Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent order against state bans on indoor gatherings at places of worship, several churches last week shared their views on that decision with the Citizen.
It was ruled by the Supreme Court on Feb. 5 that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order banning indoor religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion.
Although California can no longer prohibit such indoor gatherings, those services must not exceed 25% of a building’s capacity.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s order, Sacramento County’s places of worship were restricted to outdoor services under the state’s Purple-Tier status.
Justin Schroeder, pastor of the Elk Grove Bible Church, called the court’s decision “very encouraging.”
“I think for churches to have a Supreme Court decision that upholds the constitutional right to gather is obviously an encouragement,” he said. “I hope that churches would take advantage of that opportunity, even though it’s going to come with its challenges with the health restrictions that are still in place.”
Schroeder described a growing need for the operation of places of worship during the pandemic.
“(The ban on indoor gatherings has) been really difficult, because people are spiritual creatures and they need to be cared for just like we would say there’s physical creatures that need to eat,” he said.
“So, there’s just this essence of needing to gather together to care for one another. Obviously, in society, we’ve seen a massive increase in mental health crises, and domestic violence, and drug and alcohol addiction is skyrocketing. And those are all things in churches; we address those issues.”
Schroeder told the Citizen that abiding by the state’s no indoor gathering restriction eventually led to the church’s decision to meet indoors prior to the Supreme Court’s order.
“There came a point where we concluded that our responsibility to care for people superseded our responsibility to submit entirely to (state) government regulations, so we continued to have some indoor gatherings, even in the last few months,” he said.
However, Schroeder noted that masks and social distancing were required at those indoor gatherings.
“We said, ‘Hey, we’re going to abide by the guidelines of the pandemic,’” he said. “We’re not careless, reckless, dismissing government health guidelines, but we also believe that like on a rainy Sunday, for instance, we still need to be gathering.
“It was a tough decision and I realize it’s not a popular one for many people, because the immediate thought is negligence, which obviously that’s not our desire.”
Schroeder added that beginning Easter Sunday, Elk Grove Bible Church’s services will begin to be held outdoors, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on indoor services.
“We’re going to stay outside for the next seven months,” he said.
Matthew Pearson, pastor of Elk Grove United Methodist Church, expressed his satisfaction with the Supreme Court’s decision.
“That is wonderful, but we still have not scheduled in-person worship,” he said. “For our context, it does not seem wise or safe to resume in-person worship inside or outside.
“Rest assured, that the church is still in ministry – but for now we are online mostly.”
Pearson also cautioned other faith institutions “not to open too soon.”
“I know that our ministries are needed, but I worry about unintentional harm that our too-swift efforts may cause,” he said. “Christians are called to love God and love neighbor. That may mean remaining closed until it is safe for everyone.”
In a statement to parishioners, Pastor Sylvester Kwiatkowski, of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church, also responded to the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Most of you might have heard about the Supreme Court ruling on church reopenings, and our Bishop (Jaime) Soto issued a statement to that effect honoring that decision,” he said. “Since Sacramento is still in the Purple Tier, our capacity for indoor Masses has now been increased to 25%.”
With the Supreme Court’s order, St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church resumed indoor services, with a maximum capacity of 150 parishioners, on Feb. 10. Parishioners exceeding that limit are invited to return to their cars in that church’s parking lot and listen to the broadcast on 91.9 FM.