The world has changed significantly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the practice of worship.
As with the rest of the country, the goal of filling our pews has changed, but we are still fulfilling a purpose.
On Saturday afternoon, parishioners filled the parking lot of First Baptist Church where they were greeted by Pastor John Lopez donned in personal protective equipment. With everyone remaining in their cars, Lopez instructed the crowd on the purpose for the day: to form a large caravan and drive by the homes of fellow worshipers who are ailing or recovering from surgery, spreading love along the way.
"I'm so glad you were able to come out today and be a part of a unique visitation opportunity. As you are well aware, as a pastor, my responsibility is to visit those that are in the hospital. Because of our present circumstances, not only can I not visit in person, but flowers are not allowed to be delivered. When I was approached to consider caravaning to those that are not well, I welcomed it enthusiastically," Lopez wrote in a flyer given to those present.
More than two dozen cars then set off to the Cummings Valley home of Sue Weinberg, who is recovering from a recent stroke she suffered while visiting her daughter in Michigan.
Weinberg, who was taken by surprise to find the caravan in front of her home, was all smiles and waves, and had a few heartfelt tears of joy.
"Thank you. Thank you. I love you all, I miss you all," Weinberg said to the passing cars.
Next, the caravan of cars continued on to the Golden Hills home of Freddie Paul, who is recovering from a recent hip surgery.
Paul, who was amazed at the outpouring of love and support from her fellow church members, sat smiling at the caravan from the living room window as a cacophony of honking horns and shouts of well wishes reached the porch, were her family members stood watching. Some of her neighbors also stepped outside to show their support.
The caravan continued on to the homes of two other members.
After Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the shelter in place guidelines for California on March 19, Lopez said he understood the seriousness of the situation.
"I just called it quick," said Lopez, who canceled his services immediately without knowing that the previous Sunday would be his last inside the church for the foreseeable future. "We have a large segment of elderly membership, and I couldn't live with myself if something were to happen."
Lopez said he continues to watch the situation closely, and praised Newsom for how he is handling the pandemic.
"Eventually, we will reopen, but we're not pushing it," Lopez said.
In an effort to stay in touch with his congregation, Lopez said he continues to call and text members on a daily basis. In addition, he mails letters quoting scripture and encourages members to visit the church's Facebook page for messages.
"God knows when we are going, but it would not be wise to treat this (the pandemic) like it's not real," Lopez said.
The Rev. Nancy Bacon of the United Church of Christ is also doing her best to keep in touch with her flock, and recently held a drive-in communion service.
"I stood in the front of the church and I told everybody to bring bread and juice... and I told them to stay in their cars so we could connect by phone and communion together," Bacon said.
On most Sundays since the pandemic began, Bacon said, she delivers a sermon via conference calls.
Said Bacon, "We deliver a lot of prayer and basically check in with how everyone is doing. It's pretty casually, but it's our way of staying connected and staying in touch with one another."
Later in the day, Bacon and her husband host "Coffee in our Kitchen" via Zoom.
"But you have to bring your own coffee," the reverend said.
Each week, member Phyllis Belcher writes a poem and shares it during Coffee in our Kitchen, which Bacon said she enjoys.
"I think it is so important that we stay connected," Bacon said. "It is easy, when you have a mask on, to feel like you are avoiding people. It's really important to look people in the eye, even if you are six feet apart, and to smile, even if you have a mask on, and to wish them well and continue to be loving. Try to be there for each other."
The Rev. Baxter Parent, with the help of his wife, said they send out a pastoral newsletter each week both electronically and by mail to his parishioners. Parent said he also tries to connect with each of the church members weekly via a phone call.
"Our parishioners, for the most part, are not electronically or digitally comfortable, thus my use of a weekly mailed newsletter," Parent said.
Pastor Chris Frost of Mountain Bible Church uses their website page and Facebook page to deliver Sunday service and Christian Life Assembly Church delivers its Sunday service with an online system. Stallion Springs Community Church is also utilizing Facebook for its Sunday morning worship service.
Pastor Kevin Boefsler of Bear Valley Springs Church delivers his Sunday service using a television camera and monitor in front of his empty pews.
"During the week, I utilize a more youth-friendly, Instagram platform to work with our many young people for Bible study lessons," said Boefsler.
Freelance photographer Nick Smirnoff contributed to this report.