Clarifying Guidelines for Phased Return to Congregational Life
September 28, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Since announcing the new guidelines for Phase 2(b): a Modified Return to Congregational Life in mid-August, the diocesan office has fielded a variety of questions and worked closely with clergy, Vestries, and Bishop's Committees to ensure that each congregation's plan best accommodates and safeguards their ministry, leaders, and participants. In response to these conversations, protocols were developed regarding ways to share food and fellowship in-person as well as an addendum to the 14-day self quarantine requirement for employees or volunteers who have been in close contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19.
A summary of these updates and the current Guidelines document are included below. The updated Guidelines for Phased Reopening of Churches in West Texas, which take effect Monday, September 28, are also available online at dwtx.org/covid19.
Clergy and Vestries/Bishop’s Committees are reminded that the diocesan guidelines give you full authority to make ministry decisions based on your own congregation and the local COVID-19 situation. As much as we share in common, each church has its own particular characteristics to consider when deciding whether to hold in-person worship services, meetings, or fellowship gatherings. Size of the congregation, age of members, number of families, size of the worship space, number of available staff and volunteers are all significant factors to take into account. Church leaders should focus on what is best for their congregants and staff in regard to resuming, continuing, or pausing public worship as well as formation gatherings and other fellowship opportunities. Paying attention to local health officials is crucial, as well as being mindful that all plans these days are subject to change.
Please know that you are constantly in my grateful thoughts and prayers. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
David M. Reed
Bishop of West Texas
- Protocols for Employees & Volunteers - page 5, updates bold below
Prevent employees or volunteers with any new or worsening signs and symptoms, [listed on page 5], from returning to work until the following criteria are met:
For an employee or volunteer diagnosed with COVID-19: the individual may return to work when all three of the following criteria are met: at least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery (resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications); respiratory symptoms improve (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and at least 14 days have passed since symptoms first appeared;
For an employee or volunteer who has symptoms that could be COVID-19, or known close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, and wants to return to work before completing the above self-isolation period: the individual must present proof of a negative COVID-19 test, dated after the potential exposure or first symptoms, or obtain a medical professional’s note clearing the individual for return based on an alternative diagnosis;
For an employee or volunteer who has symptoms that could be COVID-19, but does not get tested for COVID-19 or evaluated by a medical professional: the individual is assumed to have COVID-19 and cannot return to work until the individual meeting the same three-step criteria listed above.
Do not allow an employee or volunteer with known close contact to a person who is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19 to return to work until the end of a 14-day self-quarantine period, from the last date of exposure. If the individual takes a COVID-19 test and receives a negative diagnosis, dated after the last date of exposure, they may submit proof of the negative results and return prior to the end of the self-quarantine.
- Fellowship/Coffee Hour - page 10, complete updates listed below
Informal fellowship gatherings, such as coffee hours before or after services, may only take place outdoors. Allowing or offering refreshments, food, or drink indoors is still suspended (e.g. breakfast tacos during bible study or formation class, eating lunch during an in-person meeting, or serving pastries and coffee in the narthex).
Distances of at least six-feet between households will be maintained during outdoor fellowship. Masks should be worn at all times, except if a person is eating or drinking. If food is present, take the following steps to minimize person-to-person contact:
- Only a few designated people may serve food; individuals may not serve their own food.
- Do no not hold “buffet style” meals or set out refreshment stations where individuals share serving utensils to get food or snacks from common dishes or boxes.
- Drinks should be pre-poured into cups; do not allow a self-serve drink station. Provide sweetener, creamer, or other drink "fixings" in single-serve packets or cups, and provide individual stirring utensils. For hot beverages, such as coffee, consider designating a person to pour cups of coffee or hot water for tea, from the carafe as requested.
Anyone serving food is required to wear a face mask during distribution, covering nose, mouth, and chin. Servers should wash their hands properly before serving; gloves are optional. Diligently avoid hand-to-hand contact, and help maintain six feet of distance between households waiting to get refreshments.
Gathering for an outdoor, picnic-style meal, where people bring their own food, drinks, and utensils for their household is permitted, using the same physical distancing and mask guidelines listed above. If the church provides seating, position chairs and tables to accommodate six-feet distances between households.