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DYK? You Need a Plan

Posted: February 1 2021 at 12:00 AM
Author: Rev. Arlene Christophers, Ass't to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries

Few of us really understood in March 2020 what it meant to live through a pandemic. Now we are entering our second year, still struggling with a steep learning curve. We have a better sense of the strength and spread of COVID-19 than we had 12 months ago. The medical community has more tools to combat the disease. We have hope as vaccines are rolling out. Yet the need to stay vigilant and patient is as important now as it was last spring. Many of us long for life to return to normal.

Questions are asked every day about congregations returning to in-person worship, activities and gatherings. In March 2020, we had no idea that we would move like a roller coaster through phases of restrictions for an entire year. For United Methodists, all through the pandemic, we have been called to practice a Wesleyan tenant of “Do No Harm”.  In doing so, we have helped our communities minimize the worst of the illness.

On November 20, 2020, we moved into mitigation phases as our state experienced a resurgence of the virus. Both the Illinois Great Rivers and the Northern Illinois Conference bishops asked our churches to suspend worship until we moved out of Phase 3 mitigation. Finally, in mid-January, there was some easing up of the mitigation as certain regions leveled off in the spread of COVID-19. A few of the state’s regions have moved into Tier 2 or even Tier 1 mitigation over the past few weeks and more will follow.

If you did not set up a health team in your church last spring, or if it has been dormant during the mitigation, now is a good time to turn to the Northern Illinois Conference ReTurn Plan ( and begin to build your step-by-step process as you consider reinstituting some events and programs for your congregation. Experts and science are telling us that it will be some time before life is back to a normal rhythm, but with careful planning and flexibility, we can begin slowly to re-engage in some in-person activities.

As I write this column in the third week of January 2021, our state is still in Phase 3 (with tiers of mitigation 3-2-1). As you follow the ReTurn Plan, begin there. Learn what tier of mitigation your community is in, review the measured restrictions for mitigation from the state of Illinois and respond accordingly. Some state recommendations are tailored specifically for communities of worship.

As your region moves closer to Phase 4 in the State of Illinois plan, you will want to refresh your work. In the ReTurn Team plan, you will find a list of absolute guidelines as well as best practices and new considerations in moving forward. While planning, continue to monitor the state’s guidelines in the event that we also need to step back into mitigation for a time.

There is no one-size-fits-all method in the work of surviving a pandemic. Many NIC churches have been creative while also being appropriately cautious. The end of our pandemic restrictions is still some ways off, but we celebrate the hard work all NIC churches have been doing to save lives, engage in measured activities, and plan for a hopeful future.

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