Guidelines for West Michigan Places of Worship as the COVID-19 Pandemic Continues
The following are guidelines, produced by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, specific to churches in West Michigan. While these guidelines might be geared to a specific region, we believe all churches may find value in their contents.
Guidelines from the Christian Reformed Church in North America
Places of worship play a vital role in local communities. Faith communities are places of refuge that provide support for families in need, are vital for mental health, and add intrinsic value to their surrounding communities. Many Michiganders miss congregating with their local worship community, as churches across the state have shuttered their doors in order to support Governor Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order.
As the State of Michigan considers its next wave of battling this infectious disease, churches and other places of worship must consider the opportunities and alternatives to provide safe and healthy environments for all worshippers. As the Governor, along with health experts from across the state have indicated, the fight to flatten the curve of COVID-19 will continue for the next several weeks and months and will be a regional effort as different parts of the state need to attack the coronavirus in various ways.
After consulting with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), along with West Michigan county health departments—including the counties of Kent, Muskegon, Allegan, and Ottawa—the following are designated as broad guidelines for places of worship, presented by the Christian Reformed Church in North America as a resource to all places of worship in West Michigan, in order to help faith communities consider their options pertaining to the return of in-person worship. These guidelines are simply considerations and suggestions to your organization to consider; as the situation continues to rapidly evolve, we suggest contacting your local authorities to consider what would be best for your situation.
Under the current executive order1, a place of religious worship, when used for religious worship, is not subject to penalty under section 16 of this order. Even still, places of worship should do their part to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. You will need to discover where your faith community lies in the tension between the love and desire for worship and fellowship with the law of loving one’s neighbor as themselves (i.e., not spreading the virus).
Places of worship should conduct as many activities as possible remotely.
When providing services in person, a religious organization is compelled to:
- Abide by local group gathering size limitations. Consider holding additional services to safely accommodate all who wish to attend.
- Provide space for individuals to practice social (physical) distancing in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—individuals should remain at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household to the extent feasible.
To help slow the spread of the virus, when conducting services in person, places of worship ought to consider:
- Encouraging attendees age 65 and older to stay home.
- Ask all attendees with underlying health conditions to remain at home.
- Require any attendee to stay home if they have had a fever within 72 hours, have a cough, or have had contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 within the previous 14 days.
- Encourage anyone in attendance to wear a face mask or covering.2
- Keeping child care facilities closed unless the organization is capable of complying with current CDC recommendations for child care facilities.3
- Organizations should limit building access to a short time before and after the activity and allow access only to places where proper social distancing can be maintained.
- Sanitize seating, restrooms, and other high-touch areas like door handles before and after each service following guidelines set by the CDC.4
- Remove greeting time from the service or implement an alternative that does not involve violating social distancing rules and guidelines.
- Refrain from passing collection plates.
- Find alternative ways to administer the sacraments that do not include the same surfaces or violate social distancing orders.
- Conduct temperature checks on all attendees before entering the facility.
- Provide hand sanitizer at entrances and throughout the building.
- Canceling or closing social gathering areas, like a cafe or coffee time.
For a house of worship’s staff and volunteers, the organization should consider implementing the following practices:
- Provide face masks or coverings for ushers and greeters.
- Conduct temperature checks before allowing staff and volunteers into the facility.
- Require staff and volunteers to stay home if they are feeling ill—a fever in the last 72 hours, cough, or other symptoms—or have come in contact with anyone who has been sick in the last 14 days.
- Maintain a minimum 6’ distance between all volunteers and staff members including musicians and choir members.
In addition, clearly communicating what your organization is doing to help slow the spread of the coronavirus can help your attendees remain safe and healthy. Consider these recommendations:
- Before opening the house of worship to services, inform the congregation of what is being done throughout the building to prepare for their arrival.
- Inform your attendees what service times are available, and what the options for viewing are for watching or attending.
- Post clear signage reminders about hand washing, social distancing, face coverings, and what preparatory measures your religious organization is taking.
- Do not print and distribute printed worship programs.
- Find alternative ways to communicate announcements, orders of worship, and the measures and limitations taken by the house of worship—these communications should keep all people informed, whether they are attending in person or remaining at home.
- Maintain a plan to continue checking in on elderly and homebound members, and helping support basic needs.
We are all in the midst of major changes in the wake of this pandemic. If your place of worship needs assistance figuring out how to effectively communicate to its congregation and community, the Christian Reformed Church’s Church Juice ministry is providing free consulting and training—email firstname.lastname@example.org to get support.
1 Michigan Executive Order 2020-70 is in place until 11:59pm on May 15.
2 Social distancing is still necessary, even when wearing a face covering.
3 Guidance for Child Care Programs that Remain Open (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/guidance-for-childcare.html
4 Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html