Religious leaders plead to increase indoor services in Santa Clara County
Stanford University Church. Courtesy CreativeCommons by JonoMueller

Church members from across Santa Clara County are asking supervisors to reconsider restrictions that will limit services to 25 percent of capacity, even as the county moves into a less restrictive tier of pandemic restrictions imposed by the state.

For nearly two hours Oct. 6, church members, pastors and representatives asked the Board of Supervisors to allow a 50 percent capacity for indoor gatherings by Nov. 1.

Supervisors listened but could not take any action because the issue was not on their agenda.

While many churches have been able to make do for the past seven months with virtual services and meeting outdoors, many say that they are ready for a change.

Elliot Sands, executive director of Church on the Hill, a Baptist church in San Jose, was one of the voices to join the chorus.

“Please help our families, our communities by allowing us to regather in our church buildings so the church can do what we do, which is providing emotional and spiritual support to our people,” Sands said.

County officials announced Monday they are seeking movement into the lower-risk orange tier by the state. This would mean all businesses, including churches, could open at 25% capacity as early as next week.

Santa Clara County remains in the red tier of the state’s reopening plans, considered at substantial risk. This is the second-most restrictive of the four color-coded tiers.

Under state guidance, churches within a red-tier county must limit occupancy by 25% of capacity or 100 people, whichever is less. Under the orange tier the county is seeking, however, state guidance sets that limit at 50% capacity for churches, or 200 people, whichever is less.

“The church is not an activity that we do,” said Greg Wendschlag, pastor of Abundant Life Assembly of God in Cupertino. “The church is who we are, not only to each other, but to the community.”

Wendschlag has also criticized the county for being inconsistent and not acting in line with state recommendations.

“The shutdown mandates from the state and county of Santa Clara are very inconsistent,” Wendschlag said. Other pastors also accused the county of being inconsistent.

The South Bay Pastors Network, a group from around the county, created an online petition to encourage county leaders reconsider the restrictions.

“We remain behind the state of California guidelines for no apparent reason,” said Tom Clagett, a pastor at Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos. “Gathering to worship is not only constitutionally protected, but it is an essential service for many in our community. We seek to be the solution and not the problem.“

Carl Woodland, chair of the Interfaith Community of South County, which boasts 19 congregations and 3,500 members, said faith communities could be trusted.

“We offer to you the commitment of the faith community to take the CDC protocols for the restart level orange seriously, and implement them without reservation,” Woodland said.

Congregation members said the inability to have larger services indoors has taken a toll. Diane Clemons, member of Venture Christian, said she’s seen fellow congregation members struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues that have been exacerbated by isolation.

Bella Taddie, another member of Venture Christian, attested to this.

“During this pandemic, my faith has been strained as the community I once had was taken away,” Taddie said. “As a college student, I feel that my mental, emotional and physical  health has been affected in negative ways due to the lack of support and community in my life.”

Terese Mansfield, a member of Home Church in Campbell, said she understood the risks of meeting in person, but she was willing to take them.

“We choose to want to meet in person because our mental and emotional well-being is just as important to our health,” Mansfield said.

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] and follow her @MadelynGReese.

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