Six months in: A message from the NEAC Re-Entry Team

September 01, 2020

The following is a message from the New England Conference Re-Entry Team:
It has been nearly six months since COVID-19 brought our lives and routines to a standstill. Over that time, we have learned about the virus and about the vital importance of steps such as wearing a mask to fight the spread of infection. 
Over these many months, we have also become wearier, lonelier and perhaps overwhelmed, if a bit more tech-savvy. We have faced increasing pressure to return to “normal.” These have been difficult days for our clergy, church staff members and congregations. We know you have been working very hard and coping with so many unforeseen challenges. 
We need look no further than John Wesley for our guiding principle. It must be: Do no harm.
But we do need some more specifics, and those can be found in our Re-entry Guidelines. (Links to state guidelines can be found on this page as well.)
When the guidelines were distributed in early May, we were clear that each local church would have to carefully consider its own risk tolerance and also its ability to meet all the requirements to safely meet in person. 
Our guidelines, like those created by many states, are organized in phases. Movement from one phase to the next (from more to fewer restrictions) was never expected to be a movement only in one direction. 
In other words, we know that times of increased exposure, such as when children and college students return to classes, may require us to move back to an earlier more restrictive phase for a while. This is not failure. It is a recognition of the reality of our situation and demonstrates our continued commitment to keeping our communities safe. 
We also realize that there may very well be a second spike in cases that could be much worse this fall/winter. All churches should be prepared to increase restrictions on in-person gatherings if the infection rate in your community rises again (or appears for the first time). 
We cannot provide one answer that will meet the needs of the entire conference. Instead, we encourage each church to establish a team that will help to interpret the guidelines in conjunction with your local, state, and national guidance, so that your community of faith is doing what is necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus — to do no harm.
Children's programming/outside groups
The need and desire for children’s programming – Sunday School, daycare, pre-school – is strong. Operating in-person children's programming requires careful consideration.
  • Pay close attention to the guidelines and decisions of your local schools.
  • Consider your church’s risk tolerance and values.
  • Understand your limitations. You may not be able to provide all the necessary safety measures (distancing, hand-washing stations, cleaning, etc.) that schools are putting in place. If not, can you operate safely?
Outside groups that wish to return to our church spaces must follow all the same safety guidelines as our congregations, agree to contact tracing requirements, and carry their own liability insurance.
The economic hardship resulting from the pandemic has also increased demand for our feeding and clothing ministries. Churches are filling a critical need, and it is important to do so in a way that maintains safety. 
When making decisions about any in-person activity, please continue to consider the vulnerable members of your church staff, including clergy and their families, who may be especially vulnerable to COVID-19 complications.
We encourage our churches to continue to be in ministry with all members, regardless of their ability to participate in person. Establishing ways of connecting – by phone, internet, via mail, etc.) is incredibly important – now more than ever. 
If you have a program or practice that has worked for you, please share it with the team using our online question form so that we can continue to resource each other with best practices. You can also continue to ask questions and we will provide answers and updates to the best of our ability. 
We see the amazing creative solutions clergy and congregations have come up with to meet people’s spiritual and practical needs in a time of great distress and uncertainty. We are grateful for your deep commitment to your ministry. 
New England Conference Re-Entry Team
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar
Beth DiCocco
Rev. Jill Colley Robinson
Rev. Taesung Kang
Rev. Karen Munson
Rev. Erica Robinson-Johnson
Norm Thombs