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ReTurn Team Plan Feedback and Clarifications

Posted: June 16 2020 at 03:06 PM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck

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The ReTurn Team is grateful for the support and feedback received in response to the May 15 guidelines offered for churches to consider as businesses and institutions around us have begun to reopen. We recognize that the Health Teams or Leadership Teams tasked with guiding your work in your local context are feeling an increasing amount of pressure to move toward a return to “normal” in-person activities. As our state has moved into Stage 3 and soon will likely move to Stage 4, we wish to offer additional clarification and guidance that may help you moving forward.  

The following are some points we wish to emphasize and clarify:

  • The first premise we offer continues to be “Do No Harm.” We understand this to mean that each stage of reopening is tested against the question of what harm can this do, particularly to those whose immune systems may be compromised in any way. This may include congregants, staff, visitors and clergy.
  • We also recognize that each church must consider its own context, location and physical constraints. Each community is affected by the virus in different measures.
  • Church leaders are urged to do the best they can with the information they have to honestly assess the needs, challenges and risks they will realize as they move from one phase to another.  
  • The point of the guidelines we offer are not a matter of what state or local authorities will allow or enforce; the point is to keep people safe and not become an outbreak hot spot.  
  • We urge church leaders not to think in terms of the church being “closed;” rather, how and when the church will gradually and safely return to “in-person” activities.
  • We recognize that there have been conflicting guidelines and directives issued by federal, state, local and church bodies. We suggest that where there are conflicting directions and suggestions, church leaders utilize the plumb line of “do no harm” as they make decisions.
  • As state restrictions around children’s summer camps have loosened, questions about mission and work trips, camping and VBS are being asked. We urge church leaders to consider whether or not enforcing social distancing is possible when deciding about their own programs.  
  • Some congregations have expressed frustration at determining whether the most important criteria is social distancing or the numerical limit or the percentage of capacity. While there is no absolute answer, we urge church leaders to bear in mind that the larger the number of attendees at an event, the greater the potential for transmission of this virus. The guidelines and recommendations are not set forth to keep people from returning to in-person ministry experiences, but to help everyone think about measures that will keep people safer.

Finally, we recognize that we don’t all see the pandemic from the same angle or through the same lens. If they find that divisions are forming in the congregation, church leaders should take care that they work together toward establishing common goals and mutual understanding in order to prevent a different kind of harm in our communities. The best way to do this may be to look at the guidelines from the perspective of “what we can do” rather than “what we cannot do.” Examples of “what we can do” include holding office hours in a park; celebrating Communion in groups of 10 or less; and holding prayer meetings or small group meetings in backyards, parks, or church parking lots.

Again I want to thank the ReTurn Team for their diligent work on providing guidelines for local churches to safely begin to return to in-person gatherings and eventually worship. Immediately after they gave us their best work, Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office and the Centers for Disease Control provided guidelines for faith communities. However, the ReTurn Team’s guidelines were largely in keeping with the state and CDC’s.

I still highly urge you to use the ReTurn team’s work to guide your conversations and decision-making in your local church. And I know it’s not an easy task! One of our pastors said, “When it comes to leading a church through reopening, I feel like a pilot trying to land a plane in a mountainous region during a blinding snowstorm without an instrument panel.” It’s a constantly moving target for all of us. It’s fraught with all kinds of uncertainty. 

But we can do this! In fact, the lives of those you love are depending upon you to do this as carefully as you can! This is how we love our neighbor, our elderly parent, pastor or friend with underlying medical conditions—or anyone else! The life you save may be your own! Be safe!

~Bishop Sally Dyck

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