With outdoor temperatures expected to pass the 100-degree mark this weekend, two Los Angeles area judges have given local churches some comforting news.
Today, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon ruled that Grace Community Church in Sun Valley can proceed with holding indoor services so long as attendees wear masks and practice social distancing.
Last Sunday, the megachurch’s pastor, John MacArthur, opened the service with the words, “Welcome to the Grace Community Church peaceful protest,” after the city threatened the church with legal action for refusing to close down indoor services. Besides making sanitizer and masks available, the church also made arrangements for parishioners to meet outdoors under a tented area or online.
Rob McCoy at Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park led services despite an order obtained by Ventura County that the church could not meet. The congregation met anyway throughout three services. The next day, Ventura County asked the judge to issue an order closing the church and directing the county sheriff to enforce the order. On Tuesday, Judge Vincent O’Neill refused to order the church to close but did schedule a hearing on the county’s allegations that McCoy acted in contempt of court for August 21, 2020.
While it is unclear how this ruling will affect other churches, more churches are beginning to meet in ways that comply with local and state regulations. In Riverside, the Harvest Community Church is meeting in a “big tent” reminiscent of evangelistic crusades from decades ago. Just blocks away, the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church has moved its services, held outdoors, up to 8:00 a.m. so congregants can avoid the hottest part of the day. Other churches continue to meet in parking lots or exclusively online.
In northern California, Granite Bay Hilltop Seventh-day Adventist Church led by evangelist Doug Batchelor announced that the church is holding a “peaceful protest” against “the devil, sin, lawlessness, hate, and evil of every kind.” The church plans to “review the protest manual (which may look similar to a Bible),” rehearse “protest slogans and song (which are sometimes confused as hymns”), and take up an offering and pray. Batchelor’s letter states, “We plan to keep protesting every week until Jesus sets up his own administration.”
Most churches in California have remained closed or severely restricted for five months since the Governor enacted “emergency” COVID-19 “stay at home” orders. While online meetings may work for most people, others feel that churches are essential and that local and state authorities seem to have shuffled houses of worship aside. Although officials may want churches to close, law enforcement officers and judges have been reluctant to enforce restrictions on churches.
With some experts predicting COVID-19 restrictions will remain for several more months or even more than a year, congregations are finding ways to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 while continuing to meet together.