In normal times, this would be just one more religious event for the calendar listing.
Pastor Dan Kellogg decided this week to start 9 a.m. Monday through Thursday services at his Gold Creek Community Church, a megachurch with 5,000 members.
“We’ve always made room for the outsider,” he says about the church’s dramatic growth.
Churches here and around the country have canceled in-person services. Kellogg’s church by Mill Creek has canceled its services, too — but started this one.
And so, in an auditorium with a capacity for 1,500, the two to three dozen church-goers Thursday were spread far apart in stacking chairs.
“People are hungry for a little connection in a safe way,” says Kellogg.
The coronavirus outbreak has changed the rules on pretty much everything in our lives.
In an emergency declaration Sunday, Gov. Jay Inslee capped all public gatherings at 50 people. Hence, the odd sight of the sparse crowd in a cavernous hall.
Max Makary, 57, says the live services lift his spirits. He lives a few minutes away. “The fear inside of me gets out,” says Makary.
“Do you know what the word ‘church’ means?” he asks. “It means a group of people. God has told us that if two of you, if three of you get together, I will be in the middle. At this time, more than ever, we need Him in our midst.”
He gets around in his van and wheelchair. Makary contracted polio at age 2 when his family lived in Cairo, Egypt. A CPA, at this time of the year he drives to meet clients.
He brings hand sanitizer and keeps his distance. “I am confident. God is driving for me,” he says.
The service, which lasts about half an hour, is streamed on the church’s Facebook page and attracts some 2,000 viewers. Kellogg started the church in his home here 27 years ago.
As is customary with many modern, independent, evangelical churches, the morning service includes a four-person band with guitar, drums and two electric guitars. The lighting in the auditorium is dimmed, as if at a concert.
Everyone showing up for the service has their temperature taken with one of those infrared thermometer guns. If they pass, they get a green circle sticker to put on their shirts.
“We turn away older people,” says Kellogg. The Snohomish Health District says gatherings of fewer than 50, such as at church, need to follow an order the agency issued Wednesday.
Kellogg says the church is following the guidelines, keeping hand sanitizers in the foyer and cleaning high-touch surfaces at least hourly. Employees are screened daily for coronavirus symptoms.
At the beginning of the service, Kellogg chats briefly with Ben Ishizuka, 32, who’s playing the piano.
“Dudes. I’m talking about dudes that normally don’t worship,” Kellogg says to Ishizuka. “Worshipping now . . . that is so cool now.”
Ishizuka replies, “We could all use a little faith.”
We’re not exactly a religious region. According to a 2017 Gallup poll , 47% of adults in the state said they were not religious, and seldom or never attended services.
Kellogg says maybe it’s time for all those non-religious types to do some re-evaluating.
“I hope so,” he says. “A crisis of life and death makes you think about what you believe in.”
One of the dude-age types who shows up Thursday morning is Brandon Ringstad, 28, who says he uses his University of Washington degree in marine biology to teach it on YouTube and is a swimming instructor.
“It just brings me hope and makes me feel good. When you’re online, you have chat, but you’re not with anybody else,” Ringstad says about attending the service. “I can go into the day confidently.”
With the pool closed, “Actually, I’m out of work,” he says. So at his parents’ house he’s pulling up the vinyl planking floors and replacing them.
About his fellow 20-somethings, Ringstad says, “Society is very dark. There’s not a lot of hope in my age group. They need to turn to something.”
He’s there with his mom, Leslie Ringstad, who works in the Snohomish School District as an educator aide for a disabled student. She has received a notice from the district to stay home, she says.
What will happen to her income?
“We’re actually not sure yet,” she says.
The morning services help, she says. “I’m not in charge. God is in charge. Something good will be done.”
Kellogg concludes the service with a list that includes “Things I can thank God for.”
“A great day of sunshine yesterday. A great hike that cleared my head. I have a new pair of boots. I started the day singing.”
And there was this one: “No one close is sick yet.”