Horizon offers outdoor church services, Horizon Prep to welcome students back
Horizon Christian Fellowship has adapted to find creative ways to bring the community together in fellowship and to provide hope in an uncertain time, with outdoor drive-up and picnic-style services. When the state rolled back re-openings of indoor spaces this week, Horizon was in a better position than many other churches, blessed with 30 acres in Rancho Santa Fe and room to spread out.
Horizon will continue to offer three outdoor weekend services in-person: Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. “We absolutely intend to comply with every rule and regulation,” said Assistant Pastor Stephen Patterson.
For 12 weeks after the March 19 stay-at-home order, the church offered online services only. The church campus was not completely quiet during that time as it hosted Saturday morning drive-through food drives in support of the San Diego Rescue Mission and members of the congregation in need.
On May 25, after President Donald Trump declared that houses of worship were essential, the state released new guidance that allowed churches to open for indoor services limited to 25% capacity or 100 people. Horizon reopened on May 31, the Christian holiday of Pentecost, but they never went indoors—utilizing their large campus, they had the congregation in cars (cars socially distanced as well) for the drive-in service.
Horizon was accustomed and equipped for going outside as they celebrated an Easter service outside every year.
“Every weekend it has grown,” Patterson said of the outdoor services.
For the last six weeks, in addition to the drive-up, they added the picnic area where families can opt to sit together in socially-distanced circles on the grass soccer field. During the outdoor services, families are greeting and waving to each other from their circles. There is not yet childcare and Patterson said it can be challenging to keep his children, who are 1 and 3 years old, inside the circle but the children’s ministry provides bags of activities to help occupy the kids.
The outdoor services have made for some memorable experiences: On July 4, the church had a virtual fireworks display on the big screen and gloved hands passed out red, white and blue pinwheels, Patterson said it was an amazing sight to see them spinning in the circles across the grass.
It is not the same, but they are together: “The hugs and handshakes are gone but there are smiles, under the masks,” Patterson said. “It’s good to come together to have fellowship while distancing.”
Pre-COVID-19, the church welcomed about 1,200 people across the three services, plus children. They are now averaging about 900 people across the weekend services and about 500 views on their online live-streams—they have about 1,700 subscribers to their church YouTube channel. After his hosting duties, Patterson does live chats on the stream speaking with people tuning in from as far away as Washington, Texas and Virginia.
“It’s cool to see our family grow,” said Patterson, whose mom streams services from his native New Zealand.
This past weekend was the first time they offered up their sanctuary for indoor worship, as an auxiliary space due to the heat. Typically, the venue can hold about 610 people and Patterson said only about 13 people opted to sit inside, 6 feet apart.
“It wasn’t very popular because people wanted to be with each other when they are worshipping,” Patterson said of the majority preferring the outdoor space.
The indoor option will no longer be permitted under the new order but Patterson is hoping that the weather will cooperate throughout the summer.
Horizon Prep plans to welcome students back next month
Horizon Prep, the private school founded 20 years ago as an extension of the church, is committed to bringing students back to campus for the first day of school on Aug. 18. The school offers a Christ-centered, classical education for pre-school through high school students.
“We’re excited for the fall to get here,” said Scott McGihon, interim head of school. “We’re here to serve the community in the best way we know how.”
McGihon is starting his eighth week on the job, coming to his position from the private sector. He was also a college swimming coach for 18 years, including coaching at UC San Diego for 13 years.
As a member of the Horizon Church board and parent to two Horizon students, in June it was proposed that he serve as the headmaster on an interim basis. McGihon is a newbie on the job in the unprecedented time of a global pandemic but his mindset is focused on viewing challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles.
Making the decision to return kids to school has come with a lot of prayer and “wise counsel-seeking,” he said, looking to experts to break down the various health guidelines from county, state and national agencies. McGihon believes Horizon has rolled out the best measures to keep students, teachers and staff safe on campus.
“School is not just about education, it’s about the social development of children as well and it’s very challenging to do that in an online environment,” McGihon said. “We believe school is best experienced in person, on campus.”
Horizon teachers were able to pivot to online learning within days of the school closure—“I don’t know that anyone did it better than Horizon Prep in terms of adapting over the course of a weekend.” While the Zoom classrooms’ teachers created were impressive, Horizon does not plan to offer distance learning as part of the regular school day.
They do have an action plan if they face a scenario when schools need to be closed again.
“We are blessed with where we are located and the way the school was constructed,” McGihon said of the spacious campus with buildings connected by a large central courtyard. Many classrooms open up to breezy open walkways and there are lots of windows for fresh air circulation. Their classrooms are also bigger in size and class sizes are small; enrollment is at about 300 students for fall.
Families have decisions to make as the school year is set to begin in about five weeks and there remains some uncertainty regarding public school district’s plans. This week the largest public school district in San Diego announced they will not return to in-person school in August.
McGihon said Horizon started fielding a bit more calls last week— “the general feeling is no one knows what is going to happen” and he said many families are experiencing tentativeness about making commitments.
McGihon assured families and students: “We’re here to welcome everybody.”
Next week, July 20-24, Horizon Fellowship will be hosting virtual Vacation Bible School. The popular summer program will look a little different this year and so far 350 kids have signed up for a unique interactive online experience. Called “The Heist,” kids will solve the case of the missing jewel using real clues. To learn more, visit horizon.org
For more on Horizon Prep, visit horizonprep.org
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