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Online and/or In-Person? Guiding Questions

Though we do not anticipate a return to full in-person programming until the pandemic has subsided, we anticipate that there will, in 2020-21, be a time when planning for some in-person programming may make sense. As you start to imagine a return to in-person programming at the core of your congregation’s offerings, you may wish to consider the following questions.

  1. Questions about authority:

  • Who will be involved in the decision-making process about resuming limited or total in-person operations? And who will make that final decision?
  • If in-person programs resume, but then guidance or circumstances change, who will be involved in the decision to cease, or put new limitations on, in-person gatherings?
  1. Questions related to identity:

  • Who are we as a congregation called to be right now?
  • Acknowledging that every person in our congregation might have contact with many people outside of our congregation, who is part of the “we” we are considering in our decision-making?
  • If we are legally permitted to gather in person before the pandemic subsides, what would be the social/emotional/spiritual costs of gathering? Who would we exclude? How would this fit with our mission and identity?
  1. Questions related to health and vulnerability of:

  • The local population—what are the trends in infection, treatment, recovery and death in our immediate community? How might our resumption of in-person services contribute to, or detract from, a safer world for everyone?
  • The members and friends of the congregation—what proportion of our population may have underlying conditions that exacerbate the effects of COVID-19, if they are to contract it?
  • The staff and minister(s), their household members—what are their vulnerabilities, and what risks are we asking them to take?
  • Renters, unhoused guests being housed in the congregation’s building, guests in immigration sanctuary, and others who share the building—would they be put at risk by the congregation’s in-person operations?
  1. Questions related to the staff/volunteer and technological capacity of the congregation:
  • What kind of special training will staff need for safe in-person gatherings? Are staff responsible for ensuring that participants are following health and safety protocol? If not staff, who holds this responsibility?
  • If we start to phase in in-person worship and programs, do we have the staff and volunteer capacity to offer two tracks of robust participation (in-person and digital) for a year or more? What might our staff and volunteers need to continue both?
  • If we judge that we are one of the rare congregations that has capacity for two robust tracks of programming: when community health criteria are met, how will we ensure maximum safety for those who gather in person? And how will we carry forward the inclusiveness we fostered while we were virtual-only? How will we ensure that virtual-only participants don’t unintentionally become marginalized?
  1. Questions related to the building and grounds:
  • Were it permitted by local authorities, is it possible to navigate the building and participate in worship/events/meetings while practicing six feet (or more) of physical distancing? Does this change if someone is navigating the building with a walker, a wheelchair, or a stroller?
  • What kind of space do we have for religious education programs, and how will we maintain appropriate distance? How might we need to change how we do these programs?
  • What kind of ventilation does the building have in the hotter season and in the colder season, as well as in between? How often is the air exchanged in each of the frequently-used spaces?
  • Do we have the capacity for 20 seconds of handwashing and/or hand-sanitizing by every person in the building at least twice per visit to the building? Dividing our usual attendance by our number of sinks (and accounting for gender and ability-restricted sinks), then multiplying by 20 seconds, how long will this take? (Some congregations have a very high member to sink ratio.)
  • Do our toilets have lids that can be closed during flushing to minimize the spread of germs?
  • How are we cleaning our building, both before we return, and while we are back in the building? To what extent and level?
  • Would we consider screening people for symptoms before they are admitted to the building, or might we ask people to check their own symptoms prior to attending any event at the congregation?
  1. Questions related to music, children’s programs, worship, and social hour:
  • Will it feel strange to gather in person while communal singing (even with masks) is still not considered a safe thing to do? What could take the place of hymns and choir in our in-person services?
  • What will be required to keep children off of playground equipment? To sanitize all the toys and surfaces they touch? What are local schools, preschools, and daycare centers doing?
  • While worship and programs are taking place, who will enforce protocols around cleaning, face-masks, social distancing, food, and such? What kinds of consequences will there be for failure to engage in safe practices? How will this be different with children?
  • Can we project the order of service and song lyrics so that we don’t touch hymnals and orders of service? Do we have the necessary technological hardware and software?
  • How do we take the collection/offering in a way that minimizes physical contact?
  • What means do we have in place for hard-of-hearing people to hear others’ speaking, especially when they can’t see lips moving (because of facemasks and/or distance)?
  • If our building does not have space for its usual number of people to attend worship and maintain physical distance, how will we decide who comes when? Alphabetically? Neighborhoods? Other methods?
  • What will be necessary in order to host receptions and coffee hours with food and drink safely?
  1. Questions related to liability:
  • What does the congregation’s insurer advise about gathering in person? What do they consider to be a reasonable provision of safety on the congregation’s part?
  • What does the congregation’s attorney say about any legal liability the congregation might take on in allowing in-person gatherings?
  • If it turns out that known COVID-19 transmission occurs at our programs or events, how will we respond to that? Will we be able to say that we did everything we could to prevent transmission and protect the most vulnerable?
  1. Questions about renters and other users of the building space:
  • Could rental groups’ operations put the congregation or its guests at risk?
  • Is it possible to ensure a safe environment for groups that use our space?

  • Are some of the groups that use our space true lifesavers for people in distress (such as groups for people in recovery or people who are survivors of violence)? Do we have the capacity to make additional efforts to ensure that they can use the space safely as soon as local regulations allow?

  • Might any of the operations of the groups that use our building pose additional risk to the congregation and other users? How might those risks be minimized?

  • What restrictions ought we put in place on short- and long-term renters’ use of the building and their operations?

  • How will we ensure that users of the space are following appropriate guidelines, and cleaning/disinfecting the spaces for which they are responsible?