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The Episcopal Bishop of California Is Urging Church Members to Forego All Religious Gatherings Durin

A strict new stay-at-home order that has already been implemented across much of the Bay Area and goes into effect for the entire 11-county region on Friday bars all indoor religious gatherings. The order, however, does permit in-person services held outdoors, an allowance many congregations deem critical as Christmas approaches.

But some faith leaders are urging congregations, amid exploding COVID-19 infections, to refrain from holding any kind of worship services where people will be physically present.

Among them is the Rev. Marc Andrus, the Episcopal bishop of California, who explained his position to KQED’s Brian Watt earlier this week.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

What prompted this call?

Rev. Marc Andrus: An overall guide to our life as Christians, as Episcopalians, as human beings. Despite all the suffering and the voluntary restraint and the self-sacrifice our faithful people are going through, they value the safety of their neighbors, of health care workers, front-line workers in grocery stores and restaurants, the safety of elders and those with underlying conditions. So they refrain from gathering.

Your speaking out comes during an ongoing legal battle over the right to hold indoor worship services. How do you view this conflict between personal religious rights and personal safety?

I don’t have the constitutional right to restrict our churches, even our own churches, from doing what the law allows. But as far as what we’ve been asked to do by the governor, by [San Francisco] Mayor Breed, by the health departments that are using science to look out for our safety, we’ve been following the science and we think that being a good citizen means following these sensible, health-based, science-based rules.

What are you providing to comfort people in this very difficult moment, especially those who have lost loved ones?

This is an urgent moment. We’re facing the most divided nation that any of us have ever seen or probably imagined. And that division isn’t going away tomorrow. It’s not going away after the inauguration on Jan. 20. So we’ve got a lot in front of us. And it’s winter. The nights are longer. There’s less light. So what I’m trying to urge people to do is take care of themselves. We need to nourish ourselves with beauty, warmth, light and most of all love, so that we can keep on going.

Copyright 2020 KQED