In California's 'Bible Belt,' churches find ways around state's coronavirus lockdown orders

Stephanie Lai, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

LOS ANGELES -- Jennifer Trujillo made a 30-minute trip from her home in San Diego County to the country roads of Wildomar in Riverside County for the first time in weeks.

For the last year, the Pala resident had made the trek up every Sunday to attend the service at Bundy Canyon Christian Church, a complex of colorful old-timey buildings along a rural road.

The coronavirus outbreak had sidelined Trujillo, 37, from her trips to church, leaving her to reading the Bible and practicing her faith at home. She knew about the worries of church services leading to outbreaks of COVID-19, that health officials criticized such gatherings as posing a public health risk to parishioners and others they may come in contact with.

But Trujillo would not ignore the call of her pastor to return.

"I feel safe around this community," Trujillo said. "The word that the pastor gives forth is amazing and its better in person. I just wanted to go back."

And so she did on a mid-July Sunday to an all-too-familiar scene of parishioners packing the pews. She was instructed not to sit next to anyone outside of her immediate household members.


It was a vain attempt at social distancing.

After scouring for a seat, her 9-year-old daughter Morgan and Trujillo settled for a spot near the center of the pews. Like others, they were squeezed in closer than 6 feet from other people. A fan conjured up a light breeze. Three vocalists and a drummer performed on stage as dozens of people sang along.

Churches across the state have been whipsawed by state closure and reopening orders, as church events have been tied to coronavirus outbreaks. In May, infections tied to singing in a church service in Redwood Valley and two more outbreaks from Mother's Day church services in Mendocino and Butte counties drew concern from public health officials. Cases linked to singing during church services have drawn the ire of scientists and even some church leaders.

Still, Bundy Canyon kept its usual choral arrangement as the congregation swayed their arms like concertgoers to the singing.


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