At parishes across Santa Maria this weekend, congregants celebrated Mass outdoors — while seated in chairs or parked in their cars — in compliance with state guidelines that once again restrict indoor operations.
Like most sectors, places of worship throughout Santa Barbara County have had to be flexible over the past few months as guidelines continue to change due to increasing COVID-19 rates.
After the state permitted the reopening of places of worship in late May, many parishes resumed indoor and outdoor services with social distancing. However, all places of worship were ordered to discontinue indoor operations on July 13 under state guidance.
For Catholic churches, the guidelines were made official by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which oversees Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
At St. Louis de Montfort Catholic Church, the Rev. Aidan Peter Rossiter said the parish just held their second weekend of drive-in Masses, with five of their usual seven services being offered outside.
At their main 9:30 a.m. Sunday service, Rossiter said between 70 and 100 cars were in attendance to listen to Mass over a PA system, with people asked to stay in their cars the whole time.
"People are very adaptive, very accommodating," Rossiter said. "People are upset that they can't get into their church, but they’re very appreciative of the way we’re trying to bring the Mass out to them."
Thanks to the size of the church's parking lot, church officials have been able to accommodate most attendees while safely distancing between people, he added.
"The church’s way of looking at all this social distancing is being charitable to our neighbor by making sure we don't pass anything on. This is about charity to our brothers and sisters because we don't want to pass anything on," Rossiter said.
While some churches are able to accommodate a large drive-in service, others are offering attendees the option to sit outside for a full outdoor service, such as at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church.
According to Parish Administrator Dennis Pearson, the preparation for services in their parking lot posed a bit of a logistical challenge, as they scrambled to rent canopies and risers and ensure they had proper sanitation equipment for attendees.
However, people have responded well to the setup thus far, he said.
"They enjoy being outside, with the blue sky and the sunshine. They’re adjusting, they’re happy that Mass is being provided to them," he said.
Between the various Masses celebrated Saturday evening and throughout the day Sunday, Pearson said they saw approximately 400 people in attendance. During daily Mass at noon, they have seen between 40 and 50 people.
People are encouraged to bring a mask and a lawn chair, although both will be provided if needed.
"So far we’re really pleased," Pearson said. "It’s filling up as each weekend comes by. A lot of people are still staying home, but each day there's a slight increase."
One of the most important things to the congregants, he said, is being able to take Holy Communion again. However, the use of the shared cup is still not permitted, in order to prevent the spread of germs.
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