We now have cases of COVID-19 among our congregations. At Camp Crucis, staff exposure to the virus forced a tough decision this week to cancel all Summer Camp sessions for 2020. Around Texas, the number of cases and hospitalized patients has been climbing statewide for several weeks, and the Governor says next week will be worse; his executive order requires face coverings to be worn in public anywhere in the state as the only alternative to closing down again because hospitals are overwhelmed.
As Christians, we are called to love as we have been loved. Right now this means taking active measures to keep from spreading disease. When I last updated my guidance for clergy and churches in early June, it looked as though we could gradually return to more normal activity, but the health crisis has worsened since then. Please review those guidelines, with these amendments:
• Consider returning to Communion in one kind (the host) for the remainder of the summer. This is the safest choice. Make it a priority to wear a mask when administering, and ask all other ministers to do the same.
• Continue to pray – for God’s intercession in this crisis, for the health and strength of our medical community, for the recovery of the sick, and comfort for the grieving. We are not without hope.
• Let us continue to practice social distancing, hand washing, cleaning of common areas and fixtures. Keep hand sanitizer bottles and stations filled. As leaders, take the lead in wearing masks, especially indoors. Check on air circulation in occupied rooms; air filters are inexpensive – change them regularly. Continue to offer alternatives to in-person worship, Christian education, and necessary meetings. The amount of time spent together in a room has been found to affect virus transmission. Shorter times, longer distances, and face coverings all reduce risk.
• Ushers should encourage members to leave an empty pew in front and behind, and to allow six feet of space along the pew between family groups.
• Anyone who greets others or offers hospitality should wear a mask and observe personal distancing. If food is served, gloves should be worn by the host or hostess who sets out individual servings. Use disposable paper napkins, plates, cups, etc. Don’t use common urns, platters, etc., and avoid forming lines.
• If a member of the congregation tests positive for the coronavirus, please follow up with your own contact tracing. When was the person last at church? Were other family members there, too? What areas did he or she visit, and what pew? Did the person have a conversation with a friend? Masked or unmasked? Reporting this to other church members will help them decide whether to be tested, or to self-isolate. There is no shame in being sick; the church family should offer care and support without blame.
• Encourage members, if they are able, to donate blood. It is always in short supply, and several complications of COVID-19 create an additional need.
• Families around us are struggling economically. Support food banks and pantries. If your congregation does not have a food distribution program, encourage gifts to other churches or to the food bank in your county.
Many church members are alarmed right now. Taking these measures will demonstrate your care for your people and encourage them to continue practicing healthful behavior through the week. May God bless you in your continued ministry to his beloved people.