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United Methodist Churches to reopen with caution during pandemic

steeple on First United Methodist Church
steeple on First United Methodist Church(WVLT)
Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 3:29 PM EDT
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Heading back inside sanctuaries together will happen slowly and cautiously for East Tennessee churches in the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church. It will look and sound different, including the wearing of masks by everyone who goes inside.

Reverend Jenny Caughman, Minister of Spiritual Care at

said church leaders have already been working on a reopening plan.

Holston Conference leadership is now giving churches guidance on when they could eventually open. Leaders say it could be as early as this summer.

"We will need to get approval from our church council. And then we will need to show to our district superintendent that yes, in fact, we are compliant as well as to sign a covenant saying we will do everything that we can to keep people safe," Caughman said.

The Holston Conference has posted its plan as of June 1, which includes very specific guidelines churches must meet, including the wearing of masks and social distancing.

Caughman said the extra steps are not only necessary for safety but are part of being faithful in caring for one another amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"If we can limit the chance of our neighbor being sick, it seems pretty clear to me that we should do that. And so wearing a mask is a way of protecting our neighbors," Caughman said. "Protecting our neighbors from a disease is a way that we can show our love for them."

Churches like FUMC Oak Ridge will continue to offer online worship and other services as options for people who may still not feel comfortable gathering in person. The Holston Conference also has language protecting anyone who feels their age or physical condition could put them at risk to worship inside the church building.

"Below are requirements that churches must prepare for in order to resume in-person worship after receiving permission:

1. Churches should continue to maintain an online worship service presence and connection through live streaming, ZOOM meetings, video services, etc.

2. Persons in the vulnerable category of 65 and older or those who live with persons who fit into that category, should be encouraged to remain home and take advantage of online worship experiences.

3. Persons who have significant high-risk conditions should also be encouraged to remain at home.

4. Cloth masks will be worn by all participants while in church. The face coverings need not be surgical masks or N-95 respirators; these critical supplies must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.

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Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under the age of two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unable to remove the mask without assistance (these persons should remain home at this time).

5. Holy Communion through intinction or with the use of individual cups/bread will not be administered in person until the threat of transmission is minimized. Proximity to those administering and those receiving communion poses an increased risk. Pre-made, self-service communion cups (with bread inside the flap) may be used if made available upon entry. This, however, will cause an increased burden on the cleaning of the sanctuary and may not be possible if multiple services are being conducted requiring thorough cleaning in-between services. Online Communion will still be permitted until such time as we determine when we can re-assemble with no restrictions.

6. Baptisms should be delayed until the restrictions are lifted to ensure the safety of the families and the person being baptized. However, if necessary, they are to be approved in advance in consultation with the District Superintendent.

7. Use “no-touch” alternatives with:

• Passing the Peace/Greeting Times.

• Collection of offerings.

• Use of Ushers/Greeters (to distribute masks or sanitizer, or to direct entry or exit).

• Use of printed materials

• Checking of temperatures which is optional.

• Recording who is in attendance at each service.

In addition, all Bibles, attendance registers, and hymnals should be removed from the sanctuary. Congregants can bring their own Bibles. Bulletins should not be passed out but made available upon entry or put in the seats prior to the service. Bulletins should not be re-used. Coffee/Fellowship hours should be suspended until further notice.

8. Choirs should be suspended until further notice. The use of soloists or small groupings is allowed, but only with extended social distancing beyond 6 ft. For churches who utilize praise bands, those bands should be kept to the barest minimum participants, not a full band, and only with extended social distancing beyond 6 ft. *

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9. Congregational singing should not be conducted until further notice because studies show that one of the easiest ways to spread aerosol transmission is singing. It is the same principle for why we are told to cough or sneeze into our sleeve. NOTE: Speaking and singing are placing the most risk on the gathered community.

10. Seating should be restricted to every other pew. Alternate pews should be roped off to ensure social distancing.

11. Families who live in the same household should sit together; this includes youth and children.

12. Children’s moments may still be a part of worship. However, children should remain with their families while the children’s message is being delivered. No handouts will be permitted.

13. Microphones should not be passed or shared during the service for any reason, for the sharing of joys and concerns, announcements, etc.

14. Elimination of a receiving line to greet persons exiting the sanctuary.

15. Great care, planning, and intentionality should be exercised for the creation of shorter services with no liturgical music and spoken hymns while remaining masked.

16. Altar calls and the “laying on of hands” are not allowed as they present a challenge to proper social distancing. Alternatives for providing pastoral care “in the moment” will need to be carefully discerned.

17. Pastors/preachers should wear a mask prior to the service. Once the service begins, they may remove their masks as long as they practice extended social distancing from the first row of congregants. This is allowed to offer better voice recognition as well as to accommodate those who are lip readers. *

18. If your sanctuary cannot accommodate the gathered congregation using these strict guidelines, consideration will need to be made for multiple, staggered worship services. Plans for sanitation of the sanctuary between services and a mechanism will need to be created for who should attend a given service

19. It is absolutely essential each church develop a method to record attendance and a plan for how to notify others if someone in attendance tests positive for COVID-19.

* While it is not required, some churches may find it helpful to erect a clear plexiglass type"

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