Vaccinations, ventilation among things to consider before regathering in person
Trust your pastor, listen to your Conference minister, and think about things like these as you consider returning to in-person worship:
- Space between worshipers.
And be patient.
Those were just some of the pieces of advice from a church leader and a disease specialist in a recent United Church of Christ webinar.
“Where Do We Go From Here: COVID-19 in 2021” was simulcast May 11 on Zoom and YouTube. A recording is now available at the UCC YouTube channel. It featured the Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC associate general minister, and scientist Nicolette Louissaint. With a Ph.D. in pharmacology and molecular sciences, Louissaint — a past U.S. government official — now heads a nonprofit, Healthcare Ready.
[NOTE: This webinar was held two days before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued further guidance for vaccinated and non-vaccinated people. Ongoing CDC updates can be found here.]
Churches ‘not the same’
Both speakers said decisions about returning to in-person worship are rightly made locally, with care.
Blackmon especially advised UCC congregations to consult with their Conference ministers, “who know their churches and know their areas.” She told UCC News that she and the other elected national officers are deferring to their Conference colleagues when it comes to wisdom on when to regather in person.
“Our churches are not the same,” she said in the webinar. “…We certainly have churches in places where the virus has really not permeated, where people have not had a problem with COVID. Their response is totally different from an urban environment where people are inundated with COVID.”
‘You’re shedding virus’
The webinar discussed vaccines, herd immunity, singing, physical spacing, mask wearing, microphones, sanitiizing stations and much more.
Even vaccinated people can carry and spread COVID, Louissaint said. “And so if you are a carrier, that means that you could have COVID, not know it, and you’re singing, you’re shedding virus. You’re shaking hands, you’re shedding virus. You’re talking to someone, you’re shedding virus.”
“It really comes down to space and ventilation,” she said. “… You really want to make sure that you’re in an environment where you’re able to use fans, and make sure that the vents are working and there are HEPA filters on those vents. … You want to make sure that the air is moving and that anything that’s in the air is being trapped in those filters.”
“There’s this desire to push past where we are right now,” Louissaint said. “But we are just really at the cusp of the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re at the beginning of the end.” She advised “being patient with the process and understanding that we do have a lot more work to do ahead of us — and making sure that we are not inadvertently putting ourselves in a position where we set ourselves back.”
‘First, do no harm’
Both speakers urged people to use this opportunity to ask basic questions about the nature of the church – how churches meet, and why.
One webinar viewer asked what to do in U.S. states that lift restrictions on gatherings and mask-wearing. “The church still has autonomy,” Blackmon responded. “And we have a theological responsibility to do what is necessary to, I say, follow a Hippocratic oath in a theological framework: First, do no harm.” Government orders may change, she said, “but we are not released from the theological obligation of caring for everyone.”
For her part, Blackmon counseled patience. “You can say, ‘Yeah, well we’ve had patience for 15 months; don’t talk to me about patience.’ But we have to get to a place as the priesthood of all believers where everyone feels safe. … Theologically, is it church if everyone can’t come? Is it the community of believers if some are isolated because they literally would be risking their lives to come?
“We may have to wait just a little bit longer, and trust pastors in their individual settings to know when their congregations are ready. That answer won’t be the same for all of us. If you’re in a congregation where most people are vaccinated, that may be a little different – although you’re still coming in from the outside.
“Trust your leadership on this. Because the detriment of getting it wrong is too great.”
This article was updated on May 14 with a reworded headline and links to new information from the CDC.
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