Houses of worship slowly reopening under strict coronavirus guidelines

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The Rev. Mark Garrett of Valle Vista Assembly of God, his wife Tina and other parishioners keep their 6-foot distance in the first Sunday, May 31, inside the church, which has been closed to in-person worship since the COVID-19 nationwide state quarantine began in March. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Many churches and houses of worship in southwest Riverside County are beginning to conduct services inside their sanctuaries and halls, while attempting to follow the state guidelines given by Gov. Gavin Newsom shortly after Riverside County requested May 15 that churches have special consideration under the Stage 2.5 reopening edict.

Those guidelines, set out in the 18-page document, are still creating problems with larger churches in the county, particularly the 100-person crowd limitation, no singing and staying 6-feet apart with no hugging or holding hands. Some of the larger churches were defying the governor’s church gathering guidelines before churches, synagogues and mosques were designated as “essential” businesses by President Donald Trump, the governor and county medical officer.

“This is a significant step in the reopening process and we look forward to working with our places of worship with any assistance they need,” V. Manuel Perez, Riverside County 4th District supervisor and board chair, said. “A cornerstone of many religions is to take care of each other. Let’s continue to take care of each other by praying and observing 6 feet apart.”

Adult members and their children of the Emmanus Reformed Church gather at the children’s playlot and picnic tables before their first service in person since the COVID-19 quarantine was lifted in mid-May. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Pastors celebrate.

Despite the problems, there was a great deal of celebration by Riverside County Christian churches and by other California churches since the reopening on Pentecost Sunday, May 31.

The Rev. Kasey Crawford of The Elevation Church made an online announcement on the reopening of his church and praised the president and governor for making the decision the churches are now considered essential. He said adherence to the guidelines would be difficult but must be done.

“We can open safely and responsively,” he said. “Part of this movement is to say we belong. We are essential. We should open in Phase 2, so we want to follow through with the word to the governor that we will open with the same practices as the other businesses are opening with right now.”

He told his congregation that in the first week, “Please bring your mask; be prepared for social distancing.

“It’s going to be a little awkward. So it’s going to be the hi’s, the waves, not even the elbows yet and it’s hard for the church because we are huggers and we’re laying on hands and praying. So that first week we are really going to have to restrain ourselves. It’s going to be tough but it’s worth it in the long run,” Crawford said.

The Elevation Church is located at 28250 Bradley Road in Menifee.

Guideline openings have begun.

With the new guidelines, church gatherings are slowly resuming regular services as of Sunday, May 31. Others are staying with small gatherings being held at worshippers’ homes and outside areas. Some still remained closed. Still more are using social media for their meetings.

Basically, services are allowed to begin with state guidelines indicating attendees should be limited to 25% of normal room occupancy or 100 people, whichever is fewer, wear masks, remain 6 feet apart, no singing, hugging, hand holding or sharing food, books and shouting. There will be no children’s church services, but children may remain in the services with their family adults.

Other guidelines include conducting temperature checks, consider outside services, no touching or kissing of relics, disinfecting common areas, consider disposable seat covers and installing hand sanitizer dispensers.

Area churches reopen.

Even before the new guidelines were in place some churches, like the 412 Murrieta Church at 41831 McAlby Court, Suite B, in Murrieta defied the state’s earlier edicts by holding services. They are now able to resume with the new guidelines in place.

New Hope Baptist Church, 1480 N. Kirby Ave., in Hemet resumed church services Sunday, May 31, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for no hugging, holding hands, etc. There was no children’s church, but children remained in the services with the adults.

Crossroads Baptist Church at 26089 Girard St., one of the largest in the Hemet, not only opened their sanctuary but made arrangements with two other Valle Vista and Hemet churches, the Valle Vista Assembly of God and the Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church from 291 Chambers St., to hold services at their location.

Valle Vista Assembly of God brought in the near maximum of 100 parishioners in the church gym, while Emmaus Church held services outside under tent shelters and on the children’s playground. For the most part, the faithful sat or stood 6 feet apart from each other and most were wearing masks. Those services are slated to continue for at least another month.

Catholic churches reopen mid-June.

The Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino said all Catholic churches in the diocese, including Holy Spirit of Valle Vista, St. Anthony of San Jacinto, St. Martha of Murrieta, St. Catherine of Alexandria in Temecula, Holy Martyrs of Murrieta, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Winchester and other Catholic churches will open June 13-14, following the state and county coronavirus guidelines. The churches will hold additional masses to keep the number of parishioners below 100 and communion will be offered by hand only. Parishioners are urged to go to the Diocese website for more details and instruction.

Online services continue.

Rancho Community Church, which has two campuses, at 31300 Rancho Community Way in Temecula and at Murrieta Mesa High School, made reopening statements May 23 and May 27 respectively, while still promising to maintain their online streaming services. Their worshipers may choose which service and campus to attend along with Sunday school and other programs. They are urging those who wish to attend in-person to obtain reservations on their website at info@rancho.tv, so they can maintain occupancy at 100 or less inside the church.

Grace Bible Church, which usually holds their services at Mt. San Jacinto College’s Menifee campus continues to conduct their service online, since the campus remains closed. They offer a series of Sunday livestream services at 10:32 a.m. each week on Facebook and YouTube and provide a daily grace series for worshippers.

Jewish and Muslim services reopen.

Area Jewish synagogues and temples, like Temple Beth Shalom in Temecula and Congregation Havurim in Murrieta, are continuing their services with limited numbers or via Zoom and other virtual meeting sites. Details on their services and special events can be found at http://jewishtemecula.com.

The Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, 31061 Nicolas Road in Temecula, has been closed due to the countywide curfew and has been undergoing some retrofitting, but prayers continue Fridays and throughout the week. For more information for opening times and information, visit http://iocotv.org.

Other modifications and measures in Phase 2.5 can be found on the county’s website at http://www.rivcoccsd.org/covidbizhelp.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.