With the dramatic rise in COVID cases raging across the nation due to the easily transmissible Omicron variant, faith leaders around the country are reconsidering in-person worship services and in some cases pausing them until after the holidays to curb the spread of the virus. West Angeles Church of God in Christ is one of them, announcing last week that their holiday services will be virtual.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve prayerfully watched the infection rates,” said Elder Charles Blake. “We are very fortunate to not have had any outbreaks connected to our services to this point and these measures are intended to keep all of our members and attendees safe during this time.
“There has been a growing increase of COVID 19 cases within the past week, particularly the Omicron variant,” Blake continued. “With that in mind, much prayer, thought and consideration has been made regarding how we operate as an organization moving forward. Even though our services during this time are so meaningful and mean so much to the community, we are very much concerned about the health of our members and about our already overburdened healthcare system.”
While the vast majority of churches will continue to hold in-person worship services, they are monitoring COVID updates and the Omicron variant.
“We’re now thinking through everything—doubling down on the protocols and taking extra precautions,” said Pastor Wayne Chaney (Antioch Church of Long Beach). “We’re not pulling the plug at this time, but the one thing I’ve learned from this pandemic is to be flexible.”
“We were all relaxing our guard a bit,” said K.W. Tulloss, senior pastor of the Weller Street Baptist Church and president of the Baptist Minister’s Conference of Southern California. “Omicron serves as a reminder to us of what we’re dealing with. Many pastors, including myself, have decided to continue with services at least for now, practicing social distancing and encouraging our members to follow CDC guidelines and to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families during the holiday season.”
For many churches like Greater Zion Church Family in Compton that will mean limiting the number of people who will be able to attend in-person worship and cutting back on any additional in-person services, like New Year’s Eve Watch Night, which have for many churches like Faithful Central Bible Church, have been shifted online.
Little will change for Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, which has maintained strict protocols since returning to service earlier this year.
“We’ve been back since March with very rigid requirements,” said Pastor George Hurtt. “We’ve removed 40% of our seats and you still have to register for service. We don’t ask about vaccination status, but we do require masking. There is no group singing, just solos or duets at the most. If you’re seated on the front row, you have to wear both a mask and a face shield and we dismiss our members one by one.”
The church has even implemented the unique practice of insuring that a congregant’s preferences for interactions with others is respected.
“When you enter, you’re handed a wristband that identifies your personal preference,” Hurtt explains. “A red wristband indicates that you want no [physical] interaction. Yellow means proceed with caution and green indicates that you’re fine with interaction and that people even can reach out and touch you.
“Protecting our members is our first priority.”