Worship Practices and Social Distancing

Following are some suggestions on how to change current worship and programs to minimize viral spread and maximize the ministry of the church during pandemic.

  1. Social Distancing: The traditional Christian model of care has been built upon human interaction and closeness. However during a pandemic, social distancing reduces the spread of illness that results from airborne droplets. This involves increasing space between people. For example, you could sit side by side in situations where you would normally have sat face to face.
    - Are You Ready for a Health Emergency? Congregational Ministry Guidelines for Worship [PDF document]
    - The United Church of Canada: Breaking the Chain – Guidelines for Reducing the Spread of Infection [PDF document]
  2. Greetings: Shaking hands, embracing or other common social practices might need to be avoided. Consider alternate forms of greeting, such as touching elbows, bowing or nodding. Think about how your ushers and greeters will carry out their duties.
  3. Food-related activities: What are the expectations of those who serve coffee and meals and others? Some activities will need to be modified and some may have to be discontinued. Consider what practices you currently have in place. Train people now to wash hands before handling food and practise good food-handling techniques. Use a dishwasher or hot, soapy water and hot-water rinsing to clean communion elements and dishes.
  4. Communion: If you are not already doing so, consider using disposable communion cups. Minimize the passing of communion elements, perhaps by inviting people to come to a central location to partake of bread and wine or juice. Discontinue any practice that involves dipping the bread into the wine (intincture).
  5. Weddings, funerals and other significant events: Consider whether these events in the life of the church have to be altered, postponed or discontinued. Weddings may need to take on new formats such as an informal small gathering over a meal. Funerals may also need to take on new and different formats; possibly only close family should be involved. Consider that burials might be postponed.
  6. Sunday School, youth groups, church programs, church-based community programs: Consider whether and how you should adapt or cease these ministries. Consider for how long should this happen? There may be short-term bans on assembly put in place by the government, but your plan should also address the longer-term nature of a pandemic that will occur in waves spread over time.
  7. Creative Worship Services: What if a decision is made not to congregate in the church for a period of time? How will you reach out to those who cannot meet for worship? You may decide to discontinue worship services in favour of small group meetings. You may already have small groups in place, or wish to start a small group program in your church to facilitate worship planning and other types of activities
    (for example, CARE, cell, K-group or bible study groups).
    Explore other media to share sermons, prayers, hymns, church messaging. Provide resource information on appropriate sermon and prayer guides, hymns and other worship resources. See CommonWord and Mennonite Church USA
    Messages and worship services could be taped or recorded on DVD and delivered to members.Local Radio Stations could be approached to air Church Services. Recorded worship services could be broadcast on Cable TV stations, possibly as a Public Service. People need to be trained in these media so that back up persons are ready to step in as needed.

    These alternate ways of doing worship should continue for as long as the prohibition is in place or when notice is given that the “dangers” are over.

    Neighbouring congregations (including other denominations which are physically nearby) should be consulted and some collaboration with them could take place to maximize efficiencies and to reduce duplication of services. This could also help alleviate some of the pressures on leadership.
  8. Visitation: How will visitation of those who are in hospitals and nursing homes take place? Does your visitation team need to be expanded? Quarantine or other serious restrictions may be put in place by goverment agencies. Determine how this will impact your ministry. It is important to develop phone visitation procedures so that communication can be maintained while such restrictions are in place.