The Rev. Bruce Rogers of Long Neck United Methodist Church is struggling with the same challenge church leaders across the nation are facing: When or if to reopen.
Not long after the COVID-19 state of emergency forced churches to close, the church started outdoor services in the parking lot off Long Neck Road. Most churches have resorted to some form of media to broadcast services. Long Neck will continue to broadcast services as well.
In Delaware, Rogers said the restrictions placed on churches by Gov. John Carney's executive order issued the week of May 18 make it nearly impossible to reopen. At a maximum of 30 percent occupancy, the church could accommodate 94 people; the church seats more than 300 people. The order also requires staggered arrival times at services.
Other restrictions include prohibiting members at high risk and those 65 years of age and older from attending services; mandatory wearing of face coverings; social distancing with no hugging or handshaking; complete cleaning between services; no use of materials such as Bibles, hymnals or bulletins; and no direct passing of the collection plate.
An entire section of the order lists nine restrictions on preparation and distribution of the sacraments.
Under the guidelines, family members who live in the same household can sit together, but every group or single person must have a 6-foot safety zone around them.
While singing is permitted, no choirs are allowed. However, churches can use single singers or duos as long as they are 6 feet apart and wear face coverings or faceshields. If coverings can't be used, singers should not directly face the congregation, or should increase their distance from the congregation.
Pastors can perform baptisms, wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer and not holding the person being baptized.
“It will be very difficult for us to meet all of these restrictions. We can’t even get sufficient supplies of hand sanitizer and cleaning elements to satisfy this process,” Rogers said. “There is no desire to rush back into a building just to prove a point. What we are doing now with use of all the media sources and resources is working on a temporary basis. No one wants to take steps which may place the congregation in jeopardy nor cause others not to worship.”
In his recent message to his church family, Rogers said the church leadership team is working on a plan to eventually reopen the church.
“Trust me when I tell you, I want to return to the building as soon as it is safe and practicable,” he said. “I simply cannot do so if it places persons in danger or if it acts to exclude worshippers. I firmly believe we all have individual responsibility for our own safety. These things are up to us, not the government nor the denomination. But safety first it will be.”
Changes in outdoor services
An amendment has been made to allow outdoor services with no limit in size of the gathering as long as social distancing protocols are followed. Under the new guidelines, everyone must have a seat staged 6 feet apart. Families can sit together but they must have a 6-foot radius of clear space around them.
Signs and markings must be posted reminding people of social distancing protocols. It's recommended that parishioners aged 65 and older not attend services because of the potential health risk.
To read Guidance for Communities of Worship, go to coronavirus.delaware.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/177/2020/05/Communities-of-Worship-Guidance-Revised-5.23.20.pdf.