Iowa United Methodist Conference Re-Entry Update - October 2020

Iowa United Methodist Conference Re-Entry Update - October 2020

September 30, 2020

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,[1] Iowa Department of Public Health,[2] 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.[3] 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 for Red 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 Yellow Light 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.[4] 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 Yellow Light 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 to Red 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: 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.

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:

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:
  • 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: 
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
Both Red Light and Yellow Light Status - Church Stewardship and Annual Finance Campaigns 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 Light and Yellow Light Status - The Practice of Ministry

Fall Holidays and Holy Days
All Saints Day - Nov. 1 (All Saints Sunday)
  • Ways to Engage this sacred holiday:
    • 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 protected]. This document will be regularly reviewed and updated.

"Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can."

~ John Wesley