St Stephen must develop guidelines for recovery of public operations following the initial entry of Coronavirus Disease, 2019 (COVID-19). The following policy has been developed after significant research, and with the guidance of SSPC church leaders and health experts. The State of Texas has declared places of worship as ‘essential’ and therefore charged with developing their own policies.
In thinking of St. Stephen as ‘essential,’ we need to ask, ‘In what way?’ St Stephen provides, first and foremost, a witness to the resurrected Christ’s living presence and the love of God active in the present situation (and every situation). This is a witness to our congregation and also by our congregation to our community and world. This witness has not stopped and will not stop in the face of this pandemic. In fact, we believe St Stephen’s witness of God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice to heal a broken world, communal responsibility and servant ministry are more critical than ever.
In this time, we are called to be motivated by hope, not by fear. St. Stephen will experience short-term loss during this global pandemic. Income, attendance, mission, fellowship and Christian education will suffer. Our parishioners will experience economic, psychological and health impacts. Many of us will feel a sense of loss while we await the return to “normality.” Additionally, we are aware that other parts of the community are “opening up.” The temptation will be for our church to do the same.
This guidance is written with three overriding imperatives. The first is to bear witness to the Gospel in a time of global pandemic. God has not gone into quarantine and worship, fellowship, pastoral care, Christian education and service to others are still happening and indeed more essential than ever.
The second imperative is to continue to provide spiritual nurture to our congregation and community. Our most essential act is to convey “the hope that is in us” (I Peter 3:15). We are presented with new opportunities to share our hope with others and to support our congregation through social media and web-based services that reach many more than just those in the pews. This chance to bear witness will certainly bear fruit both within and beyond St Stephen. We approach this liminal time with hope, determination, discipleship, and gratitude.
The third overriding imperative is “do no harm.” We are called to a discipleship that conveys that God is present in time of crisis, and at the same time seeks to partner with our community to provide healing and hope rather than to engage in practices that put the health of our congregation and community in jeopardy. We are servants of the servant Lord and are called to put the needs of others ahead of our own needs.
The sources accessed in the development of this policy include:
- Declarations and guidance from local, state and federal agencies and authorities, including:
- Texas Guidance for Places of Worship
- Tarrant County and City of Fort Worth resources for both public events and congregations;
- Presbyterian Church USA resources;
- Wisconsin Council of Churches;
- Wisconsin and Washington state guidance;
- And Denominational guidelines from local Evangelical Lutheran Church in America dioceses.
Developing a written policy and plan is complicated by the inconsistencies in language and intent between the White House, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and State of Texas. The definition of terms St Stephen will employ is consistent with that of the CDC and other national, state and local public health agencies and authorities. To distinguish St Stephen’s “phases” from state and CDC “phases”, they are designated “SSPC Phase 1, 2 or 3.”
It is important to note that in adopting these guidelines, the Session is not obligated to follow them to the letter but remains free to make its decisions based on its sense of “the signs of the times” and the spiritual needs of our congregation. This is a more amorphous guideline. The Session must make its decision after careful consideration of the factors enumerated here (and other relevant factors) and according to its responsibility “to discern and measure [the congregation’s] fidelity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life” (Book of Order G-2.03). It is possible that, if the status of infection has not changed for an extended period of time, then in the Session’s considered judgment the need to gather as a worshiping community outweighs other concerns. In adopting these guidelines, the Session of St Stephen does not abrogate its responsibility “to seek together to find and represent the will of Christ” (BO F-3.0204). It is the strong recommendation of this report that should the Session determine to initiate in-person worship while Tarrant County still reports “substantial infection,” that all other activities of the church—mission, fellowship, meetings, office hours, weddings and funerals and Christian education–remain where they were at SSPC Phase 1; and that all guidelines listed here for worship are stringently observed.
Finally, the unpredictability of COVID-19 and public response will require ongoing and regular assessments and changes of whatever policies and plans are approved by the Session.
All documents referenced in this policy have been bound together and are in the church office. Upon adoption, this policy will be added to the St Stephen Manual of Operations, as will any future revisions.
SSPC Phase 1: Substantial Infection
We are presently in a situation of substantial infection in Fort Worth/Tarrant County. Under these circumstances, our primary act of discipleship is for individuals to:
- remain at home as much as possible,
- practice social distancing,
- engage in robust disinfection cleaning,
- wear clean facemasks and maintain a respectful distance of 6 feet or more between ourselves and others when we go out.
The “Opening America” plan posits three phases of “reopening.” For the most part, St. Stephen’s present practice represents CDC Phase 1, so arguably we are presently doing more than the CDC considers wise.
Our current practice is based on what seems to work best for SSPC, including:
- Employees’ work hours in the building are shortened and staggered,
- At-home work is encouraged and practiced,
- Disinfection is practiced with disinfection stations located throughout both buildings,
- Social distancing and masking are practiced among all those in the building,
- Non-staff are welcomed only if they have a particular reason to be there,
- Services with the exception of certain mission related work are online. Such services are expanding as it is clear that Fort Worth/Tarrant County have a ways to go before meeting most of the gating criteria mentioned above,
- Our mission outreach observes very strict social distancing and disinfection protocols,
- Events such as VBS are cancelled,
- The Youth Mission Trip is cancelled in accordance with the guideline that businesses should “minimize non-essential travel” (though we are looking into some sort of local youth mission opportunity that can allow for COVID-19 safety),
- Gatherings inside the church’s buildings are limited to no more than 10 people (with the exception of weddings and funerals, and for those our limit 20 exclusive of staff [see 16 and 17 below] is well short of guidelines that allow up to a quarter capacity of attendance, which for St Stephen would be 250!)
- Public singing may be done by soloists or by a small choral group, limited only to the necessary number of singers who shall be distanced no less than 10 feet between musicians. Congregational singing will not be allowed. See “The Road Ahead and Questions to Consider,” No. 3, below.
- Worship and other public gatherings can also take place outdoors with social distancing and masking, in gatherings of no more than 40 exclusive of staff (40 for the front lawn; 15 for the prayer garden/labyrinth). All equipment and resources used are disinfected before and after each such event,
- “Parking lot” or “drive through” worship may also take place, with no limit on attendance but with appropriate protections.
- “At risk” individuals (defined in this document as those over sixty-five and/or with underlying health conditions) are urged to stay home and avoid coming into the church’s buildings.
- The Chapel of the Trinity may be used for certain events, e.g., small weddings, ceremonies, or filming Thursday prayers, with no more than four people present, all masked and practicing social distancing. Until the Covid-19 crisis is past, the chapel cannot be used for any sort of larger gathering.
- For weddings:
- Up to 20 may attend a sanctuary wedding, not counting pastor, church staff, wedding planner and 1 photographer/ videographer,
- Full masking and aggressive social distancing (a distance of three rows between individuals or individual family units, with very strong encouragement that those in vulnerable populations stay home, controlled entrancing and exiting via west transept),
- Building use is limited to the sanctuary building main floor—the sanctuary, women’s and the session room bathrooms,
- Entrance and exit through west transept,
- The women’s lounge or the session room will not be used for dressing or prepping,
- No nursery or childcare will be provided,
- Extensive cleaning before and after the event will be conducted,
- Indoor photos must enforce social distancing as much as is appropriate, outdoor photos strongly recommended, again with proper social distancing,
- Staff, guest pastor(s), photographer(s) and videographer(s) and the couple’s wedding planner will be expected to help enforce these policies,
- Livestreaming will be encouraged for those unable to attend,
- The service must be conducted using the entire worship space (rather than, say, a West Transept only service),
- Weddings will be charged no more than $1200, the cost of a chapel service, and all participating staff will be paid their usual rates. Extra cleaning will be billed,
- Outdoor weddings may take place in the prayer garden/labyrinth or on the front lawn, with up to 15 in the prayer garden and up to 40 guests and robust social distancing,
- No congregational singing will be permitted inside or outside,
- Soloists may perform but maintain 10 feet between themselves and others.
- For Funerals/Memorials:
- May take place outside in the prayer garden/labyrinth area or the front lawn, or inside the sanctuary under the same conditions as a wedding (likewise outdoor weddings will operate under the same conditions as funerals),
- Chairs will be set at a distance of 6 feet or more apart,
- There can be no congregational singing. Soloists may perform but must maintain 10 feet between themselves and others,
- Indoor funerals can welcome no more than 20 guests exclusive of staff present,
- It is strongly recommended that only immediate family attend,
- outdoor funerals can welcome up to 40 (exclusive of staff), if on the front lawn; and 15 (exclusive of staff), if in the prayer garden/labyrinth area,
- If the deceased had COVID-19, the funeral cannot take place until a minimum of 14 days has passed.
- St Stephen will draw up updated building use agreements detailing our wedding and funeral expectations. No non-church-related activities will be allowed at this stage.
- Regarding weddings and funerals, those for whom the event is planned will be expected to keep the guest list within acceptable guidelines. St Stephen reserves the right to handle weddings or funerals in a manner consistent with these guidelines, including canceling an event on the spot if there is a problem.
For all church events, those who are experiencing COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms or have knowingly been exposed to someone with COVID-19, are asked to stay away from the church and from all public gatherings. Medical professionals who have contact with Covid-19 patients may use their own judgment whether it is safe to attend church events.
At this point, both for present use and to prepare for gradual “re-entry,” we will collect facemasks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), per guidance from most resources. St Stephen will emphasize, consistent with our discipleship, that masking whether at church or in public is done to protect others and is an act of love.
SSPC Exposure Control Plan
Our insurance company, Berkley, observes that “Employees may develop symptoms of COVID-19 while at work. Organizations should consider developing sick at work policies and procedures to handle these situations properly.” Their recommendations would apply to congregants as well as employees.
- If employee or congregant reports or displays symptoms of Covid-19, they will be provided a face mask and taken to the Chapel of the Trinity. Following such an incident the Chapel will remain unused for a week (except in the case of another such incident) and cleaning will take place.
- They will be advised to go home. If necessary, transport will be arranged for them and/or Emergency Services will be called.
- The incident will be reported to the appropriate authorities immediately.
- Anyone who has been in contact with this employee or congregant will be informed immediately.
- Their tools and workspace will be immediately disinfected.
- Staff and others in immediate contact will be sent home and strongly encouraged to get a Covid-19 test.
- If the person has had access to the church office, the entire office area will be locked up for three days (meaning no access by anyone) and cleaned extensively after that.
- In the case of an employee, the building(s) to which they had access will be closed for three days after the incident and the congregation will be informed via email and phone tree.
- The congregant/employee may return to SSPC property when:
- Symptom-based Strategy. According to the CDC, isolation may end when at least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery. This means that the employee has:
- No fever without the use of fever-controlling medications, and − Improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough or shortness of breath), and
- At least ten days have passed since the first appearance of symptoms.
- Test-based Strategy. According to the CDC, isolation may end when:
- No fever for at least 72 hours without the use of fever-controlling medications and
- Improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough or shortness of breath) and
- Negative results from two consecutive FDA-approved tests administered more than 24 hours apart from each other.
- The employee was not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and was diagnosed with a test. Isolation can end when:
- At least ten days have passed since the date of the positive COVID-19 test, and
- The employee has experienced no COVID-19 symptoms at that time, and
- The employee is currently asymptomatic.
Easing Back Into Public Gathering
The White House and CDC “Opening America” Guidelines identify three specific “Gating Criteria” that must be met before people may transition out of “sheltering in place” and into more public gatherings. These include:
- Downward trajectory of flulike symptoms over 14 days AND downward trajectory of cases of COVID-19-like symptoms over 14 days.
- 14-day downward trajectory of recorded cases of Covid-19 OR downward trajectory of positive tests as a proportion of total tests in a 14-day period.
- Hospitals are able to treat all patients without crisis care and provide robust testing to their workers.
- The Wisconsin “Badger Bounce-Back” plan identifies additional “gating criteria”: aggressive contact tracing and a good supply of PPE for healthcare workers. Contact-tracing is especially emphasized by many infectious disease experts.
- All or enough of the above criteria should be met when Tarrant County changes the infection rate from “substantial” to “medium to moderate.” Overall, it seems the easiest way to determine when to move to SSPC’s second phase is to do so when Tarrant County makes that change. However, it is important that St. Stephen make its decisions based on what seems best from our perspective for church and community.
All responsible guidance advises that any steps to be taken in order to “open up” the church should be made in close consultation with public health and healthcare professionals. We are fortunate to have medical professionals associated with our congregation who can advise us.
SSPC Phase 2: “Medium to Moderate” Infection
St Stephen will enter SSPC Phase 2 when Tarrant County Public Health reports we have moved from “substantial” to “medium to moderate” infection. In addition, St Stephen will consider the following guidelines:
- Reported Tarrant County Covid-19 cases have been in decline for 14 days;
- Testing has been established in the area to the satisfaction of most public health experts;
- Contact tracing has been established at a level that is satisfactory to public health experts;
- That to the best of our knowledge no one who has tested positive for Covid-19 has been in our buildings for at least 14 days,
When the Session is satisfied that our Gating Criteria have been met, then we may begin to have gatherings of up to 100 people inclusive of staff, security and volunteers present, in the Sanctuary. (Up to 30 may be allowed in the Parish Hall).
At this point, weekly public worship may be considered. Seating will be allowed in the nave, chancel (worship leaders), gallery (singers and musicians) and transepts. Rather than judge allowed attendance by numbers, it is better to judge by allowed seating (units, with a unit being an individual or a family). Excluding worship leadership, ushers, staff, and other volunteers, and seating congregants in every third pew, we have 31 units (see attached diagram).
This plan posits two possible re-entry worship approaches. The main consideration other than seating availability is set up and clean up.
- One service with all 31 units filled.
- Two services of 31 each, one possibly designated for those “at risk”. The most difficult problem might be clean up between the services.
Texas’ “Guidance for Houses of Worship in the COVID-19 Crisis” details an excellent list of minimum precautions. In addition, and in order to fully implement those and other precautions, St Stephen will observe the following in the case of Worship:
- For either option, people will be accommodated first come/first serve. Those in need of special seating may sit on either side in the pews at the center of the nave normally designated handicap access pews.
- Planners need to consider whether it is best to use Signup Genius or Doodle to set attendance. The link to sign up might be sent via email to the entire congregation. If possible, they will inform us how many will be attending with them. We will then assign them seats.
- The resumption of services will be publicly announced in all our communication. The calling team will be enlisted to call all parishioners to let them know that worship is re-opening and what (if any) the sign-up method will be.
- If we use the sign-up method, sign-ups must be limited to those on St Stephen’s mailing list, so new visitors will not be able to attend; however, visitors who have attended regularly in the past are also on the mailing list. Those who may be unable to access this technology will be told via our callers that they can contact the office to sign up as well. A diagram of church seating will be with the administrator so that she can assign seats. When all seats are filled, no more will be able to sign up.
- All announcements will publicize service times and let people know what new practices of attendance, physical distancing and hygiene to expect when they return.
- Attendees may enter and exit only from the narthex doors, including the west access door to the parking lot (only those with disabilities). Entrance will be through the east front narthex doors and exit through the west front narthex doors. Signage will indicate which doors to use. Doors will be propped open. Ushers will make sure a minimum of 6 feet is maintained between persons or family units as they enter with tape or another method used to indicate 6 feet increments starting outside the sanctuary building doors. Likewise 6 ft. increments will be marked in the narthex, nave, and transepts. Ushers will be given the “Texas Guidance” list of symptoms to be alert to. If anyone has such symptoms they will be asked to leave immediately and the SSPC Exposure Control Plan will be implemented. (There will be a lot of expectations on ushers, so training is important.)
- While the church will make some masks available, all congregants will be expected to bring and wear masks and to practice social distancing. Those leading worship will be expected to wear masks if they are within six feet of one another or the congregants. Approved hand disinfectant or wipes will be available at the door and also in each designated pew. When people are seated, and for those officiating, masks may be removed, but must be put on again as people go in and out.
- Seating units will be marked. Each individual or family will sit in their own pew (for some people, this is a dream come true!). Each designated pew will be divested of hymnals, Bibles, visitor cards, pencils and any other object that could be handled (other than products provided for that Sunday).
- Place bulletins in the sanctuary Tuesday or Wednesday in the designated pews, as viruses don’t live on the paper for more than 4-5 days. Some live only minutes on paper. Please note that placing bulletins in designated pews might be the best way to show that the pew is a designated seating unit! Following the service please take these paper products home with you to be disposed of there. If there are unused bulletins in your pew, take them home as well.
- Many resources recommend a “sign in” in case contact tracing is needed. The easiest way to do this is simply to have an attendance book in each pew with a writing utensil. These too could be placed early in the week and then left sitting a couple of days before they are removed and taken to the office.
- The only restrooms to be made available are the Sanctuary floor restrooms in the Women’s Lounge and Session Room. The men’s room on the Education building first floor may also be available, but the hall will be blocked past the bathroom and an usher will be stationed in the hall.
- Doors will be propped open to minimize contact as much as possible. Ushers will note use of the Session Room bathroom and sanitize its doorknobs after each use.
- We will not practice communion at these services.
- If we do not offer a service meant for them, those who are in the “at risk” category will be STRONGLY urged to stay home. If we do have an “at risk” service, “at risk” folks will be urged to attend that one rather than the other.
- Appropriate cleaning of the Sanctuary and gallery level will take place before and between the service(s) and at the end of the day.
- Fellowship (i.e., social gathering before and after worship) will be discouraged at this stage.
- Social distancing guidelines will be prominently posted in all buildings.
- Public singing may be done by soloists or by a small choral group, limited only to the necessary number of singers who shall be distanced no less than 10 feet between musicians. Congregational singing will not be allowed. See “The Road Ahead and Questions to Consider,” No. 3, below.
- Video worship will continue to be offered (and will continue to be offered until the public health crisis is considered averted by public officials and public health professionals.) As we return to public worship, streaming may be deemed the best method.
- Childcare will not be provided. Children and infants may come in with family but must stay with them at all times. Infants will not count toward attendance. Bringing infants and pre-school age children is strongly discouraged at this phase.
- Funerals and weddings may take place in the sanctuary using the above protocols.
- Outdoor events may continue as outlined in SSPC Phase 1, with up to 40 people inclusive of staff present.
- Posters and other resources from the CDC that explain health practices, as well as signage indicating St Stephen’s requirements, will be prominently displayed.
In addition to the above, the following guidance from Evangelical Lutheran Church of America bishops is extremely helpful.
- Train ushers/greeter not to shake hands or pass out bulletins.
- Offering plates are placed on a table as people enter and exit. Greeters stand behind the table warmly welcoming worshippers from a distance.
- During announcements thank people for coming, and politely remind them not to shake hands or hug yet.
- Use the offering time to talk about the church’s vital ongoing ministries. Let people write checks. What’s still happening? Why does it matter? How are lives being impacted? How is your church serving people during this crisis physically and spiritually?
- Offering counters should use the same protocols as bank tellers, sanitizing frequently, and sitting at a distance.
- Greeters stand at the tables as people leave to thank them for coming and answer questions. Encourage greeters to check in with people, listening for needs.
- Continue to adopt/encourage electronic giving.
As to gatherings other than worship, up to 30 may gather as long as social distancing is observed, in the open, well-ventilated areas of the Parish Hall or the Sanctuary. Smaller groups may be allowed to meet, with aggressive social distancing practices, in certain larger classrooms. Session and sessional committees will be strongly encouraged to continue to meet online. Youth—defined as those eligible for St Stephen’s youth program—may meet with adult supervision and aggressive social distancing. No non-church activities will be allowed in our buildings.
Please note that at any point should the community COVID-19 risk begin to rise, we will return immediately to our SSPC Phase 1 protocols. Also, if anyone who has attended a worship service is discovered to have been COVID19-positive at the time they attended, we will assess, with professional guidance, whether we should close off public worship and other events for 14 days.
SSPC Phase 3
St. Stephen will enter SSPC Phase 3 with guidance from public health professionals and AT BARE MINIMUM when the following public criteria are met:
- Reported COVID-19 cases in Tarrant County have been in decline for 30 days;
- Testing has been established in the area to the satisfaction of most public health experts and those tests likewise show a 30-day decline in COVID-19-positive cases;
- Contact tracing has been established at a level that is satisfactory to public health experts; and,
- To the best of our knowledge no one who has tested positive for COVID-19 has been in our buildings for at least 14 days.
In SSPC Phase 3, public worship will continue as previously, but with the following changes:
- Attendance protocols from SSPC Phase 2 will remain in effect.
- Informal childcare, in the form of supervised play on the lawn or in the Parish Hall, will be allowed, but there will be no infant care,
- Infants and pre-school age children will be allowed in worship; however, Godly Play will not take place: see “The Road Ahead,” No. 1,
- Fellowship may take place on the lawn or in Parish Hall with social distancing strictures in place,
- No food or other objects may be shared commonly,
- When communion is to be practiced—again, under guidance from public health professionals—it is to be done under very careful health protocols or else by asking families to bring the elements from home and blessing them corporately during the Words of Institution. Several plans offer different ways to perform and receive communion. the Worship committee will review and determine how best to approach communion,
- Public singing may be done by soloists or by a small choral group, limited only to the necessary number of singers who shall be distanced no less than 10 feet between musicians. Congregational singing will not be allowed. See “The Road Ahead,” no. 3, below.
- Organized fellowship may take place on the front lawn, with aggressive social distancing.
Also in SSPC Phase 3:
- Office hours and building use may return to normal at this time, again with disinfection, masking, and social distancing,
- Certain non-church-related activities may be allowed, abiding by our guidelines and vetted by staff, and abiding by our building use agreement,
- Business-related out of state travel will continue to be discouraged, especially for larger groups,
- Pastoral care may take place in person as long as masking, disinfection and social distancing are strictly observed. Caution must be used and thought put into visiting those in “at risk” populations, serving home communion, or engaging in other pastoral rites,
- Small groups of up to 30 may meet in spaces that allow for social distancing, with hand sanitizer and masks in use (either provided by church or brought by parishioners),
- Smaller groups of up to six may meet off campus, again provided that social distancing, hand sanitizer, and face masks are in use, common food is prepared under strict health observance, disinfection is practiced, and physical contact is discouraged.
As the Covid-19 threat diminishes, more and more public offerings can become available. Staff and committees should begin studying and make recommendations. “The Road Ahead and Questions to Consider,” below, addresses some of these matters.
The Road Ahead and Questions to Consider
- St Stephen’s plan as laid out here does not address children’s Sunday School but the assumption is that during the summer it will not take place. We will need to re-think that as the school year nears. St Stephen Presbyterian Day School presently intends to start up in the regular school year. FWISD and other schools and school systems will operate under certain limitations and the CDC and regulating agencies have specific guidelines for day cares. It is recommended that the Christian Education Committee develop recommendations and a plan for infant care, Godly Play, and children’s Sunday School. Adult Sunday School could meet under SSPC Phase 3 stipulations.
- This interim period may radically change how St Stephen does its ministry going forward. As things return to “normal,” we must be open to new ways to do ministry and not simply return to what we were doing before. What new avenues of ministry have been opened for us?
- The matter of choral or congregational singing is a tricky one. The “aerosol” effect of singing, according to Dr. Colquitt, extends to 25 feet and furthermore lingers in the air sometimes for hours. But singing is vital to our ministry. The Staff and Worship Committee need to continue to research this and must continue to be alert to guidance from public health officials about public singing.
- It is the recommendation of this report that we do not return to West transept worship (such as our usual 8:30 am service) or chapel worship until the Covid-19 threat is past. The spaces are too small to maintain social distancing.
- Cleaning between and after services may need to be managed by a team of volunteers. Dr. Colquitt recommends eco-friendly cleaning options, listed by the CDC, for cleaning the wooden backs of pews and so forth.
- Infant and adult baptism may be impractical at this time, but a possible solution (at least for infant baptism) could be to have the water placed in the font a few days ahead of time with masking and infection protocols. The minister would not touch it during the blessing and would be masked during the ceremony as would immediate family (who will be the only ones allowed up front) and the font would remain covered until the time for the application of the baptism arrives. At that point, after the minister has blessed the water, one of the parents may apply it to the child in the same manner the minister would. Social distancing would be maintained throughout.
In all phases, the following will be observed:
- Online worship will continue to be provided and online gathering will be practiced.
- Common communion will not be served until the risk of COVID-19 has abated according to government and public health guidelines.
- We will operate on the assumption that unless public health professionals can assure us otherwise, a second wave is going to come, perhaps as soon as Fall 2020. That awareness will inform all our decisions and may lead us to be more cautious in each phase than present guidelines allow.
- If anyone who attends a public event at St Stephen turns out to have had COVID-19 while in our buildings, then in discussion with health experts the Session will determine whether buildings will be closed and public events will be cancelled for at least 14 days.
- St Stephen cannot stop anyone from coming, nor should we; but we strongly encourage those in “at-risk” populations to consult with their family and their doctor to determine if the individual is at risk.
- Stores of disinfectant and PPE will be collected and used for public events and also to prepare for a possible second wave of the virus.
- St Stephen will check with trusted public health professionals before entering a new phase of public ministry and maintain contact with them throughout,
- St Stephen will be alert to all guidance from authorities and public health professionals. As much as possible, we will maintain the highest standards recommended,
- All phases of this process will be responsive to any change in the status of the public health care response. Especially if public health guidance warns of increased risk or if any of the gating categories return to a more negative status, St Stephen will decrease or end public gathering,
- Receptions of any sort or events with food will not be allowed at any event during SSPC’s three Covid-19 stages. “Receiving lines” (such as for the couple after a wedding or a family after a funeral) may take place in “drive by” form—i.e., the family or couple may stand by the parking lot and be greeted by people driving by in their cars. Masking and social distancing will apply.
- It is unclear to us when we will return to full ministry as we practiced it prior to the outbreak of Covid-19. St Stephen will pay careful attention to the guidance of public officials, public health experts, PCUSA and Grace Presbytery recommendations, and our congregation’s particular needs to make this determination.
The following “Questions for Church Leadership to Consider” are recommended by the Wisconsin Council of Churches, 2020 communication. This document is worth reviewing not only for protective guidelines but also for excellent proactive suggestions for how to continue and further our ministry during this period. At every decision point St. Stephen’s leaders should ask themselves these questions:
- Has your insurance company weighed in on benchmarks for reopening, and for operating any programs? Your judicatory leader (Bishop, Presbyter, Conference Minister or other authority)? How will these influence your decision?
- Will you maintain an online streaming option once you are back together worshiping in physical space? How will that need to adjust when there is also in-person worship happening?
- How many people can your worship space hold if you are worshiping in family groups sitting 6 feet apart?
- How will you discourage the receiving line after church and/or congregating after worship services?
- When in earlier phases of relaunch, how will you cap attendance at events so there is room for members of the community to join you and so you don’t go over guidelines?
- How can you encourage small group gatherings with the building of small group, discipleship systems, etc. in the earlier phases of relaunching? How might you continue these when in-person worship resumes?
- How will you ensure sanitation and disinfection in regards to communal spaces?
- Worship bulletin disposal, prayerbooks, etc.
- Areas where small groups gather during the week
- Nurseries and/or playgrounds
- Pews or chairs following worship
- Doorknobs, bathrooms, other areas that people touch when in your building
- How will you update your building use agreements to reflect the new realities of COVID-19?
- If someone contracts COVID-19, how will you communicate with your congregation and members who may have come into contact with that individual while maintaining privacy and pastoral care?
- If someone who has been in your building contracts COVID-19, how will you do a more intensive cleaning prior to its next use?
- How will you communicate your safety plan and best practices to the congregation?
APPENDIX I: A TIMELINE TO IMPLEMENT SSPC COVID-19 POLICY
- Policy vetted and approved by Session.
- Collect and store disinfectants, masks and other PPE as required.
- Order eco-friendly disinfectants for cleaning wood etc. in Sanctuary and chapel.
- Copies of this plan and its sources copied and made available in office and to all staff and committee chairs.
- Building use agreements drawn up and made available to those planning weddings or funerals; determination how to handle pre-scheduled events
- Sanitation protocols codified.
- Covid-19 exposure plan implemented (find out to what authority we report exposure).
- Congregants and staff (including day school) reminded via communications that masking and disinfection are required and that social distancing must be practiced.
- If the decision is made to have two smaller services, staff must have sign up software and training.
One Month Out from SSPC Phase 2
- Ushers identified and training begun.
- Sanctuary and Narthex floor taping to begin.
- Safety protocol, CDC signs, and signs indicating entrances and exits designed.
- Decision made whether to pre-tape or stream the services and appropriate actions taken.
- If a return to any form of childcare is expected, then childcare providers need to be lined up.
- Communicate safety plan and best practices to the congregation.
Two Weeks Out from SSPC Phase 2
- Outdoor taping to begin.
- Congregation contacted via web, email, and phone tree that services are re-opening. All announcements will publicize service times and let people know what new practices of attendance, physical distancing and hygiene to expect when they return. Again communicate safety plan and best practices to the congregation.
- Ushers given assignments.
- Multiple copies of appropriate signage prepared.
- Copies of the “Texas Guidance” list of symptoms as well as general usher protocols will be developed.
- Arrangements made for security during worship.
- Offering counters assigned and trained in responsibilities.
- Assigned pews emptied of hymnals, Bibles, etc., with note made of where the hymnals belong.
One Week Out
- Reminders of re-opening sent to congregation and published in appropriate media.
The Week Before
- Extra masks set in a place accessible to ushers.
- Bulletins and paper products set in assigned seating no later than Wednesday. Paper products will include written list of guidelines for attendees to follow.
- Signs placed in visible areas indicating safety protocols and entrance and exit.
- Sanctuary cleaned, disinfectant wipes or soap placed in pews and key places, attendance rolls and pen/pencils, and assigned pews clearly marked by mid-week.
- Filming of pre-recorded service in sanctuary, if any, must be completed by Wednesday mid-day to facilitate set up for Sunday.
- Narthex set up with greeter table and offering plates and any appropriate signage.
- Accessible pews clearly marked.
- Bathrooms cleaned thoroughly.
- If there is a return to childcare (outdoors)then whatever toys or play objects are to be used will be thoroughly cleaned.
The Day Of: Before the Service
- Ushers, Staff and Volunteers be available on grounds at least one hour early to review protocols and assignments and set up for the day.
- Copies of the “Texas Guidance” list of symptoms as well as general usher protocols will be handed out to ushers.
- Doors will be propped open and ALL NON-SPECIFIED DOORS WILL BE LOCKED.
- Special attention should be paid to the places where singing or music take place, generally the gallery.
- If outdoor fellowship is to take place, it should be set up that morning.
- If necessary, ushers will accompany parishioners to find seating, using social distancing.
During the Service
- Ushers will stay in the narthex and/or wander the building as necessary. There should be a police officer present.
- If there is streaming, we’ll figure out how that works.
- If someone is symptomatic, follow the protocol and make sure that the pastor is made aware of it as soon as possible after the service.
The Day Of: After the Service
- To discourage a “receiving line,” no staff will stand at the doors, in the narthex, or on the lawn following the service. Usher / Greeters will quickly process the congregants out of the building and discourage gathering on the lawn (unless lawn fellowship is planned).
- Offering plates will be taken and counted according to the policy adopted by B&F.
- All doors and surfaces that likely will be touched again during the week will be disinfected. Others will disinfect on their own as the week progresses. Trash will not be collected until Wedneday.
- Doors will be closed and locked. If the Education building was left open, it will be searched to make sure it is empty.
- If fellowship has taken place outside, all tables or other paraphernalia used will be taken off the lawn and cleaned.
- If in their conversations with congregants, or in their duties, usher/greeters determine that something needs to be reported to the pastor or staff, please do so as soon as possible via email (rather than giving a note or trying to whisper from 6 feet away!) to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
- As soon as all duties are completed, volunteers will leave.
- Attendance records and any other paper products left Sunday will be collected on Wednesday and attendance will be recorded.
- Trash collected (Wednesday).
- More full cleaning of the Sanctuary building will not take place until Wednesday or later.
- Congregation contacted via web, email, and phone tree that services are re-opening. All announcements will publicize service times and let people know what new practices of attendance, physical distancing and hygiene to expect when they return.
- If there has been known exposure to Covid-19, communicate this and any policy changes to the congregation.
Appendix II: Considerations for Committees and Boards
Committees and staff will need to address these and other topics in order to implement this Covid-19 plan. The resources used to draft this document address many of these topics or direct you to other resources you will find useful.
- Review and clarify how the sacraments of communion and baptism are to be practiced during this period.
- Work with Property to draw up building use documents.
- Train ushers and greeters in new protocols.
- Oversee weekly live worship when instituted.
- Determine how best to continue filming live worship when we return to it.
- Per “The Road Ahead,” no. 3: how shall we address singing in church?
- How shall Special Music Series and other musical or worship events (even things like Christmas Eve) take place with Covid-19 restrictions?
- Acquire and stock masks, antiseptic soap and wipes and cleaning equipment.
- Develop cleaning protocols.
- With Worship, draw up building use documents.
- Develop ways of fellowship via Zoom and other online resources.
- Determine how after-church fellowship on the lawn can be practiced in SSPC Phase 3.
- Also in SSPC Phase 3 groups of up to 6 can gather at homes or in other neutral places, and larger groups can gather at church. How can Fellowship leverage these opportunities?
Budget & Finance
- Continue to promote online giving.
- Continue to evaluate regular giving and determine if there need to be cuts.
- How do we do an annual giving drive if the Covid-19 crisis continues or re-emerges in the Fall? How can we use online tools to facilitate a campaign?
- Constantly evaluate what we’re learning about changing giving patterns, not only negatively but positively.
Capital Campaign Committee
- Is the campaign doable? If so, how should it be structured to respond to the present situation?
- Study various online ways to do ministry and advise other committees and staff in effective and efficient ways that these resources can be used.
- Evaluate these online resources, as well as others, to determine what needs to continue and what needs to change once the Covid-19 crisis ends.
- Continue the phone ministry to our congregation. With Deacons, think especially about those who are “at risk” in the present situation.
- Stay in communication with the SSPDS and think about how their policies can affect or shape (or not) our Sunday school for children.
- Evaluate and implement online methods of offering Sunday school and Christian education for all ages and study areas.
- How do we celebrate graduations, confirmation, infant baptisms, etc. without public events or with severely constrained public events?
- How can larger events, like Christmas on the Hill, VBS, etc., take place (if at all) in a way that respects Covid-19 restrictions?
- Be especially alert to those “at risk.” Work with Communications Committee Phone Ministry to find out special and emerging needs. When live worship begins, we all need to be alert to the fact that those who are at risk and choose to stay home may feel lonely and alienated.
- Develop a protocol for safe pastoral visiting as infection rate decreases.
- Continue to find ways that St. Stephen can serve agencies under stress in this time of crisis.
- Many people at home wish they were able to help in some way. How can we develop more ways that people can participate in mission safely in a hands-on fashion?