Note: This article, originally published July 9 was updated on July 19.
Vashon’s St. John Vianney Catholic Church, Bethel Church, Vashon Island Community Church and Full Calvary Gospel Church are now holding in-person services on Vashon, in accordance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s easing of restrictions as part of the state’s Phase 2 “Safe Start” reopening plan.
However, other island churches — Vashon Lutheran Church, Vashon Friends Worship Group, Vashon Presbyterian Church, The Church of the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Vashon United Methodist Church and Vashon’s Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints, Burton Community Church, Puget Sound Zen Center and Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship — have opted out of shifting back to in-person meetings for now, and will continue to hold services and meetings online via Zoom and Facebook Live.
Under Phase 2, churches are permitted to have indoor services restricted to 25 percent of building capacity or 200 people, whichever is less. The rules for Phase 2 originally allowed a maximum of 50 people, but Inslee modified the rules in mid-June to allow for a greater number of potential worshippers.
Washington churches are also allowed to have outdoor services for as many as 100 worshippers.
For all services, a wide range of safety measures are required by the state, including mask-wearing for worshippers before, during and after the services. Social distancing of at least six feet, between persons not from the same household, is also required.
Choirs are out, but singing by churchgoers is allowed, as long as masks are worn by anyone who is singing. Those leading worship services are not required to be masked, as long as they maintain 15 feet of distance from churchgoers.
Throughout the era of coronavirus, there have been numerous national and international news reports of churches being sites of COVID-19 “super-spreaders” events.
Dramatic reporting has most recently come from northeastern Oregon, where a church was linked to a large coronavirus outbreak.
The Lighthouse Pentecostal Church held in-person worship services in May in violation of the governor’s stay at home order. Videos of a church service held on May 24, now deleted from Facebook, showed the congregation singing, dancing and jumping around. Subsequently, of more than 350 church-goers tested, 236 had been infected by the coronavirus.
Washington’s stipulations on face-coverings, physical distancing and percentages of seating that must remain empty are aimed at curbing this kind of contagion as the faithful return to church buildings.
Here’s what island churches are up to lately, in the ongoing age of coronavirus.
St. John Vianney Catholic Church
On July 5, the church began to hold in-person Masses, starting with a 40-minute outdoor Mass in the church parking lot attended by approximately 60 people.
The church, said its administrator Maria Pottinger, is “finding its way” through a plan that will introduce indoor Masses in the coming weeks. The large sanctuary of the church, at 25 percent capacity, will allow 90 people to attend Masses, but Pottinger said she did not expect that many people to attend.
Church-goers must reserve a spot to attend the Mass by calling the church office at 206-567-4149. Attendance is taken at the church, and Pottinger said the names of all attendees will be kept for 14 days after each Mass, in case of a need for contract tracing.
Pottinger also said that in addition to meeting all the state guidelines for holding services, St. John Vianney Church was also required to meet additional strict guidelines imposed by Seattle’s Catholic Archdiocese.
“The Archdiocese is being so conservative,” she said.
Laura Wishik, a St. John Vianney parishioner who is also a volunteer for Masks for Vashon, said she had made 70 masks for the church’s parishioners.
Those who do not want to attend Mass in-person, or who have health conditions that put them at high risk for the coronavirus, can still view a 5 p.m. Saturday Vigil Mass live-streamed weekly from the church.
For more information, visit stjohnvianneyvashon.com. An 18-page document outlining requirements for re-opening made by the Washington State Catholic Conference can be found at seattlearchdiocese.org.
Bethel, which is part of the Evangelical Free Churches of America denomination, also opened its church for indoor worship on July 5, as part of a package of options that included listening to the service via loudspeakers on the spacious church grounds, or driving to the church parking lot to listen to the service via radio on 88.7 FM. Those who wish to remain at home can still live-stream services via Facebook Live and YouTube.
Bethel’s sanctuary, at 25 percent capacity, can hold 74 church-goers.
As is the case with St. John Vianney, numerous health protocols are in place to protect churchgoers against the coronavirus. Masks are required for those listening on the lawn or inside the church, and six-foot distances between members who are not part of the same household will be enforced indoors and out.
To find out more information about Bethel’s protocols, options and suggestions for attendees, visit the church’s website at bethel-efc.org and see a video and document explaining the procedures at bethel-efc.org/covid-info.
Calvary Full Gospel Church of Vashon
The church in the Lisabuela neighborhood, with a congregation of 30 to 40 people, resumed in-person worship services inside its church on July 19. According to the church’s pastor, Steve Sears, the church is meeting all COVID-19 safety protocols imposed by the state for church gatherings and will again offer in-person services this coming Sunday. According to its website, Calvary Full Gospel Church is a non-denominal church with fellowship ties to the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies, and roots in the charismatic/pentecostal movements.
Vashon Island Community Church (VICC)
Mike Ivaska, the pastor of VICC, a member of the Assembly of God denomination, announced last week that beginning on July 5, his church — with a small sanctuary — will be able to welcome 12 people to attend the church’s video live-streamed services in person.
For now, Ivaska said, church-goers can only sign up for one service per month, a policy that would be revisited in August depending on attendance in July.
VIC’s restrictions and protocols, which include mask-wearing both indoors and out, temperature checks and strict social distancing, are detailed in a letter to his congregation, posted at vashonchurch.com/blog/2020/7/2/in-person-worship-phase2.
Vashon United Methodist Church
Paul Mitchell, the minister of Vashon United Methodist Church, said that his church will continue to offer online services only.
“We have no plans to return to in-person worship soon,” he said. “We will likely not meet in person for quite a while. I tend to think an effective, widely available vaccine and a robust contract tracing system are required before putting our congregation and the wider community at risk.”
Church of the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church
The rector of the church, Sarah Colvin, told The Beachcomber that the church would continue to offer online services only through at least Phase 3, if not Phase 4 of the reopening plan. When the church does reopen, she added, it will continue to offer services online.
Vashon Presbyterian Church
According to the church’s pastor, Leigh Weber, the church will continue to offer services on Zoom until at least September 1. In a letter sent on June 20 to her congregation, Weber explained the rationale behind the church’s leadership not to reopen at this time.
“The health of the congregation and the health of the whole community are of vital importance,” she wrote. “We will not rush back to gathering until we are confident it is reasonably safe to do so.”
Weber said her church would soon survey its members to find out more about who they feel about returning to in-person worship.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
The Vashon branch of LDS church is still continuing to hold devotional meetings and other meetings and study groups online, rather than meeting in person, said Branch President Chet Tillman.
The branch would continue to gather in this fashion, said Tillman, pending further direction from the larger LDS church hierarchy.
In the meantime, he said, ministering programs conducted by branch members would continue to make sure the daily needs of all the church’s members were being met.
Vashon Friends Worship Group (Quaker)
The Vashon Friends Worship Group, which in pre-COVID days met in members’ homes for silent worship followed by a short social time, is now gathering via Zoom.
“First is a long silent meeting, then comes the enthusiastic chatter and discussion of current events,” said member Edna Dam. “Where would we be without Zoom?”
For more information on the group’s virtual gatherings, call 206-463-5255 or 206-567-5279, or email Karen Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vashon Lutheran Church
Islanders can now view services at Vashon Lutheran via YouTube. The services are pre-recorded, typically on Saturdays, and then posted on Sunday mornings.
The church is also offering a Zoom Bible study on Sunday morning for the members, as well as a Zoom Bible study specifically for Vashon Community Care members.
“We continue to be mindful of the challenges of the COVID 19 pandemic as it relates to all age groups served by the church. Therefore, we do not have immediate plans to open back up for in-person worship, and will follow all state protocols,” said Patte Wagner, who is council president of the church.
The Vashon Care Network continues to operate out of the church, providing durable medical equipment (walkers, wheelchairs, crutches, etc.) to anyone with a need. The church is also hosting small group training sessions for 2020 census workers. Vashon Elder Care and 12 step programs are currently suspended until further notice.
To join the email list of the church and receive updates about services, including church bulletins links to YouTube services, write to email@example.com. The church is currently in the process of updating its Facebook page to also include this information, said Wagner.
The Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship,
The Unitarian faith community, which has not held in-person services throughout the pandemic, is currently offering Zoom coffee hours, every other week, throughout the summer months. The fellowship will resume regular services on Zoom in September. For more information visit viuf.org call the fellowship’s board president, Robbie Rohr, at 206-734-8719. Rohr said that the fellowship always welcomes visitors to their online services.
The Burton Community Church
This historic church in Burton will continue to hold services online at least until August, said member Doug Ostrom.
“We at Burton Church have welcomed participation from far-flung friends from California, Michigan and elsewhere who otherwise would not be able to attend,” said Ostrom. “We enjoy our choir twice a month whose voices have been mixed digitally into one hymn. And our minister and guest speakers don’t need to get on a ferry. Still, though we miss our historic church and the chance to meet in person.”
The Puget Sound Zen Center is also currently still holding all gatherings online. For more information, visit the faith community on Facebook.