A Word from Bishop Bryan: COVID-19 update - Putting our focus on June
To the South Georgia Conference:
The Cabinet and I want to thank all of our clergy and congregations for the ways you have been responsible, stayed home, practiced social distancing, and taken other measures designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We know how hard this is and how much you want to be together with your congregation. It takes everyone doing their part, and you are certainly doing yours. Thank you.
On Thursday, April 30, Governor Kemp issued a statement extending Georgia’s public health emergency order to June 12. This order calls for everyone to continue to stay home and social distance as much as possible. Those over 65, as well as those with underlying medical conditions, are asked to continue sheltering in place through June 12.
GUIDANCE FOR SOUTH GEORGIA CHURCHES
The governor’s extended order focuses our attention on mid-June as a time certain small gatherings might safely occur as long as CDC guidelines and procedures are followed. Out of an abundance of caution, we recommend June 21 and/or June 28 as dates to consider for any in-person gatherings. Each church needs to make decisions based on local conditions in the congregation and in the community. And each church needs to determine its own version of a “rolling restart” - which means deciding what one activity can be done safely, rather than starting many things at one time. The schedule for this rolling restart will be unique to each church and some, due to their size or other factors, may not begin their rolling restart until later in the summer.
As you make plans for a rolling restart at the appropriate time, please use the guide - “Getting Ready to Return” - to help you think through various points of consideration as your church implements new methods and procedures to prepare your operations for the changes in the way you gather and worship.
FIVE KEY WORDS
One of the key concerns, no matter the church size, is how to safely accommodate gatherings of various sizes when the time is right. The timing and preparations for local churches opening their doors will look different for every single church. Inevitably, how we gather will look different than it did in February. Here are five key words to guide our decision making: Context, Risk, Resources, Readiness, Monitoring.
CONTEXT: Pay attention to your context and do not compare yourself to churches of different sizes or locations. Are you in an area where the coronavirus is especially prevalent? What specific concerns are being expressed by parents, older adults, and others? What size gatherings will your space permit you to hold while allowing for six feet of distance between each person or family?
RISK: Many of our faithful members and pastors fall into the high-risk category. How much risk are you willing to assume? How will you mitigate risks for infants, children, youth, adults, and all who have underlying medical conditions? Consult with healthcare professionals in the congregation or community concerning when and how to open.
RESOURCES: Before re-starting anything, do you have adequate supplies such as paper towels for restrooms, sanitizer, gloves/masks? Are you able to procure additional supplies as needed? What is your plan for cleaning/disinfecting all areas that are used?
READINESS: Are plans in place to provide guidance for safely parking, entering, and leaving the building? Are plans in place to provide seating that maintains social distancing? How will these plans be communicated to the congregation? Please discuss your plans with your district superintendent.
MONITORING: Who is designated to maintain accountability to all guidelines and procedures? How will you monitor staff for possible infections?
In all cases, we need to pay attention to the following:
- Before resuming any use of church buildings, form a task force to work through the guide, “Getting Ready to Return” to look at how you can slowly and safely phase in gatherings over a period of time.
- When you reopen church buildings you need a plan for cleaning and disinfecting after each space is used. Click here for guidelines for churches from the CDC.
- Wearing masks in public is important for not spreading the disease.
- People without symptoms may nevertheless be contagious and spread the virus.
- Childcare should not resume until CDC guidelines can be strictly followed.
- We must live with the reality of this virus until a vaccine is ready for widespread use.
- Business establishments, corporations, organizations, and local governments cannot allow more than 10 people to gather in a single location unless there is at least six feet between each person
- Please discuss your plans with your district superintendent.
The Cabinet and I acknowledge there may be a few exceptions in which gatherings could occur earlier than this and still adhere to all of the guidelines and guidance of local authorities. In a county with few or no cases of the virus, a gathering of up to 25 might be okay with social distancing measures in place. In all places, groups of 10 or fewer are okay, so some of our churches are organizing watch parties in homes to view online worship. Congregations that have lots of space and few people can meet provided they can remain six feet apart per person and have communicated the plan to their congregation. Drive-in worship is okay if people maintain social distancing. Online worship and telephone conferencing are best.
ROLLING RESTART CONVERSATIONS
In addition to the key words and guidelines shown above, we invite you to join one of these Zoom at Noon calls based on average worship attendance to help you think through various points of consideration:
- Monday, May 4 - Churches with average worship up to 50 (Watch the recording)
- Tuesday, May 5 - Churches with average worship from 50-150
- Wednesday, May 6 - Churches with average worship 150-250
- Thursday, May 7 - Churches with average worship 250+
How we lead in the days ahead will be important. Please care for yourself. Take the necessary time off to refuel and reflect.
And remember: Stay Calm. Stay Connected. Stay the Course.
Because in the midst of this pandemic we are Alive Together in Witness!
R. Lawson Bryan