Although the California Department of Public Health announced the statewide reopening of places of worship on May 25, L.A.-area faith leaders are not rushing to resume religious services on Sunday, May 31.
An informal poll of local pastors by the L.A. Sentinel revealed that ministries would continue to operate under the Stay-At-Home orders issued in mid-March by government officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
In a statement posted on the Church of God in Christ website, the Right Rev. Charles E. Blake, Sr., COGIC presiding bishop, the COGIC General Board and the denomination’s COVID-19 Advisory Commission wrote, “We urge you, our pastors, to adhere to the recommendations of the CDC and NIAID and to refrain from prematurely opening your churches and congregating in your buildings before we have credible and substantiated evidence that it is safe to do so.”
Pastor Frederick K. Price, Jr., of Crenshaw Christian Center (CCC) in Los Angeles, said, “I believe the work that places of worship perform is essential. However, CCC won’t be rushing to re-open. I’m not willing to take chances with the health of our congregation. We can still connect virtually as believers and be safer at home. God’s people are the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, so we don’t have to be in a building to worship our God.”
The safety of worshippers and adherence to all of the State’s reopening guidelines were among the factors influencing the pastors interviewed by the Sentinel to decline to immediately restart in-person worship. The directives include establishing COVID-19 prevention training for staff and volunteers, implementing cleaning and disinfection protocols and setting physical distancing limits for the congregation and choir members.
“My desire, as I am sure it is the desire of all pastors, is the protection and care of our congregations. We are prayerfully approaching this holistically – spirit, soul and body,” noted Apostle Beverly “Bam” Crawford, founder of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International Church in Inglewood.
“Holistically, we strongly take into consideration the vulnerable population (including people age 65 or older and those with serious and/or pre-existing underlying medical conditions), which are at a higher-risk of infection. Spiritually speaking, I believe May 31 is too soon for my church to resume worship services, given the time that is required to meet the state compliance measures and make appropriate modifications. My overall decision of waiting is based on further assessment, preparation and caution,” Crawford added.
“Not yet,” declared Pastor James K. McKnight of the Church of Christian Fellowship in L.A. “We have done a risk benefit analysis and concluded that the benefits of in sanctuary worship do not exceed the risks. Thankfully, technology has allowed us to creatively fulfill a large percentage of our church’s mission.”
The Rev. Edward Anderson, pastor of McCarty Memorial Christian Church in L.A., stressed, “We will not be opening on May 31 for in-person services out of wisdom and the ministry of compassion for our at-risk members. Our ministry will continue digitally to ensure the whole body is nurtured as the scripture exhorts us in Hebrews. We will await further instruction from the health department regarding guidelines on a slow re-opening.”
Sharing another perspective, Pastor Mary S. Minor of Brookins-Kirkland Community AME Church, asked, “What’s changed since the start of the pandemic? L.A. County still has the most COVID-19 cases and the highest number of deaths in Southern California. The danger is not over. We must take our time with this. Only fools rush in. Every pastor will have to make the decision on their own and do what’s best for their own local church. As an AME pastor, I am guided by our Council of Bishops. As for me and my local congregation, we will serve the Lord, but conduct virtual worship services”
In fact, every minister that the Sentinel interviewed insisted that their church remains open and accessible via the virtual worship offered on Sundays and weekdays. Also, local ministries offer a range of activities to maintain communication with parishioners as well as provide outreach services to non-members.
Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, pastor of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, said, “I’ve seen God do some amazing things in these last few weeks. We learned, perhaps more than ever before, the church is not the building, it’s the people and we have continued to be the people of God in this challenging time of social distancing.
“We are still doing what God called us to do and that is to build up the kingdom for victorious living. We’re reaching more people now than we ever did by gathering in this building. We’re reaching people around the world and people are still getting saved,” Ulmer said.
According to Pastor J. Edgar Boyd of First AME Church of Los Angeles, “FAME’s full menu of ministries and services has never ceased. Our telephone, email, and social media platforms are managed each day, providing a response to needs and requests. The FAME Food Pantry is operated outside, on-campus each fourth Saturday. All three of our worship services are streamed each Sunday, and our clergy are responding to the spiritual needs of the congregation.”
Emphasizing the need to “slow down” when it comes to reopening churches, Pastor William Smart, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, commented, “I am concerned if we are moving too fast. The governor has laid out guidelines, but that doesn’t mean we should move right into [in-person] worship. We must remember that African Americans are very venerable to this virus. I think we should wait longer to make sure it is safe.”
The Rev. K.W. Tulloss, pastor of Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church and president of Baptist Ministers Conference of Southern California, added, “It’s going to take churches more than a week to bring them up to code. The lives of my parishioners matter. I can’t wait for the day to rejoice with my church family again; however, right now, we’re preparing to continue our service online.”