Some Thoughts on Opening Our Buildings
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when all is revealed, we will be like Christ, for we will see him as he is.
1 John 3:2
Alleluia! Christ is risen!!
What an interesting coincidence that today, a little over a year but just one day after the Day of Resurrection, Los Angeles County is set to enter the “Orange Tier,” the third of four tiers towards full opening of buildings and activities. On a personal level, I am getting my first vaccination today, so I feel like I am truly entering into new life—spiritually, physically, and socially. I can already feel my thinking shifting to things I’ve put out of my mind for 13 months now—travel, in-person meetings, eating Korean food with friends . . . I still don’t know when hugs and singing will be appropriate, but we’re definitely making progress.
It’s important that new life does not mean freedom from responsibility. The virus is still present in the world, and even as we enjoy lower case and death counts, the possibility of new outbreaks continues, as demonstrated right now in France and Michigan. So as we Presbyterians understand, we have not been saved for our own pleasure, but we are saved and called into partnership in God’s service. We continue to be discerning and responsive to the needs of our churches and our communities as we consider the most faithful route towards in-person worship.
Because the progress to the Orange Tier has moved so fast, the Presbytery Executive Commission has not approve any official guidelines, but I thought I would summarize what aspects of the local health orders will continue, what has changed, and some thoughts for your sessions to consider as you plan worship in the coming months. And please mark your calendars for Thursday, April 22, 7 pm. We will hold a Zoom-based panel on guidelines and strategies for opening your church buildings.
Most elements of the Health Order have not changed:
- Mask up—all the time you are in presence of others, indoors or outdoors.
- 6-foot distancing between households is still in place, indoors or outdoors. There had been mention of 3-foot distancing for children, but this does not apply to churches.
- Online worship is still safest, so churches are encouraged to continue online worship even after indoor worship is implemented. Outdoor worship and activities are better than indoors.
- Singing is strongly discouraged; if done, all singers (including leaders) should stay masked and people from different households should be at least 8-10 feet apart with masks. If a leader is not masked, each singer must be 12 feet apart.
- Instrumentalists must also keep an extended distance (or separated by Plexiglas shields); wind instruments are strongly discouraged.
- No food or drink should be consumed in a group setting. (Even when it was pointed out that large crowds at a baseball game are being allowed to consume food and drink, the County Health Officer confirmed that churches should not serve food or drink except to go.)
- Communion elements should be served in a “no-contact” manner.
- Likewise, offering should be received in a “no-contact” manner.
- Ventilation is important; keep doors and windows open, and maintain one-way traffic patterns.
- Building owners should set protocols for activities on their premises and communicate to all who use the facility, with advance notice and on-site signage. All groups using the facility should follow the protocol (conversely, if a church rents space, they must follow the protocol of the building owner).
- Employer protocols are still in place, including:
- In PC(USA), the Session approves the protocols for safe environments.
a. encouraging working from home or staggering hours in the office
b.egular cleaning (hourly for high-touch surfaces)
c. 6-foot social distancing
d. send any employee or volunteer with symptoms home for self-quarantine
e. reporting: if 3 or more cases of COVID-19 occur among employees within a span of 14 days, the employer must report the outbreak to the Department of Public Health at (888) 397-3993 or (213) 240-7821, or online at redcap.link/covidreport.
What is changing with the Orange Tier:
- 12-step groups (Alcoholics Anonymous) and therapy groups can now have up to 12 participants (limit was 10).
- Indoor worship must still maintain 6 feet between household groups (greater if singing), with a maximum capacity of 50% building occupancy. That means that if a worship space can only hold 30% of building occupancy in order to maintain 6-foot distancing (for instance, if there are many individuals from different households), then only 30% is allowed.
- Office work is more allowed, but still with 6-foot social distancing, cleaning, etc.
Some recommendations and things to consider:
- Again, online worship is safest, and outdoor worship is safer than indoors. You don’t have to rush to worship indoors! Sessions need to consider what’s best for their members, given the design of their physical space. Many churches have a committee to focus on opening plans.
- Require pre-registration for indoor worship, and have all attendees sign in on-site for contact tracing and staying within capacity limits.
- Ask attendees if they have symptoms, fever, recent exposure to COVID, or have traveled recently when they pre-register; post clear signage on-site asking people not to enter if they say yes to any screening questions (as well as wearing masks, etc.).
- Communion elements can be offered as self-contained kits or placed in multiple places for small groups.
- Continue to encourage online offering, or ask people to drop offering in baskets (do not pass offering plates from person to person).
- Have ushers to ensure sufficient distance between household groups and consider asking people to leave row by row to lessen traffic.
- Teach church members a no-contact way of greeting and showing care for each other.
- Phase into opening (start small and grow month by month), and set and communicate a backup plan (eg, if an outbreak occurs).
- Shorten worship services or the length of time people meet indoors. For instance, one church is planning to have congregants go outside for communion.
- For child care, consider meeting outdoors but ensure there is enough supervision so children maintain proper distancing and stay safe.
- Look for ways to encourage vaccination for members and neighbors in your community.
As we move into the new possibilities that come with Easter, with the sunshine of spring, with vaccinations, with the easing of COVID-related restrictions, there is much to be grateful for. May you know the joy of the risen Christ in your midst, today and every day.