Churches React to County Potentially Being in Purple Tier for Christmas

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It’s hard to imagine, but it's a very likely scenario facing San Diego County: A Christmas with chapels closed to the public.

Should cases keep soaring and we remain in the purple tier, places of worship will not be allowed to hold any indoor services.

Catholic Diocese of San Diego spokesman, Kevin Eckery said not holding Easter service this year was traumatic for a lot of parishioners.

"That was tragic, and that was a horrible disappointment for our bishop, for everybody associated with the church,” Eckery said.

But he thinks Christmas will be different, in no small part because churches can hold services outdoors, even in the purple tier.

"Are we disappointed?” Eckery said. “Sure we're disappointed, but disappointment doesn't mean you say the heck with it, 'We're just going to continue put people's lives at risk,' No, we're all grownups. We all know what we have to do to be Christian and what we have to do to be safe."

So starting this weekend, Catholic services are moving back outside.

"This is not an assault on religion,” Eckery said. “This is an assault by a virus on us."

The Episcopalian Diocese of San Diego never moved services back inside.

“We haven’t had a service inside since March,” says Rev. Mark Hargreaves, who presides over St. James by the Sea in La Jolla.

But while parishioners have become accustomed to services outdoors, Hargreaves is the first to admit that doesn’t mean the pandemic is always an easy pill to swallow.

“We’ve had members die six or seven months ago,” Hargreaves said. “And we haven’t been able to have a funeral yet and that’s hard, but that’s the cost of the pandemic.”

A cost that takes a toll, even on him.

"That's been very hard,” Hargreaves said. “I've found that personally very difficult. S,o I had a bit of a crisis a couple of weeks ago. So I just felt that I was just hopelessly estranged from my congregation and that quite a painful thing."

But there's also some silver linings.

Hargreaves says the church has reached more followers online these last few months, than it did in person prior to the pandemic.

Now as his church prepares for a Christmas service outside without Communion - he points out - Mary and Joseph had to improvise too.

“Mary gave birth in a place they weren't expecting,” Hargreaves said. “So actually I think the way our Christmas preparations are going this year - when we're not quite sure how it's going to be and what might be possible - I think that's actually is an entirely appropriate and fitting way of remembering that first Christmas story."

In the red tier, churches were allowed to hold indoor services up to 25% capacity up to 100 people.

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