FAQ regarding church suspension

Why is the Bishop asking my church to suspend worship?

Part of our Wesleyan heritage as United Methodists is caring for one another, which means caring enough to prevent the spread of a terrible illness.

A large portion of our church population falls within one or more of the categories defined by the CDC as most at-risk for contracting COVID-19 (adults over 60, or those of any age who have compromising health conditions).

Transmission of the Coronavirus can occur through the air through coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands; touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

It can range from mild illness to pneumonia and even death in certain at-risk populations. Medical professionals currently understand it to be anywhere between 10 to 20 times more lethal than the average flu bug.

By using social distancing, we can SLOW the SPREAD of this disease and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

My community isn’t experiencing any issues with the Coronavirus. Why can’t we continue to meet?

While public health professionals including the CDC still acknowledge that the risk of being exposed to the virus is low for many Americans, they predict that “as the outbreak expands, that risk will increase.” While rural communities and some cities have yet to have a single case, it is widely understood to be a matter of time and testing.

Sometimes individuals may be carriers of the Coronavirus without knowing they have been infected. The CDC reports that it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to even appear.

As more time passes, public health officials are seeing more cases through what they call “community spread.” And as testing starts to become more commonplace, it is likely that they will find that it is already in places that are presumed to be free of the virus.

What will happen to vulnerable members of my congregation who I don’t see on Sunday?

We recommend using your church’s prayer tree or communications plan to check on those in your church who may be self-isolating to make sure they’re maintaining good health and staying connected to people within their church community.

Read this story from Fairwood United Methodist Church outside of Seattle on how they’re using disaster response protocols to love each other better.

How will my church recover financially if we’re not able to give to a Sunday offering?

Concerns about the financial impact of suspending worship are understandable. Actions taken now by community groups like local churches actually have the potential to help to lessen the probability of more extended, less voluntary, cancelations in the future.

Greater Northwest Area leaders are already started to discuss how suspending worship may negatively impact some financially vulnerable churches. We will be watching this closely.

In the meantime, there are many ways for churches to set up online giving, or electronic giving, which allows for churches to continue ministry in trying times and ordinary times.

If you or other members of your congregation are not comfortable with setting up electronic giving, feel free to mail your church a check.

How will I maintain spiritual practices during this time?

Worship is a holy experience for many and also a great opportunity to check in with our beloved siblings in Christ.

A number of churches are offering online worship services for you to stream on Sunday mornings. This also could be a great time to explore one of the many other spiritual disciplines that have developed within the Christian tradition, in solitude or with a small group.

The Upper Room has great daily devotionals.

In addition to those options, we’re developing an online devotional platform for people to connect. More details will be made available soon.

What about committee meetings? How will we accomplish the business of the church during the next four weeks?

Again, thank you for remaining faithful and committed to the work of the church. We’re encouraging everyone to utilize online meeting platforms like Zoom, Skype or phone calls to accomplish as much work as possible in the next few weeks – or postpone meetings if you can.

The three conferences of the Greater Northwest Area are offering heavily discounted Zoom accounts to local churches. Click here to learn more.

My church provides a food pantry, childcare, etc., for our neighborhood. Are we expected to close those operations as well?

United Methodists are involved in so many important ministries which help the vulnerable in our communities. We understand the need to continue providing support, but strict adherence to safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control or other public health agencies for cleaning, social distancing and health screening guidelines is mandatory.

What about camps, campus ministries and other specialized ministry settings?

Our campus ministry leaders, camp directors and Innovation Vitality team are all watching this situation closely as well. Many campuses in the area are moving as many of their classes as they can to online-only platforms or are extending spring break while they make adjustments to schedules. We’d encourage our campus ministers to utilize their communication systems to connect with college students and plan any possible gatherings according to state and federal health guidelines.

Our camp and retreat ministry directors are monitoring the situation closely as well and may make decisions on suspending camp and retreat gatherings at various sites in the coming days and weeks. One upcoming youth retreat in the Seattle area, SUMYT, cancelled their event at Camp Indianola earlier this week.

What about communion?

Communion is always an important aspect of worship, particularly so during Lent. We’re asking churches right now to suspend offering communion. In small group settings of less than 10 people, it may feel unnecessary to do so but please consider it anyway. We’d remind clergy to consider the health risks this may pose and use individualized elements – such as a single serving of grape juice and already-torn bread or wafers –  to mitigate the risk and follow stringent guidelines on sanitizing before and after serving such elements.

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