, please call. We are here to serve you.