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DYK - Road to Reopening

Posted: April 1 2021 at 12:00 AM
Author: By Rev. Arlene Christopherson, Asst. to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries


Thank you to the amazing, talented and versatile laity and clergy who have given leadership to our congregations during this time of the pandemic. We have learned and persevered.

Now, a year into our unprecedented experience, we are ready for it to end. We have had enough of the restrictions, limitations and loss. We long for a “normal” life. Some of our churches have returned to worshipping in person with limited attendance and precautions. Others continue to work and worship remotely in anticipation of a time when all can safely gather.

In February, the State of Illinois moved from Phase 3 to Phase 4. This opened up the possibility of small progressive steps for our work and worship. On March 18, Governor J. B. Pritzker spelled out the next pathway to move toward Phase 5 and the full reopening of the state. 

We have reached this point of gradual reopening, in part, due to your good work. As our congregations moved cautiously and consciously in their gatherings, you have helped keep people safe and stopped the spread. Now is a time for reasoned, measured steps toward normalcy. You can find the tiers we must travel from Phase 4 to Phase 5 at coronavirus.illinois.gov/s/bridge-phase.

As churches, we have focused on the category called “Meetings, Conferences and Conventions.” We are now in a revised Phase 4 plan. For church sanctuaries with a capacity of less than 200, the maximum capacity is 50 people, or 50% capacity, whichever is less. For church sanctuaries with a capacity of 200 or more, the capacity limit is 250 people, or 25% capacity, whichever is less. In order to move into the “bridge” phase and 60% capacity, our state will need to vaccinate 70% of residents age 65 and older, and enter into a period of 28 days with no increases in hospitalizations and deaths. 

Expanded capacity is probably some months away, but with your continued precautions (no communal singing, careful social distancing, hand washing and masks) we can get there. 

When I look back at the ReTurn Team Plan designed by clergy and lay leaders in our conference last spring, I am amazed at how insightful this team was at a moment when we really had little understanding of what we were in for. The ReTurn Team Plan can be found at umcnic.org/returnteam on the conference website. Key to this plan is that each church forms a health team to give deep thought and clear leadership to every aspect of a congregation’s reopening (and closing if the need arises). For more guidance as you expand your ministries, please follow the recommendations of the ReTurn plan. 

Meanwhile, encourage those who are eligible to be vaccinated. Host a clinic. Help navigate appointment making for those who cannot do this themselves. Drive people to their vaccination appointments if they cannot do so themselves. This is the proactive work we can do today for the hope of tomorrow.

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