May the peace of the risen Christ be with you all!
As we begin to hear about plans to re-open businesses in Pennsylvania, we’ve compiled some things to think about as you begin working toward holding in-person worship.
We strongly encourage you to contact your insurance carrier before you return to in person worship and be in conversation about what they recommend. Please continue to follow the guidance of the CDC, the Governor, and your local entities.
Regional opening by phases:
One of the challenges we will have in the Allegheny Synod is that our Synod is broken up into four separate regions of Pennsylvania. If you reference the map pasted at the end of this message you will notice that Centre County is in the Northcentral region. Clearfield County is in the Northwest region. Somerset and Cambria counties are in the Southwest region. Blair, Bedford, and Huntingdon counties are in the Southcentral region. Other Synods are comprised of multiple regions but the Allegheny Synod appears to be the only one divided into four. That means that when considering opening we will have to be attentive to whether or not our region or county has been opened.
The Governor plans to open each region in phases. Currently we are all in the most restrictive “Red Phase”. Regions will first be moved to the slightly less restrictive “Yellow Phase”. If infections rates drop regions can later be moved to the “Green Phase”. A description of these phases of opening is pasted to this message.
Our understanding is that the Northcentral and Northwest regions are to move to the “Yellow Phase” of opening on May 8. The other regions of the state will be opened at a later time. That means that as of May 8th Clearfield and Centre counties will move into the yellow stage. The rest of the Allegheny Synod will remain in the “Red Phase”, under the full stay at home order, until the regions are cleared by the state.
Opening to Yellow Phase:
When the Governor allows the state or separate counties to enter the “Yellow Phase” of the re-opening, it means: (https://www.governor.pa.gov/process-to-reopen-pennsylvania/)
Work & Congregate Setting Restrictions
Telework Must Continue Where Feasible
Businesses with In-Person Operations Must Follow Business
and Building Safety Orders
Child Care Open with Worker and Building Safety Orders
Congregate Care and Prison Restrictions in Place
Schools Remain Closed for In-Person Instruction
Stay at Home Restrictions Lifted in Favor of Aggressive
Large Gatherings of More than 25 Prohibited
In-Person Retail Allowable, Curbside and Delivery Preferable
Indoor Recreation, Health and Wellness Facilities (such as
gyms, spas), and all Entertainment (such as casinos, theaters)
Restaurants and Bars Limited to Carry-Out and Delivery Only
All businesses must follow CDC and DOH guidance for social
distancing and cleaning
Monitor public health indicators, adjust orders and restrictions as necessary
Continuing issues to consider:
The following are questions about re-opening and some suggested best practices. More detailed information on these issues is in the ‘Helpful Articles’ below.
Those most at risk will be the first to return, how do we protect them?
Encourage the elderly and those with compromised immune systems to remain home
If the Pastor has a compromised immune system, a conversation with Council should happen now
Should we continue offering a web-based service even after the shut-down is lifted?
There may be people who would like to attend church but are nervous about a group gathering until we know we are safe. It is advisable to offer both an in-person and streamed service for the future.
When will we know it is safe to fully return?
When the Governor allows your county to be in the Green Phase. At that time, we will still need to follow the state and CDC guidelines for the size of gatherings.
What if my church worships more than 25?
Congregations that worship more than 25 on a Sunday may consider dividing the congregation
into smaller groups (25 or less) and offering multiple in-person services.
Continue to stream worship for those who do not yet feel comfortable returning.
How will we achieve social distance even with the move to the Yellow Phase?
Consider roping off every other row of pews and asking those in the same pew to keep the six foot distance required for social distancing.
Congregation members should wear masks when attending in-person worship and avoid touching anyone.
Encourage members not to shake hands, pass the peace through touch, and not to hug anyone.
Should we pass the offering plate?
Continue the practice of not passing the offering plate until we enter a safe phase. Have a plate or basket in the place where people enter for offering and remind members not to touch the
How do we disinfect the church? What steps do we need to take?
The church should be disinfected before any in-person worship resumes. Poll the congregation for volunteers. All volunteers should wear masks and gloves. All surfaces should be thoroughly wiped down.
If you are offering multiple services on the same day, surfaces should be disinfected between services.
Consider propping open the door of the church so the door knob is not touched multiple times even with gloved hands.
Surfaces to disinfect between worship: pews, door knobs, chalice, paten, altar area, pulpit, lectern, any other surface that was touched by a member of the congregation or those serving.
How do we have a safe distribution of the Eucharist?
No common cup, no intinction until it is deemed safe. Use wafers and not real bread. Pastors and assistants should wear masks and gloves. The wafer should be dropped into open hands by the pastor without touching the person receiving. Consider offering Eucharist in one kind until we enter the green phase of reopening. Use a pouring chalice. Assistants should hold the chalice by the stem, not the cup.
Altar Guild members who prepare Communion should wear gloves when preparing. If possible, use a pouring chalice, wine, and disposable cups. Assisting ministers should wear gloves and a mask, hand the cup to the member by the rim and have the member receive the cup by the bottom so as not to touch the gloves. Those persons pouring should only touch the stem of the chalice and wear gloves and a mask. Congregations may consider offering Eucharist in one kind (host) for this beginning return phase.
Vessels should be washed in hot soapy water before use even if they have been in a cabinet in the church during the shutdown.
Should we remove the worship books from the pews?
Consider removing the worship books from the pews until it is deemed safe. When it is deemed safe, consider disinfecting the covers of the books before returning to the pew. Offer the service on paper with everything printed. The Synod office will send via e-mail the words to the various settings of the liturgy upon request.
Should the congregation sing?
The coronavirus is easily spread through droplets from mouths and noses. Singing increases the likelihood of those droplets being in the air. We advise congregation not sing until it is deemed safe. If you choose to sing, members should wear masks.
Can the choir sing?
It is not advisable that the choir sing. If you choose the choir to sing, have them sit six feet apart and possibly wear masks—even though that is not ideal for singing.
Can small groups such a Congregation Council meet in the Yellow Phase?
It should be safer for Councils, Bible studies and small groups to meet in person. We recommend maintaining some online options for high risk individuals and those who do not feel comfortable being in public and be sure to disinfect areas of use.
Office functions could resume as normal, with attention to cleaning.
Additional questions to consider:
How will you update your building use agreements to reflect the new realities of COVID-19?
If someone contracts COVID-19, how will you communicate with your congregation and members who may have come into contact with that individual while maintaining privacy and pastoral care?
If someone who has been in your building contracts COVID-19, how will you do a more intensive cleaning prior to its next use?
How will you communicate your safety plan and best practices to the congregation?
Why Getting the US Back to Normal in the Next Couple Months is a Fantasy. PBS NewsHour, April 20, 2020.
The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead. New York Times, April 18, 2020.
24 Questions Your Church Should Ask Before People Return. Ken Braddy, Jr.
How to Seize this Moment for Your Church. Ed Stetzer.
Pennsylvania Council of Churches Covid-19 Resources