Last Sunday Iglesia Josue De Las Asambleas defied Governor Gavin Newsom’s order against holding indoor services at their church in Rohnert Park.
California has a four-tier reopening plan, and Sonoma County, along with much of California, currently sits at the ‘purple’ tier—the first and most restrictive of the reopening steps. That’s a bit of a problem for churches as the governor’s order only permits outdoor worship with modifications, not indoor.
Yet Juan Pablo, the pastor of Iglesia Josue De Las Asembleas, ignored California’s ordinance and opted for indoor service. His decision placed his congregation at a dramatically higher risk for transmission of Covid-19, according to information published by the CDC and by Pablo’s own accounts, his community is familiar with the disease.
“We have had three people who have gotten sick. But we pray and put oil on them, and they seem to be healed,” Pablo said.
Latinos, the primary demographic of Pablo’s church, are at a much higher risk for transmission of disease, based purely upon community spread. At the date of publication, Sonoma County reports that Latinos make up 53 percent of confirmed cases of Covid-19 despite only having 25.6 percent of the population.
But for Pablo and the rest of his assembly, the decision to hold indoor services might have been one of necessity, rather than convenience. According to research performed by the State of the Plate, 65 percent of surveyed churches have seen a decline in their donations since the pandemic began. That can leave a lot of congregations strapped for cash, and Iglesia Josue is a humble one. When asked if his church faced financial collapse without in-person services, Pablo answered ‘yes.’
“When people come here, they give more, both offerings and tithes,” Pablo said.
While the decision to hold in-person services broke the law and put his congregation at risk, it must be noted that Pablo adhered to basic safety guidelines. Families were at least six feet apart, there was a temperature check station, and he limited his assembly to forty people, about a third of the fire martial’s recommended maximum occupancy. Masks were common, though not universal.
That said, after the service ended all rules vanished and the group of forty congregated inside of the building without adhering to social-distancing guidelines.
“We have distance during the service, but after it’s done it’s a problem for each person,” Pablo said.
For most of his congregation, though, the risk of infection was well worth the chance to worship in their church once again.
“I’m used to having the family together all praising and worshipping, but now it feels different. There’s less people so it doesn’t feel as ‘together,’” Mary Avalos said. “I feel like I’m drifting because we have to be more apart than we’re used to.”