I am not certain how long COVID-19 will remain virulent among us, but I am certain that as Christians, the second Great Commandment should undergird the responses we make: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Latest from Bishop Benfield
17 June 2020
Reopening Our Churches
Sunday I made my first visit to a congregation since the pandemic began. It was to St. Peter’s Church in Tollville, where the congregation has done great job getting the church ready for in-person worship. On Monday I sent guidelines to congregational leaders across the diocese about how we reopen churches for in-person gatherings, for both worship and other meetings.
The guidelines ask you to look at the number of active cases in your county (below) and make a decision on whether or not you think the risk is acceptable to begin gathering again. In counties where there is currently a large number of cases relative to your population (noted in red on the chart), the congregations need to continue to meet online.
In counties with a smaller number of cases relative to population, if you decide to gather in person, how you gather needs to reflect what we now know about the virus: The spread of Covid-19 is primarily respiratory driven and seems to have some correlation with the size of the group, the length of time the group is gathered, the use of social distancing and face coverings, whether or not the group is indoors or outdoors, and the willingness of people with symptoms not to participate in person.
Two issues remain to be worked out: when to restart congregational singing and when to resume distributing Holy Communion. As soon as I have some answers, I will share them with local leaders.
Please remember that if there is a substantial surge in cases across the state, we may need to return to online gatherings. I want to thank all of you for your patience so far—and for your continued patience in the coming weeks and months as we find new ways to worship during this pandemic. Your support of your local congregations and your continued focus on helping others through this trying time mean a great deal.
Bishop of Arkansas
- 5/4 Update from Bishop Benfield (“Our Approach to Regathering”)
- 4/22 Update from Bishop Benfield (“Looking Forward”)
- 4/1 Update from Bishop Benfield (“Holy Week and Easter in the Time of COVID-19”)
- 3/25 Update from Bishop Benfield (“Thanks you for Being the Church”)
- 3/17 Update from Bishop Benfield (“How to Love Your Neighbor During a Pandemic”)
- 3/13 Update from Bishop Benfield (“All Congregations Urged Not to Meet”)
- 3/12 Update from Bishop Benfield (“Churches in Three Counties Encouraged to Close”)
- 3/11 Update from Bishop Benfield (“What to Expect in Church on Sunday”)
- 3/4 Letter from Bishop Benfield (“Living Faithfully in a World of Pandemics”)
- 3/2 Notice (“Concerned About Coronavirus and Your Congregation?”)
Worship Guidelines by County
Congregations that are in counties with 10 or fewer active cases per 10,000 individuals, as listed below, should consider in-person gatherings if the congregational leadership feels confident that doing so is acceptable from a risk standpoint.
The use of active cases per 10,000 individuals as a standard is based on the likelihood of encountering a currently contagious person in the county in which the congregation is located.
The data below represent the present active cases per county as of July 7 and applicable to worship taking place July 7–14, 2020.
|County||Church location||Present active cases||ACTIVE CASES PER 10,000|
|Garland||Hot Springs, HSV||75||7.7|
|St. Francis||Forrest City||33||12.1|
Online Worship Services
CDC and State Resouces
- CDC unpublished guide to assist leaders of faith communities. [PDF]
- Arkansas Department of Health’s Covid-19 Guidance for Faith-Based Organizations [web page].