Churches Stay Virtual While Preparing to Return to In-Person Worship
Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) Now that restrictions placed on gatherings have been lifted, area churches are making preparations to return to in-person worship services while keeping their members safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cornerstone Community Church connected with its members by streaming services online and continued the format this past weekend even after the Safer at Home restrictions were struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court last week. While the restrictions are no longer in place, health departments have recommended the public to maintain social distancing practices and other sanitary measures.
“Cornerstone is currently in the process of formulating our plans for re-opening,” said Senior Pastor Andy Kvernen. “We have a team working on a plan for safe and responsible re-entry and are looking forward to resuming our in-person gatherings soon.”
Christ Lutheran Church also turned to live-streaming services along with nightly devotions during the COVID-19 restrictions. The church didn’t rush to reopen its doors after the Safer at Home order ended, but is instead using the next two weeks to prepare for an organized return to in-person worship on May 31, or Pentecost Sunday.
“We will have safeguards in place, which will include guidelines for worshipers and those leading and helping with worship,” said Pastor Daryn Bahn. “We will be using some information that has been circulating that details some of the best practices to maintain social distancing.”
Those safeguards include spacing out parishioners in the pews, providing face masks if needed, and regular cleaning and sanitizing.
For those who are uncomfortable returning to in-person services, Christ Lutheran plans to continue providing the live-streaming and broadcasting its services using an FM transmitter for those who’d like to listen in the parking lot.
Clark County Health Department has shared detailed recommendations for churches and supports the return to in-person worship services, while strongly advising that churches continue to offer online services.
It shared the following recommendations for churches:
Preparations Before Worship:
- Senior worship leaders or those with pre-existing health conditions are encouraged to lead church services through virtual means.
- Worship leaders whom lead church services at multiple locations should consider leading only one in-person church service per day.
- Attendance at each individual service should be limited to 25 percent of occupancy with proper social distancing, unless the local or state authorities have implemented a stricter order. Worship leaders, ushers, or other volunteers should not allow more than the permitted number to enter the place of worship.
- Signage should be placed on entrance doors reminding anyone with fever or flu-like symptoms not to enter the place of worship.
- Limit the number of entrances being used and designate an entrance door and an exit door, where possible.
- Practice social distancing at a minimum of 6 feet between people not living in the same household.
- Seat household members together with a minimum of every other pew between family groups.
- Hymnals, prayer cards or other paper resources should be removed from pews. Printed worship aids are discouraged. If paper worship aids are used, they should be limited to one page and people should be directed to take them with them after the church service. If worship aids are left in a pew, they should be collected and destroyed after each service; they should not be used for the next service.
- Hand sanitizer should be available at all church entrances and exits.
- In an effort to reduce exposure, have only essential persons to assist with worship. If possible, limit the number ofushers, greeters, altar servers and/or volunteers needed for each service.
- Choirs should not be used.
- Worship leaders and ushers should wear masks and should not make physical contact when greeting congregation members.
- Those who prepare communion elements should carefully wash their hands prior to touching the breads and pouring the wine; a facemask and gloves are recommended.
- Holy water and baptismal fonts should remain empty and unused.
During Worship Service:
- For a monetary collection, baskets or other appropriate containers could be placed at church exits or elsewhere inthe building for people to drop envelopes or donations. As an alternative, baskets with long handles are allowed; collection baskets should not be passed person-to-person. Ushers taking the collection should wear masks and gloves. Ushers should immediately wash or sanitize their hands after the collection.
- Hand shaking and/or hugging should not occur.
- The congregation members could be reminded that at this time no one is forced to receive communion.
- All communion officiants should wash/sanitize their hands before and after the distribution of holy communion.
- Congregation members should be reminded to observe the 6-foot distance between themselves while in line to receive holy communion.
- Encourage communion to be received only in the hand.
After Worship Service:
- Frequently touched surfaces in the church (pews, pew tops, door handles, microphones, etc.) should be cleaned andsanitized per CDC recommendations after every service. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html
- Non-essential gatherings should be suspended, including Children’s Sermon and post-worship service social gatherings/refreshments.
- Offertory money should be placed in a tamper-evident bag and kept in a safe place for at least 3 days before being counted.
- Restrooms should be cleaned between services.
Suggestions for the Worship Leader’s Discretion:
- All those as defined by the health department as more vulnerable (i.e. 60+ years of age, those with compromised immune systems, those with underlying health conditions, etc.) should be encouraged to stay home.
- Mass attendance could be organized in some way:
- Designate service times by household name (A to H, Service 1; I to O, Service 2; etc.);
- Provide a sign-up system either on the church website or by calling the church office;
- Assign a service time per registered family;
- To meet occupancy requirements, registration is by designated time–no walk-in attendance.
- Ushers could direct the communion line and markings should be placed on the floor to preserve social distancing.
- If possible, hand sanitizer should be available in the aisle(s) for use by people prior to receiving communion.
- Gathering area tables and chairs should be put into storage so as not to invite people to use them.
- Entrance doors should be propped open to limit contact with door handles, or else ushers should hold open doors.
- The use of familiar hymns is encouraged to limit any need for a worship aid.
- Directions for dismissal after service should be offered by the worship leader to provide an orderly exit with proper social distancing. Ushers can release the congregation pew-by-pew, or similar.