This document includes specific guidance on many ministry practices and facilities usages, but all of these are derived from these principles, which can be used to evaluate questions arising beyond the details of this document:
The first rule of a Methodist is “Do no harm.” Our churches should attempt to minimize harm as much as possible. This will likely require inconveniencing many people in order to make it safer for some other people. In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this means that we must do all we can to keep people as safe as possible, even if it is difficult, inconvenient, frustrating, unprofitable, or disruptive. Some people are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19, but it has the possibility of killing anyone who contracts it. Doing no harm, in this case, means keeping people from dying.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is primarily spread by water droplets carried on the breath of someone with the virus. It is also possible for someone to have the virus for several weeks without showing any symptoms or even being aware that they could be spreading the virus to others.Avoiding close contact between people can significantly lower the possibility of someone unknowingly infecting another person. People should remain at least six feet apart (about the length of regular breath transmission) and wear masks to prevent water vapor traveling between people. People who suspect they might have COVID-19, people who are ill, or people at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 should avoid contact with any other people.
Water droplets containing the virus can easily pass from mouth to hand to objects to another person who touches that object and then their mouth, face, or eyes. There is still a lot unknown about how long the virus can be contagious once it gets onto an object, but the best practice is to limit touching of common objects. This includes door handles, handrails, bathroom fixtures, bulletins, toys, coffee pots, hymnals, microphones, keyboards, and cleaning supplies. Shared objects should be thoroughly cleaned between usages (for instructions see: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html).
Because of the nature of viral transmission, the safety level of a group of people is not set by the safety practices of the majority of the group’s participants. Instead, the safety level of the entire group is set by the safety practices of the least safe person in the group. One person who does not follow safety practices can infect an entire group, even if the rest of the group is fully complying with all recommended safety practices. This means that church gatherings will need to clearly communicate with all of their participants the mutual needs of the entire gathering to reduce risk.