More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic caused the shuttering of the campuses of Rock Church in San Diego, California, Senior Pastor Miles McPherson welcomed back over 5,000 of his congregants indoors for the first time on Sunday, and it felt like “Christmas.”
“What’s up Rock family? What’s up Rock family! One year has gone by; we are back!” McPherson declared in a Facebook broadcast, clapping at first and then pumping his fists in the air with jubilation.
“All the campuses, everybody watching all over, God bless you. Thank you so much for your patience, for your faithfulness. COVID came, but COVID did not knock us out. Come on now! God will not stop the church. We are back. It is so exciting.”
While elated that his congregants were now finally able to come together for the first time since the state placed restrictions on houses of worship gathering during the pandemic, McPherson also took the time to acknowledge the loss many of them suffered as a result of the virus while offering a sense of hope.
“Over the last year, we’ve gone through so much. A lot of y’all lost loved ones, lost jobs, businesses, but God is going to sustain you. He’s going to sustain you as we talk about in this new series called ‘Relaunching,’ He’s going to get you through,” McPherson declared.
Speaking with The San Diego Union-Tribune after the service, the megachurch pastor, who did not move to hold indoor services until state officials lifted mandatory restrictions last week, reiterated how happy he was to reunite with his spiritual family again.
“It was so good to see our family back together,” he said. “It was like Thanksgiving or Christmas when you get to reunite with your family and reestablish your relationships.”
More than 5,000 attended in-person services across four campuses and 300,000 also watched Rock Church services online, the publication noted. But for those who attended in-person, the feeling was special.
“It’s my birthday today, and we’ve been gone for so long that it feels like a gift from God and Pastor Miles that we can all be together again,” said Karla Ghancous, 27, who recalled the first time she walked through the doors of the Point Loma campus.
“I kid you not, the Holy Spirit just caught me the moment those double doors opened and I heard the music. I’m ready to run back in right now,” she told the newspaper.
Along with the loss of life that came with the pandemic, the social isolation, said McPherson, also deprived congregants of their relationship.
“We don’t realize how much we need each other, to look each other in the eyes, to see our faces and the expressions we’re making,” McPherson said. “Because we’re made for relationships. And when you take that away and when you get used to that, you lose something, and you just don’t realize what you lost until you get it back.”
On April 12, California lifted capacity limits on houses of worship after a controversial year when several churches challenged the state’s pandemic restrictions in court.
“In response to recent judicial rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended,” an update posted on the state’s COVID-19 website reads.
In February, the office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom was forced to revise guidelines for indoor worship services after the U.S. Supreme Court granted an emergency injunction blocking a complete public health ban on indoor worship services in some counties. But the court kept in place restrictions on singing, chanting and a 25% limit on crowd size in place.
The state completely lifted all mandatory restrictions after the Supreme Court ruled against the state’s limits on in-home Bible study and other forms of worship on April 9.
Last week, Rock Church announced that four campuses would hold in-person services at 50% capacity, while the Chula Vista campus and microsites continued to meet outdoors.
Those wishing to attend services are encouraged to RSVP each week and are required to wear a mask upon entering the facility. Attendees will have the option to remove the mask once they are seated.
According to a statement released by the church, seating indoors "will support comfortable distancing." Attendees are asked to maintain "appropriate distance from those outside their household" and were asked to leave bags and purses at home in an "effort to keep everything as touchless as possible." No food or drink was allowed to be consumed inside the church buildings except water.
“With the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing churches to meet indoors, the Rock Church leadership has been meeting to assess the feasibility of how to do it safely," McPherson said in a statement. "This involves preparing the physical buildings, training staff and volunteers, and making the necessary safety precautions.”