An open letter from The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church:
Dear Clergy and Laity of the Florida Conference:
Our cabinet formed a re-launch task force to begin looking at how we can help resource churches as they prepare to re-launch during COVID-19. We solicited input from you and received thousands of responses. Our initial guidance can be downloadable here. These guidelines will be regularly reviewed and updated. We have consulted government officials and health experts and will continue to review the latest guidance.
Churches should plan to continue to offer on-line opportunities until a vaccine is readily available, knowing that many people will not feel comfortable returning to worship until that time.
We ask that no in-person worship services take place through June 15th. The actual date for when in-person worship services will resume is still being determined but we know it will be after June 15th.
We give guidance on some alternative worship models that could be attempted starting May 15th including house worship and drive-in worship. These require strict safety guidelines and should only be attempted in places where volunteers and staff are ready to monitor and enforce the guidelines.
We invite you to begin preparing for what in-person worship may look like after June 15th. We know you will need to adjust worship plans to allow for safety and social distancing. Detailed descriptions are provided for a variety of worship logistics. Walking through the logistics with key volunteers and staff will be essential.
We suggest you form a re-launch task force of lay and clergy leaders to explore how you will work through these guidelines in a way that honors your context.
At all times we encourage proper social distancing, handwashing, the wearing of masks, and for sick persons or persons who have been in contact with the virus to remain at home. We are especially concerned that those most vulnerable to the virus be vigilant in the days ahead.
Also in this document are guiding principles and scriptural foundations. We offer this guidance from a standpoint of our faith that calls us to love our neighbors and care for the most vulnerable.
Our rationale for a no sooner than June 15th date include:
Relaunching in-person worship presents a significant effort on behalf of church leadership. June 15th allows them enough time to prepare worship spaces and gather and train the necessary volunteer base.
By June 15th, we will have clearer results from the reopening of the state of Florida to guide us in our decision making.
Many in our state and in our church communities are part of the most vulnerable populations. Our clear guidance from the feedback we have received is to err on the side of safety.
We will continue to monitor the realities in our communities and adjust our guidance as needed.
Should you have specific questions, please reach out to your District Superintendent who can guide you.
May God continue to walk with us in this season. We pray now for those who are sick and all our front line workers who are keeping us safe.
We remain on mission together.