Chapter 3 Update, 12.16.2020
As you know, we are in the midst of a 30-day Monterey County Lockdown due to the huge surge in COVID in our area. However, we were ALREADY planning to be livestream-only due to Christmas services and what we can do creatively in our Worship Center that cannot be done outdoors. Also, the weather would be challenging as last Sunday’s rain storm demonstrated.
In January, we will be online-only (no outdoor services) due to weather and what we are going to do. Starting on January 10, we will be entering our annual “At the Movies” series online for the month of January. Because we cannot post the messages online unless there is a live service (due to copyright restrictions), we will be hosting additional, live-hosted service viewing opportunities during the week at svcc.net. Days and times will be announced as that date nears.
We will decide on potential February outdoor services based on weather and county/state guidance as that time approaches.
With the vaccines starting to be taken this week, there is light at the end of the tunnel! We can envision the time when indoor gatherings will be safe again. We are ready with a plan when that time comes-- Lord willing, in the first half of 2021!
Recent Legal Challenges at the United States Supreme Court Religious Freedoms under Covid Restrictions
Last week, December 3, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed two cases arguing against Covid-19 restrictions for houses of worship they consider in violation of First Amendment free exercise of religion rights.
The first was a New York case, Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn [with two Orthodox Jewish synagogues] vs. Andrew Cuomo, as Governor of the State of New York. The case was in the 2nd District Court of Appeals, because it had lost initially in the lower federal court.
With the filing for appellate review, the houses of worship asked the 2nd District Court of Appeals for a temporary lifting of the Governor’s executive orders limiting in-person attendance at worship services to 10 or 25, based on their colored tiers of health and safety protocols (red and orange, respectively). Their petition was denied.
They then filed for review by the Supreme Court. In short, the Justices split 5-4 in favor of the temporary lifting until the appeal scheduled for hearing in December. In short, the majority stated that the limits on attendance were likely violative of the First Amendment, a burden on the faithful who were unable to attend religious services, and not tailored to the circumstances.
At the time of the opinion, the appellants were out of the orange zone and into the yellow zone, which allowed in-person attendance at 50% of maximum capacity. The position of the minority was that the timing, therefore, was moot, it was not their role to second guess the determinations made by public health officials for public safety in the midst of a deadly pandemic, and that religious institutions were not treated more harshly than comparable secular institutions (e.g. museums, stadiums, concerts, movie theaters, and the like, were closed).
The second was a California case: Harvest Rock Church vs. Gavin Newsom, as Governor of the State of California. The church argued that restrictions prohibiting or limiting indoor in-person worship services violate the freedom to exercise religion and discriminate against persons differently in secular settings than in religious settings. They lost in the lower federal court, lost in the 9th District Court of Appeals, and now asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their plea.
In short, the Supreme Court Justices declined to make any decision at this time other than to vacate both orders in the lower courts and send the case back to the federal court for reevaluation in light of their decision in the New York case and the current factual and legal circumstances in California. So there has been no change to the restrictions currently in place.
Those arguing against government restrictions for indoor worship focus on the persons affected, while those arguing against changes to the restrictions focus on the limits of building spaces used for congregation. Because it takes so long to get a case moving through the legal system, it is unlikely a Covid-19 case will come before the Supreme Court before the vaccine is distributed among those who choose to take it.
Chapter 3 Update, 06.25.2020
Chapter 3 - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
Q: Why are we following the CDC and County guidelines.
A: First of all, we are being respectful of our laws. We will partner with and be a blessing to our governing authorities. Therefore, we will not have a posture of protest or defiance. Secondly, we need guidance to follow and the CDC and County guidelines give us that support. We understand that some people feel the guidelines are extreme and not necessary, but as stated previously, we want to uphold our local authority’s decisions. We also want to stay on the course of being cautious and not jump ahead too soon as the situation is changing daily.
Q: What are the current guidelines?
A: Tracking of those that attend in case of a “super spreading” event is required, health screening including temperatures, hand hygiene stations, masks would be required 100% of the time, 6 feet distancing required. Singing is not allowed. Complete list of guidelines and specific cleaning protocols implemented here: https://files.covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-places-of-worship.pdf
Q: Other churches are opening, why aren’t we?
A: Every church family has a culture, and during times of stress, it is good to focus on fundamental truths. Our SVCC family will navigate the future re-opening decisions with a loving goal of protecting the most medically vulnerable members of our church family and community.
Q: Why are we not following soon after other churches open?
A: When churches reopen, they must follow very stringent guidelines. Upon assessment of liability, public safety, and the needs of members, we have assessed that opening inside under the stringent guidelines will not look like the services we all know and love. It will also not allow the majority of our people to attend at present. There would also be considerable costs to cleaning pre and post services, and staging the flow of traffic and where to stand during services, the number of our volunteers needed, and a multitude of considerations that make it prohibitive at present.
Q: Will SVCC stick to one service of 100 people, or have multiple services of 100 people each?
A: One of the advantages of the current on-line format is that it is accessible widely. At present, we do not have the ability to live stream a service, simultaneous with the 100 persons attending live. If we open under present guidelines, we would have to find a way to set up reservations, both to be fair to those who wish to attend, and to maintain records to aid in contact tracing if someone in our church were to become positive.
Q: Why have we not proceeded to having small services with social distancing and masks?
A: The guidelines for returning to services are very restrictive. Many members have expressed that it wouldn't feel the same and would prefer to continue in our current format.
Q: How can I be assured that others will adhere to guidelines so that it is safe for me to return to church?
A: At SVCC, we will protect the most medically vulnerable. Therefore, we will follow the best of federal, state, and county health guidelines. Our church family lives our calling as citizens of heaven, and our members will respect the need to maintain precautions for the safety of all.
Q: How do I fulfill my need to be connected with other spiritually minded persons?
A: Submit your prayer requests HERE and indicate your desire to have a Pastor or someone from church ministry to contact you. The prayer requests are reviewed weekly and you will have someone follow up with you. There are church members willing to reach out on a regular basis.
Small Groups/Community Groups
Q: Can we organize home churches outside until the restrictions are completely lifted?
A: We can encourage ZOOM meetings and phone calls. However, small groups associated with the church have more to consider if they gather for religious purposes as official ministries of the church, including the medical and fiscal responsibility to protect SVCC and its members from harm.
Chapter 3 Talk - 06.21.2020 with Matt Fleming
Chapter 3 Talk - 06.14.2020 with Matt Fleming
Update from Pastor Mark, 06.02.2020
Dear SVCC family,
We ARE a family!
We are a family going through a global health crisis not seen for a century, that has affected the structures of our society in profound ways. In confusing eras, every family needs leadership, and ours is no different. As a reminder, our highest leadership group is our Elder Team (Ryan Cornelsen, Terry Espinoza, Ron Fergason, Jim Fletcher, Bryan Schalesky, Mark Simmons, and Josh Stover). I serve, as Senior Pastor, under the collective leadership of this team.
During times of huge transition, our Elders have appointed special teams to serve with us and advise us in leading our church family. The first era of our church (Chapter 1) took us from 1984-2002. From 2002-2004, we had a “Chapter 2” Team that guided us through the process of raising funds and doing a complete Campus Re-Development project. The Elders have now appointed a “Chapter 3” Team, because navigating the wisest course of living out our mission in this COVID-19 era is so very critical.
This is the team that will research, pray and advise the entire Elder Team through the process of discerning our eventual re-opening strategy. We have had two meetings so far and we will be meeting regularly for the foreseeable future. Please pray for the Chapter 3 team! They are:
Shelley Berg - SVCC Business Administrator
Ryan Cornelsen - Architect, SVCC Elder
Matt Fleming - K-12 Administrator, PhD student
Terry Espinoza - Retired Educator, SVCC Elder
Jim Fletcher - Senior Business Consultant, Chairman of our Elder Team
Rae Gularte - CPA, SVCC Finance Team
Doug Huckins - Retired military and state law enforcement
Barbara Mejia - Attorney
Nancy Beymer - Hartnell Nursing Faculty
Tim Reece - SVCC Facility Manager
Paul Richards - SVCC Worship Pastor
Mark Simmons - SVCC Senior Pastor, SVCC Elder Team
When Katy and I were raising Tyler and Jason, they heard constantly, “In the Simmons family, we . . .” It really didn’t matter what OTHER families or parents were doing (there is a free parenting/grand-parenting tip for you!). Every church family has a culture, and during times of stress, it is good to focus on fundamental truths about how OUR SVCC family will navigate the future re-opening decisions that will be made. What OTHER churches do is not our primary concern.
A few guiding principles that our church leaders are united in are:
- Protect the most medically vulnerable members of our church family and community. Therefore, we will follow the best federal, state and county health guidelines.
- Partner with (and be a blessing to!) our governing authorities. Therefore, we will not have a posture of protest or defiance.
- Separate the HOW we do our ministry from the WHAT and WHY. Therefore, we will not be focused on getting back to what we USED to do but navigating a course to the future.
Our church family lives out our calling as citizens of heaven in a Jesus colony (as we’ve seen in Philippians) in a particular nation, state, and county. In my role as Senior Pastor of SVCC, I am in meetings with our county and city leaders regularly. I repeatedly hear how much they consider the faith community to be ESSENTIAL to the fabric of our community’s people. There is NO governmental persecution of the church on the local level (which is my only personal reference point). Our local authorities want to re-open Monterey County as soon as it is safely possible to do so, and are presently asking the faith community to work with them on planning HOW we can serve people’s spiritual, emotional and physical needs safely all through California’s 4-Phase re-opening process. Our elected and appointed County leaders WANT our input and partnership!
The Apostle Paul’s benediction seems so fitting for our church family at this time:
May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. (Romans 15:5 NLT)
For the Chapter 3 Team, Elders, Pastors, and Staff,
Click HERE to read a letter from Jim Fletcher, Chairman of our Elder Team.
Below is a video from Jim Fletcher and Mark Simmons introducing our Chapter 3 team.