From the Bishop: Updated Worship Guidelines for California and Hawai’i

September 1, 2020

Dear Rostered Ministers and Lay Leaders of the Pacifica Synod,
New guidelines regarding the re-opening of businesses, including places of worship, have been distributed by the governors of both Hawai’i and California in the past couple of weeks. These guidelines have been developed in cooperation with public health officials, and are intended not to stop worship, but to stop the spread of COVID-19. I urge you to continue to offer online worship, and to abide by these guidelines so that we may do our part to stop the spread of this deadly virus.

In California, Governor Newsom unveiled a new “tiered” system for each county, which you can access here. The tiers are based on the severity of the virus in each county. The most severe, “Widespread” is color-coded in purple, and in these counties, only outdoor worship is approved. The next tier, “Substantial,” is color-coded in red, and in these counties, indoor worship may take place, but numbers must be limited to 25% of total capacity of the Sanctuary, or 100 people, whichever is fewer. The next tier, “moderate,” is color-coded in tan, and worship may be indoors with 50% of maximum capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer. The final tier is “Minimal,” and Sanctuaries may open with a maximum capacity of 50%, no matter what the numbers.

Three of the four counties in which our Pacifica Synod congregations reside are in the “Widespread” tier, which means churches in Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties are only to worship outdoors at this time. San Diego County is in the “Substantial” tier which means churches in that county may move indoors provided they allow in no more than 25% of the maximum capacity of the sanctuary.

Each church must have in place COVID-19 mitigation policies, whether you operate indoors or outdoors. To learn more about how to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in your church, the state offers a guidebook which you can access here.

In Hawai’i, I do not have specific information about guidelines for worship for our three congregations on Maui, Kaua’i, and the big island of Hawai’i. The island of O’ahu issued new guidelines on August 20 which stay in effect through September 16. In summary, churches can continue to hold worship in person following the mandates of the general order which is found here. Churches are covered in “Exhibit A” which addresses “Designated Businesses,” under sections 10 and 11 for “Drive-in Spiritual Services” and “In-Person Spiritual Services.” Worshippers not living in the same household must stay physically distanced at least six feet from other worshippers. If the church has a choir, they must be a group of ten or fewer, must stay 10 feet apart from others and, if possible, erect a physical barrier between them and anyone not in the performing group. (See section 23b at the end of the document for details.)

I urge all of our churches to be aware of health directives and all that is necessary to disinfect places of worship to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Many of our churches are continuing to meet online, and I thank them for doing so. I urge churches in counties where public health directives mandate outdoor only worship not to worship indoors, but to worship outside and/or worship online. May God be with you as you continue to worship and serve the Lord, whether inside, outdoors, or online.

Yours in Christ,
Bishop Andy Taylor/he, him, his
Pacifica Synod of the ELCA
Together in Christ we equip, accompany, and serve boldly so all may experience God’s boundless grace.