‘Sacred distancing’: Worship goes online during stay-at-home order

Horizon Church is among many local churches to add services online.
(Courtesy Horizon Church)

On Good Friday local San Diego city and county officials stressed the importance of continuing to socially distance and encouraged residents to enjoy the Easter and Passover holidays from home.

“You should enjoy the weekend, and if you celebrate Easter that’s of course appropriate to do, but only within your family unit,” said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “We can’t see congregations or groups getting together... because that would be against the public health order.”

This year’s Holy Week looks a lot different: Masses and services are streaming online and priests in PPE were handing out palms drive-through style on Palm Sunday at St Therese of Carmel in Carmel Valley and St. James in Solana Beach. The Church of the Nativity in Rancho Santa Fe had drive-through stations of the cross.

Mindful that more people are turning to prayer in these uncertain times, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Del Mar, Grace Point Church and Saddleback Church in Carmel Valley and Horizon Christian Church and Village Presbyterian Church in Rancho Santa Fe have gone online with their services. Beth Am Congregation has found creative ways online to connect with their community, even doing a virtual playroom with activities for their extended childcare center.

At the city of San Diego’s COVID-19 briefing on April 10, city religious leaders spoke about the importance of celebrating the traditions of Passover and Easter safely at home.

“We are referring to this not as social distancing but sacred distancing,” said Rabbi Devorah Marcus, of Temple Emanu-El. “We express our love for our families, our neighbors and community as a whole by imposing self-restraint and control by staying at home as much as possible, making sure we’re doing our part to keep the lives of our neighbors and loved ones safe.”

Locally, Solana Beach Presbyterian was among the first churches to make the shift to online. They began offering Sunday services online starting March 15, added small group meetings by video conferencing and launched a new “Live with Pastor Mike” on Thursdays with a chat feature.

An online service from Solana Beach Presbyterian Church.

“At its core, the church is a community, not a building. We are a family that gathers for worship, meets in small groups to support and learn together, and serves the vulnerable within and outside the community,” said Solana Beach Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor Mike McClenahan. “We have always had an online presence... but now this is the primary way we are connecting with each other. We even served communion on the streaming service, asking everyone to prepare their own elements and serve each other.”

Their Easter service is on Sunday at 10 a.m. on Facebook live and their website will include music, prayers for each other and the world, and a message that McClenahan will preach from his living room. A chat room will be open after the service so that people can connect with each other.

“This celebration will be more personal and reflective than our normal celebrations outside on our patio with 2,000 worshipping together,” McClenahan said. “I will miss the excitement of the event, but I’m trusting that God will meet us where we are.”

Local churches are also encouraging members to help vulnerable neighbors. This Saturday, April 11, from 9-11 a.m., Horizon Church we will be collecting food, hygiene and personal supplies in the Horizon front parking lot on 6365 El Apajo to donate to local food banks serving those in need. Items for donation can be placed in the trunk of your car and the church will collect them from there.

Saddleback Church San Diego is hosting a pop-up food bank at The Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch, on Monday, April 20 to collect donations of food and supplies. Items can be dropped off between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the village green.

Solana Beach Presbyterian’s Hispanic Fellowship is partnering with Casa de Amistad, the North County Immigration and Citizenship Center, and the Kingdom Builder Foundation on a project to serve families who are experiencing job loss and reduction in hours due to COVID-19.

“This is a difficult time for all of us. We are all adjusting to new routines and ways of connecting with each other, sometimes in the most difficult circumstances of job loss, death or fear of this virus that is impacting the whole world,” McClenehan said. “My prayer for our church family and our neighbors is that we will still find Easter hope in the midst of the disruption, chaos and confusion of this present crisis.”