March 5, 2020 Tom Berlin

COVID-19 Preparedness

Corona Virus and the Church

Here at Floris United Methodist Church we have been talking about ways we can make our church a safe space relevant to the recent spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). With guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local health departments, we developed a list of safe practices to help ensure that we are ready for whatever may happen. I would like to share our initial list with you, to help you create safe spaces in your communities.

  1. Talk to the Congregation
    • Demonstrate and normalize ways to greet people other than a handshake or other contact.
      • Elbow bump
      • Hand to chest with slight bow
    • Provide online worship options so that those who are sick can stay home. This may be as simple as Facebook Live.
    • Inform members about practices related to cleaning the facility, especially the nursery, children’s areas and restrooms.
    • Communicate with parents
      • Communicate practices for cleaning and expectations for nursery staff related to their health so that parents know your church is a safe space.
      • Ask parents not to bring symptomatic or sick children to church.
      • Share procedures for nursery and classroom cleaning, and guide volunteers on new cleaning practices during this time.
  • Serving Holy Communion
    • Tell volunteers to wash hands for 20 seconds minimum before serving Holy Communion.
    • Use hand sanitizer in front of the congregation before serving to validate the practice.
  • If communion is shared by intinction, give people options like crossing their arms before the cup as a sign of participation, especially if they are experiencing anxiety about receiving communion.
  1. Talk to Church Staff and Key Volunteers
    • Emphasize:
      • Respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue)
      • Routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces and objects.
      • Hand hygiene (washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds)
      • Stay at home when sick
      • Identify what symptoms count as stay at home criteria:
        • Active, persistent, hacking cough
        • Shortness of breath
        • Fever (must be fever-free and related symptom-free for 24 hours before return)
    • Consider what preparations need to be made now if people choose to work from home.
      • How would I do my job if I were not in this facility?
      • Help employees understand the difference between working from home and taking Paid Time Off if they are sick.
  1. Review Church Cleaning Practices
    • Ask staff and volunteers to clean surfaces and door handles after use in public areas.
    • Make hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies available in a child-safe location in classrooms and other areas where necessary.

A few years ago I learned from United Methodists in Sierra Leone that when the church takes precautions during a public health crisis, it can positively impact everyone in the country. Churches there asked their members to rinse their hands in a chlorinated water solution, refrain from handshaking and hugs and find new ways to greet and show care for one another that would not transmit the virus. Sierra Leone was dealing with an outbreak of Ebola, which is not something to be taken lightly. When faith communities took this initiative, its good practices quickly spread through the country, with a very positive benefit to public health. While COVID-19 is different from Ebola, church leaders who take the initiative can help people plan what to do to improve health and lower anxiety when people hear the word “pandemic”.

Tom Berlin

Rev. Tom Berlin is the Lead Pastor of Floris United Methodist Church. Tom was raised in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and has lived in Virginia most of his life. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech and his Master of Divinity is from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He has co-authored three books and is the author of several small group studies. Tom and his wife Karen have four daughters.