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
Nov. 18, 2020
An Update on Worship During the Pandemic
The governor of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Health have issued revised guidance for worship as we enter the holiday period, with the goal of attempting to control the spread of the coronavirus. The governor’s latest guidance recommends that churches not use a choir, but instead use a soloist who stands at least twelve feet from anyone else. Additionally, the use of wind instruments is not recommended. Masking of the entire congregation is strongly recommended.
The governor’s original directive is consistent with the recommendations I have previously offered. Both the governor’s guidance and my recommendations relate to worship. Other meetings, such as those for staff, vestry, or visits with parishioners, need to follow safety guidelines that include masking, social distancing, and the best ventilation possible in spaces as large as possible. In any case, shorter meetings are preferable to longer meetings.
The diocesan recommendations for when to worship are as follows:
- Indoor, in-person worship appears to be an acceptable risk in your county if the seven-day average of active cases is less than 14 per 10,000.
- Outdoor, in-person worship appears to be an acceptable risk in your county if the seven-day average of active cases is less than 35 per 10,000.
This office calculates the average active cases based on daily updates of active cases from the state of Arkansas. The levels of 14 and 35 are calculate to be consistent with similar “new case” cut-off levels as presented by covidactnow.com, a resource used by a number of dioceses and other entities.
The diocesan requirements for how to do in-person worship, whether indoors or outdoors, are as follows:
- Hand sanitizer is available for everyone to use.
- When worship services are indoors, as many doors and windows as possible are kept open.
- Everyone needs to be masked during the service. The only exception is when people are actually receiving Holy Communion. People who are speaking may remove their masks while speaking, provided they are at least twelve feet from other people.
- Everyone needs to be socially distanced, which includes each household being at least six feet from any other household, and each person with a speaking part being at least twelve feet from other participants when speaking.
- There is no congregational singing.
Bishop of Arkansas
- 9/23 Update from Bishop Benfield (“Latest Recommendations for In-Person Meetings”)
- 8/12 Update from Bishop Benfield (“New Recommendation on When to Consider In-Person Worship”)
- 7/29 Update from Bishop Benfield (“Responding Creatively”)
- 6/17 Update from Bishop Benfield (“Reopening Our Churches”)
- 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?”)
Active Covid Cases by County
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.
Congregations in counties with 14 or fewer active cases per 10,000 individuals might want to consider indoor, in-person gatherings if the congregational leadership feels confident that doing so is acceptable from a risk standpoint. Congregations in counties with more than 14 active cases per 10,000 individuals might want to consider holding gatherings online or outdoors with limited attendance. No matter whether you meet indoors or outdoors, stay masked, stay at least six feet from other people, and never allow a gathering to turn into a crowd. Note that if the rate is above 35, your county is extremely risky for virus transmission and online-only gatherings are recommended.
(click for graph)
|CHURCH LOCATION||ACTIVE CASES PER 10,000*|
|Garland||Hot Springs, HSV||64.4|
|St. Francis||Forrest City||72.3|
* As a seven-day rolling average.
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].