COVID-19 Gathering Plan
On May 1, Governor Abbot introduced Phase 1 of his “Reopen Texas” plan, which allowed for churches to gather for worship. But he qualified that plan with some strong guidelines he encouraged churches to follow.
As we’ve been closely following the stats for Travis county regarding the number of deaths and hospitalizations for COVID-19, the numbers are encouragingly low, especially in comparison to other parts of the country. We certainly grieve over the loss of any life, but we are thankful that the loss of life and the number of hospitalizations is relatively low in our county. Moreover, the number of reported recoveries from COVID-19 have been encouragingly high.
Moreover, there more and more churches that have already begun gathering again, and more that plan to in the near future.
In light of these things, our church will gather again Sunday, May 24. Below are the many precautions we are taking to do our best to prevent the spread of the virus.
MAIN GATHERING ONLY
- We are only having Sunday morning worship gatherings.
- No nursery, Kinney Kids, Sunday School, Wednesday Night Dinner/Bible Study.
- We are continuing to provide livestream.
- Anyone who is not comfortable gathering again is encouraged to continue watching the service on livestream.
- Those considered “at-risk” are strongly encouraged to stay home and watch on livestream.
- We have a special section in the back of the auditorium reserved for those in an “at-risk” category.
- “At risk” includes those over the age of 65, those whose immunity is compromised, or those who have preexisting health conditions.
- We have a special section in the back of the auditorium for families with children.
- Both sides of the balcony are open for families with children. One side will have audio of the service through a speaker, and the other side will have a livestream on a TV.
- We will NOT have nursery or Kinney Kids.
- Parents are encouraged to do their best to keep their children from running around the auditorium. BUT kid noises are welcome!
- If you anyone is experiencing ANY sickly symptoms, they are encouraged to stay home and watch the service on livestream.
- These symptoms are not restricted to COVID-19 symptoms.
- We have a thermometer available.
- We are practicing six feet distancing between families.
- Every other pew is taped off and only 8 people will be seated per pew.
- This allows enough spacing between families to maintain enough of a distance from each other, while at the same time, allowing us to fit up to 120 people in the auditorium (which is MORE THAN enough for us at this point).
- We are providing hand sanitizer in the foyer and auditorium.
- We are providing sanitizer spray for the bathrooms and encourage spray after each use.
- The cleaning crew will do extra cleaning/sanitizing in the auditorium, front foyer/bathrooms, and balcony after each worship gathering.
- Only the front entrance is open. All other exterior doors will be locked. This makes sanitation easier.
- No one is allowed in any other part of the building except the front foyer, balcony (for young families), and auditorium.
- The doors to the main entrance will be propped open for people as they walk in.
- Auditorium doors will remain propped open.
- All greeters and ushers will wear facemasks and gloves.
- They will direct people towards bulletins, sanitizer, extra facemasks.
- We will also have ushers to help you find a seat, since it will be more difficult to do so (with every other pew taped off).
- Only the bathrooms in the front foyer are open.
- This makes it easier to sanitize after each use.
- And it keeps us from having to go to the back of the building.
- Everyone is strongly encouraged to wear a facemask.
- Extra masks are available for those who don’t have one.
- We are providing extra gloves, if you would like to wear them.
- We are singing fewer songs than normal.
- Online/text/mail-in giving will continue to be encouraged.
- Offering plates are in the back of the auditorium.
- We are not passing out bulletins.
- They are on a table in the front foyer for anyone who would like to use one.
- For now, we are NOT do the Lord’s Supper.
- We may reconsider our options after we have met for some time (e.g., prepackaged elements).
- We are strongly encouraging the refraining of hugging and handshakes.
- Extended conversations can take place after the service outside of the church building in the open air.
- Attendance is taken of everyone who is in the building.
- The purpose is to allow us to have the ability to reach out to everyone who has attended the service, in case we hear of someone who came to the service who tests positive for COVID-19.
- Those sitting in the “at risk” section are dismissed first.
- Then everyone else will be dismissed.
Frequently Asked Questions on Texas Church Reopening
(This limited list of Question/Answers are based on those most common on our statewide Zoom calls and emails received, addressed in the context of Governor Greg Abbott’s “Open Texas” Phase 1 and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s “Third Revised AG Guidance for Houses of Worship During the COVID-19 Crisis – Final”; both posted at www.uspastorcouncil.org )
May churches now hold worship services in the church building?
YES. As per the Governor’s order GA-14 on April 27, “Essential services” shall consist of everything listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 2.0, plus religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship.”
Are churches subject to the 25% capacity limitation related to restaurants, etc.?
- These provisions apply ONLY to commercial establishments such as restaurants through Phase 1. Each church’s seating capacity is limited only by the individual logistics of your available space using the social distancing guidelines of six feet (or two chairs) in between family units, seating every other row. NOTE: Two or more individuals attending together may sit as a unit.
What are the basic guidelines for seating and attendance?
IT’S YOUR SPACE – Guidelines are “Keep at least two empty seats” between family units and “Alternate rows between attendees”. You can seat as many in your worship space as can be accommodated using these recommendations.
Are facemasks required for congregants, ushers/greeters, worship team, etc?
- Governor Abbott at his press conference on April 27 and Lt. Governor Patrick on the Texas Pastor Council Zoom call on April 28 confirmed that masks are not and cannot be required by county or city government. The guidelines clearly recommend masks be worn in public but are NOT mandated. Churches, MAY choose to require facemasks be worn at whatever level each pastor decides fits your demographics but again, there is NO local, state or federal requirement.
May churches reopen children’s church, child care, etc. as well?
A QUALIFIED YES. Due to the continued recommendations to comply with CDC heath protocol for any kind of child care for churches and the complexity as well as higher risk factor because of natural logistics of managing small children, most churches who are opening regular services are choosing to wait until at least Phase 2 or longer to begin any children’s on-site programs.
Are online, outdoor and/or parking lot services still advised?
OPTIONAL YES. The AG guidelines state that “Houses of worship should conduct as many activities as possible remotely…” which include outdoor or drive-in services still using social distancing parameters. Each church may choose whether indoor or outdoor at your discretion.
Why are some churches waiting until early or mid-June to open while others are opening now?
CHOICE. All of the current guidelines – NOT mandates – point toward allowing each pastor and church to decide when and in what steps to reopen based on what is best for YOU. Church attendance size, facility size/layout, age and health demographics, all as an example are different for every church and should be factored in your decision.
Should all churches open at the same time as some are saying, i.e. early to mid-June?
CHOICE. There is no “one size fits all” other than the essentials of the faith within the church of Jesus Christ, neither should any pastor feel or be pressured to conform to what other pastors and churches are doing – review previous answer. MANY churches are reopening now based on their individual situation and should be encouraged and free to do so!
What about senior citizen attendance?
NOT YET. Very clearly, the most at risk groups for the most severe impact of COVID-19 are the elderly with fragile health and other ages with fragile health and/or at-risk health factors. The guidelines urge churches to, “ 1. Strongly encourage the at-risk population to watch or participate in the service remotely,” or “2. Designate an area inside the facility reserved for the at-risk population, or offer a service for at-risk population attendees only."