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Bishop and Cabinet recommend phased in approach to re-opening our church buildings as described in Do No Harm guidelines

Dear Friends,

A question that many people are asking is, “When will our church buildings be reopened?” The answer will vary from church to church, based not on a specific date, but on local data.

Our North Alabama Conference District Superintendents recently hosted 32 virtual town hall meetings attended by 860 of our clergy and lay leaders. Discussion centered around Do No Harm: Recommendations for Reopening our Church Buildings (www.umcna.org/donoharm) and a video featuring Dr. Neil Lamb, faculty investigator and Vice President for Educational Outreach at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology (https://youtu.be/vaBz3U-jxPQ). An addendum addressing youth and children ministries protocols will be added to the Do No Harm document in the near future.

The Cabinet and I are asking clergy and local church leadership teams to follow these guidelines in deciding when and how to safely reopen our church buildings. This includes a phased-in approach, basing reopening decisions on data in each church’s context, and consulting with local health officials. Factors that are important to bear in mind are: 1) demographics (awareness of members in high risk categories), 2) location (How many COVID-19 cases are in the church’s county, and are the numbers of cases showing a steady decline?), 3) congregation size and 4) capacity to follow standards about sanitation and social distancing set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/faith-based.html and the Alabama Department of Public Health www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19/assets/cov-sah-worship.pdf.

Also, please note that according to the CDC, those most vulnerable to COVID-19 are over the age of 65 and/or have preexisting health conditions. People (clergy and lay) who fall into “at risk” categories are encouraged to avoid crowds and stay at home whenever possible. We discourage all persons from returning to in-person worship until they feel safe doing so.

As we enter into Phase One of our Do No Harm Guidelines on June 1, the North Alabama Conference recommends the following:

  1. Continue to provide on-line, drive-in, and outdoor services as these are still the best worship venues for mitigating the spreading of COVID-19.
     
  2. Work with your staff, Board of Trustees and church leadership to develop a written plan for your local church for a phased-in re-launch of services and small group meetings. Communicate this plan in multiple ways to your members and guests to establish trust before reopening.
     
  3. Review our Do No Harm Guidelines to understand the necessary steps for a church to take in reopening its doors.  www.umcna.org/donoharm
     
  4. Assess your cleaning and personal protection supply inventory and discuss with your leadership team how to best acquire needed supplies to ensure the health and safety of your congregation when in-person worship resumes;
     
  5. Assess your facilities and grounds to determine your maximum seating capacity when practicing appropriate social distancing.
     
  6. Assess the ability of your congregation or any small group to take personal responsibility for appropriate social distancing and behavior. If they are unable or unwilling to do so, we suggest that you wait to relaunch in-person gatherings until a later date.

Although the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the majority of our churches not worshipping in-person during most of Lent, all of Eastertide and on Pentecost Sunday, our congregations have continued to be the church in the lives of our members and in our communities. Thank you for the creative ways in which you have provided pastoral care, outreach, online worship services, Sunday School classes, Bible studies, small groups and children’s and youth ministries throughout this time.

The Cabinet’s prayers and my personal prayers are with our clergy and local church leaders as you discern together the appropriate time to reopen our church buildings. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for you and your ministry during this pandemic and beyond.

As always, it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.

Blessings,
Debra Wallace-Padgett
Resident Bishop
North Alabama Conference

 
 

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North Alabama Conference
of The United Methodist Church

898 Arkadelphia Road, Birmingham, AL 35204
(205) 226-7950 | Toll Free Phone [within Alabama]: 800-239-7950

www.umcna.org