Earlier today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new interim guidelines to communities of faith in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guidance was offered by the CDC in an effort “to help communities of faith discern how best to practice their beliefs while keeping their staff and congregations safe.”
Specifically, the guidance covered areas such as scaling up operations, best practices for hygiene and cleaning of church facilities, use of face coverings, guidance on shared materials, and tips on childcare and youth ministry. The CDC was careful to point out the guidance “is non-binding public health guidance for consideration only; it is not meant to regulate or prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities in houses of worship. Any decision to modify specific religious rites, rituals, and services should be made by religious leaders.”
Reasonable and helpful guidance
Overall, the CDC guidance is reasonable and helpful. The tone is, appropriately, not a directive to churches but counsel based on the medical data. Such counsel is hard to make specific since practices differ so much from congregation to congregation, even within the same religion or denomination. Every church we have worked with throughout this pandemic is working through a staging plan, communicating to their members what benchmarks they are looking for to know when to re-gather, how they will then phase that re-gathering in, and what steps they will take to ensure safety when they do.
The CDC guidance is not a blueprint but it is a prompt to help leaders as they think through what questions to ask.
Just as with shelter-in-place recommendations in March, most congregations are already on top of thinking through these issues. Church members want to be confident that when their church reopens every reasonable precaution is taken, and that’s exactly what pastors and church leaders are doing. The CDC guidance will come as a reassurance to many churches that their hard work in planning out the path back to worship is, in most cases, in line with the recommendations of health officials.
The full interim guidance for communities of faith may be accessed here.