Collected Wisdom from Rural and Small Membership Churches

October 16, 2020

By: Ron Hartman, President UMRA WNCCUMC

The United Methodist Rural Advocates would like to offer some help to churches who are struggling with worship in these tumultuous times. As churches decide to move back to indoor worship it is important that this decision be arrived at with much prayer and interactive planning. The virus is serious, as is the need for gathering as the body of Christ. Safety must be of utmost concern as we endeavor to do no harm, do good and stay in love with God. Our hope is to offer at the very least hope and acknowledgement that you are not alone. Here is some of the collected wisdom, as well as some advice from rural pastors.

  • Rev. David Christy, District Superintendent Catawba Valley District:
    • Thoughts on Re-Opening Church/Preschools:  As we see the numbers of Covid-19 cases continue to rise, we strongly encourage churches not to open too early. Please follow the CDC and State guidelines (available on Conference Website). PLEASE CHECK WITH YOUR INSURER. You need to know your policy exclusions about communicable and infectious diseases. Please keep strict attendance records for contact tracing. Be aware that you may need to give a detailed account of how and how often disinfecting practices and cleaning procedures have been followed. Your church assumes full responsibility and liability. Again, the conference strongly encourages churches not to open too soon.
  • Rev. Alan Rice, Pastor of Crossfire UMC, North Wilkesboro:
    • Crossfire met three times on our porch in May. We moved inside the first Sunday in June. This was based upon three FAQs:
      • Q. When can we have indoor worship? Each local church will answer this question differently based on your ability to assure that those who attend can do so safely. Please do not rush this decision, but thoroughly work out a plan for protecting your congregation and visitors.
      • Q. Will the Conference give me appropriate lead time for re-opening, so that churches can work with their teams to create a schedule? You are being given that time now. Please form a team and begin to use the resources that have been provided to you to plan for how you will re-open safely and faithfully.
      • Q. Who is ultimately responsible for forming a team to plan for re-opening? The Pastor and the Chair of Trustees
    • The plan was made with documentation of the answers to the above questions and submitted to Dr. Arrington, Appalachian District Superintendent.
    • Crossfire has no paid employees so it made it somewhat easier to address the risk assessment (found in the Bishop's Guidelines), answer the Cabinet's 24 questions, and adopt our soft opening document.
  •  Rev. Luke Christy, Pastor Gilboa (Marshville)/Peachland (Peachland) Charge:
    • We are all in the midst of a challenging season right now. Locally, hospitals are full, schools are preparing for distance learning, and churches feel conflicted. And yet, relationships are thriving. Our churches have delivered hundreds of meals from the schools to children, folks are enjoying the accessibility of internet, call-in, and outdoor worship options each week, and genuine concern for our neighbors seems to be higher than any other time in recent memory. This summer, our congregation read through the Psalms, learning how to express the range of emotion, anxiety and hope that we all feel. It is important to name our very real fears and frustration and prayerfully lift them to God who is “making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) We continue to pray for humility and trust as we patiently follow our call to make disciples of Jesus here and now.
  • Rev. Jim Groome, Pastor Shiloh-Bethel Charge United Methodist Church Liberty NC: 
    • On May 7, I forwarded Bishop Leeland’s Guidelines for In-Person Worship to a team of church leaders. I chose 9 people from across the spectrum of leadership positions, i.e. Council chair, Trustee Chair, Choir Director, Building Committee Chair, etc. I followed that up a week later by announcing to those 9 people that we would have a 1 hour in person meeting with social distancing. We went over the guidelines and agreed that there were some things that would not “fit” for us. Recognizing that these were guidelines, we determined that we were essentially on our own to figure out what worked for us. We were in agreement that safety was priority one and since our worship space seats over 200 and our average attendance is 40ish, spacing ourselves appropriately would not be an issue.
    • We made arrangements for the necessary amounts of PPE and hand sanitizer to have on hand. We created signage with instructions in each bathroom along with Clorox wipes and disinfectant sprays to be used by each person to clean anything they touched to make the space safely useable for the next person.
    • We see this issue as a “moving target” and there will undoubtedly be mid-course corrections down the road. We made ample effort to inform our congregation of the policies and procedures so they could each make an informed decision about bringing their families back to church safely when the all clear is given. I was clear that we would follow the governor’s and the Bishop’s lead in this. And also, I wanted to make sure that the church members understood that these decisions were made prayerfully by people they entrusted with the care of their church.
    • We have worshipped outdoors since June 7. I started posting a video message back in April and have continued that each week. It is posted on Facebook and a link is also emailed to our members.  
Peace and grace to you all,
Ron Hartman

WNCC Phase 3 Guidelines to In-Person Worship and Ministry During COVID-19.

Find more resources for COVID-19 ministry, worship, finances, and administration here

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