Churches Rethink How To Worship As They Prepare To Reopen

Holly Quan
May 29, 2020 - 11:10 am

    San Francisco's religious centers have two weeks to get ready to welcome back worshipers after Mayor London Breed unveiled a road map to reopening the city.  

    It is going to be another big adjustment for Grace Cathedral Dean Malcolm Young, who has been holding services online after shutting down the 2,000 person church.

    “That has just been so strange because I’m so used to having my friends there. You know you kinda look in their eyes and you get a sense for when you’re starting to be boring or when you’ve gotta wrap it up or when you should skip that point and move on,” he says. “And I’m preaching to an entirely empty cathedral.”

    Under San Francisco County’s newly unveiled rules, in-person religious services can begin June 15th. The state has put a limit on 25% occupancy or 100 people max, with social distancing and cleaning procedures in place.

    That means church is going to look very different than it used to for the few people who will be able to attend in person. 

    “It’s hard to imagine what worship in person is going to be like if you can’t sing or do group recitations as the guidelines say. So we’re working on every single level, what is the church going to look like, how can we shorten the services so we can get people out and get cleaners to clean the place?” says Dean Young, who along with his team is closely examining each part of service.

    During the previous 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, the Grace Cathedral held its services outdoors.

    SF Churches Rethink Services As They Prepare to Reopen
    Courtesy Grace Cathedral

    There will be no passing of offering plates, no shared prayer books and definitely no handshakes or hugging. Communion items will likely be pre-packaged and waiting on pews for attendees when they arrive. 

    Even hymns could be a risk to safety, which presents a dilemma for the church’s music director. 

    “He was gonna choose a bunch of music that were things that weren’t familiar with people, because he thought that if he chose things that people loved and knew, that they almost couldn’t help themselves but sing along with it,” says the Dean. “So even thinking about what kind of hymns and songs we’re going to sing is part of this approach to how we move back into the cathedral.”

    Even with many congregants saying they would prefer to keep worshipping online, it could be difficult for those who do want to return to the cathedral to get one of its 100 spots. Dean Young says people will have to register ahead of time so the church can keep track of attendees for contact tracing purposes.

    While other counties have not said when their churches can reopen, one in Livermore and another in San Jose have vowed to defy health orders and hold indoor services this Sunday.