UPDATED MAY 14, 2021
Changes to Masking and Social Distancing
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has updated their safety guidance to state, “…fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” You can read the detailed description at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html.
Please review local health guidelines as some counties and municipalities are continuing mask recommendations due to local conditions. Additionally, some church activities such as childcare, day camps, and food service may have additional safety requirements.
This means that fully vaccinated people will not need to wear a face mask or physically distance in most of our churches during worship services, gatherings, and meetings, including while speaking and singing. A fully vaccinated person is someone who is two weeks past receiving a full dose of vaccines (either both injections of the two-shot course of vaccination or the single-shot vaccination). Unvaccinated people will still need to wear masks in larger, multiple-household gatherings such as most church activities. Additionally, some fully vaccinated people may wish to continue to wear masks out of an abundance of caution or in solidarity with children and other people who are not able to be vaccinated.
Local church health safety teams will need to determine the most effective way to help keep their congregation safe under this updated guidance. These principles from the IGRC “Pressing On” COVID-19 safety document can be helpful for your local church decision-making:
- Vaccinations are relatively safe and effective. The United Methodist Church has a long history of supporting vaccines and other preventative healthcare to fight deadly diseases. The leaders of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference encourage all members of our churches to discuss receiving the COVID-19 vaccines with their primary healthcare provider and to receive the vaccine if appropriate.
- Churches should support and encourage the work of community and public health workers in distributing vaccines in an equitable and just manner. Local church leaders may want to contact their local public health officials to see how they can assist with hosting vaccination clinics, supporting public awareness efforts, or supporting at-risk populations with registrations and medical appointment-making. Before hosting any healthcare-related event, local churches should contact their insurance provider and follow their guidance.
- The IGRC recommends that churches should avoid creating special events, gatherings, or worship experiences only available to those who are already fully vaccinated. Our ministries are meant for all, and we need to be diligent in ensuring that an individual’s access to vaccination does not become a barrier for people’s full participation in the life of our churches.
- Churches may gather vaccination information by allowing for participants to voluntarily disclose whether they are fully vaccinated on the church reservation or sign-up log being kept for contract tracing. At no time should church leaders demand information about vaccination status (or any other protected health information), request vaccination cards be shown on admittance, or pressure participants in any way to show proof of vaccination. When in doubt our churches should continue to plan their gatherings as if participants are unvaccinated.
Church Guidance for Illinois Public Health Phases
Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church
The Restore Illinois plan provides for the State of Illinois to be divided into four public health regions, which will be assessed for risk of COVID-19 deaths based on five phases. This is a summary of the detailed guidance available for Illinois Great Rivers United Methodist Churches on applicable safety guidance for each phase.
Phase 1: RAPID SPREAD
- Churches should not gather for in person weekly worship
- Funerals and Weddings should be less than 10 people
- Church buildings closed, except for essential and minimum basic operations.
Phase 2: FLATTENING
- Same as Phase 1
- Churches may gather for Drive In worship services
Phase 3: RECOVERY
- Churches may gather for any purpose in groups of less than 10
- Churches may gather out of doors with proper distancing
- Children’s ministry programs should not be held
- Social distancing, face masks, and other precautions should be taken
- Churches should not practice group singing
- Church buildings may reopen to small groups, and all church staff and volunteers can return to using the building.
- People at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 should not gather in groups of any size.
Phase 4: REVITALIZATION
- Churches may gather for any purpose in groups of less than 50
- Churches, with larger rooms may gather indoor groups of up to 25% of the room capacity, but may not exceed 100 people in total. Beginning July 12, 2020, churches may exceed the 100 attendees limit at a limit of 25 percent of room capacity if they have a local church-approved comprehensive safety plan that outlines their procedures for appropriate social distancing, cleaning, contacct logging and education of the congregation
- Check to ensure insurance coverage is adequate for the local church-approved safety plan
- Children’s ministry programs may resume, cautiously.
- Continue social distancing practices and other precautions
Phase 5: ILLINOIS RESTORED
- Churches may gather in unlimited size groups for any purpose
- All public health safety guidance is lifted
- It is now safer for people of higher risk of dying from COVID-19 to gather
To read the entire document, use the download link below or select the menu item to the right, "Coming Back to the Heart of Worship" and its secondary pages underneath it.
Bishop Frank J. Beard