As our churches engage in weekly gatherings of fellowship during our current health crisis, it is important to our gospel witness to provide solutions, rather than to create problems. Our churches have significant elderly populations that are especially at risk for Covid-19. Some states are issuing cautions about having any large social meetings or gatherings at all. You need to consider, in consultation with your Conference leadership, when and how it might be appropriate to either cancel church, or stream it remotely. But if you do intend to hold services, we advise that you consider the following guidelines:
1. Ask your members to worship on-line from home if they: have active cold or flu symptoms; have recently (last two weeks) traveled in a CDC level three country (wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/); have reason to believe they have recently been exposed to people infected with the virus; or are senior citizens and/or have underlying chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease.
2. Make special efforts, using appropriate safety measures, to stay connected with and support those that must stay home, especially the elderly, as they are at special risk for loneliness and depression during times of extended isolation.
3. Ask church attendees not to give hugs and handshakes, and to maintain a safe social distance from others (generally three feet or more); we strongly recommend that Communion service be suspended for the Spring quarter.
4. Provide anti-septic soap dispensers (with 60% alcohol content, if available) at all church entrances, with signs indicating a no handshake zone; have greeters place bulletins on tables or trays for people to pick up, rather than handing them out.
5. Avoid hand-holding prayer or singing sessions; organize the children’s story time to avoid contact among the children, and; find alternate ways to take up the children’s or “lamb’s offering,” especially during March and April.
6. Do not pass offering plates; place plates in the back, or the front, to be used as people leave.
7. Provide alcohol wipes and regularly clean high-touch surfaces, like door handles, stair rails, drinking fountains, light switches, and Sabbath School room tables after use, especially in the children’s Sabbath Schools.
8. Consider cancelling potlucks and community meals, at least for the months of March and April. If group meals happen, use food servers with gloves rather than allowing self-service.
9. Share reliable information from church and government agencies, such as www.cdc.gov, that will help promote safe practices, and that will defuse stereotypes and myths. For instance, it is not true that certain immigrant groups or nationalities are causing the spread of the virus within the United States, and there is simply no evidence that the virus was engineered or intentionally spread.
10. Plan health nuggets in Sabbath School and church reminding people of immune-system boosting behaviors, such as getting regular exercise, sunshine, good sleep, and avoiding excess sugars. The Adventist health message provides an anti-Coronavirus behavior template, let’s share it that way!
Share your protocol with the members, and especially all church leaders, including elders, deacons, and Sabbath School teachers, so everyone can be on the same page. It will be updated and modified as further guidance from civil and church leadership is received. If we turn our churches into sites of health awareness and support, rather than sources of concern, they can be seen as centers of community solutions and health promotion, both physical and spiritual. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 1 John 1:3