May 15, 2020
TO: Pastors and Laity of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference Churches
FROM: Bishop Jimmy Nunn, Resident Bishop
Rev. David Wilson, Conference Superintendent
SUBJECT: Reopening Expectations and Recommendations
This page has been created to help OIMC pastors and laity to prepare for reopening churches across the conference. We call upon pastors and leaders to take these recommendations seriously and to be responsible for contextual decisions utilizing the information we are providing. We expect and require that all leaders of our congregations/ministries remain vigilant in observing and responding to changes in the number of cases of COVID-19. This could mean, should infection rates rise, churches/ministries will need to close after reopening to protect the people in their care and reopen again at a later time. It is recommended that Oklahoma United Methodist churches/ministries reopen for in-person worship when your Relaunch Team determines it is prepared to do so as safely as possible and no sooner than June 7th, 2020.
Thank you for all you have done during this pandemic, and your continued commitment to keeping our Native communities healthy.
Please read each section:
Reopening and Ongoing Guidance
Procedures for handling COVID-19 Cases in your church
- Keep up to date with all World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and recommendations, as well as the state of Oklahoma’s OURS (Open Up and Recover Safely) plan. These should be the primary sources on COVID-19 and other health related issues. Recommendations change frequently in light of new data and information, so please check resources on a regular basis.
- Understand the risks involved in your context. Some churches/ministries have greater COVID-19 exposure issues than others. It is also vital to seek professional medical, legal, and insurance advice to weigh the impacts of potential liabilities.
- No church/ministry in the Oklahoma Conference of the UMC is required to reopen until that church/ministry deems the conditions are safe in their context. Consult the Oklahoma State Department of Health website to determine numbers in your county, city, town, and zip code.
- Follow any guidelines issued by your local municipality when those are stricter than either these guidelines or those produced by the State of Oklahoma.
- Though we all pray for the development of a vaccine to alleviate this virus, presently the development, distribution, and effectiveness of a vaccine is uncertain. Prepare for an extensive time without the assurance of vaccine protection.
May 15th through and beyond your reopening
Determine which areas of the church need to be prepped, cleaned, and sanitized.
CDC Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting:
- Develop a communication plan to help spread information quickly and efficiently to the congregation (phone chains, emails, social media, newsletters, etc.)
- Determine what aspects of worship will be maintained and what will be not be possible until a later time. Communicate the reasons for these decisions.
- Prepare to take attendance at all church/ministry functions for the foreseeable future so that you will be able to inform those present should anyone in attendance test positive for the virus.
- Test HVAC systems and prepare them for use whenever people are present to provide ventilation and comfortable temperatures.
- Train ushers and other hospitality staff about how they will deal with those who do not follow the church’s expectations regarding wearing masks, seating arrangements and any other expectations a church may impose on those worshipping during the reopen phase.
- Post Signage Throughout the Facility (Links for CDC signage are included)
- Post a sign at every entrance reminding congregants that they should not enter if they are a member of an at-risk population.
CDC Poster: What You Can Do if You are at Higher Risk:
- Post signs reminding people to not enter if they have been exposed to someone exhibiting fever or those who have tested positive for COVID-19.CDC Poster: Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 If You are Sick
- Post signs reminding people of the importance of face masks, social distancing, and frequent handwashing.
CDC Poster: Stop the Spread of Germs
- Post signs in restrooms reminding people of the proper handwashing techniques.
CDC Poster: Handwashing at Home, at Play, and Out and About
CDC Poster: Stop Germs! Wash Your Hands.
CDC Poster: Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use
- Complete this Checklist
- Create a clear document to distribute to all staff and pertinent volunteers regarding the required protocols they are to follow and plans they are to fulfill. Carefully review the document to insure their understanding and agreement. Utilize the Department of Labor resources provided below.
- Ensure you have a 1-month supply of cleaning/sanitizing products; have a system in place to reorder items before they are depleted.
- Outreach.com is one possible resource for hand sanitizers and dispensers:
- Eliminate places to congregate (e.g. store chairs, eliminate coffee stations).
- Thoroughly sanitize all surfaces, especially those in high traffic areas.
- Develop a congregational seating plan for social distancing; ensure at least 6 feet distance.
- Walk through each step of in-person worship multiple times.
What are the guidelines?
- Carefully review case trends in your community which are posted daily
- Also carefully review the weekly epidemiologist and surveillance report which comes out each Friday
- Consult with medical professionals familiar with your community
Recommendations for Worship
- Continue online worship and online small groups.
- Record attendance of every person in attendance.
- Masks should be properly worn by everyone over the age of 10.
- Encourage people to bring their own masks/hand sanitizer, but also have an ample supply on hand.
- Do not allow any person over 10 to enter or remain in the building without properly wearing a mask.
- All worship participants and leaders must wear masks, except when speaking or singing.
- Maintain a distance of 12 feet from anyone singing or leading.
- It is clearly documented that singing spreads the virus due to the heightened risk of droplet spreading, no choirs or congregational singing should take place at this time. This includes while wearing masks.
- If possible, use separate entrances and exits for the facility.
- Leave as many interior doors open as possible to limit personal touch to door handles, etc. and to help provide better air circulation.
- Mark clear pathways on the floor to maintain social distancing and prevent congestion.
- Clean and sanitize every room used by the public after each service.
- Clean all surfaces with soap and water followed by a disinfectant.
- Churches/ministries offering multiple worship services should have congregants wait in their cars until every room used by the public has been properly sanitized.
- Encourage parishioners to arrive no earlier than 15 minutes prior to or leave no later than 15 minutes following a service.
- Train staff/volunteers to keep people from entering the facility until public spaces are sanitized.
- Seating should be limited with six feet of social distancing enforced except for family household units.
- Ushers should seat people in the sanctuary from front to back and recess the people from back to front.
- Congregants should not be allowed to sit where they wish, but instead be directed to the next available row, beginning with the front row.
- Remove all writing supplies, hymnals, Bibles, etc., to prevent them from being touched by multiple people.
- Written orders of worship or bulletins are not recommended. If possible, screens should be used as alternatives. If bulletins are provided, DO NOT take up or reuse them.
- If you plan to do a baptism or Holy Communion, please refer to further guidance documents found at the conference website.
- No offering plate should be passed. Instead use online giving, a stationary giving box or mail. Counters should wear gloves/masks.
- All indoor gatherings including weddings, funerals, and support groups should follow these guidelines.
- No food or beverage service.
- Have greeters encourage people to leave the building rather than mingle.
- No in-person meetings of youth, children, or infants. Do not provide childcare.
- Postpone in-person Vacation Bible School.
- Notify local health officials and district superintendent if a person diagnosed with COVID-19 has been in the facility and communicate with staff and congregants about potential exposure while maintaining confidentiality. An example letter can be found at okumc.org.
- Inform those with exposure to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 to stay home and self-monitor for symptoms and follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop.
- Ensure safe and correct application of disinfectants and keep disinfectant products away from children.
- Close off areas used by sick persons and do not use that area. Wait 24 hours to clean and disinfect to reduce risk to individuals cleaning. If it is not possible to wait 24 hours, wait as long as possible before cleaning and disinfecting.
- Advise sick staff and congregants not to return to the facility until they have met CDC’s criteria to discontinue home isolation.
- Postpone mission trips or any other trips.
- Regularly communicate that anyone who travels outside of the area should refrain from participation in in-person activities at the church for 14 days.
- The Greatest Commandment: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ and ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-40)
- Paul’s admonition to the Philippians, our 2020 Annual Conference theme: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (2:4)
- Paul’s encouragement to the church at Rome: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good… Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (12:9, 12)
- “Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility – public and private” (¶162V).
Three General Rules of Methodism
- Do no harm.
- Do good.
- Attend upon the ordinances of God.
- Cleaning Service – We have identified a company that is owned by members of the OIMC that disinfects churches and buildings. Jon and Jill Peters own the company and are offering great prices to OIMC churches. Please contact them if you are interested. They travel all over the state of Oklahoma and North Texas.
- Oklahoma Center for Non-Profits reengagement guidelines
- Wisconsin Council of Churches returning to church guidelines