An Update on Worship During the Pandemic

Nov. 18, 2020

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.

Faithfully yours,

Larry Benfield
Bishop of Arkansas