In-person Worship Resumes August 9, 2020 at 10:00 AM


Beloved clergy and laity,
We pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. First and foremost, we want to thank those who have faithfully transitioned their worship, Bible studies, Sunday school classes and church fellowship from their edifices to their living rooms, back yards and bedrooms. Your commitment to love yourself, your families and those most vulnerable in your faith communities has not gone unnoticed. We hear about the fruit of your digital discipleship and low and no tech worship and outreach daily, and know that God will continue to bless you in your efforts. Thank you to those who felt ready for in-person worship and followed the guidelines provided by the conference consistently.

We write to you today requesting that you join with us in affirming John Wesley’s remark on holiness, “There is no holiness, but social holiness.” We feel that our tasks lies at the heart of seeking to embody and promote social holiness among our people, while also leading each pastor, staff member, parishioner and visitor to do no harm towards others, especially the large population of Mississippi United Methodists who fall in the high risk category. In light of current circumstances—the rapid spreading of COVID-19 in many of our counties, governmental mandates and the recent recommendations of our episcopal leader—we must think creatively about how each shepherd effectively guides his/her people. This discernment must occur in individual contexts, towards continued spiritual growth and acts of pastoral care while doing no harm.

We are asking congregations prayerfully to plan for in-person worship—not Sunday school—at a time that makes sense utilizing at least the following guidelines:

  1. In-person worship may resume when a collaborative committee consisting of clergy and lay leadership decide together it is time to do so. This could be this coming Sunday, next Sunday or sometime yet to be determined.
  2. Use the sanctuary only for the worship service. No one enters the space after it is cleaned until the next Sunday. If more than one service is held in the same space, sanitization between services is essential.
  3. Everyone entering the worship space is asked to sanitize (use hand sanitizer at each entrance to the sanctuary), wear masks and distance (stay six feet apart- families in the same household may sit together).
  4. No choirs or congregational singing (one or two persons singing from the front of sanctuary only). They need to be 25 feet away from the first person seated in the congregation.
  5. Keep doors/windows open for fresh air and keep touchable items at a minimum. If bulletins are utilized be sure to discard them at the end of the service. Also, make sure offerings are placed in plates at entrances.
  6. No visiting prior to or after services without social distancing.
  7. For the first four weeks keep the attendance at 25 percent capacity of your worship space. If all goes well, then move to 50 percent capacity.
  8. Dr. Stephen Shirley, medical director for multiple nursing homes in Mississippi, in consultation with his church leadership, devised the following helpful suggestions for returning to in-person worship for his church. Utilize these in deciding if you should personally attend in-person worship on Sunday.

The data and context of COVID-19 changes daily. Therefore, in an effort to keep up with this ever-evolving pandemic the guidance and resources released from this task team will likely change often, as it is the intention of this task team to operate out of an up-to-date abundance of care.
Go in grace,
The Mississippi Conference Pandemic Task Team
                Dr. Marcus Gaut                             Dr. Bob Ford
                Dr. Steve Shirley                             Dr. Thais Walden
                Mrs. Lynette Harris                          Mrs. Sarah King
                Rev. Haywood Hannah                   Rev. Trey Skaggs
                Rev. Dr. Joe Ranager      
Ex-officio members:
                Bishop James E. Swanson Sr.      Rev. Vickie White
                Rev. Dayna Goff                            Rev. Fred Britton