At least one Coastside church reopened its doors after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this month that the state’s earlier ban on indoor gatherings was unconstitutional. Meanwhile, others have chosen to remain online and outdoors.
Churches in Half Moon Bay appear reluctant to return to previously restricted indoor services. Such gatherings had been prohibited for areas in the “purple” tier in the state’s four-tiered, color-coded reopening plan. San Mateo County has been in the most restrictive tier since Dec. 10, backsliding after being in the least restrictive red tier in mid-November.
Then, on Feb. 5, the high court ruled that churches no longer have to obey the state mandate.
The court imposed some restrictions, however. Indoor services are capped at 25 percent capacity and the earlier restriction on singing indoors still exists, at least for now. The notion that singing more easily transmits the COVID-19 virus was questioned during the court hearing after evidence was presented that the state allowed certain indoor singing by the entertainment industry.
The only church known to have resumed indoor services here is Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church. The decision was made after months of refining its COVID-19 protocols and additional guidance from the regional Catholic leader, the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone.
“This is a very significant step forward for basic rights. This decision makes clear we can now return to worshipping safely indoors without risk of harassment from government officials,” said Cordileone in a statement to local parishes, including Our Lady of the Pillar in Half Moon Bay.
Our Lady of the Pillar’s Rev. Jose Corral said his parish resumed indoor services on Feb. 8 with attendance capped at 50 people, or 20 percent capacity. That is a little lower than the 25 percent allowed. This applies to weekdays when the number of churchgoers hovers around that number. Weekend Masses, which draw crowds as large as 100, continue to be outdoors.
“We have been extremely careful,” Corral said.
Some people remain unsure of indoor services, Corral said, and so the church continues to offer outdoor services as well.
Other churches have decided to remain outdoors — but not for a lack of trying.
Paul Richardson, lead pastor at Mariners Church, said his church resumed indoors when the county moved into the least restrictive red tier in the state reopening plan.
“But there was no live singing, no live band. We just played a live broadcast service on the screen,” Richardson said. “It was just terrible. You can’t have people in a room and watch a screen. No one liked that.”
With that experience in mind, Richardson and his staff preferred to continue the hybrid model of livestreaming and holding outdoor services for now.
“The Bible tells us to really obey the governing authorities,” Richardson said.
The Community United Methodist Church has also decided to continue online gatherings. Kathee Tyson is worship chair at the Half Moon Bay church and a member of its health and wellness committee. The committee formed as a direct response to the pandemic. Tyson said the church took direction from both Bishop Minerva Carcano, who leads the Northern California and Nevada regions, and its members.
A survey of 116 families done by the health and wellness committee found that church members “would feel most comfortable waiting until a vaccine was widely available and/or the pandemic had abated,” Tyson wrote in an email.
Calls to the Calvary Chapel, Coastside Lutheran and Holy Family Episcopal churches were not immediately returned.