The new coronavirus and California’s shelter-in-place orders triggered mixed responses from local churches on how to handle the pandemic. 

– “I have faith and I believe in God the healer, but we want to also show wisdom and discernment,” said Gilbert V. Richards II, pastor at Bethel AME Church in Marysville. Their congregation has some 70 members and all in-person Bethel services are cancelled until further notice. 

“Church has a culture of hugging and greeting and being in close contact with each other. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make as a pastor but the goal is to protect the health of the community.” 

Richards said last Sunday he live-streamed services from his home and members had the option to tune in. He also said the church is putting together CDs and a mailing subscription list so that community members don’t have to miss out on church. 

“It’s been very difficult. All of our ministries like feeding the homeless and elementary school programs are affected,” Richards said. “We’re just believing that God will work everything out and we’ll continue to bring worship the best way we can.” 

– Jim Clark, senior pastor of Crossroads Community Church, said they have taken everything into consideration and cancelled services. 

“We are going to comply,” said Clark. “Services won’t be held. (We’re) going to go with the directive.”

Clark said they are still going to have their clothes and food closet open for individuals in need. 

“We still are going to do our best to feed the hungry.” 

Clark said he recommends individuals to find a service online or get the family together and have a Bible study. 

“Spend time with loved ones,” said Clark. “Just remember God is in control (and) put our hand into God’s hand – he’ll guide us through.”

– Garrett Andrew, pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, said he knows all of the churches are doing something different. He said his will be hosting services on Zoom, posting the recording of the service to YouTube and using Facebook Live.

“The reason I like Zoom (is it) allows for a sense of community,” said Andrew. “To hear each other’s praises and see other’s faces.”

Andrew said when they use Facebook Live, individuals are watching from all over the country. He said though they are hosting services online, they are trying to figure out how to keep their food closet, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, open. 

“Everything is changing the more we get information,” said Andrew. “Faith allows us to do the most for people.”

Andrew said the earliest they will try to hold services in the sanctuary of the church will be Easter Sunday. 

– Jason Poling of Cornerstone Church said they have cancelled services at the church, but they plan on live streaming on Facebook. He said they are trying out AltspaceVR to stream their service. He said AltspaceVR is a virtual reality platform for individuals to use to have meetups and hold meetings.

“(This was) one of my goals before COVID-19,” said Poling. 

According to Poling, he wanted to get something like this for members of their congregation that have physical health problems or bedridden by getting them a headset to take part in service. He said a live stream is great, but it doesn’t have the same interconnectedness. 

Meanwhile, Poling said he met with other pastors in the Yuba-Sutter to figure out how they can band together and figure out what they need to do for the community. He said they will be offering a couple of services.

Poling said they are providing free delivery services for seniors and those at risk of COVID-19. He said they can go to to fill out a form to use the service.

Another service they are offering is establishing a mental health hotline Poling said. The hotline will be for individuals who are feeling anxious and/or isolated and they just want someone to talk to, he said. 

“I know it’s not for everybody,” said Poling.

Poling said other pastors were interested in the idea and that there would be a rotation to talk to individuals. He said individuals can call 674-8650 if they’re  interested. 

– Chris Madsen, pastor of Praise Chapel in Yuba City, said he knows his rights and his congregation will resist any attempts to stop them from peacefully assembling together. He said he feels it is essential for the doors of the church to remain open during times like this. 

“Theologically, our church believes in the healing power of prayer,” Madsen said. “Morally, how can I say I believe in the healing power of prayer to heal others, protect and preserve me if I close the church?”

Madsen said he doesn’t judge any pastor who decides to close their doors during this pandemic but his own conscience won’t allow him to do the same. He has a congregation of some 75 members.] but expects upcoming attendance to be lower. 

For churches who decide to stay open, Madsen said they should act responsibly to help slow the spread of any disease, but given there aren’t any confirmed coronavirus cases in the area to date, Praise Chapel being open now doesn’t pose a risk. 

Madsen said there are sanitizing stations available upon entrance and exit of the church building and inside it’s classrooms.

“We have decided to keep our church open so we can meet the demands of the whole person- body, sou l and spirit,” Madsen said. 

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