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ReTurn To Church

Return Team Graphic 1

Download Document  (Updated June 15, 2020)


  • With COVID-19 positivity rates continuing to decline and the majority of eligible Illinoisans vaccinated, Governor Pritzker released an updated executive order on Feb. 28, 2022, lifting the mask requirement in most indoor settings. Read press release. The NIC Cabinet recommends that churches observe their local county or city guidelines regarding safe attendance at events and wearing of masks, while keeping in mind vulnerable and unvaccinated populations,  including children under 5. Please refer to your church health team to for guidance.
  • The Illinois Department of Public Health and Governor announced Aug. 26 a state-wide mandate beginning on Monday, Aug. 30, that all people wear face masks while with non-household members in public indoor spaces for all those vaccinated or unvaccinated.
  • Illinois entered Phase 5 to fully reopen the state on June 11. Click here to read a letter from Interim Bishop John Hopkins.  Read Illinois guidelines for business and venues.
  • Governor Pritzker announced a Bridge Plan takes effect on May 14, 2021, with new capacity guidelines for meetings, conferences and conventions, which includes worship services.  Once 50% of residents 16 and older have been vaccinated and stable or declining COVID-19 metrics are recorded during a 28-day monitoring period, Phase 5 will be implemented, removing capacity limits altogether. All regions of the state will move through these next phases together based on statewide metrics. Click to download for helpful guidance on gatherings and meetings.
  • On May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. On May 17, Governor Pritzker updated the statewide mask mandate to concur with the CDC. Changes in these public health guidelines that have kept us safe, such as wearing masks, social distancing and handwashing during the pandemic, are revised depending on the COVID-19 situation. Click here for a "choosing safer activities" illustration from the CDC.

Watch Zoom Panel Discussion with the Bishop and members of the ReTurn Team

***As new state guidelines and information are released, the ReTurn Team will be updating the document and this page. Check back regularly.***

In the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, activities that have been an essential part of what the Church is and how the Church operates suddenly possess the real possibility of spreading the virus. In such times of crisis, people of faith look to the church for comfort and guidance and to be a beacon of hope and new life in the face of despair.

In cooperation with Bishop Sally Dyck and the Cabinet and at the direction of governmental authorities, the Northern Illinois Conference ReTurn Team was assembled to investigate and recommend protocols the Church must follow to mitigate the number of people infected.

The ReTurn Team has created a document with best practices and wisdom into a series of phases by which local churches can assess their current situation After undertaking such an evaluation, the local church can determine the best path forward or, if necessary, revert to a previous level.

One of the first things each church can do is to form a Health Team or designate a group that will be responsible to make decisions and implement specific return plans for each congregation. The ReTurn Team advises all churches to complete each step and resist shortcuts. The ReTurn Team also encourages each church's pastor and lay leadership covenant to resist social, economic and cultural pressures to reopen the church too soon and put lives at risk.

The following guidelines and plans must be applied contextually with discernment. What may be safe for one church may not be safe for another. Churches will move through these phases at different paces in accordance with their local health officials and the risk of COVID-19 cases.

In addition, as available information is evaluated, we also issue the caution that in-person church-related activities may well be one of the last pieces of social interaction to be fully reinstated. The Church must face hard realities about many of our churches, including:

  • An aging population that has an elevated risk of infection;
  • Lack of physical space to allow for proper social distancing
  • Lack of resources to properly prepare worship, meeting, and administrative space between gatherings.

The financial cost of meeting requirements for cleaning, sanitizing, and personal protection to reinstate in-person ministry in each phase should be considered. As a result, we urge the expansion of remote discipleship, online worship, online giving, and virtual ministry as part of a long-term discipleship strategy.

Finally, it is our prayer that the Church views this current challenge through the eyes of faith. As United Methodists, the First General Rule (Do No Harm) should be the primary consideration for any activity. We encourage theological reflection and commend the metaphors that bring us closer to the story of the wilderness journey of the Hebrew people in Exodus where they were formed into a new people; the story of the flood that devastated the earth and how Noah had to patiently read the signs before opening the doors to the ark and allowing the creatures in his care to exit and re-inhabit the earth; as well as other examples of God’s people enduring hardship and trial. We turn to the stories of our faith to see how God moves us from orientation to disorientation to reorientation as part of God’s creating work that began in a garden with two persons and ends with worship with the great cloud of witnesses.

~ReTurn Team and the NIC Cabinet

ReTurn Team Members:

Hope Chernich • Chan Ik Choi
Seamus Enright • Mark Gilmore
Rob Hamilton • Grace Imathiu
Lisa Kruse-Safford • Woo Min Lee
Pamela Pirtle • Megan Smick
Kathy Wellman•  Chris Winkler

In consultation with The Northern Illinois Conference Cabinet and Bishop Sally Dyck


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