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Re-Entry Guidelines, Considerations and Key Questions
As we now begin to anticipate a return to public, in-house worship, we recognize and accept that things are not going to return to what they were before COVID-19; therefore, how we live out our mission as the church will not return to what we have always known. We must continue our tasks of imagining, adapting, and developing new ways of being the church.
Our first rule as Wesleyan Christians is to “do no harm.”
Our first rule as Wesleyan Christians is to “do no harm.” Working towards reopening should be done intentionally with careful consideration given to your local circumstances and ministry context, which may mean that even after restrictions begin to be lifted, in certain locations, some congregations may choose to delay reopening based on their local circumstances.
We must always prioritize the protection of those most vulnerable to the virus, many of whom are participants in our churches’ ministries. Our return to public worship is not, and never should be, based on our own comfort, desires, or preferences.
To be faithful, we are called to be willing to do what is best for others, even when it requires us to make sacrifices.
We also recognize that there will not be a one-size-fits-all approach to this startup. Those who are vulnerable (those over 65 and/or with preexisting conditions) are encouraged to be abundantly cautious and should take precautions while the virus is still affecting their community.
Starting up in rural, less-populated areas could be different than in higher-density population centers. However, all of our clergy, congregations, and leaders should be aware of and follow the following guidelines and considerations.
1. We will follow all CDC guidelines, but will not reopen any sooner than allowed by the Governor or state law.
Currently, Governor Edwards has extended the shelter in place order through May 15.
Bishop Harvey has directed all congregations to refrain from public worship until May 31.
On May 11, Governor Edwards will determine whether the state has made enough progress to lift certain restrictions, or whether the shelter in place order will need to be extended; it is also anticipated that Governor Edwards will issue additional guidelines for in-person, in-building worship.
Bishop Harvey will issue supplementary directives for the conference following the Governor’s decision.
2. When we are allowed to return to worship, we will follow the phased-in “Open Safely” plan that has been published by the Governor and the State Fire Marshal.
Currently, Phase 1 will allow no more than 25% of building occupancy to gather, and only then when physical distancing guidelines can be effectively followed.
Phase 2 will likely increase the size of gatherings and relax some of the social distancing requirements.
Phase 3, we all hope, will have no limitations on the number of people gathering but our attention to disease control measures will be a necessary “new normal.” However, this plan is subject to revision by the Governor, and we will continue to monitor
3. Any person entering worship in any of the above phases must be attentive to any symptoms and excuse themselves if any are present or develop.
Have you been diagnosed with the COVID 19 virus?
Congregations should consider providing a list of questions for the congregation to answer before entering such as:
Has anyone in your household or close contacts been diagnosed with the COVID 19 virus?
Do you have a cough?
Do you have or have you had a fever in the last 24 hours?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then they should not attend in-house worship.
In Phase 1, masks must be worn by everyone entering the building. This should be clearly communicated to all clergy, laity and the congregation with a reminder to bring a mask. Ushers (also masked) should have spare masks available for guests and those who do arrive without masks. Pastors and worship leaders should practice safe distancing while leading worship and remain masked while interacting with people. The removal of masks to preach or speak from a pulpit or lectern is permitted as long as safe distancing requirements are maintained.
Congregations should be prepared to clean and disinfect thoroughly all spaces after every use. This includes, but is not limited to, door handles, light switches, pews/seats, tables, countertops, and any other surface that is touched by adults or children throughout the building. Hand sanitizers and wipes should be readily available at all entrances and in all areas that are open for use: sanctuaries, restrooms, hallways, offices.
4. Choosing to violate the orders and directives carries significant risk.
As we move forward, it is expected that each congregation will comply with governmental orders and directions from the Bishop. Congregations should contact their insurance providers with any questions or concerns about risks and liabilities associated with resuming in-person, in-house worship.
5. Remain Focused.
Most importantly, we should remain focused on our mission and purpose and consider modifying, suspending, or eliminating what does not directly support that missional purpose.
- In anticipation of entering Phase 1, congregations must begin now determining their maximum occupancy levels so that the 25% threshold may be established. The Office of State Fire Marshal has provided guidelines for Places of Worship to open safely. Please refer to this document for guidance.
- Safe distancing must be practiced in all seating. A six-foot distance must be maintained at all times. Additional worship services may need to be added when the number of worshipers exceeds the gathering limitations. Even smaller groups (10 or fewer) must be aware of space/ distance. Room size and ratio must be determined for all spaces that will be occupied.
- Following the guidelines for safe distancing, we must greet one another in ways that acknowledge each other without physically touching. Congregations should avoid the tradition of passing the peace as a part of worship. The pastor and leaders must set the example. This means that as the pastor greets those in attendance, they should do so while maintaining safe distances and without physically touching the person they are greeting. Greeters should be deployed only when they are able to maintain safe distancing and must always wear masks.
- In Phase 1, because viruses can survive on paper and hard surfaces for hours, all hymnals, Bibles, and papers should be removed from the pews. Bulletins should not be handed out. Consider, where feasible, using projection systems during worship, and social media, websites, and other media for announcements and communications. Congregational singing and choir practices should be suspended until we move beyond Phase 1.
- Offering plates should not be passed from person to person. Every effort should be made to create a place for members to drop their offering into a container that will allow them to follow social distancing guidelines. Those collecting and counting the offering must wear gloves and follow guidelines for safe social distancing and wearing gloves.
- Worship services should be shortened in duration to reduce the exposure to a crowd during Phase 1. All Children and Youth activities, including Sunday School and Children’s Church, as well as other on-site large group gatherings should be suspended.
- All other small-group offerings should only be held where all safe-distancing guidelines, including the use of masks, can be practiced. Opportunities to have online Bible studies and online children’s Sunday school should continue to be explored and implemented.
- Restroom capacities that allow safe distancing must be thought through and posted. For example, if the restroom has four stalls, the capacity should be reduced to two people in the restroom at a time. Restrooms must be cleaned after each use.
- It is recommended that all Baptisms and Holy Communion be suspended through at least Phase 1.
- There should be no coffee hour or fellowship times before or after worship. Eating and drinking socially make physical distancing more difficult. Be alert to the guidelines to know when it is best to reintroduce these activities.
- During Phase 1, congregations should not offer nursery or child care.
- Every effort should be made to keep accurate attendance records in case contact tracing needs to be done.
Communication and Media
- Every effort should be made to expand the online resources that are being offered, while at the same time continuing to offer traditional communication to members and participants unable to access or adequately navigate an online environment. We have a wonderful opportunity to connect to people with whom we may never have connected before, but we must make every effort to be easily located on social media and the web. It is important to remember that even after we move beyond Phase 1, there will still be people who are unable or uncomfortable to return to public worship. Online options are no longer options, they are now necessities.
- Every single church should have a web site and a Facebook page. United Methodist Communications offers three services to help your church have a professional and effective online presence.
- Actively train your leaders and teach your members to use Zoom or other teleconferencing resources.
- Continue to talk about faithful stewardship. Find new and effective ways to talk about giving, even in anxious, uncertain times. Be prepared to offer multiple ways for members and participants to give to the church. Online and text-to-give are no longer options, they are now necessary. The United Methodist Foundation of Louisiana has offered online giving as a free service to United Methodist churches and ministries within the Louisiana Conference unable to provide this service on their own.
- Rev. Todd Rossnagel, Director of Communications for the Louisiana Conference offers five tips on how to communicate during a pandemic:
- Communicate Often. There is no such thing as over-communication. Audiences today are bombarded with messages. Yes, even as they self-isolate in their homes. Take full advantage of every method at your disposal to communicate - use social media, email, phone, and traditional mail. The moment you think you've over-communicated is the moment your message just starts to impact your audience.
- Simplify Your Message. Use fewer words and shorten your communication. Again, attention spans were shortening before the pandemic and there is no indication that they are increasing.
- Why? Why are you doing what you are doing in your church? Stop telling what you are doing and begin telling why. The moment you answer the question 'why?' is the moment you speak to your overall mission, giving folks a reason to champion your church.
- Be Bold. Don't be afraid to break the cycle. Traditional rhythms have ended, embrace ways for you to connect with your audience at new times, and with new methods. Did you have plans of launching a Saturday night service but couldn't do so before? Now might be a perfect time.
- Do No Harm. This first general rule is especially important when it comes to communication. Be nice - be smart - be genuine - be humble and be careful with humor (if you think it is even close to being offensive, it is)
Questions To Consider
1. Are you aware of and following the most recent recommendations of the CDC, as well as state and local guidelines?
2. Have you consulted with your insurance company on benchmarks for re-opening restarting programs such as daycares?
3. Have you considered how you may need to update your building use agreements after Covid-19?
4. If someone who has been in your building contracts Covid-19, how will you respond? Will you have adequate records of those present to assist in contact tracing?
5. Have you considered the increased requirements and costs for keeping the facility consistently cleaned and sanitized?
6. How will you continue to connect with those who may have started watching your services online? How will you reach out to your community in this new missional context, especially those looking to connect with a congregation?
Do You Have a Question?
We know questions will come up. While we can't promise to answer every single question that you might have, there is a chance we can provide an answer.
Please fill out this form and someone from the Office of Clergy Excellence will respond.
The decision to resume public, in-house worship is not a political decision, nor is it primarily a decision of rules and regulations, but rather a decision that should be based on wisdom and responsibility. If we are asking, “Can I do ________ and still be in compliance?” we are asking the wrong question. The right question is “Is our response the right message to send to our community about our love for God and our love for them?”
Thank you for living out your discipleship in such powerful ways! Together we will now begin to consider our next, faithful steps.
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