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Thankful the city allows worship in our parks
Chris Henry in park
Pastor Chris Henry of Valley Christian Center in Ceres leads worship at Whitmore Park on Sunday.

Editor, Ceres Courier,

For the last five months, the Coronavirus-directed orders and edicts coming from Sacramento toward businesses and churches have been abundant. If you combine them with local and county regulations concerning COVID-19, one can become easily exasperated. Such is the case when it comes to churches. Back in March, the governor ordered all church gatherings to cease indefinitely. Most pastors believed this would only last a few weeks or even a month at most. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until President Trump declared at the end of May that churches are “essential” to society that the state of California allowed church gatherings to begin again. But even with that allowance, churches were limited to 25 percent capacity and have not been able to return to full capacity services. Large churches were especially hit hard by the hard cap limit of 100 parishioners. To make matters even more vexing, Gov. Newsom ordered two weeks ago that churches were prohibited from singing during church services – this in spite of there being little evidence that singing in a church has caused any type of spread of the coronavirus over the last month and a half.

Last week, Gov. Newsom added to the burden placed on churches by ordering that all indoor church services cease indefinitely. Although churches, small business and restaurants have strictly followed orders to social distance and have required all visitors to wear masks during the last seven weeks, this order specifically targets them instead of clear sources of virus-spreading activities such as protests, marches and large holiday gatherings. This brings churches nearly all the way back to the March orders to stop all gatherings. However, “outdoor” gatherings have not been suspended by this latest order from Sacramento, a fact for which many local churches are thankful.

Such is the case for Valley Christian Center and Richland Faith Assembly of God here in Ceres. This Sunday at 10 a.m., they will begin gathering together in a combined outdoor church service at Whitmore Park at the gazebo.

When I heard the governor’s order forbidding indoor church services, my first feeling was frustration. But we quickly began working on a plan with the city of Ceres to allow us to gather at Whitmore Park, a place where we have had many church function in the past, (Concerts in the Park series once filled the summers with music in this city.)

Councilmember Bret Durossette was instrumental in getting the ball rolling with the Recreation Department, making sure that the city would make every effort to ensure a church’s ability to continue to gather and worship. “The word ’no’ is not an option when it comes to this,” he told us in a conversation earlier last week. 

We are most thankful that we operate inside and can work with a city like Ceres. They went above and beyond to make sure that this would happen and that it will continue to happen for as long as we need to use the park.

For the time being, Valley Christian Center and Richland Faith Assembly of God will be gathering on July 26 at 10 a.m. at Whitmore Park. The hope of both pastors is that this order from the governor will quickly be rescinded and they can both return to indoor church gatherings. But the city of Ceres has said that both churches can continue to use the park on Sundays through the month of October. If you would like to join our churches at Whitmore Park, be sure to bring your own folding chairs, sunscreen, and dress for summer weather. Public restrooms will be open and cleaned by the city the morning of the events. 

In Genesis 50:21, it says that “What someone meant for evil, God meant for good.” We believe that this outdoor church gathering will be something our God will use for the good of our church and especially our community.

Chris Henry,

Lead Pastor,

Valley Christian Center

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