Church Update on Covid-19 and In-Person Services

Dear Church Family, we pray that you are all doing well. We wanted to take a minute and update everyone on the progress of moving toward possible in-person church services. As we talked about in our last letter, we are in a unique situation based on the location of our churches, especially with Savannah United Methodist Church; but also with being in the United Methodist Church in general. As we have seen, North Carolina and Virginia have taken different approaches and timings related to reopening companies and services in each respective state. In addition, the Holston Conference has established its own processes, procedures, and timeline for safely reopening churches. One point of clarification that we have to keep in mind is that the Holston Conference holds ultimate authority over when and how we can safely reopen because they own the church property. Irregardless of the guidelines and processes that the governors allow, the Conference’s guidelines, which are more stringent, are what we must follow.

A couple of weeks ago, we received a 30-page guidance document from Bishop Taylor and the Covid-19 Task Force of the Holston Conference concerning safely reopening churches[1]. We hope that you will take time to read through the requirements contained in this guidance document provided by the Conference. Once this was received, it was emailed out to all members of the Church Councils in all 3 churches, and a joint Church Council meeting was held online via Zoom on June 18th. During this meeting, these recommendations, along with the current status of Covid-19 cases in our area[2], were discussed. One discussion centered on the continued increased number of Covid-19 cases in our area. The number of diagnosed cases are still continuing to rise; along with, the number of hospitalizations and deaths. The other discussion centered around the Conference’s requirements for safely reopening our churches. In reviewing these requirements, the challenges they would present to our congregations quickly became apparent. Here are just a few:

  • Maintain an online worship service presence, if possible, and connection through live streaming, ZOOM meetings, video services, etc.
  • Persons at higher risk because of age or medical conditions; and those who live with folks who fall into these categories, are advised to remain at home and worship online where available
  • Cloth masks, face coverings, or disposable masks shall be worn by all participants while in church. Collect cloth face masks, face coverings or disposable masks, either purchased or homemade, for those who fail to bring their own.
  • Use “no-touch” alternatives with:
    • Passing the Peace/Greeting Times
    • Collection of offerings
    • Use of Ushers/Greeters to distribute masks or sanitizer, or to direct entry or exit
    • Checking of temperatures which is optional
    • No passing of microphones for prayer requests or announcements
    • Recording who is in attendance, along with contact information, at each service
  • Remove all Bibles, attendance registers, and hymnals from the sanctuary. Congregants can bring their own Bibles.
  • Choirs shall be suspended until further notice and no Congregational singing will be allowed.
  • Development of 1 way in, 1 way out; with hand sanitizing stations provided at each
  • Restrict seating to every other pew. Alternate pews should be roped off to ensure social distancing.
  • Development of a sanitation team to clean ALL touchable surfaces in the church immediately after each service
  • After putting all of these measures together, a written plan must be developed and submitted to the District Superintendent for approval.
  • There are allowances for outdoor services contained within this document, but as you can see, they present some of the same challenges, as well as a few additional ones.

As you can see, these requirements would pose many challenges to our congregations in attempting to move back to in-person services at this time. The biggest being asking the majority (90-95%) of our congregations to stay home due to being in a high-risk category. Combining these challenges with the fact that Covid-19 cases are still on the rise in our area, all 3 Church Councils voted to continue Online services and to not try to move to in-person services at this time. It was decided that all 3 Councils would reconvene on July 15 and reevaluate the situation at that time. It was also decided that, in the meantime, all 3 churches would order all of the supplies that will be mandatory to have on hand when the time comes to move back to in-person services. A list of those supplies has been made and the ordering process has begun.

While we understand that not everyone agrees on the current state of things and not everyone will agree with this decision; the leadership of our 3 churches took the best information available and made the best decision in the interest of keeping everyone safe. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we continue to navigate these very fluid and unprecedented times together. We love and miss you guys greatly, we pray for you all daily, and we can’t wait until we can all be together again safely.

Blessings,

Pastor David and Pastor Ronnie


[1] https://www.holston.org/files/communications/covid-19/faithfully+and+safely+2nd+edition.pdf

[2] https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard