By Michael Hernandez
CHINO HILLS—Some 923 pastors have signed a Petition and Declaration of Essentiality, that is being sent to Governor Gavin Newsom demanding recognition that religious assemblies are ‘essential,’ said Calvary Chapel Chino Hills Pastor Jack Hibbs during a Wednesday, May 13 “Church Opening” webinar.
The Declaration states: “The Day of Pentecost is also known as the birthday of the Christian church. May 31, 2020 is the 1,990th anniversary of the original Day of Pentecost that occurred in the year A.D. 30. We declare that on May 31, 2020, or sooner, we will resume corporate worship as instructed in Hebrews 10:24-25.
“Facing the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Christian church and other faiths have been relegated to ‘nonessential’ status by governing agencies throughout the United States, But we, the signers of this declaration, believe and contend that gathering together in fellowship and worship is ‘essential.’
“As ministers of the Gospel, we have complied with the orders of governing bodies to cease meeting in-person as has been our practice for nearly 2000 years since the first Day of Pentecost. We respect the governing authorities and their role in public safety. However, the governing authorities have suspended our meetings indefinitely refusing to provide a date upon which we can lawfully commence our practice of worshiping God together in our houses of worship. While we are thankful to the governing authorities for the significant efforts made to protect the public from COVID-19, the remaining threat of COVID-19 is outweighed by the severe restrictions upon the free exercise of our religion that we deem ‘essential.’ We are committed to public safety and will follow reasonable guidelines established and applied to similarly situated organizations.
“Fundamental to the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion is the right to gather and worship. The First Amendment requires that the burden imposed on the free exercise of religion by narrowly tailored to serve the governmental interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“The current governmental orders are not narrowly tailored because innumerable secular enterprises and places where people gather are deemed essential, including those that pose even greater risks of COVID-19 than religious assemblies.
“Now therefore, we declare that we will resume in-person religious assemblies beginning on the date of Pentecost, May 31, 2020 or sooner.
(Editor’s Note: To sign this petition go to: https://www.tylerbursch.com/religious-petition-to-governor-gavin-newsom.)
Chino Hills Calvary Chapel Pastor Jack Hibbs: “When and how do we meet and do what God has called us to do?” said Pastor Hibbs prior to the webinar. “Where does the church come in? The church has been silent; but our local community has been spiritually starving. Are we willing to obey God?
“Our calling transcends the politics of this world. We are a living breathing divine institution. We are sensitive to the weakest among us. We have sequestered for the common good; to protect the weak and those most vulnerable.
“We have been very obedient. First, it was our President asking for 15 days and then it was another 15 days and now in California we have been told that it could be another three to six months before we could open? We are like a can being kicked down the road.
“Yet, we are an asset to the community. People need healing now. We are called to teach and preach and to minister to the sick among us. We are called a house of prayer and this implies that people can come to pray.”
The May 13 church webinar featured Chino Hills Calvary Chapel Pastor Jack Hibbs, Lancaster Baptist Pastor Paul Chappell, Gina Gleason of Real Impact, and Robert Tyler of Advocates for Faith and Freedom.
Chino Hills Calvary Chapel (San Bernardino County) is preparing for “Re-Opening” on Pentecost Sunday by hosting “6 Feet Above” Nights of Prayer on Sunday Nights at 7 p.m. at the church sanctuary. The first one was held May 10th with two more prayer nights planned on May 17th and 24th. The church website has posted information on: Facemasks (“invited but not required” by the County of San Bernardino) which will be provided at the church as well; Respectful Distancing (“honor an appropriately healthy distance between family groups in order to minimize the potential spread of any viruses. For the time being, please refrain from physical contact with those outside your family unit, ie. hugging, handshakes, etc. The church will be appropriately marked and set-up for six foot distancing.”); Sensitive Groups (“if you are in a sensitive group that is older or immune-compromised, we will also be broadcasting a shortwave FM transmission from your car radio); Safety Measures (“We are equipping our campus with as many safety measures as possible. We have added hand sanitation stations and are implementing extra cleaning measures of our facilities. In addition, we will not be passing offering bags or handling communion elements at this time.”).
Meanwhile, Lancaster Baptist Church (Los Angeles County) has posted its 43 page “re-opening plans” on their church website which can be viewed at: https://www.lancasterbaptist.org/sites/default/files/return-to-church-plan-and-policies.pdf
The Return to Church Plan and Policies Handbook is divided into five sections:
- Section 1: Regarding Senior Citizens/Those with Underlying Health Conditions
- Section 2: Social Distancing (with diagrams of six feet social distancing)
- Section 3: The Sanitization of Facilities (purchased Electrostatic Backpack Sprayers)
- Section 4: Schedule of Services (Phases I-IV from four services to two services)
- Section 5: Children’s Ministry (beginning with three-year-olds and below)
The Lancaster “Re-Opening” manual was compiled with the following resources:
- “COVID-19 Suggested Church Reopening Guidelines” Christian Law Association, Dr. David Gibbs
- “Guidelines for Opening Up America Again,” prepared by the White House and CDC, April 2020
- Interim Guidance for Administrators and Leaders of Community-and Faith-Based Organizations to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19):
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/guidance-community-faith-organizations.html, April 2020
- “Checklist for Churches—Re-Opening of Indoor Services,” Pacific Justice Institute, April, 2020
- Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Guidance for Faith-Based Organizations:
Lancaster Baptist Pastor Paul Chappell: “What has God called us to do? We can look at Romans 13:1-7 (Submit to Government) and Acts 5:29: “But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.”
“A tension follows the ministers of our community,” said Pastor Chappell. “Ezra and Nehemiah returned back to worship and rebuilding the wall in 52 days in the midst of rejoicing and singing that took place and in Ezra 8:21: “Then I proclaimed a fast…that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.”
“Is the Church about social things or about obeying God?” said Pastor Chappell who said that the tension could be resolved through: humility, resolve and safety.
“I see kneeling figures seeking God as we approach these upcoming days. I see the Lord leading as we are resolved to follow in faith the Holy Spirit and our biblical convictions that God is going to bless and bring us through. All of us are under-shepherds. Jesus is our Chief Shepherd. He cares for the flock and shows us how to deal with safety.”
Pastor Chappell shared about a national petition asking the White House to “Declare Churches, Synagogues, and Houses of Worship ESSENTIAL.” The goal is to have 100,000 sign the petition on the AwakeAmerica.org website before May 26th. Currently, some 8,767 have signed. (Editor’s Note: To sign this petition go to: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/declare-churches-synagogues-and-houses-worship-essential-organizations-such-cases-national-emergency.)
Attorney Robert Tyler: “If churches re-open they are violating California state laws that prohibit churches from opening for in-person services. But the (U.S.) Constitution is the law. It is supreme. This effort is not without legal support.
“We launched this campaign and Declaration of Essentiality and now the movement to re-open churches has begun in six or seven other states. I prayed about this letter (to Gov. Gavin Newsom) because I wanted to represent Christ.
“The 6th Circuit Court in Kentucky ruled last week in favor of the churches. You can’t allow grocery stores to re-open as essential services and not allow churches.”
Chino Hills Calvary Chapel Pastor Jack Hibbs: “Pentecost Sunday is 50 days after Easter—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is one of the highest Christian days of the church. We’re going to be praying for our governors, for our leaders, for our mayors, our county board of supervisors. The church was born in a house. We will restart the church in His house on Pentecost Sunday. I am calling this Church 2.0—an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. From California—revival might break out throughout this land.”
Pacific Justice Institute offers resources to “Re-Open Churches”
In less than an eight-day period, the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) registered 1,200 calls in two separate webinars with Christian leaders asking legal questions on “How to Re-Open” their churches?
PJI President Brad Dacus offers a 90-minute video on the PJI website on: “Steps Churches should take to reopen safely and legally.” Likewise, the following protocols (with federal case precedent, federal guidelines, Center for Disease Control guidance, Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance and state and local guidelines and input from pastors and Christian leaders):
- Re-Opening for Indoor Services: Checklist for Churches (13 Pages: 99 Steps):
- Cleaning and Disinfecting Building Facility: 3 Pages (CDC Guidelines)
Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].
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