FAQ: Reopening Guidelines
The following is a compilation of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) intended for churches in the Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church with regards to reopening. Click here for an overview of church reopening guidelines with a link to view an up-to-date comprehensive guide to help local churches understand when they can open and resume services.
Our church hosts a pre-school or day-care program during the school year. What guidelines should be followed for its reopening?
Because the circumstances surrounding the operation of pre-schools and day-cares vary, the conference can’t offer a universal set of guidelines. We advise churches review and adhere to state, school district and church guidelines with the aim of implementing the highest standards. We further advice churches consult closely with their local department of health
Can a church be sued if a person claims they got COVID-19 while attending a church function?
Pastors and church leaders are obliged to understand, affirm, and administer the statewide guidelines for offering religious and funeral services in our buildings (click here). Liability exposure results from negligence. A church, which has complied with the law to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, can demonstrate due diligence and compliance with statewide guidelines. Lawsuits are always possible, but our insurance provides coverage to our churches and church leaders, including pastors, undertaking their roles.
New York State has recently authorized resuming limited in-person gatherings in church buildings across the state, provided certain mandatory minimum safety requirements are met. Where can churches find a template for religious and funeral services to make sure they are compliance with NYS guidelines?
New York State is requiring places of employment, including churches, to have employees self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before entering the workplace each time. Is there a template available to help me come up with a screening questionaire?
Yes. Click the following links for a copy of the church health screening questionaire. All staff members are required by NYS to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to work each day.
I missed the June 2 webinar hosted by the Upper New York Conference Reopening Taskforce. Is there a way to see what I missed or review or the material again?
Are there signs and resources available to share with regards to handwashing, cleaning, and how to properly wear a face mask?
Yes, the CDC has provided several resources. Click the following links:
- Clean Hands Keep You Healthy
- Keep Calm Wash Your Hands
- Face Covering
- Slow the Spread by Wearing a Mask
- Deep Cleaning
- Closed for Cleaning
CDC Resources (brochures, signs, videos):
Will contact tracing be required by churches who reopen?
Currently, there is no requirement for churches to initiate their own contact tracing program. In the event an attendee tests positive or was in contact with someone who tested positive, local authorities will reach out to the church to initiate contact tracing. At that time, it will be important to have current contact information for members and regular attendees as well as a way for the church to quickly share information.
How do we have people safely enter and exit a building?
We suggest, if possible, to have a separate entrance and exit to your building and maybe have people or families to enter and exit one-at-a-time with 6-feet distances taped off.
When and how do we hold weddings in our sanctuaries?
As of June 25, 2020, the New York State Governor’s Office is allowing gatherings of up to 50 and religious organizations to operate at 33% capacity of inside seating capacity with social distancing and wearing masks. Outside gatherings should follow the 6 feet social distancing guidelines. Larger gatherings will not likely be allowed until New York State enters phase-4 of the reopening process.
When and how do we hold funerals in our sanctuaries?
We recommend that churches follow the New York State Department of Health (the Department) Bureau of Funeral Directing for guidelines related to funerals, which can be found here.
Does a church have the authority to NOT reopen even when its county Department of Health permits?
Yes, Upper New York churches can wait to reopen until they are comfortable doing so.
How do we properly clean restrooms?
The CDC has a webpage that specifically outlines how various surfaces should be cleaned and how often. Visit this page for specific recommendations.
After checking the counties’ Department of Health, where can we find the information regarding how many people will be allowed to gather (in worship, for small groups, etc.)?
Visit this news item on the Conference website and scroll down to the bottom where you can access the .pdf document about reopening guidelines. Any time Governor Cuomo has an update related to churches, this document will be updated.
Can there be pastoral visits with social distancing, the wearing of mask, held at a parishioner’s home outside in the yard?
Although visiting by video conference or phone remains the safest way to make a pastoral visit, home visitation in an outside space is possible provided all persons involved – pastoral visitor(s), the person visited and any family or caregivers present - wear masks and practice strict social distancing. Time spent visiting should also be limited and persons should not come into physical contact with one another. Visiting inside the homes of parishioners is not recommended currently due to deep cleaning need (before and after the visit) as well as the increased risk of infection exposure in confined spaces.
For a drive-in worship service, what is the distance apart cars should be? If it is hot out (summer) how do you balance concerns about safety being in hot cars (with the windows closed) and the ability to hear the pastors when the cars are running with the air conditioner on against then need to keep people safe?
The first responsibility of churches gathering for drive-in worship remains the safety of all participants, including staff. If windows are to be down for the service (to eliminate the need for AC and facilitate better acoustics), cars will still need to be properly distanced from one another to ensure no passengers in different cars are at least 6 feet from one another. Careful planning and on-site direction are essential.
How many people can attend a drive-inn worship?
In addition, any drive-in or remote religious service may continue in excess of the ten person limit so long as there is no in-person contact between participants. Faith leaders should continue to consider and use alternative forms of worship, replacing in-person gatherings with virtual services, such as phone or conference calls, videoconference calls, or online streaming, wherever possible, and congregations of groups for religious service or ceremony in excess of ten in-person participants remain prohibited.
Is the Conference mandating that we not return to in-person worship until phase 4?
There is no mandate from the Conference on when you return to worship. The first responsibility of churches gathering for any reasons remains the safety of all participants, including staff. The current guidelines (6/25/20) issued by the Governor’s office allow in-person worship to resume up to 50 people and religious gatherings to operate at 33% capacity as long as masks are worn, gathering spaces and restrooms are cleaned before and after gathering, and strict social distancing is maintained. Since there’s no definitive way to measure outside capacity, please follow the 6 feet social distancing recommendations.
My church is used as a polling place during an election. Should we allow the space to be used for an upcoming election?
Voting, like blood drives, are essential services. The pastor needs to verify with County Board of Elections that the primary will be conducted following all the relevant COVID-19 guidelines. They should get a written copy of these guidelines and confirm they meet state regulations. At that point, it would be the church’s decision whether or not to allow the facility to be used as a polling place.