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Local places of worship preparing to once again move services back outdoors

oak park church
Oak Park Christian Church in Grover Beach, as well as all Central Coast places of worship, must now hold services outdoors to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

GROVER BEACH, Calif. -- Central Coast places of worship are once again having to move services outdoors due to recent COVID-19 restrictions.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced all Central Coast counties will have to step backwards into the purple tier in the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

The restrictions means all indoor activities, including services, group gatherings, potlucks, children's activities, etc. are prohibited.

With the latest restriction taking effect immediately, Central Coast churches and other places of worship are now having to face another round of operational changes.

"It's a little bit frustrating," said Oak Park Christian Church pastor Mike Gunderson. "Since we've been back indoors for the past number of weeks, there's been no incidents or any positive cases for our church or any other churches in town as far as I'm aware of. It's a little bit frustrating having the safety and security taken away of a place that's important to a lot of people."

Over the course of the eight-month pandemic, Gunderson said the Grover Beach church has modified several times, including holding services exclusively online, in a drive-through format, plus alternating between indoors and outdoors several times.

Since early October, the church has been able to hold services indoors with a number of modifications in place.

"We have spaced seating," said Gunderson. "We have plenty of ventilation and air flow through here. We have hand sanitizer, masks. All of the elements of the service that are normally where you would be touching or handing things to people, all those are contactless and it's an individual experience for that."

Despite all the safety measures, it's not enough to keep services indoors, which Gunderson said is disappointing.

"We think we've done a really good job of being very safe and very cautious and conscientious about following all the rules and yet still allowing people to be together in a space to see one another and hear one another's voices as we sing and pray together and have that shared communal experience," said Gunderson.

He added that once services returned indoors last month, attendance rose as much as 30 percent, and included several first-time visitors.

He expects a drop off once services return to the parking lot, pointing out some of the challenges being outdoors creates, including weather issues, along with traffic and noise concerns from busy Oak Park Boulevard, which runs adjacent to the property.

Still, he's keeping a positive attitude, noting church leadership, along with the congregation have learned to adapt to the many changes this year has brought.

"We're not going to be stopped," said Gunderson. "We'll still be able to gather together. We'll still be able to sing songs together and praise, to worship and pray, to contemplate scripture together. It's a little bit inconvenient, but compared to what people have gone through throughout history, it's not much at all."

For those church members who wish to remain home, Oak Park Christian Church, will continue to provide live online broadcasts of its services.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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Dave Alley

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