Reopening Our Churches

17 June 2020

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.

Larry Benfield
Bishop of Arkansas