Have a question for the Minnesota Conference regarding COVID-19 and your congregations and communities? Email email@example.com, and we'll answer to the best of our abilities. Our COVID-19 response page has the latest resources and updates.
Question: How should we handle funerals during the health crisis and given the the “stay at home” executive order?
Answer: At this time, if a family decides to have a funeral service, they should be highly encouraged to have it graveside so people can adhere to social distancing guidelines outdoors; such a service would likely need to be abbreviated but could still be meaningful. If the family decides on cremation, a funeral service should be held at a later time when the current health agency and governmental restrictions are lifted or relaxed.
Question: Do I need to carry a letter of authorization during the “stay at home” executive order if I'm an essential employee?
Answer: No. Some businesses have proactively provided such letters to essential employees, but the executive order for Minnesota does not require one. Individual churches can create such a letter if they wish, but before doing so, please consider who absolutely must leave their homes between now and April 10. The executive order states that all workers who can work from home must do so; this would include church staff. The exception would be having a few people record or live stream worship each week and in other rare circumstances for clergy.
Question: What does Gov. Tim Walz's March 25 “stay at home” executive order mean for churches?
Answer: Faith leaders are listed as an exemption to the governor’s order in order to perform the absolutely critical and necessary components of their work (the following is the language used about faith leaders in the list of exemptions): “Faith leaders and workers: This category includes officials, workers, and leaders in houses of worship and other places of religious expression or fellowship, wherever their services may be needed. This category also includes workers necessary to plan, record, and distribute online or broadcast content to community members.”
Here is how we would interpret the executive order:
• Churches should not have in-person worship (read Bishop Ough’s latest message about this).
• Pastoral care visits should be done by phone or online.
• Staff, leadership team, ministry team, youth group, and other group meetings should be done virtually.
• Church volunteers should cease activities that require them to leave their homes.
• Having a few people record or live stream worship from your church sanctuary is permitted. If you do this, be sure everyone in the building follows social distancing guidelines and that the number of people does not exceed 10 in compliance with Minnesota Department of Health recommendations.
• Clergy can leave their homes in order to do essential work that cannot be done remotely; they should remain at home and connect with people virtually whenever possible.
Question: Can communion be consecrated online?
Answer: Yes. Bishop Ough grants permission for pastors to do online communion, which typically consists of clergy offering the words of consecration remotely, and people using elements in their homes to take communion (here is a sample liturgy for online communion). That said, he strongly encourages clergy to be intentional about how they do this and to do it well by explaining or using scripture to interpret the meaning of communion and using the words of institution. For shut-ins, individuals on their death beds, people who are quarantined, and anyone else who is extremely vulnerable, it is absolutely appropriate and encouraged to serve communion online or using whatever means are necessary and available.
Question: Can congregations take charge conference votes online during the health crisis?
Answer: Bishop Ough encourages clergy to first consider whether voting on a particular matter during this period of social distancing is crucial and necessary; if it’s not and can wait until the congregation is able to physically gather again, that’s what should be done. If a vote is absolutely necessary at this time, meeting online using a video conferencing platform is preferable because it most closely aligns with the meaning of “present and voting” in The Book of Discipline. However, in settings or situations when that isn’t possible, voting in some other electronic fashion is permitted.
Question: What do you recommend for child care centers that operate within our churches?
Answer: As of Tuesday, March 17, Gov. Walz is still recommending that child care centers remain open so that the Minnesota work force can continue to operate. However, he acknowledged—as we do—that it is understandable for centers to decide to close given the latest health agency recommendations. Churches need to make the best possible decision given their own circumstances, and we support you in whatever decision you make. Here are a few things to consider as you weigh options:
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church