Here are some resources to consult and considerations to bear in mind before returning to in-person worship.
Guidance for churches
Summary of current guidelines from the government of Minnesota (Note that the guidelines in our conference's Phased Re-Gathering Plan may be more restrictive than the following.):
- Strong recommendation for virtual services ONLY.
- Places of worship remain open at 50 percent capacity but without an overall maximum capacity.
- Six feet of social distance must be maintained.
- No food or drink except when essential to perform a ritual or service (e.g., Communion).
- Congregational singing is permitted as long as congregants are masked.
COVID-19 Preparedness Plan Requirements for Churches, Weddings, and Funerals: Effective Feb. 13, 2021, this document gives capacity guidelines, food and beverage guidelines, and more from the government of Minnesota. Access document
Stay Safe Guidance for Places of Worship: Find links to a variety of resources from the government of Minnesota. Access resources
Safely reopening churches: The Minnesota Department of Health has created a thorough document containing guidance for safely re-opening faith communities. It includes protocols for staff, building and ventilation, cleaning and disinfecting, and communications and training, along with tips for minimizing possible transmission and guidance for developing a required preparedness plan. Access document
Guidance for gatherings: The Minnesota Department of Health has indicated that all faith communities are encouraged to provide remote services and choose not to open or host large gatherings. This document provides specific safety instructions for leaders, staff, and volunteers, as well as faith community members and participants. Access document
Guidance for providing food and beverages: The Minnesota Department of Health provides guidance for food and beverage distribution at indoor and outdoor gatherings, as well as protocols for managing occupancy and lowering the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Access document
The Ecumenical Consultation on Protocols for Worship, Fellowship, and Sacraments: This interdisciplinary group of theologians, scientists, physicians, pastors, bishops, and practitioners from United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal, Pan-Methodist, and Roman Catholic traditions, among others, created a comprehensive guide to resuming care-filled worship and sacramental life during a pandemic. It contains lots of wisdom. Access document
Considerations for in-person gatherings
Gov. Tim Walz’s “StaySafe MN” guidance allows for churches to have limited in-person gatherings if they follow a strict protocol. We know how much we yearn to see each other face to face, and many of you may be eager start up in-person worship as soon as possible. The responsibility to keep people safe is now ours, and we ask you to consider the following as you make your decisions about opening your building:
- Our commitment to a church that welcomes all means that we want worship to be fully accessible to all people. That most likely will entail multiple options of online and smaller, in-person gatherings so even our most vulnerable population can participate and we can reach the most people. Consider your capacity, and ensure that whatever you do is sustainable, of high quality, and your most effective missional strategy.
- Our commitment to do no harm requires us to do our best to assure all persons’ safety for any church gathering or activity. What we know about COVID-19 is that church gatherings are considered one of the riskier activities for people to engage in because of the length of time spent in proximity to other persons, and the types of actions that happen in churches, such as singing and coffee fellowship. The StaySafe MN guidance for religious organizations is demanding, and we need to ascertain that we can comply before opening our doors.
- Even though there is variation in the infection rate around the state, no area is immune, and once the coronavirus is in the community, it is too late to stop the spread. People spread the virus before they are symptomatic. Prevention through limiting gatherings and social distancing is the only tool we have right now to stop the spread of the virus. Minnesota has done a good job of flattening the curve, but that has caused the curve to be extended. Infections are still present, and we now expect to continue with small waves of increase and decrease throughout the summer. We do need to learn how to live with the virus but we cannot become complacent.
- The virus can be deadly. Yes, many have mild symptoms, but some suffer from the virulent form of the disease and die. The majority of our congregants are in the vulnerable age group of 65 and older, which calls us to be even more cautious.
For all these reasons, we are urging churches to go slow, limit their gatherings to small groups, meet primarily outdoors, and continue the excellent work you have done in creatively being the church.
When you are ready to re-start in-person gatherings, please remember the following:
- The church must comply with all of the governor’s mandates around capacity and requirements for social distancing, and develop a preparedness plan that is posted in your building.
- Consult with your insurance company to make sure you would be covered if there were a COVID-19 exposure incident due to gathering for worship.
- Send your preparedness plan to your district superintendent.
- Create a method to track who is in the building each day so that if there is an incident of exposure, you can notify attendees and staff, and so that if there’s an outbreak, you’re able to cooperate with public health agencies for contract tracing purposes.
- Closely monitor your community’s infection rate, and make adjustments to your in-person gatherings so you do not contribute to community spread of the virus.
Additional Resources on Re-opening
- Resuming Care-filled Worship and Sacramental Life: This resource, available in both English and Spanish, is meant to help congregations engage in care-filled work to resume worship gatherings. This guidance offers strategies for safe ritual practices that maintain the vitality of Christian congregations. Access resource
- How Will We Gather?: This free resource helps leadership teams reach consensus and address the major challenges and opportunities related to gathering as a congregation. This tool takes up to one hour to complete and will give leaders confidence that they are making the best decisions they can. Access resource
- Don't just Re-open, ReLAUNCH! [Webinar recording and materials]: Led by Dr. Phil Maynard, this REACH! session focused on key areas that require attention to re-launch most effectively into the pandemic or post-pandemic era. The first part of the session was a presentation (with commentary from Rev. Dianna Dunham, who serves Coon Rapids UMC), and the last part was Q&A. Watch recording and view presentation slides