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Considerations for Reopening Our Churches
Bishop-Elect Sonya Williams
/ Categories: COVID-19 Update

Considerations for Reopening Our Churches

Recently, the Leadership team at my church met around a reopening plan for our physical worship location.  We brought a plethora of information to the table and was able to pull from a well of great information from the CDC, government recommendations, medical science and ministerial input and suggestions. We'd like to share our plan with you in the hopes that you are able to utilize some or all of it as you are developing your own reopening plan.

The South Region leadership would also like to hear from you. Use the comments section of this article and share with us what you are doing. You can also share any comments or concerns you may have about these recommendations. Remember, the South Region is committed to Connection, Communication and Collaboration. Your participation matters.


Encourage at Risk Individuals and Those with Symptoms of Illness to Stay at Home

As you begin to consider reconvening your church gatherings, people in high-risk demographics should be encouraged to not physically attend regular worship services.  According to CDC vulnerable individuals (the elderly and people with certain underlying medical conditions) should remain sheltered in place until Phase Three [Phase 3 of what?]. Churches should attend to these congregants and, if possible, make special accommodation for them—such as continuing to live-stream worship services, provide drive-in services, or provide a senior service, exclusively for those 65 and above to attend in person.

Exercise Best Sanitation Practices

Churches should implement best sanitation practices. Consider implementing the following protocols:

  • Take the temperature of people who attend services.
  • Require everyone to use hand sanitizer upon entering the building.
  • Nurseries and childcare facilities are discouraged.
  • Disinfect high traffic areas, including restroom facilities between uses.
  • Members should wear masks and gloves.
  • Encourage members to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • During the initial phases, the use of pew Bibles and hymnals should be discouraged. When they are used, they should be regularly sanitized according to best practices.

Make Other Appropriate Adjustments

In addition to the sanitation practices, churches should consider these guidelines:

Do not pass offering plates, but instead collect tithes and offerings in a central collection box (such as a basket).   Encourage online giving.

  • Consider closing certain common areas where people are more likely to closely interact.
  • Do not pass out literature such as church bulletins. If you do pass our material, ensure that ushers are wearing gloves and that any material handed out to parishioners has been sanitized.
  • When administering the Lord’s Supper, do not pass around a communal bowl. Provide the elements individually. The goal of these practices is to ensure that multiple people do not come into contact with the same surfaces and objects.
  • If your church has greeters at the doors, make sure they do not shake hands with members and visitors. Likewise, many churches have a “greeting time” as part of their liturgy. Waving or bumping elbows should take the place of hand shaking for the foreseeable future.
  • Adjust seating configurations to allow for increased social distancing. For churches that use individual chairs consider spacing the chairs out. For churches with pews, consider roping off every other pew.  Families could be encouraged to sit together but maintain the recommended distance of six feet between families. o Churches may take different approaches to this based on their circumstances and set-up, building size, number of facilities, and their configuration. In the early phases, to abide by CDC guidance, some churches may need to have multiple services to enable proper social distancing. Others may be able to spread out over their different facilities.  o Churches should consider instituting a graduated process of capping attendance.   A church might start by allowing a certain level of occupancy and subsequently raise it by a percentage as CDC guidelines allow for further opening.   As the occupancy cap increases, the number of different facilities in use will go down.
  • Pastors set the tone for their flock. Consider going out of your way to model recommended behavior. Your calm and cheerful demeanor can encourage congregants to adopt best practices.  It may be best to consult with your leadership team before meeting with the congregation at-large.

Follow Reasonable CDC and Medical Science Guidance for Further Instructions

So long as restrictions are temporary, applied equally to religious and nonreligious gatherings alike, and there is a good reason for putting them in place, government actions at this time likely will not violate religious freedom protections.

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