To the clergy and congregations of the Iowa Annual Conference:
We would like to thank you for your faithful response to the November 18th directive from Bishop Laurie Haller and the Appointive Cabinet that paused in-person worship and church activities through January 10th. You may recall this decision was made in response to worsening COVID-19 positivity rates across the state and the profound pressures being placed on our healthcare systems and frontline workers. We deeply appreciate the ways in which you partnered together through Advent, Christmas Season and Epiphany to provide virtual worship, small group opportunities, and resourcing our local faith communities with pastoral care, stewardship planning and connecting with your broader community during this hard and holy time. After consulting with local leaders and healthcare personnel - and in review of reported numbers across the state - this directive will be lifted with a return to yellow status after January 10th.
To determine your best next steps as a local congregation, you are encouraged to return to the 3-2-1 Re-Entry Guideline available on the Conference Website and would ask your local re-entry leadership teams to review your county/public health numbers, hospitalizations, ICU bed availability and covid-related deaths as you make your re-entry decisions.
Our recommendation is that for churches located in counties with positivity rates at or below 15.0 percent - and review and implementation of your protocols - you may choose to resume in-person worship and gatherings with appropriate safety protocols of masking, physical distancing and other recommended safety procedures in place. For counties where case positivity rates are above 15.0 percent, it is requested these congregations consider remaining in the red. To review your county data, go to:
You will find there are inconsistencies in the reports as these groups are following and reporting their information/metrics differently. Look for pieces of information that are confirmed between two or more sites.
Additionally, we would encourage your leadership to access the Vaccine education and availability guidelines from the Iowa Department of Public Health and share this resource with your congregations. Also, to encourage your faith community to get their flu shots if they have not yet done so.
In support of Governor Kim Reynolds’ Public Health Proclamation on November 10, 2020, the input that we are getting from health professionals, and the awareness that our Iowa hospitals are reaching or are at capacity to accept new patients, the Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church has made the prayerful and careful decision to mandate masks/face coverings for all gatherings. This includes all in-person local church worship, meetings, and groups occurring in United Methodist Churches throughout the Conference.
We have given consideration to Section 5.E of the Governor’s Proclamation that speaks directly to the faith communities of our state. In this section, Governor Reynolds clearly states that religious gatherings are not prohibited. Additionally, Governor Reynolds is clear that faith communities “shall implement reasonable measures under the circumstances of each gathering to ensure social distancing of employees, volunteers, and other participants, increased hygiene practices, and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 consistent with guidance issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health.”
It is the position of Bishop Laurie Haller and the Appointive Cabinet that while there are set aside considerations for faith communities in this proclamation, the following Sections do inform what is meant by reasonable measures:
Section One speaks to the role all Iowans have in protecting vulnerable members of our community. Governor Reynolds encourages those over the age of 65 and/or those with pre-existing conditions to limit activities outside of their residence. Furthermore, in this section, the Governor’s request is for all Iowans to do their part in limiting events that would encourage vulnerable populations to participate.
Section Two mandates the use of masks, face coverings, and physical distancing as critical actions that mitigate the spread of this disease.
Section Five speaks to protocols in gatherings of more than 10 people (5.A); what reasonable measures mean; and limits gatherings of more than 25 indoors/100 outdoors (5.B). Section Five also prohibits large group gatherings if they do not adhere to physical distancing and masking protocols, with the exception of those under the age of two, or those with medical conditions that limit their ability to wear masks/face coverings.
For these reasons, we advise that in-person worship be suspended if your county statistics are in the Red category. However, if church re-entry leadership teams determine that in-person church gatherings can continue, masks, physical distancing, and other hygiene protocols will be required in our United Methodist Churches, beginning November 11, 2020 at 12:01 a.m.
For assistance in determining your COVID-19 recovery phase, watch this video created by Rev. Katie Dawson of Immanuel UMC in Des Moines that talks you through the process.
November 6, 2020
The Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church offers this November addendum to the3-2-1 Reentry Plan. This addendum was developed in consultation with the Extended Cabinet of the Iowa United Methodist Conference and in review of reports by leading epidemiologists in Iowa, analysis of updates from medical researchers and public health organizations across the state and nation, and in discernment of resources provided by the major coronavirus outlets including the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Iowa Governor’s Office.
INFORMATION FROM THE WHITE HOUSE TASK FORCE AND THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE INCLUDING THEIR RECOMMENDED GUIDANCE TO IOWA.
As of November 1, 2020, the White House Coronavirus Task Force reported Iowa continues in the Red Zone. Iowa is currently 6th in the nation for new coronavirus cases per capita (more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents) and 5th in the nation for test positivity (more than 10% of diagnostic tests are positive). What the White House report means is that 99% of Iowa Counties are reporting high or moderate levels of community coronavirus transmission. The White House Task Force recommended the following key practices: "Do not gather without a mask with individuals living outside of your household," "Always wear a mask in public places," and, "Stop gatherings beyond immediate household until cases and test positivity decrease significantly." For additional information from the White House Task Force, please go to: https://www.coronavirus.gov/.
Critical takeaways to share with leadership in your local setting:
Iowa has the 5th highest positivity rate in the country.
Iowa is the 6th highest when it comes to the number of new cases.
Iowa is double the national average.
The White House Task Force recommends Iowa change its strategy to test and identify asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19.
The White House Task Force recommends all persons in Iowa mask when they are in public, including when gathering for worship. Masking is critical because the majority of asymptomatic carriers spread the virus without their knowledge.
The White House is reiterating, until we see a significant decrease in numbers, it is best for care of self and each other that we refrain from public gatherings.
WHAT DOES RED ZONE MEAN FOR OUR LOCAL CHURCHES?
As has been and will continue to be the guidance from the Crisis Response Team and the 3-2-1 Reentry Plan that when your county is in the Red Zone, refraining from public gatherings, including indoor worship and other in-person activities is advised.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CHURCH IS IN A RED ZONE COUNTY?
For help in determining your up-to-date county numbers/status, please visit: https://globalepidemics.org/. As of this writing, all 99 Iowa Counties are identified as red.
This site has divided Iowa into four quadrants based on congressional districts and tracks the 7-day moving average. Numbers recorded on November 5, 2020. NE - 693 new cases each day; NW - 582 new cases each day; SE - 446 new cases each day and SW 475 new cases each day.
WHAT ADDITIONAL INFORMATION WILL RESOURCE OUR DECISIONS?
This site will give you the % Positive Case Analysis for school districts (for those aligning their protocols/best practices to your school district), as well as, % Positive Cases by County (for those aligning their protocols/best practices to your public health partners). This analysis is based upon the previous 14-day-period. If your county is trending upward 15% or higher you have likely moved through the Orange Zone of accelerated spread and are nearing or have arrived at the Red Zone. At the Red Zone, it is advised that you do not gather for in-person worship and that groups needed for leadership of worship and day-to-day operations should be masked and physically distanced from each other.
Critical takeaways to share with leadership in your local setting:
If your county is above 15% in positivity, you are advised to hold online worship and refrain from in-person gatherings. Your creativity and diligence have been inspiring during the previous months.
If your county moves below 15% in positivity without increasing, has maintained a decrease for the previous two-week period, and your local reentry leadership team has discerned it safe to offer in-person worship, attend to distancing protocols, honor the masking advisement and give encouragement to those who are most vulnerable to worship from home. Please continue offering online worship services for those not in on-site attendance.
WHAT IF THE PASTOR, STAFF MEMBER OR MEMBER OR ONE OF THEIR HOUSEHOLD MEMBERS IS AT HIGH RISK?
Staff Pastor Parish Committees and Church Leadership teams are to be in conversation with their pastor and members of their household to determine best practice and ways to support those who may have health risks in part of the vulnerable population. When pre-existing conditions exist for the pastor and/or their members of their household, including church staff, it may mean they must refrain from in-person worship as they care for self or family members. If it is determined your pastor/family is at-risk, please be in contact with your District Superintendent to create or report on your plan of care and the ongoing coverage of ministry.
IN MY CARE OF MY COMMUNITY, HOW CAN I BEST TRACK INFORMATION AND REVIEW OUR STATE TRENDS?
There are two sites that have been most helpful to local assessment of Covid-19 conditions in your area: Iowa Covid-19 Tracker (14-day trends) and Johns Hopkins (7-day trends). Reading these sites in tandem while planning for local response has proven beneficial for many faith communities across Iowa. It has been noted that the Harvard dashboard uses a 7-day average for positivity which makes the numbers fluctuate more quickly than some other reporting agencies that are using a 14-day average for positivity. When you access these sites for data collection, there may be times when counties are showing in the "Red Zone" on the Harvard site and you might note that you aren't in the "Red Zone" on other sites that is using a 14-day average - this is an indicator you are moving toward Red. For the most part, however, the trends are in sync and make sense when held together - this is why we recommend tracking both 7-day and 14-day trackers.
The Iowa Covid-19 tracker is an excellent dashboard of the big picture in Iowa. This site is full of data that is provided by Sara Anne Willette and Auriel A. Willette from Iowa. This dashboard was developed out of a personal passion to care for the state of Iowa with data-driven facts. This keepers of this site also post twice daily on Facebook around 12 PM and 12 AM and also livestreams data updates and provides downloads during the 10 AM/PM hour.
John Hopkins hosts an accessible site and has become a respected, fact-gathering resource. They do heavy lifting on this one tracking state trends for our local leaders. This resource is recommended if you want to track and report Past Day/Past Week/Past Month trends for your local reentry team. For example, at the time of this report, Past Day numbers for Iowa are: 2,888 new cases and 21 deaths; Past Week numbers from Oct 25-Oct 31 include: 16,579 new cases, 110 new deaths, 41.96% state-wide positivity rate; this mean 4/10 tests did come back as positive. This will also show that the current week is trending at 45.58% state-wide positivity rate that supports the data showing Iowa is on a rapid increase for cases.
The Crisis Operations Team provides this third iteration of the Conference Re-Entry Plan to deliver updated resources, guidance, and support for clergy and lay leadership of the Iowa Conference (IAUMC) during the COVID-19 pandemic. This tool provides best practices we have identified from webinars, interviews, and publications presented by CDC, Iowa Department of Public Health, local public health officials, medical agencies, scientists, other critical partners (i.e., HVAC officials, public safety officials), and our connectional boards and agencies. Please note, this guidance is not to be understood as medical advice or as a guarantee that if all practices are followed exposure won’t happen.
Within this document, there will be recommendations for how local faith communities can assess data and trends to remain in or return to local Red Light Status or Yellow Light Status. Until there is a vaccine option, therapeutic supports that are available and effective, or the virus weakens, no Iowa United Methodist Church should self-identify at Green Light Status. At this time, the Episcopal Office of the Iowa Conference and the Crisis Operation Team have not mandated a conference-wide status recognizing that urban, town, and rural communities are responding to local trends as well as implementing best practices and available resources that allow forRed Light or Yellow Light Status in their setting.
At the writing of this update, we continue to comply with to the guidance from the Iowa Governor's Office, which places all communities of faith across all faith traditions in YellowLight Status - meaning the state is not mandating a state-wide order of closure. That said, as of mid-September, Iowa is one of seven states in the United States with the fastest-growing COVID-19 numbers across the nation. As a result of this trend, the Crisis Operations Team urges an abundance of caution in gathering the church for indoor worship, small groups, meetings, and other events.
Whether your local church re-entry has currently identified at Red or YellowLight Status, we urge you to develop a procedural plan for when your local leadership moves from Red to Yellow or Yellow to Red Status. This will prove extremely beneficial as many counties in Iowa are currently experiencing high COVID-19 activity levels right now. With the exponential spread, community exposure can change rapidly. Be prepared to modify your plans to keep parishioners, staff, and clergy informed, safe, and healthy as the pandemic evolves.
Level 3: Red Light Status
Established initially as a Conference-wide status this past spring,Red Light Status was lifted June 1, 2020, as a mandated status for the entire Iowa Conference. As of June 1, local leadership (pastor, local re-entry team, and church council), in consultation with their District Superintendent, will determine when to enter or exit this status.
If you are in a county with rising numbers, online ministry is the preferred ministry for gatherings, outdoor events (as long as the weather holds) are much safer than indoor gatherings that are not recommended.
Red Light Status is when most local ministries (worship, small groups, team meetings) are only provided online.
Many local faith communities in the Iowa connection have identified safe and structured ways to gather June through September outdoors. Still, with cooler days fast approaching, this option will soon be obsolete.
Red Light Status - How Best To Determine Locally
When COVID-19 numbers increase in your local settings - even if you have moved to Yellow Light Status - you are encouraged to prepare for a return toRed Light Status, stop all non-critical gatherings and assemble as essential workers only.
For help in determining your up-to-date county numbers/status, please visit: https://globalepidemics.org/. As of this writing, 44 Iowa Counties are identified as red; these counties should consider online ministry options only.
You should confer with your insurance carrier regarding onsite ministry. Church Mutual Insurance and GuideOne are insurance agencies utilized by many Iowa congregations. Here is a look at their re-entry document; check with your carrier to see if they have something similar to aide you in your assessment of Green to Red Light Status:
During Red Light Status, you are encouraged to find ways to provide for online ministry. Amplify Media is a streaming service from the United Methodist Publishing House that is affordable (it costs about the same as two DVD studies) and provides opportunities for leadership and members to engage in ongoing connection and discipleship opportunities. https://amplifymedia.com/free-amplify-content/.
During Red Light Status, the Iowa Conference's congregations are strongly encouraged to hold online worship services only (live or pre-recorded).
Red Light Status - Best Practices for Restrictive Gatherings Onsite:
Worship teams gathered for recording/live streaming of worship, and weekday essential staff are asked to maintain proper physical distances of 6-10 feet.
For essential church staff (paid/volunteer): office hours can be resumed with the proper physical distancing of 6-10 feet.
See guests/visitors by appointment or have masks available at the entrance for those stopping in for a brief visit or pastoral care.
Have clear guidelines posted on your doorways.
For essential persons needed onsite for team functions, you may consider taking temperatures of those entering your facility as an act of safety. Require masks. Practice physical distancing.
Church councils, finance teams, staff parish relations, trustees, and other administrative/operational leadership teams might consider meeting in person while wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing of 6-10 feet. However, we strongly encourage continuing meetings online.
Level 2: Yellow Light Status
At the original writing of this document, we anticipated Yellow Light Status (proceeding with caution) would cover a significant number of months and take us through many liturgical seasons. As the IAUMC, we want to "Do Good" as restrictions are lifted or reinstated in the state of Iowa. As we continue in Yellow Light Status, local communities of faith should practice gradual return to gatherings such as worship, small groups, and special services and continue to do so in a cautionary manner.
For a greater understanding of why re-opening a church is different than other businesses or entities, please check out this blogpost from the Florida Conference: https://www.flumc.org/blogdetail/why-reopening-a-church-is-different-13998530
Level 2: Yellow Light Status - Safer Choices for Indoor Worship and Church Activities: Worship & Group Gatherings - Fall Ministry Edition
Limit attendance and maintain a list of who is present in case it is needed for contact tracing. A general rule to follow is 25% capacity.
Each household should have ways to effectively distance from other households in attendance. This is, at minimum, a 6-foot circumference. Organized seating and dismissal by ushers can help with distancing. Usher in front to back and usher out back to front.
The wearing of face masks is strongly encouraged. While this is a respiratory virus, we also encourage local settings to maintain a low-touch environment of persons and property (i.e., no traditional passing of the peace, project lyrics, no gathering upfront for children's time, etc.)
Projecting one's voice as a worship leader (preacher, liturgist, chanting) creates as much aerosol as singing. While it is difficult to lead in worship with a mask on, you are encouraged to invest in a face shield when you unmask during worship. At a minimum, we encourage all who are leading worship from the chancel area to maintain an additional physical distance of up to 15-feet from the front pew/row, wear a mask, keep 6-feet apart from other worship leaders, take temperatures of the team before worship and avoid sharing microphones.
We have been asked about plexiglass shields around praise teams, the lectern, and the pulpit. Plexiglass shields are generally unhelpful.
Maintain your online worship options. If your only online offering is streaming your "live" in-person worship option, pitch your delivery to the online audience more than the audience in the sanctuary.
Strongly encourage flu shots! Health officials are recommending flu vaccination by October.
Refrain from wind/musical instruments requiring breath.
Keep up to date with ongoing research on the use of music during the pandemic. Here is a curated (and continuously updated) list of resources and updates about congregational singing and COVID-19: https://thehymnsociety.org/covid-19/
Abstain from congregational or choral singing. Some alternatives: audio or video recordings, prayerful reading of hymn lyrics while the tune is played, soloist, hand signs, sign language, clapping, rhythm instruments, dancing. Resources for review:
A Conversation: What Do Science and Data Say About the Near Term Future of Singing, National Association of Teachers of Singing https://youtu.be/DFl3GsVzj6Q
Level 2: Yellow Light Status - General recommendations for those leading and participating in worship, small groups, and other onsite gatherings:
Wear cloth face masks while at church, as is also recommended in public spaces.
Offering Baptisms and Communion/Eucharist safely will continue to be a challenge, as touching a face mask (to remove or shift it) contaminates it and brings with it varying levels of exposure. No skin-to-skin contact is recommended during baptisms; it is recommended that parents hold babies and small children as the pastor performs the rite. No contact must also be attended to as the distribution of communion elements is a risk to the communion steward and the recipient. One recommendation is to participate in the Great Thanksgiving at the service end providing individual cups and bread. These must be supplied by gloved stewards and placed in the recipient's open hands upon exiting at the end of the service. This may mean some congregations will choose to postpone further offering in-person communion.
Singing and liturgical responses are among the riskier practices for spreading droplets/aerosols, carrying the virus a significant distance, and remaining suspended in the air. A cloth mask is unlikely to be enough to protect you or your neighbor even as you practice appropriate physical distancing. The recommendation is to avoid singing/liturgical responses in the sanctuary while the congregation is gathered.
Use no-touch alternatives for passing the peace, collecting offering, and liturgical resources. Consider removing pew Bibles, hymnals, and friendship pads, especially if you have multiple services—use bulletins (do not reuse) or screens as alternatives. If you keep these resources in the pews, provide for wipe down after each service.
For children's time, do not have children come forward. Instead, create from you-to-the-pew story moments engaging children from safe distancing.
Distancing: Have people spread out in the sanctuary space. Allow only one family unit per pew with measured markers indicating the proper physical distance in approved and marked seating areas. Explore meeting in a fellowship hall or outdoors if your space is small.
Do not offer fellowship/coffee hour. Food and drink hospitality only resumes at Green Light Status. Continue encouraging people to leave the building rather than mingling.
Consider offering life ritual services in more traditional ways. Funerals, weddings, graduation, and confirmation gatherings should pay careful attention to limiting and inviting guests and keeping proper physical distance.
If you have moved to Yellow Light Status and are Discerning Whether or Not to Return to Red Light Status:
Out of covenant relationship with your faith community, if a person has been in worship in the last 14 days has tested positive, you should refrain from in-person worship for at least one Sunday.
If a staff person, volunteer, parishioner, or guest discovers they were exposed to someone who is COVID-19 positive in the prior 14 days, they should not attend in-person ministry.
If COVID-19 case numbers are escalating in your area, your leadership team may choose Red Light Status.
Interpreting your local city or county data. It is recommended you utilize this logical approach when determining mitigation efforts and best practices for your local setting. There are inconsistencies in reporting, interpreting, and reading CDC, state, county, or local data. If there is a trending increase of diagnosed cases over at least two weeks, you would be encouraged to return to Red Light Status; if you see a decrease of diagnosed instances for at least two weeks, you may consider a return to Yellow Light Status. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/monitoring-evaluating-community-mitigation-strategies.html
Both Red Light and Yellow Light Status - Church Stewardship and Annual Finance Campaigns
Encourage online giving directly to your church through a reputable e-giving source. You may set up online giving now to your church through the Iowa Conference by contacting Margaret Biggs, Conference Treasurer at 515-974-8919, for more information.
Be sure you are inviting and encouraging people to maintain their contributions as best they are able.
Both Red Light and Yellow Light Status - HVAC/Ventilation Concerns:
Increase the amount of air from outdoors: open windows, if possible, but avoid fans' use.
Prop doors open to reduce touchpoints and increase fresh air.
Consider investing in a higher quality filter for your HVAC system - MERV13 or higher. These are a slightly more significant expense but will increase protection. Keep your system running at all times.
Resources such as room sanitizers, air filters, and other air and surface sanitization resources being marketed for COVID-19 have both benefits and drawbacks. You might want to check out this HVAC webinar on Youtube from the UCC church for more details.
There continues to be agreement that after five days, the virus is weakened. For faith communities who only gather on Sundays, keeping your facility empty for the five days preceding worship/gathering is a way for caring for the facility.
Ideally, leave worship space empty for 2+ days after events to reduce the transmission risk via aerosols (fine droplets dispersed in the air that lingers for a long time) or fomites (viral particles that land on surfaces).
Both Red Lightand Yellow Light Status - The Practice of Ministry
Reading of the Saints - with images of the persons who passed. Highlight a couple of facts about their life and ministry.
Remember your baptism - you may hand out/make available water vials ahead of time and include this moment in your service.
Tell stores of your saints - interview and record stories of your local church, whether of this past year or years past, that highlight the saints of your congregation.
Have a teaching moment about All Saints and include special music recorded by members of the church or family/friends of the departed ones who have the gift of song by voice or instrument.
Coming up Mid-Month: Supplemental Resources for Christ the King Sunday, Thanksgiving, Advent
In Closing, the Crisis Operational Team continues to hold the conference at Yellow Light Stage, noting that geographically, local counties and communities are experiencing COVID-19 cases at different levels. Please continue to reach out to your Public Health officials for updates. A good guideline for all churches to follow: if your school provides virtual learning only and not gathering in person - your church may want to do the same.
Please send your questions for clarification and comments to email@example.com. This document will be regularly reviewed and updated.
Level 3: Red Light Status- Stop all non-critical gatherings. Essential workers only. This is the Stay in love with God and Stay Home phase of our ministry. Right now it is best to err on the side of distancing even as we have received new guidelines from the Iowa Governor’s Office.
Level 2: Yellow Light Satus - Cautionary Return - We anticipate this will cover a number of months. As the IAUMC, we want to “Do Good” as restrictions are lifted. This means a gradual return to gatherings and doing so in a cautionary manner.
Level 1: Green Light Status - When we finally reach the “Do No Harm” phase - it will be because the virus is contained and our people are safe. Permission will be granted to communities of faith to return to full activity and mass gatherings will be permitted. This will be in place only as church leadership is confident in the care of their community of faith. Green lighting for all activities will likely be guided by testing protocol for asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers, antibody testing, therapeutic drug therapies aggressively caring for those who have contracted COVID-19, and approval and availability of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church recognizes returning to full participation will be based on the oversight of the Office of the Bishop, Crisis Response Team, state and national guidelines, as well as the seasonal movement of the virus. It is our expectation pastoral and laity will read through this document together allowing it to guide the response of your local faith community.