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Religious services being moved online across San Diego

Rock Church is one of many religious institutions cancelling services, but some plan to go on as normal.

SAN DIEGO — With the statewide ban on non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people, many places of worship across are cancelling services and moving them online, but not all churches are shutting their doors amid Coronavirus concerns. Some will practice "social distancing" while inside the sanctuary.

At the Rock Church in Point Loma, one of San Diego's largest churches with a 3500-seat sanctuary and six campuses, traditional church services have been cancelled. The weekly sermon will instead be streamed online.

"I would have never guessed we would see a day where we would be forced or asked to shut our doors and not allow folks to come on Sunday," said Rock Church Lead Campus Pastor Ricky Page.

Page says 20,000 people view their services online already, and this digital move will help limit the spread of the virus.

"Whether there's people in the seats or not, that technology is still readily available. A church is not a building, right it's people, therefore wherever you have people you can have church," Page said.

Rock Church Senior Pastor Miles McPherson did a video message on Thursday night detailing how the online stream will go for their four service times at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 12 p.m., and 6 p.m. broadcast on Facebook, YouTube, Roku and Apple TV and at online.

"We'll have worship, we'll be in the sanctuary with nobody in there, and I'll give a message. I'm going to interview some city officials about what's going on. We're just going to obey the law, and there are a lot of people at risk, who we don't want to get sick,"  McPherson said.

Also moving services online, will be Congregation Beth El in La Jolla.

"People need to gather at a time like this , they need each other, especially at a time when we're dealing with a virus we can't see and know so little about," said Rabbi Ron Shulman of Congregation Beth El.

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Shulman says the synagogue won't be cancelling any services but will run their regularly scheduled worship services on Friday night, Saturday morning and each weekday morning.

"We are encouraging those, who should stay at home to not join us in person," he said.

Shulman says worshipers will be expected to keep a social distance while being seated in service, but it's unclear how it will be enforced.

The San Diego Catholic Diocese says masses will be cancelled and Catholic schools closed. But churches will remain open for parishioners and others who wish to pray. 

In a letter to priests, Bishop Robert McElroy wrote:

“It is essential that the Church move in tandem with prudent efforts to stop the spread of this pandemic."

Parishes are encouraged to keep churches open longer hours for personal visitation, intermittent recitations of the Rosary, and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

Catholic churches will be providing video-streamed Sunday Masses in English, Spanish and Vietnamese every week at sdcatholic.org 

McElroy said masses will resume and schools will reopen in coordination with state and local public health authorities. 

McPherson says the big changes the faith community is making may last for several months.

"I wouldn’t think this is going to be a 2-week thing. I think we are at the beginning of a long process. It's very important for people to keep social distance but not emotional distance. It's one thing to stay 6 feet away from you, but that doesn't mean I can't care for you, we still have to reach out," McPherson said. 

The Awaken Church in Kearny Mesa typically sees hundreds of worshipers across its multi-campus sites in Carlsbad, Chula Vista and San Diego. The nondenominational church posted on Instagram:

“This Sunday WE WILL BE HOLDING CHURCH SERVICES at all our locations. We are adding additional service times to adhere to the group room limit of 250 people (for San Diego) throughout our large buildings and campuses. If we exceed this room limit we will be using overflow rooms to accommodate the groupings. Church family, let’s continue to strengthen one another in the Lord! Stand with us and continue to declare Psalm 91 over your life!"

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