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How local religious services are celebrating during Phase 1

Calvary Lutheran Chapel in Mount Vernon just started welcoming people back to indoor, in-person religious services. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

With some Washington counties in Phase 1 and others in Phase 2, it can be a confusing time for those organizing religious services.

As part of Phase 1 openings in May, Governor Inslee allowed houses of worship to offer a drive-in option, similar to drive-in movies, in which congregants would remain in their cars and listen to the service on their radios. Last week, the governor amended Phase 1 regulations to permit outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people, as long as facial coverings are worn and social distancing is maintained.

In Phase 2, indoor religious services can resume with up to 50 people, or 25 percent of the building’s capacity per service, whichever number is smaller.

In Marysville, The Grove Church is using the drive-in option with great success, attracting around 350 cars per weekend.

Local faith groups say religious services will not reopen yet

Pastor Jon Rich said they are continuing to live-stream services on Facebook as well, but the drive-in option is an even better way to connect with friends.

“Video is great, and it’s amazing how much technology we have available to us these days, but it’s not the same as gathering,” he said. “So this gives us a chance to gather and see each other and be experiencing something all at the same time.”

Rich and the church’s musical leaders are able to stand on a platform in front of the cars to make the experience feel like an open-air church.

The Grove is a church that typically employs musical and hand-clapping responses, so this gives participants the chance to have that personal interaction while staying safely distant.

“We’ve had a couple little moments where people will get excited about something that was said, and they might toot their horn,” Rich said. “Which is kind of a neat moment, to know that we can interact in real time.”

The church plans to follow the governor’s orders and not resume indoor, in-person services until state leaders declare it absolutely safe to do so. Even when in-person religious services return, The Grove Church might still incorporate drive-in services for people in the high-risk categories for COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of pressure that churches feel to start doing normal services again, and we want to do that too — when the time is right and when it’s safe to do so,” Rich said. “But until then, this works.”

At the same time, Calvary Lutheran Chapel in Mount Vernon returned to in-person services this past Sunday, even though Skagit County remains in Phase 1. Pastor Brian Williams said they took their cues from President Trump, who on May 22 declared all religious services essential and demanded they be reinstated immediately.

“We’ve heeded all the mandates; once the President said that churches were essential, the CDC labeled churches as essential, we felt that we’ve come to an end of this time, and it’s time to get back to church,” Williams said.

Calvary Lutheran took several precautions before reopening, including cleaning the church thoroughly before and after worship, providing hand sanitizer at the entrance, posting signs reminding people to social distance, and forgoing children’s ministry.

“We gave masks out to anybody who wanted one, we had hand sanitizer, asked people to physical distance, we opened up doors so people didn’t have to open up any doors,” Williams said.

The chapel also is offering drive-in and Facebook live options for those who don’t feel comfortable gathering together, but Williams hopes members of the parish will trickle back into the church building in the coming weeks.

“Church is not just teaching online — that’s a small part of church — it’s also being together, fellowshipping, encouraging each other,” he said.

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