Thousand Oaks faith leaders define church in 2020

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Mikayla Galaviz - Reporter

Samuelson Chapel will remain closed for worship despite Ventura County’s transition into the red tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s tiered reopening plan.

Christer Schmidt, Reporter

Some churches, including former Thousand Oaks Mayor Rob McCoy’s congregation, chose to defy Ventura County’s previous pandemic restrictions that prohibited indoor church services.

On Aug. 21, the Thousand Oaks Acorn reported that McCoy’s church, Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, was fined $3,000 by a Ventura County judge for violating an Aug. 7 temporary restraining order.

Tyler and Bursch LLP, a faith-based legal firm, is representing McCoy and the church.

“We believe the judge should have left the status quo and allowed the church to continue meeting until a full trial on the validity of the state and county orders could be conducted,” Tyler and Bursch LLP representatives wrote in a Aug. 7 press release.

The press release also stated that the risk of dying of COVID-19 in Ventura County was lower than dying from knee replacement surgery. “We believe that COVID-19 can be fought with far less restrictive measures than banning all healthy persons from church and our expert witnesses will prove that,” the press release stated.

While Godspeak has continued to host indoor service–despite court injunctions and legal fees, California Lutheran University’s Campus Ministry is following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s tiered reopening guidelines.

“I would not do it. I think a church that does not follow the guideline of the state is endangering their neighbors,” Melissa Maxwell-Doherty, pastor and vice president of Mission & Identity at Cal Lutheran said. “I wear this mask to protect you. I have a responsibility to you. If I can’t love my neighbor, I don’t think I’m really loving God.”

Hazel Salazar-Davidson, campus minister, said that as the pandemic was beginning to spread through the community, the local Lutheran bishop instructed all Lutheran churches, including Samuelson Chapel at Cal Lutheran, to closely follow COVID-19 restrictions and do their best to remain safe during the pandemic.

Cal Lutheran Campus Ministry has continued a variety of services during the pandemic. Virtual worship over Zoom has helped keep the Cal Lutheran community in touch.

Unorthodox worship

Salazar-Davidson said that Cal Lutheran’s worship has taken more creative forms this year, including painting, singing and calligraphy, all posted online and shared in Zoom sessions.

Some Zoom sessions have brought people together for more traditional services, while others have included gaming or other social engagement such as Jackbox games.

“I think the biggest benefit is that folks can come as they are,” Salazar-Davidson said. “You can come and be yourself. You can come and turn off your video. You can do it in small doses. Because [church] isn’t a safe space for a lot of folks.”

Salazar-Davidson said that virtual meetings have also made it easier for LGBTQ people and people with disabilities, among others, to feel more comfortable in ways they wouldn’t have in Samuelson Chapel.

Maxwell-Doherty said virtual church has also allowed individuals to explore worship at congregations or churches they typically wouldn’t.

“I have friends who lead worship services in the heart of Los Angeles … I’ve been able to go to the Lutheran church in town and then skip over [virtually] to a Lutheran church in L.A.,” Maxwell-Doherty said.

In addition, Campus Ministry introduced Walking Worship, a hybrid program where students either walk with Salazar-Davidson or listen to the pre-recorded sermon on their own.

“I think that there is a comfort in it,” Salazar-Davidson said. “I think we are for sure going to keep going with the Walking Worships … and probably, hopefully it’ll be in person [in the future].”

On Oct. 11, the University Chapel hosted the first in-person Walking Worship. Salazar-Davidson said that there was a sign up sheet for contact tracing. The walk started in her backyard and went to a local park which allowed for social distancing.

Hand sanitizer and masks were available for all Walking Worship participants. 

Despite the ability to open at limited capacity because of Ventura County’s transition from purple to red tier, Campus Ministry has decided to maintain virtual services this semester, Maxwell-Doherty said.

Godspeak Calvary Chapel has continued to offer in person services on Sundays at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., though it offers participants the option to remain socially distanced by staying in their car and tuning in to their radio station, according to their website.