New Guidance for Churches: Larger Groups Allowed in Separate Rooms, Buildings

Clackamas County was approved to enter the first phase of the governor’s reopening plan this weekend, which was welcome news to many restaurants, bars, personal care providers, gyms and stores that have been closed or only able to provide limited services for weeks following the Covid-19 shutdowns.

Though much of the focus has been on business owners, the guidelines also ease restrictions on another important aspect of Canby residents’ lives that has been deeply impacted: churches. Specifically, phase 1 guidelines allow gatherings of up to 25 people for spiritual, cultural or any other purpose.

At first blush, that didn’t mean much for most Canby churches — almost all of which have congregations larger than 25. But, according to new guidance House Republican Leader Christine Drazan’s office shared with local churches this week, that number can go higher in certain circumstances.

“If you have separate buildings, and the people in the different buildings do not have to share and will not share common spaces while in the separate buildings, you can have up to 25 people in each building as long as they can maintain a physical distance of six feet,” said Drazan, who is from Canby and has been in regular communication with local faith leaders.

Furthermore, gatherings of larger than 25 could even be allowed inside the same building, if the groups are divided into separate rooms, can maintain the six feet of physical distance and do not share any common space whatsoever.

“That includes ensuring that individuals from different rooms will not share entrances or exits, restrooms, kitchens, or other common spaces while all in the same building,” Rep. Drazan said.

Such guidelines may be difficult to follow, or even impossible depending on the physical limitations of specific church buildings, but it does offer options for local faith leaders as they — like many local business owners — finalize and begin implementing their reopening plans in the “new normal” of a Covid-19 world.

At least one place of worship, Canby Christian Church, did open its doors for in-person services this weekend, in accordance with the new guidelines. About 90 congregants reportedly gathered for Sunday worship, albeit spread among two services and four separate rooms.

A large contingent of Portland-area churches — including some from Canby — have signed their agreement to a “statement of unity” outlining a cautious, deliberate and well-planned reopening.

“We choose to comply with the Governor’s phases at this time,” the statement said. “We will seek ways to learn from one another, innovate together, and be a collective witness of God’s love and salvation during a challenging time for our entire world.”

Local churches that have joined the statement include Canby Christian, Christ the King Community Church, Bethany Church, Canby Alliance Church and Canby Foursquare Church.

“We stand on the reality that the people of Jesus have worshipped historically and globally under all circumstances, including threats, war, and persecution,” the statement said. “Following our rich Christian history, we can take any form to express our worship of Jesus Christ. From filling stadiums to gatherings of 2-3 people, Jesus has promised to be among us.”

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