Some San Jose churches will maintain COVID rules after state reopens
As the state prepares to lift COVID-19 restrictions next week, some church leaders in San Jose say they will continue to require attendees to wear masks and social distancing for services in person.
Lorianna Gardere, Pastor of Operations at Christian Bible Way Center, said the center has been running weekly virtual services since March 2020. The first in-person service will take place on June 20.
“Our church is like family, you miss your family when you don’t have the chance to see them,” Gardere said. “There’s a certain synergy that happens when people worship together, it creates this feeling that can’t be reproduced on a screen. I can’t wait to feel that presence again.
The Santa Clara County Health Department announced on May 18 that places of worship could operate indoors with social distancing guidelines and mask requirements at 50 percent capacity after the county moved to least restrictive yellow level in the plan to reopen the state. Places of worship could previously operate outdoors at 25% capacity.
Start June 15, the state will lift social distancing restrictions and capacity limits for businesses and activities such as restaurants, shops and places of worship.
Gardere said that while social distancing is no longer required when the Bible Way Christian Center returns to in-person service, the center will still require attendees to wear masks and stay six feet from each other. Disinfection stations will also be set up throughout the center and workers will thoroughly clean the sanctuary after the service.
While some members are reluctant to return to the center, Gardere said most are eager to finally worship in person.
“Some are worried. They want to know what the guidelines are, what security measures are in place, ”Gardere said. “But most of our congregation is ready (to come back). “
Gardere isn’t the only religious leader in San José who plans to implement safety guidelines for in-person services. Naseem Khalili, spokesperson for Awakening Church, said the church plans to adhere to social distancing guidelines for its field services and will relax masking rules for those who are vaccinated.
“We (demand) masks when you are standing and walking around talking to people,” Khalili said. “When you are seated in your seat and listening to the sermon, people are free to take off their masks and listen. “
Awakening Church has been running outdoor services at Del Mar High School since February. Participants must register online at the church’s website, and 150 people are allowed at each service.
Khalili said she looks forward to reuniting with the members now that people are more comfortable getting together.
“I think we’re definitely seeing the comfort level increase when it comes to the vaccination and everything,” Khalili said. “It has been a really joyful and encouraging spirit… everyone is delighted to be together and to see each other again. “
The struggle for face-to-face worship in the COVID era has put Santa Clara County in the national spotlight after a church in San Jose refused to shut down domestic services despite county and state directives. Pastor Mike McClure faced jail time and the county sued the church.
While most religious leaders did not flout health ordinances last year, they expressed frustration at state restrictions that required them to screen worshipers for temperatures and symptoms, to stop passing offering plates and limiting group chants.
Colin Ford, Senior Pastor of Christian Church of the Alum Rock, said his church was not seeking to immediately lift capacity restrictions and social distancing rules in the coming weeks.
Alum Rock opened indoor services in March when Santa Clara County upgraded to orange level, allowing places of worship to open at 50% capacity indoors. Ford said workers will still perform temperature checks and need face masks.
He said changing church safety guidelines will depend on how many people in the congregation are vaccinated.
“The more people get vaccinated, the less of a problem this will be,” said Ford. “We always want to be aware of what’s going on, but we hope that over the months, (COVID-19) will eventually die a sudden death.”
Contact Stéphanie Lam at [email protected] or follow @StephCLam on Twitter.