Curtis Brown, Director of Connectional Ministries, May 14, 2021
Update on Wearing Masks for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference
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/…/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:
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) 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.