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.):
- Because the Delta variant of COVID is shown to spread more easily, the Center for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recommend everyone, both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated, wear a mask indoors in public places (such as in a church building) if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission. Check if your county is an area of high transmission.
- Six feet of social distance should 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 Guidance for Large Gatherings: Published June 30, 2021, this document from MDH provide considerations and best practices to help guide organizers of large gatherings in planning for and managing their events. Much of this guidance can apply to worship services and other church events. Access document
COVID-19 Guidance for Funerals: Published June 30, 2021,This guidance offers recommendations to prevent COVID-19 transmission for those involved in funeral services and ceremonies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Access document
Recommendations for Wearing Masks: The CDC and MDH recommend that people, both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated, continue to wear a well-fitted mask in some settings or situations. Learn about when to wear a mask and if it applies to your church's situation or location.
Stay Safe Guidance for Places of Worship: Find links to a variety of resources from the government of Minnesota. Access resources
Food Safety Guidance and COVID-19: The FDA provides guidance for food and beverage safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Access guidance
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
Apply for your Church to Host a Vaccination Event: Completing this form is the first step to notify MDH of your interest, but it does not guarantee that your church will be chosen. Submit application
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. We need to ascertain that we can gather for worship safely 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.
- 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.
- Not everyone has had the chance to get vaccinated against COVID, especially children and youth.
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