by Rev. Char Burch, Transitional Conference Minister
Grace and Peace to you all!
There are many discussions occurring in various places about re-opening churches and what that means. Until there is a vaccine, there needs to be a focus on protecting people and not spreading the disease. Remember, many people are asymptomatic and not aware that they may be spreading the disease. Also, as people begin traveling more, the virus can easily spread across communities and state lines.
Re-opening churches means considering much more than Sunday worship. Creating a Phase-in Plan allows Church Leadership to anticipate and plan ahead while providing the entire congregation with an understanding as various decisions are made. Remember – it is about caring for the health and well-being of everyone, particularly those who are older or with compromised immune systems.
While making plans for how to Re-Open, I also encourage you to begin to assess what you have learned about new ways of being the church – ways that might continue into the future. What have been the joys you discovered by being forced to do things in different ways? How might they continue?
Below is a guideline created by the Rev. Ginny Brown Daniel of the Missouri Mid-South Conference based on the research from the Center for Disease Control, recommendations from the Departments of Health of the states included in that Conference (Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee), and UCC/ecumenical documents regarding phases of reopening recommendations. Each Phase depends on “Declining Case count of COVID-19 cases in your area” and the availability of testing.
I suggest that these are a good starting point as Southeast Conference Churches create their own plans based on local information. Even within states, there are variations regarding the spread of COVID-19. Rev. Brown Daniel points out that the phases are not linear. Given the fact that the CDC anticipates a second wave of infections, Church Leadership should be prepared for an increase in infections and may need to return to Phase I at some time.
Below is the description of five phases of reopening your church. There are also charts at the end which simplify the activities during each of the Phases.