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May 30, 2020

Dear CCEP Fellowship:

The reason for this letter is to bring you up-to-date on how the recent loosening up of church restrictions will affect our fellowship.  I apologize for this being a bit long, but please make sure to at least review the Final Thoughts at the end.

But firstly I want to say how much we miss everyone.  Church was definitely not designed to be this way.  I think the past couple months, however, are indeed signs of the times.  I think it also has shown us not to forsake the assembly of the saints [ref. Heb 10:25].  Oftentimes we take for granted things we have until we don’t have them.  Rest assured, however, God is in control; none of this surprises Him.  His sovereign plan is being unfolded.  We must remain faithful to follow Him during these interesting times.

So the below is an update on what we are specifically doing to reopen our fellowship at CCEP.

What do these recent changes mean for churches in Los Angeles county?

As many of you know restrictions on church fellowships were eased [to some degree] this past week.  The announcement came two Fridays ago on the Federal level by placing churches and other faith organizations on the “Essential Businesses” list.  The State of CA and Los Angeles County soon followed this past Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

This means that churches in LA County can begin reopening their doors for public worship with restrictions.  These restrictions can differ from county-to-county but from what I’ve read thus far they are similar and have essentially implemented State guidelines.

These guidelines are many so I’m going to list a reader’s digest version.  I’ve bolded verbiage showing non-negotiable guidelines and underlined negotiable guidelines.  I believe that these distinctions are important to guide what we must enforce and what we can flex.  More on that later in my Final Thoughts.

The below is referenced from one of the local LA news websites:

Guidelines for reopening churches in CA State and LA County.

  1. “Attendance is limited to 100 people or 25% of the building’s capacity [which will be about 15 people in our HT Church office], whichever is lower.”  “That limit stays in effect for 21 days after the house of worship reopens, then conditions will be reviewed by health officials.”
  2. “Face coverings are strongly recommended. The plan, outlined a dozen pages released by the state, also discourages the passing of offering plates and other items between people.”
  3.  "Consider modifying practices that are specific to particular faith traditions that might encourage the spread of COVID-19," the statement posted on the state's Covid-19 response page said. "Examples are discontinuing kissing of ritual objects, allowing rites to be performed by fewer people, avoiding the use of a common cup, offering communion in the hand instead of on the tongue, providing pre-packed communion items on chairs prior to service, etc."
  4. “Distancing guidelines include a recommendation to shorten the length of services and offering additional meeting times to spread out the number of attendees to avoid large gatherings. Handshakes, hugs and other forms of greetings with physical contact also are discouraged.”

What does this mean for Calvary Chapel Echo Park?

Firstly, CCEP leases a LAUSD school, and so we are in a bit of a unique situation.  Since schools will not open until mid-August at the earliest, reopening our church as before is off the table for now.  And in all likelihood it may be that LAUSD will not rent to any outside groups because of liability.  I would also venture to say that liability issues regarding the COVID pandemic may be a challenge to churches at their own facilities.  In the end, it may be wise for us to simply continue our Live Stream only services until the dust settles.  Regardless, however, we do not even have Rosemont ES as an option to reopen.  I receive that from the Lord.

Secondly, our HT Church Office is not a long-term solution for church services because it is not zoned for public assembly, and it will take a lot of work and money to have it zoned.  Also, the owners will be selling the property within five years so it would be unwise to invest much money into that property.

However, with the relaxing of church assembly restrictions we are able to restart smaller bible studies like the HT Home Groups at our Church Office.

We therefore will continue to Live Stream only our Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services until further notice.  I do not think this is a negative.  I actually believe we are at the beginning of the Lord’s plan to take us into a new and exciting season.  I’ll share more on that later.

HT home groups and monthly fellowship.

With some of the church restrictions easing, we are going to do the following:

  1. 1. Begin HT Home Groups at our church office the week of June 8, 2020.  I will be emailing out options on nights that are convenient for peoples’ schedules.  We will start with one night per week and add as needed to comply with capacity restrictions.  We should be fine with 15 people at HT, maybe a max of 20.
  2. Begin a once a month fellowship, probably the last Sunday of the month from around 2-4 pm, that will host an all church fellowship at an outside facility.  I am looking into a long term lease at a park or a place with a large auditorium that will seat 100 people comfortably.  We plan on having corporate worship at this event along with a 20 minute message.  We will then fellowship as a corporate spiritual family.  We also plan on doing some evangelistic outreaches at these events.  Some details still need to be ironed out but these, I think, will be great events!

HT Home Groups and Monthly Fellowships will be our physical CCEP corporate fellowship events for a while.

CCEP in the weeks ahead

In summary, in the weeks ahead you can expect:

  • Continuing Live Stream only Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services.
  • Beginning HT Home Groups the week of June 8, 2020. A follow up email will be sent out regarding details on schedule.
  • Starting a once a month Sunday afternoon fellowship at an outside facility or park from 2-4 pm. This will be after the Live Stream Sunday morning services. We will have corporate worship and a short teaching. We will also be looking to do some outreaches as well.

Some Final Thoughts

We are in some interesting times that have probably taken many of us by surprise.  Who would have thought at the beginning of 2020 that the whole US economy would be shut down for over two months; including church services!  But as we know, nothing surprises our Lord.  We can rest in the fact that God has it all covered.  He always has and always will.  He never ceases to cover all things.

I would like to close by sharing on a heart level my take on churches reopening with these restrictions.  I feel that if a church cannot open its doors and offer a better fellowship experience than Live Streaming then it would be better to stay with Live Streaming.  Obviously we do not have the challenges that large churches have.  But how does a church like Calvary Chapel South Bay entertain a 100 people limit when their congregation is several thousand?  You know how?  They stay with Live Stream only.  That’s what they’ve decided to do.  And what about children’s ministry?  How do you exercise social distancing with toddlers?  You see, for many churches it works better to stay Online until the dust settles, which it will.  It’ll come but maybe not in the time we desire.

And while we do not have this specific challenge, I do side with the reasoning that if we cannot offer a better worship experience physically, it is better to stay online and commit to prayer until we can without suffocating restrictions [i.e., have you ever tried worshipping with a face mask?].  I believe that Online worship, while not a long term solution, is a better option right now than with these restrictions.

This will be the heart from which we will implement the HT Home Group studies at our church office and the monthly all church fellowships at an outside location.  We will enforce the non-negotiable restriction of maximum people but will flex on the negotiable restrictions.  Otherwise I believe it is not worth doing.  I mean, worshipping with masks, to me, is self-defeating.  Better to worship freely from your home.

A final point on sensitivity.

Our desire is to minister and meet the needs of everyone. Please be aware that there are diversities of views on the COVID virus, in our fellowship and the church at large. There are some who are very cautious, some not at all; and everything in between. Yet we are one in Christ. It is this latter principle that we are looking toward, and praying, in the days ahead.

Blessings, Pastor David