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Reopening a Church

April 22nd, 2020 No comments

Add this to the list of things they don’t teach in Seminary.

I’ve been thinking about how the end (or maybe the next phases?) of the Coronavirus lockdown will affect our congregation.

Government-supplied Guidance

First, if you haven’t done so, it’s worth looking at the CDC guidelines for a phased reopening of America.

Also, Governor Dunleavy has announced that businesses can begin to reopen starting this Friday, April 24, subject to “strict” health and safety standards. The “social distancing” Mandate 11, however, will continue to be in effect until it is rescinded.

Some key words are “Strict” vs. “moderate” vs. “limited” as applied to physical distancing protocols.  Strict means 10 or fewer people and six feet of spacing; moderate means 50 or fewer and six feet of spacing; limited appears to do away with limits on group size, but seems to envision continued extra cleaning and use of masks and/or gloves. See below.

An article at the Christianity Today website gives some ideas about how the reopening will roll out in churches across the different areas of the country.

I compared the CT piece with the CDC guidance and it seems pretty reasonable. I would summarize it for our purposes as follows:

Vulnerable populations (many of our congregation due to their age and/or serious underlying health conditions) will be encouraged to continue to shelter in place until Phase 3, when they will still be encouraged to practice social distancing.

Phase One permits large venues (including houses of worship) to operate “subject to strict physical distancing protocols”. That’s more or less what we have now, and difficult to implement in our facilities (see the implementation ideas below for the reason).

Phase Two permits houses of worship to operate under a moderate physical distancing protocol. This would entail:

  • sanitation – cleaning surfaces like doors, rails, countertops, bathrooms, and posting schedules listing when last cleaned. Also making hand sanitizer / disinfecting wipes readily available throughout the building. 
  • safety – providing masks and gloves for people coming to worship; family worship only (no children’s ministry); and spacing out the seating (possibly adding multiple worship services). 
  • size – the limit of 50 is actually more than our building will accommodate if we space out the seating. We’ve averaged 45 people in worship this year, but we probably can’t have more than 30 or so with proper spacing. Will we need multiple services?

Phase Three allows vulnerable individuals to resume public interactions, but with physical distancing. For their sakes (and maybe? — but I can’t find it mandated) we would continue to provide phase 2-level sanitation and safety features.

Reopening JLP

The Governor’s Mandate 11 lists several businesses that can reopen this Friday, but houses of worship aren’t on the list. (Perhaps by oversight?) As may be, the UMC Bishop said that all UMC churches in her area, including Alaska, are to remain closed through April 30.

It appears, however, that JLP could reopen as soon as May 3. To do so, we need to:

  • convince liturgists, musicians, technical arts, and any others involved in leading worship that we’re ready to worship together again.
  • but also to discourage vulnerable people (at least half the congregation, depending on the definition of “elderly”) from joining those who are worshiping together. In Christian charity, this would require at least a livestream of the service to be available online.
  • space out the pews appropriately
  • recruit volunteers to implement an enhanced cleaning regimen and provide them necessary supplies
  • obtain supplies of masks and gloves to supply to people who wish to use them.
  • figure out how to livestream a real worship service (one with parishioners present) including both the technical and volunteer-training requirements

That’s not a small amount of work. What else needs to be done?

We should firm this up into a real plan and begin implementing it.

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