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The Hilltop


Churches Face Challenges Around Virtual Transition

By Carrington York, Staff Reporter

Photo Courtesy of West Angeles Church of God in Christ.

For many, churches are a home away from home but as the nation and world adopt stay-at-home orders, places of worship are trying to find their place in the cyberworld. California Governor Newsom was the first to enact orders with the intention to “make additional resources available, formalize emergency actions already underway across multiple state agencies and departments, and help the state prepare for a broader spread of COVID-19.” 

Public masses across the nation have been encouraged to cease, leaving ministers to find an alternative for their traditional services: online streaming. Still, congregations have experienced hiccups throughout the transition. 

Brandon Randall, Director of Security at West Angeles Church, one of the nation’s renowned Megachurches, says the news of the transition was not easy for some old-school churchgoers. 

While some individuals had learned of the news through news or email updates from the congregation, there was still a need to reinforce the order by turning individuals away at the door for hyper-religious attendees. 

“Some people understood and had no problem with it. Some were religious fanatics and believed they had God on their side,” said Randall.

West Angeles Church has gone through a series of adjustments to accommodate their 5,000 attendees. Initially, the church accommodated people by welcoming churchgoers in groups of only 50 to be seated in each 200-person section, encouraging individuals to keep their distance from each other and neighboring seating sections. But as news of the COVID-19’s threat progressed those efforts would not suffice, causing the church to provide online worship services.

“My job is to worry about everyone that walks in that door. I worry about random acts of violence all the time. We’re ready for situations like that. What you’re not always ready for is someone to cough on you and end your life,” added Randall. 

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Still, the creative efforts to reach a safe medium between government orders and the needs of church attendees have not stopped there.  

In Stockton, California, Congregation of Zion has extended its use of software like Zoom, a video conference service, to continue scheduled worship and weekly Bible study. 

While the use of streaming apps has undoubtedly provided access to the members of this multicultural, 70-person church, following instructions from the media has been a hard pill to swallow as some black church-goers worry about media-induced fear-mongering. 

“We know what it is to have the media stir something up,” said Senior Pastor Dumisani  Washington.

 Washington said that just a few services ago, he spoke with his congregation about the unjust history of many of our trusted institutions with an emphasis on medicine and media. He mentioned the Tuskegee syphilis experiments and the Tulsa Race riots as examples of where “healthy skepticism” could have been utilized to prevent sensationalism and even violence. 

“I don’t beat on journalists but there’s a lot of sensationalism that’ll be there. I try to comb through some of that. As a pastor and father, I owe it to my congregation to research what medical scientists are saying about the virus. What I noticed were many instances where the media projected the worst-case scenario,” said Washington.

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