Hillcrest Church’s response to COVID-19
Updated August 15, 2021
Worship and life events:
- You may hold in-person worship of up to whatever number of people your space can accommodate with at least six feet between each family unit. Have a contingency plan for overflows beyond the approved number of people. Thoroughly clean surfaces and common areas between services.
- Groups can worship outdoors if social distancing is maintained between family units. Masks should be worn if there are more than 500 people.
- Continue holding online worship (even if you also do in-person), recording from home or the sanctuary with participation from small groups of people.
- Have people spread out in the sanctuary. Allow only one family unit per pew with measured markers indicating proper physical distance in approved and marked seating areas. Explore meeting in a fellowship hall or outdoors if your space is small.
- At children’s time, children should not come forward. Instead, create from you-to-the-pew story moments engaging children from safe distancing.
- Life ritual services can be offered in more traditional ways—but funerals, weddings, and graduation and confirmation celebrations should pay careful attention to limiting guests and keeping proper physical distance.
- High-risk individuals (those over age 60 and/or with underlying health conditions), particularly those who are not vaccinated, are encouraged to stay home and should be given options to participate in the life of the church through virtual means.
Recommendations for those leading and attending worship during this phase:
- Require people to face masks while at church, per state requirements.
- Have people spread out in the sanctuary space. Allow only one family unit per pew with measured markers indicating proper physical distance in approved and marked seating areas. Explore meeting in a fellowship hall or outdoors if your space is small.
- Use no-touch alternatives for greetings and passing the peace. Consider a friendly wave, a slight bow of the head, or crossing your arms over your heart.
- Collect offering without person-to-person contact. Consider having one or more baskets around the sanctuary that people could simply place their offering into during worship or on the way out.
- Minimize the number of items that need to be touched or distributed. Consider using screens or bulletins (one-time use only) rather than Bibles, hymnals, or other worship books to avoid having multiple people touch surfaces that could carry the virus.
- Have designated individual(s) record the names of each person present, not only for attendance purposes but also should it be needed for contact tracing later on.
- Use no-touch alternatives to communion, if you choose to offer it during this phase. For example, have each person pick up a set of pre-packaged elements as they enter and remain socially distanced as they take communion in their seats, or have a masked and gloved steward place individual cups and bread in people’s hands as they exit the sanctuary at the end of the service. The safe alternatives for communion might mean some congregations will choose to further postpone offering in-person communion.
- Modify baptisms so they include no skin-to-skin contact. Consider having parents hold babies and small children as the pastor performs the rite.
- Do not sing when gathered inside of your building, given that singing is considered a riskier practice when it comes to spreading aerosols that carry the virus, and cloth masks and physical distancing are unlikely to be adequate protection. Instead, think about playing pre-recorded music and asking those gathered simply to listen or to hum along. (Singing during outdoor worship is considered much safer because the aerosols dissipate much more quickly.)
- Worship musicians who are singing do not need to be masked while performing, but they must be adequately spaced out. Instrumentalists (if not a wind instrument) should be masked.
- Create opportunities for fellowship time online instead of before or after worship. For everyone’s safety, encourage people to leave the building as soon as worship concludes rather than mingling.
- Consider eliminating or limiting volunteer-based nursery care when you first begin in-person gatherings given that social distancing guidelines likely couldn’t be followed in a nursery with young children.
- At the end of service, direct people row by row to leave the building to maintain physical distancing. The pastor should not stand at a door to greet people. If possible, have people come in through one entrance and exit through a different entrance, one family unit at a time—and think about propping open the entry and exit doors to eliminate the need for people to touch door handles.
Small groups and faith formation:
- You may offer both in-person and online opportunities for Bible studies and small groups, as well as perhaps for leadership and ministry team meetings. Try to maintain online options you established during earlier phases for at-risk populations and those who do not yet feel comfortable attending in-person.
- You may consider offering children’s ministries such as Vacation Bible School (VBS) if you are able to offer it primarily outdoors and have safety protocols in place; we recommend daily temperature checks, keeping kids in the same small groups each day, and requiring masks to be worn at all times.
- Do not offer in-person mission trips or lock-ins until we reach the next phase. While the risk to children and youth has been recorded as somewhat lower than other age groups, children can be asymptomatic carriers who transmit the virus to others.
Staff and building operations:
- Church staff should work from home as much as possible. If multiple staff are in the office at the same time, they should maintain physical distancing, wear masks and follow safety and sanitizing protocols.
- Consider church liability and guidelines recommended by your insurer.
The Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church is providing this phased re-gathering plan to guide local churches during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan takes into account faith community recommendations provided by the Minnesota Department of Health as well as the phased plan released by the Office of Gov. Tim Walz. (Our camp and retreat ministry has developed camp-specific guidelines and protocols based on American Camp Association recommendations and the governor’s guidelines for outdoor and small group gatherings.) The suggestions in the phased plan below are driven by our Three Simple Rules:
- We are a people that do no harm. We practice physical distancing to minimize harm to others, especially the vulnerable.
- We are a people that do all the good we can. We care for the spiritual and physical needs of our neighbors, providing food, emotional support, and supporting our health care system.
- We are a people that stay in love with God. When we love God through prayer, praise, and worship, we grow in love of our neighbor. Love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable.
Our United Methodist faith communities can and must be first responders in caring for the spiritual, physical and mental health of all of God’s people all across Minnesota by actualizing these Three Simple Rules. We have come to understand, like never before, that the church is not a building. It is the expression of God’s love made visible through the actions of devoted followers of Jesus. We offer this plan as a framework to help church leaders make healthy and pastoral decisions, not as a fixed set of guidelines that will account for every circumstance. Although each church will need to make some decisions specific to its context and discernment, it is our expectation that every congregation will operate within each designated phase at any given time.
We are currently in the YELLOW Phase.