Katie Ubry-Terrel is the Wilmington Yearly Meeting Coordinator. She sent out these advices and queries to Meetings on May 1, in her regular Friday email. If your Meeting or Yearly Meeting has similar questions or guidance, we’d also love to publish those in this space. Email them here.
As businesses begin to reopen and restrictions are tentatively being loosened, you may be wondering “what now” when it comes to meeting for worship. Other denominations are looking to their “higher-ups” to make those decisions, but YOU are the higher-ups here, so let me offer these thoughts and questions to consider as you start to decide for yourself and your Meeting how and when to reopen.
1. Use this time to clean and sanitize your meetinghouse. Maryville Friends are even taking this time to have the carpets cleaned, working on the landscaping, etc.
2. Make a plan for cleaning & sanitizing after you reopen. If you are used to having the meetinghouse cleaned once a month, you will need to up that to every week, or more often if you have midweek gatherings.
3. Hand sanitizer and masks should be made available to Meeting attenders.
4. Can doors be propped open? Or will you need to regularly wipe down doorknobs as people enter the building, bathrooms, Sunday School rooms, etc.?
5. We all have our “seat assignments,” but these will have to be adjusted. Do you need to rope off pews or rearrange chairs to ensure that people aren’t sitting within six feet of one another? Or have an usher to point people where to sit? Encourage only family groups to sit together.
6. Encourage at-risk members to stay home.
7. Encourage members to take their temperatures before coming to worship. If anyone is not feeling well or has a temperature they should stay home.
8. Singing is thought to spread the virus even more readily than coughing. Even masks aren’t foolproof in preventing the virus becoming airborne. Consider not singing for a while. This will also prevent people from touching hymnals. You can still have piano or organ music, just no congregational or choir singing.
9. Instead of passing the offering plate, continue to mail in your checks, hand them directly to your treasurer, or have a basket at the front or back of the room where checks can be deposited. Wilmington Friends Meeting is using the easyTithe program for online giving. You can even text in your donation! This service currently comes with no service fees. Check it out here: https://www.easytithe.com/ Other online giving services are also available.
10. Do not shake hands or hug.
11. Coffee hour is discouraged. But if you must have coffee hour, invite everyone to bring their own coffee or have one person pouring coffee so that not everyone is touching the pot.
12. No potlucks for now is the easiest way to keep people safe.
13. Children’s messages should be given with children remaining in their seats with their parents. Children’s church is also discouraged for the time being. It is recommended that children remain in the service with their parents until daycare centers and schools begin to reopen.
14. Larger meetings who aren’t able to social distance as easily may consider offering two shorter services to reduce the number of individuals attending. An easy way to divide your congregation would be by alphabet, with last names starting with A-M coming to the first service and N-Z to the second service.
15. Note that just because you can gather for in-person meeting for worship doesn’t mean you have to or even should. Reopen your meetinghouses when you feel safe and ready!
16. If you have been meeting via ZOOM, Facebook Live, email, etc., will you continue those offerings even after the meetinghouse has been opened?
17. What other ways can you support those who don’t feel comfortable returning, who remain at-risk, or who have been joining you from a distance?
18. Do you have business meetings or midweek gatherings that could continue online, to reduce contact between members and allow more time for the meetinghouse to sanitize itself by sitting empty?
19. Provide a format for members to share what went well while physical distancing and what didn’t. This may spark ideas for remaining connected to those who are home bound and in nursing facilities or who live far away, long after we are no longer living according to the laws of COVID-19.
20. Spend time individually and as a Meeting to consider your ministry outside of the one-hour-a-week that you previously called worship. Have you discovered a new ministry in your community? Perhaps one that can happen seven-days-a-week?
That’s a lot to think about, but this new reality we are living in is one where everything we do must come with deep consideration for the health and safety of ourselves and others.
Some of the resources that Katie has found helpful: