SEPA Pandemic Guidance and Resources

Updated: March 17, 2021

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Resuming Care-Filled Worship and Sacramental Life

Bishop Davenport continues to call on congregations to make safety a priority in determining whether to gather online, outdoors, or indoors. Loving our neighbors calls us to take care not to increase risks to our neighborhoods, our worshippers, or our worship leaders. 
The latest guidance from the Ecumenical Consultation on Worship, Fellowship, and Sacramental Life offers metrics for considering returning to in-person outdoor or indoor worship. The guidance notes that limited outdoor or indoor worship gatherings with people outside one’s household may be safe if all three of the criteria in the appropriate column of the graphic below are met.
Indoor 10 new cases per 100K, 5% positive tests, 70% ICU. Outdoor 20 cases, 10% positive tests, 80% ICU.

Graphic updated March 3, 2021

This guidance assumes that worshippers who gather

  • properly wear a mask, two masks if indoors
  • maintain at least 6-feet of distance from others outside of their household
  • have no COVID symptoms or known exposure to people with symptoms or a positive test result
  • refrain from congregational singing indoors

The bishop recommends that worship leaders and congregants gathering in-person adhere to the CDC’s advice to wear two masks.

Ecumenical Consultation documents:


Local COVID-19 Risk

Click Here for County Figures

Realtime Trendlines for the Region

Current Recommendations for Philadelphia Metro Region


A Message from Bishop Davenport



Synod Guidance for Congregations


Guidelines For Virtual Congregational Meetings


In-Person Worship Occupancy

Pennsylvania does not set or enforce occupancy limits for worship services. We note, however, that the virus behaves similarly in houses of worship as in other businesses. Our faith calls us to be cautious to protect people at risk of serious outcomes in our congregations and in the communities that we serve.

Currently Pennsylvania limits indoor community gatherings under 2,000 people to 10% of the venue’s fire code occupancy. Theaters, for comparison, are limited to 50% of maximum occupancy. This assumes that facilities take steps to address ventilation and assure cleaning in between uses.

Congregations will have to make a judgment call based on their demographics, the preparedness of their facility, and the situation in their community. We recommend adhering to the state limits and moving toward the lower end of the 10% to 50% range when possible.


Overall COVID-19 Risk, By County

The Consultation’s guidance recommends determining local risk with data from the COVID Act Now website,

COVID Act Now is an independent non-profit that works with Georgetown University Center for Global Health Science and Security, Stanford University Clinical Excellence Research Center, and Harvard Global Health Institute, and aggregates data from federal, state and local sources.


Considerations for Reopening Churches

Bishop Davenport continues to urge congregations to err on the side of safety when determining if and when to return to in-person worship. Bringing people together affects not just the rostered ministers, worship leaders and congregants of a church but, because such gatherings have the potential to be “super-spreader” events, the households, workplaces, and communities to which people return are also affected. 

“Our highest priority is to do no harm” in the process of reopening churches, the Bishop says. The synod itself is taking a deliberate approach to resuming work at the office in Mt. Airy, with staff continuing to work remotely as protocols are developed for how to safely share and sanitize the space and equipment, air flow and related issues.
“In this new abnormal, our concerns are for our rostered ministers and members who are vulnerable because of their age and/or underlying conditions,” the bishop said. “We want everyone to be safe and show Christ’s love for their vulnerable neighbors as we learn whether our area will see new outbreaks.” 

The experience of regions of our state and nation show that the incidence of COVID-19 in a community can change suddenly and significantly. Recognize that all decisions are provisional and may need to be changed as disease rates and public-health guidance is updated.


Evolving Science

The medical community is still learning about COVID-19. We are still in the early stages of what could be a prolonged battle against this pandemic. Information and guidance changes rapidly. Please consult the web pages of the World Health Organization, the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health before making plans.

Highlights of what we do know*:

  • Evidence increasingly shows that aerosols — small droplets spread by individuals speaking and breathing, which can remain in the air in a room for some time and spread beyond six feet — is a significant factor in viral spread.
  • Latest CDC guidance urges double-masking.
  • Masks should be warn by all participants at all times, per the governor’s order. The CDC now recommends wearing two masks in public.
  • Social distancing should be maintained between households.
  • Leaders who are speaking/projecting should be more than the standard six-feet distance from the congregation.
  • Outdoor gatherings are preferable to indoors. 
  • Singing (even masked), playing wind instruments, and spoken congregational responses are strongly discouraged
  • Indoors, proper ventilation is necessary. CDC recommends that heating and cooling systems be calibrated to circulate at least 15% fresh outdoor air. Systems should be outfitted with proper filters, which should be changed regularly.
  • Indoor relative humidity of 40=60% is encouraged to lower spread of the virus.
  • Water faucets, fountains, toilets, etc. should be run/flushed weekly to avoid the possibility of disease spread by stagnant water. If a building has not been used in some time, take care to flush all water lines before re-opening.
  • All congregations/agencies are encouraged to consult with their insurance carrier to determine requirements to maintain coverage when reopening.

*This information is gleaned from government, academic, and media sources and does not constitute official guidelines of the Synod. Be sure to consult official sources in your decision-making process.


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Synod Staff Working Remotely

Under the commonwealth’s order for employees to telework when possible, synod staff are working remotely most of the time.  The staff is working hard from home and channels of communication (phone, email) are the same. The staff is in regular touch to coordinate efforts.


Helpful Resources

CDC Considerations for Communities of Faith

CDC Information About Variants

CDC Indicators of Community Transmission metrics for reopening schools

CDC Guidance for Community Organizations and Gatherings

Pennsylvania Department of Health COVID-19 Early Warning Dashboard

CDC COVID Data Tracker

CDC Events and Gatherings Readiness and Planning Tool

CDC: How COVID-19 Spreads

Video: Preparing Heating/Cooling Systems — On Oct. 1, our communicators group was joined by Mr. Dennis Smith, manager of buildings and grounds at Trinity Lutheran Church, Lansdale. Dennis shared with us good information about airflow requirements, ways to improve ventilation in enclosed spaces, and other considerations in reopening church facilities.


Updated: March 17, 2021 by Bob Fisher