New Guidance for Gathering
Our faith communities know well the impact COVID-19 brought to congregational life. With restrictions easing and congregations looking at resuming gatherings that feel more like they did before the pandemic, we celebrate seeing smiles and faces in person once again.
As we lead through this joyous returning phase, we also do well to carry with us key reminders. Our moral calling is still to love our neighbors. We rely on the medical community and discernment from God to make safe decisions on returning to full congregational life, mindful of the many opportunities to set aside our own gains and defer to the well-being of our neighbors.
We strive for health of the whole faith body. For now we have some who are vaccinated and some who are not, some who feel freedom from masks and some who are advised to wear them—including at church. Children under 12 aren’t eligible for vaccines, and immunocompromised people are vulnerable. Let’s be mindful of everyone in each decision.
What Leaders Can Do
As leaders, we serve our people well by communicating clearly that the vaccine is the best preventive we have for COVID-19. Even with vaccines being administered in our community, public health experts anticipate it will still take several more months to reach the vaccination goal. Therefore, faith leaders should plan wisely how houses of worship should gather in ways that continue being mindful of health and safety.
Relaxing masks mandates does not mean COVID-19 has disappeared. It does mean the tools we’ve been using to suppress it are working, especially vaccines. Health authorities continue to watch case numbers. We must remain watchful, remembering that some features of worship still present factors that favor transmitting the virus if we have significant numbers of unvaccinated people present. This includes singing, being in close proximity to others, and enclosed spaces.
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. Cooperation with the efforts is essential. Ultimately, vaccines are the most effective way to mitigate risk.
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. Provide accurate information about vaccines, including where and how to get the shots.
Living into the calling to love one another and our neighbors while COVID-19 passes 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