Guidance for Gathering
Our faith communities know well the impact COVID-19 has brought to congregational life and finances. We long to resume meeting and hugging and smiling at one another without masks as the family of God. Yet we hear our moral calling to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and we know that the time has not yet come when we can set aside the precautions we have come to know well. We rely on the medical community and discernment from God to make safe decisions on when and how to worship in person.
What Leaders Can Do
As leaders, we serve our people well by communicating clearly that there is no cure for COVID-19. Even with vaccines being administered in our community, public health experts anticipate the virus will circulate in the US with variable levels of infection for the foreseeable future. It will take months to vaccinate the 70 to 80 percent of the population necessary to reach herd immunity and stop dangerous levels of transmission. Therefore, faith leaders should plan wisely whether and how houses of worship should gather in ways that look different than before, we continue being mindful of health and safety.
Worship presents factors that favor transmitting COVID-19, including people close together, an enclosed environment with limited ventilation, and surfaces that multiple people touch. Also, most worship services feature congregational singing, one of the riskiest activities because it propels respiratory droplets almost 30 feet. If a person infected with COVID-19 is present, congregational worship can be a perfect storm for spreading the virus.
Public health efforts to manage the ongoing presence of the virus in our community include vaccination, testing, contact tracing, and quarantining contacts of infected people. The CDC, the State of Tennessee, and Memphis and Shelby County public health officials provide guidance on how faith communities can both gather as the people of God and mitigate the risks of spreading the virus.
- Manage your building to be able to track outbreaks in your congregation and be ready to adapt.
- Limit the spread by making sure family units sit six feet away from each other. Ask everyone to wear masks.
- Modify services, such as shortening duration, taking a hiatus from congregational singing, and reevaluating
- how you administer communion.
- Support the wider community’s effort to contain the virus by keeping attendee contact information up-to-date to assist with contact tracing if necessary.
- Maintain a robust sanitation plan of common areas and shared surfaces.
- Continue to stream or record services as an alternative to in-person attendance. Keep meeting virtually for
- Bible studies and other events.
- Continue to stream or record services as an alternative to in-person attendance. Keep meeting virtually for Bible studies and other events.
Create a communication plan that embraces and promotes best health practices for individuals, including remaining at home in the event of any kind of illness. Address misinformation directly when you are aware of it in your congregation.
Our calling is beyond whether we meet this week or this month. COVID-19 will pass. Living into the calling to love one another and our neighbors during this passage will show we are God’s people.
Resources & Information
Congregations often first hear that our friends or church family members are sick through the congregational prayer chain, emails, or exchanging information on Sunday mornings. At a time when many members may be anxious about the potential impact of COVID-19, congregations can offer trustworthy information when questions arise and also help to slow the transmission of the virus. Church Health works closely with public health experts and health care partners to ensure we have the most reliable and current information available for our partners in faith:
Memphis Faith Leaders Stand Together
Faith leaders released a one minute video imploring the community to stay vigilant and carefully consider how COVID-19 continues to impact our congregations. Memphis is a religious city. It’s one of our strengths, and it’s one of the reasons why so many faith leaders from varied traditions came together to make this excellent video. It’s a beautiful thing to hear them speak with one voice about the decision to love their neighbors by waiting for in-person worship. We all miss gathering for worship instead of watching a screen, but we’re at a critical stage where jumping ahead too fast will only set us back. I encourage you to watch the video and hear the message. Then perhaps the most important thing you can do is share it. Let’s care for one another.
With all God’s blessings,
Scott Morris, M.D., M.Div.
Founder & CEO