COVID-19 – CORONAVIRUS
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LAST UPDATED: Friday, July 30, 2020 3:30 PM EDT
Governor Whitmer’s most recent executive order 2020-160, includes a limit at indoor gatherings to 10 persons. As with previous executive orders, religious organizations meeting for worship are exempt from penalties.
As when other executive orders have been issued, Bishop Bard encourages pastors and other congregational leaders to read the order and determine how the information contained in it may affect your church’s practice.
If a congregation is meeting indoors, the Bishop asks for local churches to again review both the health data in their area and their mitigation practices, including the requirement to wear face coverings.
In some regions, it may make sense to discontinue meeting in the sanctuary, but that may not be true for all. If you are meeting outdoors, such gatherings seem significantly safer, and the recommended limits for persons to attend are much higher. Bishop Bard has consistently asked congregations to “follow the guidelines of the Governor.” He said, “I trust congregations to use their best thinking in making decisions based on public health, the common good, and the well-being of others.”
Executive Order 2020-147 was issued July 10th and mandates the use of face coverings, and forbids organizations from providing service or entry to individuals who are not wearing face coverings. The order exempts religious institutions but recommends following the guidelines.
This action required public spaces to post signage instructing members that face coverings are required. However, the requirement to wear a face covering does not apply to religious institutions or individuals in the following situations:
- Those officiating at a religious service; or
- Giving a speech for broadcast or an audience.
- Are younger than five years old (though children two years old and older are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering);
- Cannot medically tolerate a face covering;
- Are eating or drinking while seated at a food service establishment;
- Are exercising when wearing a face covering would interfere in the activity;
- Are receiving a service for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service;
- Are entering a business or are receiving a service and are asked to temporarily remove a face covering for identification purposes;
- Are communicating with someone who is hearing impaired or otherwise disabled and where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication;
- Are actively engaged in a public safety role, including but not limited to law enforcement, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel.
On June 1, 2020, an executive order was issued lifting the “Stay Home/Stay Safe” order immediately. In light of this action, Bishop Bard is no longer asking people to refrain from in-person gatherings. The bishop recommends that as restrictions are lifted, churches carefully consult local and state health departments to determine when it safe to hold in-person worship services. All church leaders must understand that for high risk persons, there is no safe time until a vaccine and effective treatments are developed.
The Bishop first released a document, First Sunday Back, to prepare for reopening Michigan churches once restrictions lifted. Visit the toolbox at left for a black and white version. He has since released a document with more specific guidelines for safely reopening, UMC Principles and Directions. This Reopening Checklist will aid you as you work through the steps suggested in the Principles and Directions.
The Conference Staff now offers additional resources that complement those basic documents. This Reopening Survey Template and “Google Form” Template may serve as a starting point for churches to develop a survey to discern the comfort level of the congregation for reopening. This 36-page booklet, Resuming Care-filled Worship and Sacramental Life During a Pandemic provides recommendations from theologians, denominational leaders, and health care professionals on Baptisms, Communion, and other special services.
Bishop Bard thanks pastors and leaders for the creative ways they have continued to be the church during this time. “Our buildings were closed, but our churches have never closed,” he said.
Life sustaining UMC ministries and missions may continue
Under provision 9D in the order: Workers and volunteers for businesses or operations (including both and religious and secular nonprofit organizations) that provide food, shelter, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals, individuals who need assistance as a result of this emergency, and people with disabilities. This allows the continued operation of food banks and meal programs that can be operated with the safety and distancing for both volunteers and those receiving meals.
What you can do right now:
- Pray for all those affected by COVID-19, including the health professionals working to contain the virus and treat to those impacted.
- Stay home. Be faithful by taking action to protect others around you.
- When in public, stay at least 6 feet from others, indoor or outside.
- Wear a mask to prevent infection of others.
- If you or a family member is sick, may have been directly exposed to the virus or have traveled to a high-alert area (currently South Korea, Iran, Italy, Japan), please follow the CDC guidelines and refrain from attending church services during the 14-day incubation period and instead worship with us online.
- Mail a check in, or electronically share your weekly gifts with your church.
- Soap breaks down the virus.Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.
- If you have COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, contact your health care provider in advance to tell them about your symptoms before arriving at a doctor’s office or hospital. Inform your church.
How we can continue to be the church:
- Access the many resources on the Michigan Conference Website to support ministry during this time and move to implement these new tools.
- Pre-tape or conduct live worship services using ZOOM, YouTube, or Facebook Live. This allows worship leaders be in their own homes but still appearing together.
- If your church is not able to offer online services at this time, share online worship services at nearby UMCs. See the list.
- Conduct Bible studies and congregational care via telephone or ZOOM technology.
- Continue to participate in generosity and stewardship of your local church. If your church does not have online giving, contact the office of the conference treasurer to arrange for free online giving for 2 months.
- Register to watch the many Webinars offered on the conference website and Facebook. See the toolbox at left.
- Organize a local church response team to monitor, plan, communicate, manage finances, and increase church hygiene.
- Visit our Health Crisis Toolbox (see icon at top of page) and prepare your church.
- Discuss how you can minister to and safely check on the well-being of impacted members. Use telephone or other electronic means. Discuss how you might safely support those needing to shelter in place with food and other necessities.
- Where you can get immediate information