A COVID-19 update from the NEAC Re-Entry Team

August 25, 2021

Greetings, Beloved in Christ,
The theme of our update is preparedness. Over the weekend our southern districts added storm preparedness to their list of emergent needs. Neighbors stocked up on batteries, staple foods, and other necessities. Folks tuned into weather updates and adjusted their plans accordingly. This is exactly what we all need to be doing now with COVID-19. We need to tune into the best information we can access and adjust our behaviors accordingly. 
As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise throughout New England, it is time for pastors and local church re-entry teams to revisit the “alert systems” that were put in place when the pandemic began. 
If you have a good alert system already in place, you do not need to reinvent it. Just return to it and deploy it as needed. This approach will help alleviate decision fatigue. These are not one and done decisions. We will be engaged in ongoing assessment. We may have to take steps back – such as returning to using masks, meeting outdoors as the weather permits, or meeting virtually for worship for a time. 
Here are three types of questions Re-Entry Team members are receiving:  

  1. What should we do now? Has the Conference or District changed the approach? 

No, we have not. We continue to recommend that churches follow the latest advice of the CDC and local guidelines and regulations. Your District Superintendent’s role is to inform and advise, supporting local leadership. 
Use your re-entry assessment plan, modifying it as you learn more. This is like weather forecasting. We are getting better at our predictions, but a sunny forecast does not guarantee a sunny day, so having that umbrella (aka mask) on hand is a good idea. Help people adjust to the new reality that many will now use masks as a matter of course for seasonal colds and flu as well as COVID-19. 
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells an unusual story about 10 young women. Five were unprepared (foolish) and five were well prepared (wise). Guess who made it through the story’s challenges?
Vaccinations are key. 

  • We can, most of us, get a vaccine.
  • We can limit the size of gatherings.
  • We can modify our environments – physical distancing, ventilating – to better disperse airborne particles. 

Your church may also be able to help by working with your state CDC to set up a local vaccine clinic if offered. 

  1. What do we do if there are one or more cases in our congregation or building users? 

Each state has protocols. Check your state CDC website. Links are posted at https://www.neumc.org/COVID19. We continue to urge the creation of contact lists for each gathering.  

  1. Many clergy and other parents with young children are anxious:
  • How can we best welcome them?  
  • How can be we keep our ’sanctuaries safe’? 
  • What should the church do if adult volunteers for Sunday school are not vaccinated?
  • How do we talk with adults about wearing masks in order to protect and welcome children under 12?
  • What if the kids do not need to wear masks at school?  Should they wear them at Sunday school?

In general, be as consistent as possible. This probably will not mean that you have one unchangeable set of risk-reduction measures; rather, you will consistently communicate what each week’s risk reductions and ministry opportunities are. Below are resources for churches offering family ministries in virtual form.*  

Keep in mind that children under age 12 are among our most vulnerable since vaccines are not available to them at this time. Ask yourself, what may I/we need to sacrifice to protect them? 
This information from the CDC addresses kids 12 and under: 
Please continue to make use of the resources available to you at https://www.neumc.org/COVID19

Please continue to consult with your District Superintendent and local health authorities.
Please update your preparedness as a normal course of living in this time. And please continue to extend Christ’s healing love into the world around you, even and especially to those you disagree with. 
The viral pandemic is lasting longer than we hoped. But it cannot outlast our hope in Christ. Jesus’ community is alive when we embody God’s deep love and care for every human being. Your NEAC Re-Entry Team continues to pray daily for your work to maintain and extend ministry. 
Your NEAC Re-Entry Team
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar 
Rev. Karen Munson (facilitator)
Beth DiCocco
Rev. Jill Colley Robinson
Norm Thombs 

*More on applying Safe Sanctuaries policies to the virtual world

These resources and guidance do not replace legal advice and are intended to be used in conjunction with our conference’s safe sanctuaries policies. Thanks to our ministry partners in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference for this list. Find a PDF version here 

Top five best practices for applying our safe sanctuaries policy to the virtual world 

  1. Still use the two-adult rule so that there is NEVER one-on-one contact. At no time should one adult be holding any one-on-one conversations with any youth without other adults knowing there are conversations occurring. In addition, online meetings need to begin with two adults, not from the same family, and then allowing youth to join. 
  2. Still use all selection, screening, and training policies. In this time, it may feel right to let new volunteers lead discussions. Any online discussion should be considered no different than a face-to-face meeting. Volunteers need to be screened and trained before taking on leadership roles. 
  3. Use “ministry-based” on-line platform accounts instead of personal accounts. This means the local church should own the on-line account with access by several church leaders and/or staff so there is accountability of meetings. 
  4. Maintain the same communication with parents and youth about meetings including times and links to access the meeting. This way everyone knows what is going on. With younger children, under sixth grade, syllabus and activities should be shared with parents or caretakers prior to online meetings so everyone is transparent as to what is occurring. For children sixth through 12th grade, leaders should provide parents and caretakers with the same outlines of meetings and topics that are typical for your youth group with more transparency being utilized than less. 
  5. If your current release forms do not give you permission for picture/video sharing either get them updated or do not share pictures/videos of virtual meetings. This includes tagging your youth in the virtual environment. If you do not have permission do not post and tag them.