While COVID-19 has changed some aspect of our lives forever, worship organizations have been forced to change the way its members praise. It is important to realize that there is a new norm in the function of faith-based worship. It is in this new norm that we look to the safest way to praise in a pandemic.
This pandemic is agnostic, as it attacks believers of all faiths. It does not discriminate against race, gender or creed. Currently, there is not a vaccine or cure, which puts worshippers at risk of infection. As a result, many worship leaders have closed their doors during these times. There are also, others who have decided to remain open. Whether the case, opened or closed, a worship leader’s first priority is to its members.
This article is intended to address those who have remained opened as well as those who are planning to open. It is designed to assist organizations navigate towards a safe, in-person worship experience.
Currently, I serve as a Minister in Houston, Texas. I also, have 25 years’ experience in the healthcare profession, where I assisted hospitals in configuring ICU and Emergency departments. The experience gained in working with their infection control and risk management teams, has given me deep insight on how to best utilize controlled measures regarding issues that prohibit a safe environment.
One of the issues that worship leaders are challenged with is managing all the information concerning this virus that is available. Several resources that help decision makers stay informed of the current effects of the virus are:
- The Center for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/index.html
- John Hopkins University of Medicine: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/us-map
- The Texas Medical Center: https://www.tmc.edu/coronavirus-updates/
- Harris County Public Health: https://publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/Resources/2019-Novel-Coronavirus
- Houston Health Department: https://houstonemergency.org/covid19/
The most challenging task for faith-based organizations to solve will be the asymptomatic person. Neutralizing potential spread from this person should be the primary foundation in all decisions made concerning in-person worship.
Understanding that COVID-19 in many cases is spread by airborne droplets and contact surfaces, by people who do not know they are infected, organizational leadership must make this person the focus in all solutions developed. There are several ways to do this and one way is to develop a COVID-19 investigative team.
This team works with leadership to make decisions that provide a safe environment for worship. They should develop the considerations for change and recommendation based on the following four criteria:
• Building the confidence and addressing the concerns of the membership.
• Tracking and recording COVID data at a local and national level.
• Establishing process and protocol changes for worship.
• Consideration of local healthcare and governmental recommendations.
It is critical to keep these aspects as a guide for implementation while decisions are made regarding the direction that an organization should go during these times.
Listed below are several points to consider as you contemplate opening and maintaining your place of worship. There are other scenarios that may be specific to your place of worship.
- If membership has gathered within seven days, thoroughly clean and disinfect the building. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html.
- After disinfection, close off all non-essential rooms to minimize the risk of recontamination. This includes the kitchen area, meeting rooms, lounge areas, etc.
- Prior to entry of the building, temperatures must be taken with an infrared thermometer. If a temperature is above 99.5, that member must return home.
- Upon entry of the building hand sanitizer is applied.
- A new mask is provided upon entry. This will replace or cover a mask worn by a member to further contain potential spread. Wearing masks is mandatory at all times while in the building.
- Gloves will be issued at entry as well and kept on for the duration of worship.
- Food and coffee service prior or after service is cancelled. Any outside cups or bottles must be discarded prior to entry.
- Establish designated routes from the entrance to the area of worship and back. All aspects of worship should be held in one area.
- It is recommended that 1 to 2 people use the restroom at a time. Hand motion soap and towel dispensers are recommended in all areas of the restroom.
- Have seating in your worship center preassigned 8 ft apart from each other. If there is a large congregation, it may be necessary to increase the number of services. Once seated, the member does not leave until service is over.
- It is recommended that music be provided via a sound system. If a choir is used, a minimal number is recommended, while they remain masked.
- If there are any persons playing instruments, they must be 12 ft apart from each other while masked.
- The worship leader must speak with a mask on. It is recommended that if he does not wear a mask, he speaks behind plexiglass barriers, covering areas of projection.
- It is recommended that every person has his own microphone if possible. If a microphone is shared, use disposable microphone covers. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1277355- REG/hygenx_x19mmpbkg_sanitary_disposable_microphone_covers.html
- For monetary donations, it is recommended that a drop box be placed strategically at the entrance of the place of worship. It also may be mailed or submitted on-line.
- If one intends to join the membership or request prayer, it is recommended that they be directed to leadership via phone, email or social media platforms.
- If there is an elevator for use, it is recommended that it be used one person at a time. If family members are worshipping together, they may utilize the elevator together.
- If programs are required, display them on a monitor or send to members electronically prior to the worship service.
- After the service is over, the traffic is routed to the closest exit. Trash cans are in place so that gloves and masks may be discarded. Hand sanitizer is applied prior to exit.
- A cleaning crew is immediately dispersed to disinfect the entire worship center for its next use.
It is recommended that the worship experience and time spent in the building be limited to no more that 1 ½ hours in order to minimize discomfort of mask and potential recontamination.
These are but a few actions that can be put into place immediately. Several may seem extreme, but we are living in extreme times. We must be proactive in our efforts to protect those we love.
For additional information or questions regarding your place and order of worship / activities, please contact Lou McElroy at firstname.lastname@example.org.