calendar June 9, 2021 in Congregations, Public Health, Worship

New Guidance for Safer Worship and Sacraments

Long-awaited guidance from the Ecumenical Consultation on Protocols for Worship, Fellowship and Sacraments, released June 8, advises houses of worship to go slowly with in-person gatherings where vaccinated and unvaccinated persons occupy the same space.

“The group suggests limiting touching except where Christian rituals, such as laying on of hands for confirmation, require it; avoiding congregational singing and playing wind instruments indoors; wearing masks when preaching indoors — or outdoors closer than 16 feet from listeners. Singing, which has been shown to spread the virus especially effectively, should be limited to soloists or ensembles kept well distanced,” according to a report from the Religion News Service.

The consultation, “an ecumenical group of theologians, scientists, physicians, pastors, bishops, and practitioners from United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal, Pan-Methodist, Presbyterian, American Baptist, and Roman Catholic traditions, among others,” published a 36-page report with detailed guidance for safely worshipping and offering sacraments, confirmation and funerals.

The report offers benchmarks for leaders deciding whether to re-gather in person, noting that community conditions can change rapidly. We have seen dramatic decreases in cases and test positivity across the Philadelphia metro area, some counties still see ICU utilization rates greater than 70%.

Among the report’s key guidelines:

  • Wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and disinfecting are still necessary when vaccinated and unvaccinated persons are together.
  • Outdoor services may be an hour or longer. Indoor gatherings should be no more than 30-45 minutes, assuming 4 to 6 air exchanges per hour. (Most buildings are rated for 0.35 exchanges per hour. Check with an HVAC professional)
  • Limit physical touching to what Christian ritual requires, such as the laying on of hands at baptisms and confirmations.
  • Avoid practices indoors that are known to spread the virus among unvaccinated persons, including congregational singing, shouting, and playing wind instruments.
  • Congregational and choral singing are possible outdoors if all singers are masked, remain six feet from persons not in their household, and at least 16 feet from others in the congregation.
  • Singing by a soloist or small ensemble (4-6 persons) is possible indoors if all singers are vaccinated, wear masks, and maintain physical distancing as described above.
  • For Communion it is recommended that servers take the elements to worshippers in their seats rather than having people form lines. Masking and hand sanitizing are necessary.