In June, a task force was established for the purpose of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and giving guidance about in person worship. The document they put forth assisted congregations in making wise decisions about proper protocols and protections. You can re-familiarize yourself with it here.
As many congregations have resumed some in-person worship and activity, it has gone reasonably well and great appreciation for being together has been expressed. After all, we are meant to be in fellowship with each other to worship our Lord and to serve our neighbors.
I am mindful that across the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences there have been ministers and laypersons who have contracted the virus. We give thanks for the recovery of many and grieve the loss of life among us that has been experienced in our churches.
As I am sure you know, the virus is spiking in areas across our future Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference. Therefore, I felt it wise to offer further guidance to assist your decision-making based on your context.
Some of our churches are making decisions about in-person worship based on data points such as the positivity rate, which is the percent of people being tested who receive a positive result.
Across Tennessee and Kentucky, we are seeing average positivity rates of over 13%. In Tennessee, 84% of our ICU beds are in use. These increases warrant consideration of suspending in-person worship for a season.
The wisdom of Dr. Scott Morris of our Church Health Center is that in-person worship should be suspended in favor of virtual worship for those communities with a positivity rate of 5% or higher.
You may find the rates for Tennessee and Kentucky from local media. You may also visit https://covidactnow.org/ where data points at the state and county level including positivity rate, transmission rate, ICU usage and more are available.
As the numbers increase in each community, more precaution is necessary. It is wise to await a 7- to 14-day trend of significant decrease in new cases before we relax safeguards.
If both clergy and lay leadership agree that it is safe to continue in person worship, it is important that each person in worship wears a mask. This is because we know that not all people who have contracted the virus show symptoms, which increases unknown spread.
All of these actions, virtual worship, mask wearing, social distancing, additional surface cleaning and frequent hand washing help to reduce the strain on our healthcare systems, and by so doing we are loving our neighbor well – in a tangible way.
I acknowledge that there are some who dismiss the threat of COVID-19, and that there are more still who are very anxious in this time. What we know to be true is this: 12 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 – almost 4% of the US population. There have been 256,000 deaths due to COVID – about .08% of the US population. On average, you have a 99.92% chance of not dying from COVID-19. You don’t need to be paralyzed in fear. However, most experts believe that these numbers can be decreased based upon the precautions we can take to reduce the spread of the virus.
Also, please take precautions during the Thanksgiving season to protect your family and friends. Our family has determined it is best not to gather in person.
As I reflect on the hardships of so many during 2020, I pray for those among us who have suffered diminished health, economic hardships, loss of employment, and loss of life of family and friends. I pray for our children, youth, and young adults who are struggling with their education as well as for those teachers and professors who are providing instruction in this environment. I pray for parents who are strained with childcare concerns and workloads. I pray for our healthcare workers as they provide care for those in their communities under stressful conditions. I pray for our pastors as they shepherd their congregations through these difficult days while in search of the green pastures and still waters that will surely come.
I pray for all of us to live with a spirit of gratitude as we approach Thanksgiving, knowing that, for many of us, Thanksgiving will look very different this year. I am grateful for the many ways you have continued to reach out in your neighborhoods to meet the needs of your friends and neighbors.