EL CENTRO — The Supreme Court recently decreed that California cannot bar indoor church services because of COVID-19. However, the ban on singing and chanting indoors is still effective. Two churches in the Imperial Valley describe their plans on reopening for indoor services.
Walter Colace, pastor at Christ Community Church, said indoor and outdoor seating are available. There is a 96-inch television that projects the service to those choosing to sit outdoors. Colace said it’s important to resume indoor services because, “we’re commanded by the Lord to not forsake the gathering.”
Though Colace’s church submitted to the guidelines in the beginning, as time went on, he said he saw the consequences taking place on a social level. He described the church’s struggle regarding doing the right thing. He believes church is essential because after closing down for an extended period of time, people became more depressed and anxious. He also noticed a lot of anger, domestic violence, and an increase in suicide.
Colace said God commands Christians to submit to authority, but not to forsake the gathering. “We agree with the Supreme Court ruling, but I do disagree with the 25 percent cap,” he said. Colace emphasized that his congregation is going to be cautious and safe.
According to Colace, there were many COVID-19 spikes during the lockdown, but no one from his church caught it from each other. He said churches are not a source of catching COVID-19.
Before COVID-19, Colace said his church held online services. The sound and video quality of the virtual services has since been upgraded because of the pandemic. “People will hear all the instruments, all the singing. We want to think of others and how they’re feeling,” he said.
Christ Community Church has held indoor gatherings despite the state mandates after about five months of closure. Colace said the church had baptisms and communion starting in the middle of September, and people were thrilled to be back.
“Even though the church is the people and not the building, the building plays an important role,” Colace stated, recalling how parishioners had many good memories in the church. He said it brought life back to the people.
The previous requirements the government imposed for indoor services were impossible for the church to meet because of the cold weather, according to Colace. He emphasized he is not anti-government and believes in and serves the government, but said a line has to be drawn when it comes to God’s law.
The Christ Community Church building seats 1,147 people, and 25 percent of that is about 280. Colace said it might be difficult for smaller churches to hold indoor gatherings.
Father Edward Horning, pastor of the Catholic communities of Brawley and Westmorland, said they had in-person services outside — such as liturgies and confessions — since June of last year and has continued with them since then. They haven’t had indoor mass since the state mandate first came out. He said they will not move services indoors.
“God doesn’t need to be worshipped, but people have a need for God,” he said. He said having services outdoors will keep people from getting sick and to still gather as a community. He hopes everyone will grow in holiness and have the strength to live their mission as Catholic Christians.
Horning has been providing daily Mass on social media since the beginning of the pandemic. He has also been doing Bible Study and prayer. “We’ve gotten a good response,” he said. “We believe the ministry has been helping people and will continue to do so for the coming weeks.”
Virtual services will still be available for people who aren’t comfortable going to in-person services.
From the beginning, Horning said he has followed the state guidelines regarding COVID-19. “We did not meet indoors, and we’re not going to meet indoors,” he emphasized. He said it’s a personal parish decision to not have indoor Mass because the churches are too small and having them outdoors will accommodate more people. He noticed that more people prefer to be outside as well.
“We value faith and reason,” said Horning, “so our use of reason lets us know that it is not a good idea to meet indoors during a time of pandemic, so we’re going to make use of the good weather and continue to be outside.”