05.07.20 | Wellness and Missions
A word from the bishop
During this quadrennium we have used Ephesians 4:1-16 as our guiding Scripture. 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 also grounds our protocol and processes for gathering together again as the beloved community in the midst of a pandemic. Ephesians reminds us that we are one as the body of Christ -- and, within that oneness, there is yet 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 motivations. We bear with one another in love as we all strive towards the same end, which is being fully mature in Christ Jesus and robust in love.
As your episcopal servant leader, my priority in this pandemic has been and will continue to be privileging lives over every other consideration. We will err on the side of safety rather than expediency and remember that this is a fluid situation requiring attentive and adaptive responses. In light of the best information available from trusted medical and infectious disease personnel, and the collective discernment of the stakeholders assessing this matter, I recommend that all of our local churches continue to conduct virtual worship and refrain from in-person gatherings until it is clearly safe to do so. We are safer at home. While I know we yearn to be together to comfort one another, enjoy the fellowship of the body and the blessing of in-person worship, the risk to human life is still high. Also, as our Ephesians text reminds us, we must pour ourselves out in acts of love for one another, which includes the sacrifice of refraining to gather prematurely. There are many within our congregations who are in the highest risk categories. Our personal desires must be secondary to caring for the most vulnerable among us.
The attached information has been developed to guide local church leaders in their planning for reopening their buildings and conducting in-person gatherings once it is safe to do so. Bear in mind that these re-openings will take place in phases. As we all know, the bounds of our conference lie within three distinct local governments. Each of these governments is assessing the status of the coronavirus in their area. Local churches preparing to gather in person must strictly follow the guidelines and recommendations of their local/state health agencies. We will update Conference resources as new information becomes available. Please reference the Conference website regularly for updates to our protocols and FAQs.
We are an Easter people, filled with the hope, joy, and the love of our resurrected savior. We will take this journey together with humility and discipline, bearing with one another in love and continuing to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Peace and Blessings,
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling
Guidelines for re-entering well:
Considerations for Resuming In-Person Gatherings In Church Buildings
The three phases of the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for governors and mayors are based on a foundation of data-driven risk management. Stay-at-home orders are designed to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19. As restrictions are lifted, risk increases. Each governmental agency is responsible for putting in place robust testing, contact tracing, a health care system with adequate capacity, and plans for monitoring specific data. While areas of our Conference may at times be in different phases of responding to the pandemic, here are examples of what it will look like for our churches in different phases.
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. 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 meet virtually to review this document and create a plan for the church. Their work will be informed by the local health department (bwcumc.org/gov).
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 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, and take into account the high degree of discipline that will be necessary in order for the pastor and congregation to be vigilant about adhering to guidelines and helping others do the same.
- WHERE? Consider the size and configuration of your space(s) including parking lots, foyers, sanctuaries, bathroom, classrooms, etc. and what that means in terms of meeting health guidelines.
Before congregations gather, each must ensure an adequate and sustainable amount of required supplies to meet CDC guidelines. Many of these supplies are on backorder. 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 resumes in-person worship:
- People must:
- Maintain six feet of social distancing, not only once inside, but also from the time they leave their cars, enter the worship space, and exit the space to return to their vehicles.
- Have no physical contact (hugging, shaking hands, etc.).
- Wear face masks when out in public -- including parking lots and buildings. Ask people to bring masks with them, but have a supply available for those who do not have one.
- Be vigilant about hand and face hygiene at all times.
- 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 in nurseries and Sunday School. Plan for children to be in worship with their families at this time.*
- The risk for droplet transmission is high for 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.*
- The risk for greeters, ushers and Communion stewards is high as most of their tasks do not allow for appropriate social distancing and/or handling items that multiple people touch.*
The longest projections suggest that the COVID-19 virus will not survive on surfaces for more than four weeks, so expensive professional chemical deep cleans may not be needed prior to re-opening your congregation. 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 and sanitize your facility. This cleaning process should take place before and after all gatherings. This may require a change in scheduled worship times.
- The church campus must be prepared to ensure that people may adequately comply with social 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 practice social distancing, hand washing, and to avoid touching their faces.
- Consider using every other or every third parking space.*
- 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 social distancing.
- Consider limiting restrooms to one person at a time. Larger bathrooms could accommodate more than one person with forced spacing by “closing” every other urinal or stall.*
- Remove ALL printed materials from pew racks, 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.*
- Some experts believe Communion is too risky to attempt at Phase 2 and should only be attempted at Phase 3. If your team decides to provide Communion in Phase 2, the following guidelines must be followed:
- Purchase prepackaged Communion elements.
- 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 social 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 should be resumed no earlier than Phase 3. At that phase, food should be served by servers wearing gloves and using utensils rather than offering open table buffets.
- 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.*
KEEP DOING VIRTUAL MINISTRY
Once local authorities deem it safe to gather, there are at least four reasons to continue virtual ministry:
- 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 are being asked to stay home until Phase 3.
- Some people may not be comfortable returning to in-person worship due to fears about the risks involved.
- If local/state authorities issue a new stay at home order or return to Phase 1, congregations will be required to return to virtual ministry.
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. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has created valuable resources for Faith-Based organizations including Planning, Preparedness and Response Resources and Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces. All of this is available at: bwcumc.org/gov
We are compiling all the resources your congregation needs to be well informed and equipped to engage in ministry at this time. For Local and CDC Guidelines, FAQs and More Visit bwcumc.org/re-entry
*See the Tip Sheets