Governor Wolf has released a plan to reopen Pennsylvania and to start lifting stay-at-home orders beginning May 8, 2020. This will occur in three
phases (red, yellow, and green) and certain precautions must be taken in each stage. Regions of the state may move from the red phase to the yellow
phase if averaging less than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.
Areas of our Conference will move into the yellow phase at different times, but for all it should be viewed as a time for planning and preparation to
return to in-person worship. The prohibition on gatherings of more than 25 will remain in place through the reopening process UNTIL there is robust
testing, community-wide surveillance, contact tracing, or other means to mitigate the spread of the virus. Here’s what it will look like for our churches
as areas move to different phases of the plan.
CHURCH REOPENING GUIDELINES
Church services should not be conducted in person.
Yellow means proceed with caution and should be
viewed as a planning and preparation phase, rather
than a reopening phase.
All churches in Western PA should abstain from
holding in-person worship services for now
• Until at least June 1, then reassess
•Until safely in the green zone
While in the yellow phase, churches should begin
planning for how they can resume worship with
necessary safeguards in place. Small group Bible
studies, church office staff, or church leadership could
consider meeting in person during the yellow phase
if strict measures can be taken to minimize risk of
infection, though online and virtual platforms would
still be preferable.
Even after moving into the green phase, social distancing measures will likely still need to be maintained to
keep people safe and healthy.
• All businesses must
follow CDC & PA Dept. of
• Aggressive mitigation
• Individuals must follow
CDC & PA Dept. Of Health
•Telework must continue
• Businesses w/ inperson operations must
follow safety orders
•Childcare open with
worker + building safety
• Restrictions in place for
prison + congregate care
• Schools closed for inperson instruction
• Stay at home restrictions
lifted in favor of aggressive
• Gatherings of more than
•In-person retail allowed;
• Indoor recreation, health
& wellness facilities (gyms,
spas), and all entertainment
(casinos, theaters) remain
• Restaurants/bars limited
to carry-out + delivery
• Only life-sustaining
• Restrictions in place for
prison+ congregate care
•Schools closed for
• Most childcare closed
• Stay at home ordered
• Gatherings of more than
•Restaurants/bars limited to
carry-out & delivery
• Only travel for lifeRed Phase
WESTERN PA CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Updated May 5, 2020
It would be very difficult to maintain social distancing/minimize risk of
infection that would be required, even in small groups:
• Highest risk individuals should continue sheltering in place (those age 60
and older and those with chronic medical conditions)
• Masks are required (What if someone shows up with out a mask? Will
extras be available or would said individual be turned away?)
• Ensuring no more than 25 people present
• Seating/pews must be assigned to maintain at least 6 feet between
• No handshakes or hugs
• Forego communion and passing offering plates
• No singing due to risk of producing droplet/aerosolized particles
•Commonly touched surfaces must be disinfected (Are EPA approved
cleaning products that kill the virus readily available? Who will be
responsible for cleaning?)
• Bibles and hymnals should be removed from sanctuary
• Bulletins should not be printed or distributed
• Difficulty of maintaining social distancing in confined areas, such as
bathrooms and hallways
• Church leaders would need to track those in attendance if someone were
to become sick or exposed
• Childcare/nursery should not be offered. Difficult for young children to
abide by social distancing guidelines.
Strict restrictions under yellow phase mean it is not yet
safe to gather for worship in person:
• Gatherings of 25 or more are still prohibited
• Schools in PA remain closed for the remaining academic
• Restaurants are open for take-out/delivery only
• Entertainment venues, such as theaters and casinos
Note: These recommendations may change with new guidance from the
Governor and public health officials.
The church has moral obligation to protect the
health and safety of all people, particularly the most
• There is currently immense pressure to reopen the
economy, and while many in our country are suffering
from loss of income or health insurance, churches should
not rush back too hastily and put peoples’ lives at risk.
• Reopening should be guided by current scientific
research and advice from public health and medical
There are multiple medical reasons to remain cautious:
• Widespread testing for COVID-19 is still not readily
available in PA or in the United States
• Public health resources remain limited for contact tracing
• Only ~1% of US population has been tested to-date
as of May 1, which means we do not know the true
prevalence of COVID infection across the country and in
• Asymptomatic individuals carrying the COVID-19 virus
are a significant source of infection transmission
DURING YELLOW PHASE
Updated May 5, 2020
DON’T MAKE DECISIONS IN ISOLATION. Form a “re-entry” team that includes
the pastor, staff and key lay leadership in the church. If possible, include a
medical professional, and representatives from the Trustees and Hospitality
team (greeters, etc.). Be aware of local government and health guidelines for
DON’T STOP VIRTUAL MINISTRY! Some people may not
be comfortable with coming back to in-person worship for
health concerns or fear of exposure to the coronavirus.
Many churches have gained new followers through virtual
worship: If these services are ended before healthy relationships are developed, they may fall away. Churches may
need to return to virtual ministry if there is a resurgence of
the virus. Continuing virtual ministry allows an easy transition back to this platform.
USE POSITIVE, ENCOURAGING LANGUAGE TO COMMUNICATE
HOSPITALITY WHILE MAINTAINING HEALTH AND SAFETY STANDARDS.
Remember that people may still be anxious and fearful. Communicate needed
information in three ways:
1) Verbal instruction
2)Digital communication (prior and during worship)
3) Posted signage in key places throughout the church building
CONSIDER HOW SPACE CAN BE USED DIFFERENTLY.
• Meet outside when you are able.
• Schedule small groups in large spaces
• Consider Drive-In worship settings using low-frequency
→Coordinate with local law enforcement or officials.
→Utilize volunteers or signage to direct parking. Park
cars in every other parking space (if marked)
→Make sure everyone, including volunteers, staff, and
clergy, follow social distancing guidelines at all times.
→No one should leave vehicles for any reason.
→No bathroom facilities should be available.
→No playground usage.
→Do not hand out bulletins. If needed, email the bulletin
to people prior to the service so they have the option of
printing them at home.
→Do not permit anyone to exchange anything while at
DO NOT ABANDON GOOD PRACTICES THAT KEEP PEOPLE HEALTHY!
Follow public health and guidelines as you return to your church building.
• Maintain 6 feet of social distancing, not just inside the building, but from
the moment people leave their cars.
→Encourage people to park with space between cars (every other space if
• Have no physical contact between people (hugging, shaking hands, etc.)
• Wear face masks while in the worship space. Ask people to bring masks
with them, but have a supply available for those who do not have one.
• Remind people to use hand sanitizer each time after touching or using anything in the worship space. Remind them not to touch their face after touching any surface. Provide hand sanitizer for those who do not have it or install
touchless hand sanitizers dispensers at entrances/exits.
PLANNING GUIDE FOR EVENTUAL CHURCH OPENING
Updated May 5, 2020
PREPARE THE WORSHIP SPACE AND THE CONGREGATION
• Clean all surfaces before worship/gathering.
→Make sure that cleaning products are effective against the coronavirus. Alcohol based surface cleaners are considered adequate.
→Items like microphones and keyboards may be difficult to clean.
Check manufacturer’s instructions for appropriate cleaning.
→Have a plan in place to clean all surfaces between services. This
may require a change in scheduled worship times.
• Post signs with seating instructions at the entrance to the worship
→Use every other or every third pew. If possible, rope off pews to
maintain appropriate distance between worshipers.
→Allow families to sit together but maintain distance from others
• Provide a no-contact method of receiving the offering.
→Place a bin or box at the entrances/exits for people to leave
→Remind counters to wash hands immediately following the handling of money.
• Do not offer nursery as it would create a high risk situation. Plan
for families to worship together.
• Do not have the choir sing at in-person worship; it’s difficult and
risky to do with social distancing standards.
• Remove Bibles, hymnals and other materials from the pew racks to
eliminate surfaces where germs can be passed.
→Encourage people to bring their own Bibles to worship.
→Avoid use of printed bulletins.
→If projection is available, use it for the order of worship (prayers,
→If projection is not available, consider emailing or mailing the
order of worship to people in advance to print at home.
→Microphones should not be shared by participants.
• Practice extreme caution if planning to offer Baptism or Holy Communion. If it can’t be done following public health guidelines, it is
best to delay until restrictions are lifted.
• Develop a method to track worship attendance. This is especially
important in case someone gets sick and contact tracing must be
• Consider limiting restroom usage to one person at a time in the
space. Post signs to notify people of this practice. Make adjustments in the space to keep health guidelines in place.
As the PA plan unfolds, different parts of the Conference may be on different timelines under the red, yellow and green state plan. Everyone must
adhere to current state and federal guidelines for their region. As you consider having gatherings in your building, think seriously about the safety and
well-being of your people. While government guidelines may allow churches to open, it may or may not be the best decision for your church. Although
many yearn to be together in worship again, it is Christ-like to consider the health and safety of others over personal desires to get back to normal.