EL CENTRO — City officials met with about 45 faith-based leaders Wednesday, May 6, for a COVID-19 informational session for places of worship at Calvary Chapel in El Centro. 

“We discussed the reopening of churches in El Centro and shared CDC guidance regarding social distancing and using protective measures,” said El Centro Fire Chief Ken Herbert.

The exact date for reopening dominated most of the meeting. During the question and answer portion, church leaders asked about specifics based on CDC guidelines. 

“Within the questioning is the commitment of this group, their concern for the community, and for their congregations to safely resume meeting,” said Herbert. 

Pastor Pete Mallinger, pastor of Calvary Chapel-El Centro, said individual chairs at the meeting were grouped in ones, twos, and threes. An individual may sit on a single chair while those who came in groups of three may sit together in the grouped chairs. Mallinger said the seating distance was 7-feet, one foot longer than the guideline. Furthermore, entrance and exit of the chapel was a unidirectional flow. Sanitizer was available at the entrance. 

“I am thankful because they communicated with us. That does not happen very often when it comes to the public and faith-based organizations,” said Ekkie Tepsupornchai, senior pastor at Western Avenue Baptist Church in Brawley. 

According to Tepsupornchai, who is also referred to as Pastor Ekkie, “What frustrates me, is the inconsistency, not so much here but at the state level. There are a lot of changes. It is hard to understand those changes.” 

Church leaders conveyed the same frustration during the question and answer portion of the session. city/county officials could not give the exact date because they did not know either. The officials’ only recourse was to allay the frustration by looking forward to a teleconference by the State Governor’s office with Imperial County and El Centro elected officials the following day. 

“Decisions will be clearer as to when to open for business,” said El Centro Mayor Pro-tem Jason Jackson, referring to the teleconference with Governor Newsom. 

According to Pastor Ekkie, “We answer to a higher authority. We answer to God. And we have willingly cooperated because we want to help the community and government authorities overcome this challenge.” 

However, Pastor Ekkie is not convinced staying home is the answer. “I think there is a way that we can continue with our lives but do so in a safe way.” 

“And there is a way to do it that shows that we are not living out of fear, but we are moving on with our lives before God,” he said. 

After the meeting, church leaders interacted with El Centro Mayor Pro-tem Jason Jackson, El Centro Police Chief Brian Johnson, El Centro Fire Chief Ken Herbert, and Linsey Dale, Public Information officer of Imperial County. 

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