I am writing with updated guidance about worship and church operations during the coronavirus pandemic. As you know, the situation in Southern California and Arizona is worse than ever before, with daily records being set for new cases and deaths, and little if any hospital capacity to care for those who are seriously ill.
Once again, I am strongly encouraging you to suspend in-person worship, from now through Feb. 16 at least. California law allows only outdoor worship at this time, so under no circumstances should any congregation be offering public worship indoors. I do realize that some forms of outdoor in-person worship (e.g., worship where people remain in their cars) are safer than others, and may be reasonable to continue. Any congregation that chooses to continue outdoor worship should do so under strict protocols that have been pre-approved by our office, and review whether any protocols should be strengthened, given the dire COVID situation.
For those who are live-streaming or pre-recording worship from inside your churches, I am issuing this updated guidance until further notice:
- Please restrict participation in the live-streaming or pre-recording to 5 or fewer persons.
- Limit the time the group spends indoors together to 30 minutes or less.
- If sung music will be included in the service, the music should be recorded at a different time than the rest of the service, and the two recordings should be edited together. Musicians should remain masked, and again there should be 5 or fewer people present indoors together, for 30 minutes or less. I encourage you to allow only solo singing to limit the possibility of musicians exposing each other to the disease.
- Please ensure that the nave (or other space you use for recording) is empty for at least 30 minutes after one group exits before another group uses the space.
For those of you who participated in our clergy call last Thursday, you heard Dr. Cheryl Anderson (epidemiologist, member of St. Peter’s, and dean of the UCSD School of Public Health) say that she expects it to be the end of this year before we can gather in churches in a “normal” way. I hope that over time, the public health situation will improve, so that we can gradually relax our restrictions over the course of the coming year. In the meantime, in this public health emergency, we need to do our part to protect lives in our communities.
Please note that I am aware of some instances in which the spread of COVID has happened in church offices rather than in worship. I reiterate guidance I previously issued: please ensure that to the extent possible, church staff are working remotely rather than coming together in person. If staff and/or volunteers must come into the office for necessary activities, they should remain masked and distanced, with outdoor windows open and doors shut between people, to minimize exposure.
We have received some questions about Ash Wednesday. Clearly, it will not be safe to walk down a line of people and touch one person after another while imposing ashes. However, since the imposition of ashes is not a sacrament of the church, I will allow you to provide packaged containers of ashes for people to self-impose while participating in worship.
Graveside funerals will still be allowed, with masking and distancing guidelines, and taking care to limit attendance to the minimum number of people possible (preferably 10 or fewer). Please write to me to request permission to perform outdoor weddings.
I ask you to continue to pray for our country and its leaders during this dangerous and unsettling time. I pray for each of you and your ministries as leaders of God’s church. I am grateful for your ministry.