02.09.22 | Wellness and Missions
A word from the Bishop and Task Force
“I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together…” – Ephesians 4:1-3
As we continue to struggle with grief, caution, impatience and anxiety after more than two years of physical distancing, it is important to pause for a moment of prayer and reflection. We thank God for the people of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and for the leaders of its churches, who have responded in unprecedented ways to ensure the body of Christ continued to be strong and vibrant throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the past quadrennium we were guided by the wisdom and teachings of Ephesians 4:1-16. We have drawn from these passages as we engaged in holy conferencing, developed our strategic foci, and ordered our lives together in mission and ministry. The overarching message inherent in these verses continues to ground our protocol and processes for gathering together as the beloved community. Ephesians reminds us that we are one as the body of Christ – and, within that oneness, there is still diversity. The way that we are able to remain in the unity and bond of peace is that we privilege others above ourselves, and care for one another with acts of love. We also resist any immaturity that tears at the fabric of our unity or succumbs to selfish motivation.
We bear with one another in love as we all strive towards the same end, which is being fully alive in Christ Jesus and robust in love.
As your episcopal servant leader, in consultation and conversation with the COVID-19 Task Force, I have stressed to you that we must privilege life over every other consideration.
During the early stages of the pandemic, we erred on the side of safety rather than expediency and worked to be nimble and flexible in all that we did, trusting in the best information available from medical experts and infectious disease personnel. Our personal desires were secondary as we sought to care for the most vulnerable among us. Those principles have served us well and will continue to guide us as we navigate various twists and turns in this journey.
As we are all weary from COVID-19, the discernment of local church leaders is more important than ever. May we continue to hold one another in prayer as we move forward in hope, grace, and love – seeking to live as the people of God, making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Peace and Blessings,
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling and the BWC COVID-19 Task Force, Feb.10, 2022
Guidelines for re-entering & Navigating well:
These guidelines are written with the assumption of high transmission rates. Re-Entering Well Teams should check the transmission rates in their county here and look out for monthly updates as the epidemic landscape continues to evolve.
FORM A RE-ENTERING WELL TASK FORCE
The pastor will ensure that each congregation forms a “Re-Entering Well Task Force” to plan for a phased-in reopening of their building(s) for church gatherings and subsequent decision making required in the pandemic. Ideally, in addition to the pastor, the team would include a health professional (if possible), and a representative from the church’s Trustees, Pastor/Staff-Parish Relations Committee, and hospitality team (greeters, etc.). Congregations without access to each of the recommended members shall form a task force reflective of their clergy and lay leadership. This team should review this document so that they might create, monitor and adapt a plan for the church. Their work will be informed by the local health department.
Three Considerations to Determine How and When to Re-enter the Church Building for In-Person Gatherings
For the health and safety of persons who will attend gatherings, the task force must address the following questions:
- WHAT? Consider how your church is helping people get vaccinated. For those who aren’t vaccinated, consider the availability of required supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer, and how you will adhere to all CDC and local health guidelines to mitigate risk.
- WHO? Consider the percentage of congregants who are vulnerable to the virus, the number of members and visitors that are vaccinated, and the degree of discipline to implement the decisions made.
- WHERE? Consider the size and configuration of your space(s) including parking lots, foyers, sanctuaries, bathrooms, classrooms, etc. and what that means in terms of meeting health guidelines.
Each congregation must ensure an adequate and sustainable amount of required supplies to meet CDC guidelines. Church leaders should:
- Obtain adequate amounts of cleaning and sanitization products. Alcohol-based surface cleaners are adequate to kill this virus as long as they are 60% or higher in alcohol content.
- Obtain an adequate number of masks for anyone who does not arrive wearing their own. People refusing to wear a mask must be asked to leave and join the service virtually.
- Provide hand sanitizer for those who do not have it and/or install touchless hand sanitizer dispensers at entrances/exits.
- Address the fact that microphones, keyboards, handheld electronic devices, and other surfaces may be difficult to clean or disinfect because they could be damaged if they became wet. A cleanable cover/skin (e.g., keyboard skin) could be used on the item to allow for cleaning while protecting the item.
- Ensure that each microphone will be used by one person during a gathering; they may not be passed from person to person. Sanitize the microphones after each gathering.
- Create signage that assists in communicating core safety messages in a way that is hospitable and caring.
It only takes one person to infect many others. Some people who carry the coronavirus may be asymptomatic and not realize they have been infected. When your congregation gathers in-person:
- People must:
- Maintain six-feet of physical distancing.
- Have no physical contact (hugging, shaking hands, etc.).
- Wear face masks when out in public -- including parking lots for unvaccinated people and buildings for all. Ask people to bring masks with them, but have a supply available for those who do not have one.
- Sanitize hands each time anything in the building is touched or used.
- People vulnerable to the virus should stay at home with full access to virtual church activities.
- Leaders, identified and equipped by the task force, must take responsibility for enforcing necessary policies to create a safe space for people who come into our church buildings to worship.
- Develop a method to track attendance at worship and other gatherings. This is especially important in case someone becomes ill and contact tracing is required.
- The risk for transmitting the virus is high for unvaccinated children. Plan for unvaccinated children to be in worship with their families at this time.
- The risk for droplet transmission is high for unvaccinated choirs and musicians playing brass and woodwind instruments. The current best advice is no choral or congregational singing at in-person worship. With singing and specific instruments, droplets can be projected farther than six feet and remain suspended in the air longer. Vaccinated persons may sing, play woodwind instruments or preach for worship without masks but need to maintain adequate spacing from one another and participants.
EMBRACE DOING HYBRID MINISTRY
If you are gathering in person, there are at least three reasons to fully incorporate virtual ministry into your planning:
- Some people have joined you virtually and won’t join you physically until they have formed deeper relationships. with you and your congregation. Some may choose to remain virtually connected, and you won’t want to lose their presence.
- Some people are more vulnerable to coronavirus and need to stay home.
- Some people may not be comfortable returning to in-person worship due to fears about the risks involved.
The most reliable way to prevent infection from surfaces is to regularly wash hands or use hand sanitizer. Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces can also reduce the risk of infection. However, as a matter of due caution and respect for parishioners, churches should do an extensive cleaning of all door knobs and push-handles, railings, arm rests, pew or chair backs, kitchens and dishware, bathrooms, and any “touch” surfaces. Before the congregation returns to your church building:
- Clean your facility and sanitize frequently touched items. This cleaning process should take place before and after all gatherings.
- The church campus must be prepared to ensure that people may adequately comply with physical distancing from the time they enter the property until they leave. Signage and ongoing education should offer clear directives regarding safety-focused behaviors that are expected when attendees are present in church buildings.
- Mark designated entrances, exits and building traffic patterns, highlight the location of sanitizer stations, remind people to wear masks, practice physical distancing, hand washing and to avoid touching their faces.
- Consider using every other or every third pew for family seating. Rope off pews as necessary.
- Consider exiting by rows instead of all at once, while maintaining the required six feet of physical distancing.
- Consider minimizing use of printed materials. Instead rely upon projecting Scripture and hospitality messaging or convey information verbally.
- In posted signage, digital communication, and verbal instruction, use positive, encouraging language that reflects hospitality, while maintaining a commitment to loving our neighbor and doing no harm.
- Offerings should be collected in secure receptacles near entrances and exits. We advise continued encouragement of electronic offering. A safe method for counting the offering must be implemented including the use of disposable gloves.
- Taking Communion in worship is a personal choice for those who have been vaccinated. These suggestions remain for those who are not vaccinated:
- Purchase prepackaged Communion elements or have people bring elements from home.
- Place kits on seats or pews before people arrive. Have extra prepackaged Communion elements available so people may take one without touching others (e.g., each kit 1 foot apart): position the table in such a way that physical distancing is maintained.
- Provide waste receptacles at the end of each inhabited pew so that the used Communion elements may be discarded immediately.
- If you feel vulnerable and don’t want to remove your facemask in order to prevent contamination, please take the blessed Communion elements home with you and partake there after thoroughly washing your hands and the elements’ container.
- Social/coffee hour is safe for vaccinated and is riskier for unvaccinated persons who need to maintain physical distancing, mask wearing, and hand sanitizing practices. Food should be served by servers wearing gloves and using utensils rather than offering open table buffets.
- As is the case during worship services, mask-wearing, physical distancing, and hand sanitizing continue during social/coffee hour when these gatherings are held indoors. Prepackaged, portable items are recommended. Masks may be removed for outdoor social time when physical distancing is maintained.
- Though you will be communicating to people that they should stay home if they feel sick or if someone at home is sick, identify a space that can be used to separate someone who becomes ill during a gathering until they can safely depart and return home. In the event of any medical emergency, call 911 and administer first aid following updated guidelines.
Stay Informed About Local and CDC Guidelines
There are three jurisdictions within the Baltimore-Washington Conference (D.C., Maryland and West Virginia). Each has or is developing a localized plan with health agencies to interpret CDC guidelines based on local data, including county guidelines. These guidelines are written with the assumption of high transmission rates. Re-Entering Well Teams should check the transmission rates in their county here and look out for monthly updates as the epidemic landscape continues to evolve