CC Moreno Valley Responds to COVID-19
CC Moreno Valley Responds to COVID-19

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Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley Responds to COVID-19 Outbreak

Story by Tim Hoelle
Photos by Mark Avila

After the initial shock of governmental responses to COVID-19 this spring, Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley, CA, faced new challenges that would continue to test the leadership as the virus became personal. “Within two weeks [of having to shut down,] our sound man came down with the virus, and all of us had spent time being around him,” recalled Senior Pastor John Milhouse. “Two weeks later, one of our guys who’s been with us 35 years was taken home to be with Jesus because of the virus.” Although the leadership team was encouraged, knowing he was going to be with the Lord, it was also difficult because they could not gather with Christian brothers and sisters in the church family. The building was still closed, and there was no viable way to hold funeral services.

Jesse getting temp checked

Volunteers at Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley, CA, take the temperatures of people attending an 8 a.m. outdoor Sunday service. The pandemic hit the church hard this spring as one member died from COVID-19 and several others contracted the illness.

“There was not a lot of chance to talk to anyone, so that was hard,” said Joel Milhouse, assistant pastor. “But I think it made the virus very real to people [in our church].” The challenges continued as two assistant pastors also contracted the virus. Since all the leaders were potentially exposed, they all had to quarantine and missed a week of services. To cover for the week, John asked another pastor to send him a previously recorded lesson.

Man with sunglasses on in tent

People who attend Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley’s outdoor services bring their own lawn chairs and practice social distancing.

Of the two pastors who tested positive, one had minimal symptoms while the other was hospitalized. At one point they thought they might lose him; but by the grace of God, he made a full recovery. “Some churches I’ve talked to haven’t even had one person test positive,” offered John. "The virus has hit us really close. Having lost someone, having two of our assistant pastors with the virus, it's gotten really personal—emotional—for us as a church. It's caused us to perhaps be a little more cautious."

Adjusting to the Times

A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Pastor John preaching the Word

John Millhouse, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley, teaches during an outdoor service.

“COVID hit so quickly, and we had to shut down the church, so to speak; people could not come in,” John related. The church immediately went to work making all the necessary adjustments to present services online and to compensate for the loss of in-person fellowship. Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley also faced challenges that were common to many churches: setting up cameras in empty rooms and teaching to lenses, dealing with the technology challenges, and not seeing their body of believers in the church building.

Pastor John talking to man with mask

Calvary Pastor John Milhouse (right) and a member of the congregation hold a conversation while both wearing masks for heightened safety.

The impact of the shutdown has rippled throughout the ministry, including to young adults and children. "It was hard because we weren't able to have youth group,” said Joel. “Our team did the best we could to connect through Zoom and [social media], but seeing the [national] statistics coming out about thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, depression, and all of these things in the youth—it was heartbreaking. When the youth group came back for the first time [and met outside], they had 30-40 kids; when it was over, they didn't want to leave.” As a result of the State-mandated shutdown, the church has not had younger children’s services since March 8th.

When asked about the guidelines from the State of California, John chuckled. “It’s been ‘interesting.’ The State of California has been so up and down about requirements. We’re following these guidelines partly because it’s what we’ve been asked to do, but mainly because it’s good for us. Each county is different, so that makes it more complicated. We’ll do what is suggested unless and until it contradicts what we believe Scripture teaches.”

To address the various state and local requirements, CC Moreno Valley had to get creative. Currently, their Sunday 8 a.m. time slot is an in-person family service—outdoors. The church has an area outside that is set up and equipped each week for the service, and churchgoers bring folding chairs. Leaders and volunteers take temperatures, ensure that people are wearing masks until seated, and maintain appropriate social distancing. All three of their Sunday services are online. Their Sunday Spanish service has returned to being indoors at 1:45 p.m. with the appropriate safety guidelines.

People worshiping in tent

Attendees at Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley raise their hands to praise God.

“The outdoor service is meeting a need, and we’re seeing a nice response from our [church] body,” reflected John. “But temperatures in the valley can approach or exceed 100 degrees by mid-morning, so we’re going to have to wait to add more services until the temperatures diminish a little.” That’s not stopped them from reaching out via social media to let the community know they are meeting and to invite people to visit the church. “People are hurting and they’re looking for something,” observed John.

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Psalm 34:17-18

Temp checks

A young woman gets her temperature taken ahead of the outdoor service.

Those attending in person with children receive a “Calvary Kids” pack every Sunday that includes a lesson and material the parents can review at home; online materials are provided as well. The church held a “virtual VBS” where parents picked up a pack of supplies and the sessions were all online. The staff worked hard to make the experience special for the children. CC Moreno Valley is now holding in-person studies on Wednesday night and a men’s study on Saturday morning. Both of those are now inside with the appropriate precautions. “The only study we are still doing on Zoom is the women’s study,” added Joel. “That’s partly because many in that group are moms with children at home, so it’s just a more practical way of getting together for now.”

Worship leader playing in front of crowd

The worship team moved outside to accommodate the changes needed to hold in-person, outdoor service. 

Changing School Ministry

The church also has a school for grades K-12, which has been greatly impacted by COVID-19. “Last year we had 200 students, this year we have 93,” reported John. The school had to make a decision as to how it would operate, especially given the unclear and inconsistent stance of the state government. The church leadership decided to commit to providing virtual learning for the entire school year, but they also are combining efforts to provide the best possible experience for everyone involved.

Worship

A member of the worship team sings during an improvised outdoor service at Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley.

“We needed to give clear direction to the parents, so we felt led to move in this way,” commented Joel. Based on the age of the student, they’ve either received an iPad or a Chromebook. There is live interaction with the instructors, and there are recorded messages providing direction and information. “The school curriculum is taught by instructors from Bob Jones University, and there’s one live morning class; then it’s on-demand for the rest of the day,” explained Joel. “So far we’ve received great feedback from the parents.” The church has also made the decision to help the school financially while praying that more students will return next year.

Kid doing HW on grass

During the service, a little boy enjoys the “Calvary Kids” pack the church provided.

Shaking and Refreshing

Pastor John Milhouse and his son Joel are three years into a five-year program to turn the leadership of the church over to Joel. Both pastors see the Lord working through the COVID-19 events and the people involved in their various ministries. “I love that the Spirit of the Lord was not hindered by a virus or quarantine,” Joel emphasized. “The Lord has used this to shake us out of the routine we may have fallen into. It's kind of like a clean slate and allows us to continue to do the new things as well as bring forward what we've been doing. We want things to be fresh. We're ready for what the Lord wants to do.”

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Kid reading bible on grass

A mom and her children get settled for the Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley outdoor church service.

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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