Supreme Court ruling eases church capacity restrictions
A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling has trickled down to Oregon faith-based institutions and has subsequently also filtered down to local churches.
The result of the ruling came from a series of recent court decisions arising from other states that challenged limited gatherings in faith-based institutions of 10 or 25 people per religious gathering in areas with high COVID-19 transmission. At the same time, secular activities like acupuncture facilities, campgrounds, plants manufacturing chemicals and microelectronics, and transportation facilities had no capacity limits.
The ruling resulted in a change in Oregon, made in the "Sector Risk Level Guidance Chart" of restrictions published on the Oregon Health Authority website. The changes can be found in a footnote at the bottom of the chart, indicating that "capacity limits for faith institutions are recommended only. Capacity limits do not apply to this activity."
The change was effective Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. Other requirements, such as maintaining 6 feet of social distance between households, regular sanitation and wearing masks are still applicable.
Checking with local churches revealed that most already followed these guidelines and intended to continue doing so as long as the pandemic was a threat to their congregations.
Pastor Mike Wilson, of Prineville Presbyterian Church, commented in response to the Supreme Court ruling that "early on, we took this to mean that the government was not telling us that we could not worship, but in our understanding of Christ's call to be a good neighbor, it changed the way we worship."
He added that their congregation follows the guidelines in distancing and capacity. They also offer a live stream option for worship, which has been followed by a large amount of his congregation members.
"People were already taking it upon themselves to follow some common-sense guidelines," added Wilson. "That is kind of how we have approached this. Every single Sunday — and Christmas Eve, too — we have been well within the health guidelines for capacity."
He pointed out that he could not speak to how other congregations are approaching this but pointed out that his congregation has strived to be a good neighbor by following the health guidelines and has had 100% mask compliance. Wilson noted that in the Bible, there are some common-sense guidelines that are brought out regarding health guidelines — such as distancing and masking.
Trey Hinkle of Powell Butte Christian Church commented that he is hopeful that with vaccines now coming out, the restrictions will continue to become less and less. He noted that he trusted his leadership to approach the guidelines with common sense, as well as Central Oregonians who attend their church.
"We were very excited when Gov. Brown's restrictions became more recommendation for faith institutions. There has tended to be a sigh of relief," Hinkle said of the ruling.
He added that his congregation's leadership has decided that they will continue to be sensible about how they will conduct services in the church.
"We still practice social distancing within the building itself, marking out places where people can sit."
In addition, they are still encouraging mask wearing unless members have a medical condition. Hinkle indicated that they would resume capacity with up to 120 in the main worship center, and 60 in the chapel — including the personnel on stage and media center. Prior to the relaxing of the numbers, they were restricted to 80 in the worship center.
"Our people kind of police themselves still, so we don't have more than about 80 people breaking down our doors to come in on a weekend for any one service," he added.
The link on Oregon Health Authority website for the new guidelines with the change to "Recommendation" only for churches:
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