Guidelines for Church Operation
Ooltewah Adventist Church
September 28, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has deeply affected our lives in countless ways. After shutting down our in-person worship services in March, we reopened our church building in May. Now, in September, we need some revisions to our guidelines. The pandemic is still here, and we still need to take precautions as we move forward with the ministries and activities of our church. We continue to trust God to lead us and to give us wisdom and prudence as we navigate these unique challenges.
This document presents the guidelines which the Ooltewah Adventist Church will follow for worship services and for other ministry activities. These guidelines help us to be good stewards of not only our own health and wellbeing, but also of those with whom we worship. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). That is the spirit with which we approach these guidelines.
Two Worship Services
We have two worship services. The 9:00 a.m. service is in the sanctuary; every other pew has been blocked off to allow for social distancing. This service will also be livestreamed to our church YouTube channel (youtube.com/c/OoltewahAdventistChurch/). The 11:30 a.m. service is in the fellowship hall. The rows of chairs have been spaced out to allow for social distancing. Worship participants are strongly encouraged to continue the practice of social distancing during this pandemic. Our goal is to not exceed 50% room capacity for each service.
Sabbath School Classes
Most Sabbath School classes have reopened. Some still have online options, while others are in-person only, and a few are still online only. Sabbath School leaders are empowered to choose which option they feel is best for their class.
Children have resumed meeting up front for the children’s story, with the aid of colorful markers that show where they can sit at a safe distance from one another. We are still not collecting children’s offering at this time. Instead, members are encouraged to give to the student aid fund by marking their tithe envelopes accordingly.
Tithes and Offerings
Tithes and offerings are now being collected by the deacons, but without passing the plate to participants. Members are also encouraged to continue using online giving, which can be accessed from our church website. There is also a mailbox outside the church office where members can deposit tithe envelopes.
Ministry leaders are empowered to plan activities and events for their ministries following the guidelines set forth in this document.
Ministry leaders may opt to serve food at their events under the following conditions.
No more than 50 people at a time will be served.
No buffet-style or self-service of food.
All food must be served by designated servers.
Social distancing will be observed (tables and chairs will be spread out to accommodate this).
Potlucks are still canceled at this time.
While we want to be able to worship with our whole church family, we realize that is not possible right now, both because of the limited size of our gatherings, and the risk involved for certain groups of people. Those who are at higher risk from the virus (the elderly, people who are immunocompromised, people with certain respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, and others) may want to continue staying at home and watching the livestream. Whether it is safe for you to come to church is your personal choice, and we certainly understand if you do not feel that it is safe yet. We encourage all church members to reach out to our elderly members, shut-ins, or others who may be unable to attend church. Let them know that you miss them and are thinking of them.
Procedure for Those With Symptoms of or Exposure to COVID-19
If you or someone in your household has recently experienced any symptoms of illness, or if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, please stay home. The risk of unintentionally spreading illness is too high. You can always watch our worship service livestream from the comfort of your own home. Consult your doctor about when it is safe to return to church.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, fever, a loss of taste or smell, and vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms can also be present with other illnesses, but out of an abundance of caution please do not come to church if you or someone in your household has recently experienced any of them. For your own health and safety, as well as for those in your family and others with whom you come into contact, get tested as soon as possible. For more information on testing please visit the Hamilton County Health Department website (http://health.hamiltontn.org/AllServices/Coronavirus(COVID-19).aspx).
Safety Protocols for Worship Services and Other On-Campus Ministry Activities
Follow the CDC’s recommended health safety guidelines. Wash and/or sanitize hands frequently. Avoid touching your face. Cough and sneeze into your elbow. Maintain six feet of distance between you and other people. For more information, please visit the CDC’s website (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html).
Maintain Social Distance
Refrain from handshakes, hugs, and other greetings that put you in close proximity to other people outside of your family unit. Smiling, waving, bowing, air high fives, and other forms of no contact greetings are encouraged. Be creative and come up with a fun and safe way to greet your church family!
Because of the heightened risk of spreading illness, we ask all participants not to linger in the church building to converse with others before or after the service. We know this is hard, because we love to visit with each other; we have missed it so much during this time of separation. Thankfully, there are other ways to connect with our church family. Call, text, write emails, host Zoom parties; social distancing does not have to mean social isolation.
We strongly encourage participants to wear masks while in the church building. Every time you cough, sneeze, or even exhale, you release microscopic droplets into the air. These droplets can carry viruses and other diseases which can then contaminate surfaces or even travel through the air to others in your vicinity. Masks help to limit the spread of droplets. If you are unknowingly infected, wearing a mask reduces the chance that you will pass the infection to others. Masks are more about protecting others than about protecting yourself. It is a way to show that we care for our fellow church members by our willingness to endure a small inconvenience in the interest of their safety and wellbeing.
Additionally, ministry leaders may choose to require masks for their Sabbath School classes or other ministry activities.
We do not recommend wearing gloves. Gloves help protect against cross-contamination, but to be effective they must be changed every time the wearer touches something. If they are not used properly, gloves can actually increase the risk of contamination, since they may give people a false sense of security, and people likely will not sanitize them after touching something. It is best to simply wash and sanitize your hands frequently.
Drinking fountains will be closed. Please bring your own water bottle to church. (The church may keep a supply of water bottles on hand for those who may need them.)
Church Entry Protocols
As far as possible, entry and exit doors will be propped open so that participants do not have to touch them.
All participants will be required to sanitize hands upon entering the church building. Multiple hand sanitizing stations will be set up to accommodate this.
To avoid putting participants in close proximity to one another, separate entrance and exit pathways will be established. (These pathways will be clearly marked with signage.) Deacons will assist with seating arrangements to accommodate family units while still maintaining social distance.
Usage of Bathrooms
To avoid overcrowding, we must limit the number of people in the bathrooms at the same time. Deacons and deaconesses will assist with monitoring the flow of traffic to the bathrooms.
All participants will be required to wash hands after using the bathroom and will also be required to sanitize hands upon exiting the bathroom.
At the end of the worship service, deacons will dismiss participants by row, starting at the back and working their way forward.
The church will be thoroughly cleaned after each use. Cleaning staff currently clean the church three times a week, taking care to disinfect high contact points such as doorknobs, light switches, chairs, and bathroom fixtures.
Ministry leaders who plan activities or events that are not on our church campus should follow all relevant county, state, or national guidelines, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and group size restrictions.
To bring clarity to our pandemic procedures and policies, the following system of stages will be used to determine what precautions we will take in various situations. The church pastors will determine the current stage in which we will operate.
Worship services, Sabbath Schools, and ministries of the church are open and functioning according to the guidelines set forth in this document. There are no known positive cases of COVID-19 among members who have been attending church events.
Worship services and Sabbath Schools remain open, but other ministries are suspended. An increasing number of cases in our county and/or the recommendation of local, state, or national public health officials may trigger this stage.
The church building is closed. Outdoor worship services and Sabbath Schools may be conducted. This stage is triggered when someone who has attended a church event has tested positive for COVID-19. To reduce the risk of community spread among our church members, indoor services and activities will be suspended for two weeks. The recommendation of local, state, or national public health officials may also trigger this stage.
If there are indications that COVID-19 is spreading among church members due to exposure at church events, all in-person services and activities will be suspended; online services will be conducted instead. This stage may also be triggered if local, state, or national public health officials issue a shelter-at-home order to reduce the risk of community spread.
We continue to pray that this difficult season will be shortened. We also pray for all those who have been affected by this pandemic: for those who are sick and dying in isolation from their loved ones, for the families who have lost someone precious to them, for those who have lost employment, for the doctors, nurses, first responders, other healthcare workers, and essential employees who face even higher risk as they work to save lives and provide for the needs of our communities, for the researchers and scientists working to find treatment and a vaccine for this virus, and for others whose lives have been upended in this time of crisis.
As we think about the sacrifices that so many are making to keep us safe, particularly those of our healthcare workers, the precautions we are taking to limit the spread of illness seem like a small price to pay. 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that “love is patient” and “is not self-seeking,” but rather “it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Let us follow these precautions in the spirit of loving and protecting others, and in the hope that this crisis will soon pass, and we will be able to once again share handshakes, hugs, and fellowship meals with our beloved church family.
May God protect and bless each one of us, and may He use this opportunity to remind us of our heavenly home where there will never again be sickness or suffering or death. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
These guidelines are based on recommendations from public health authorities at the national, state, and local levels, in particular the document, “Guidance for Gathering Together in Houses of Worship,” from the Tennessee Governor’s Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/governorsoffice-documents/House%20of%20Worship%20Guidance%20FBCI.pdf).