+Bishop Jon V. Anderson
The short answer is that we need to go slow moving forward. As we make decisions, personally and communally, we need to do what will protect and love our neighbors. That is how we love our neighbor in response to God’s love.
I woke up this morning with this text in my mind from Philippians. I went to bed thinking about the decisions ahead. As the baptized, congregational leaders and rostered leaders in the coming days move out of this #StayatHome phase the stakes are high. I heard the Bible passage’s words as both law, what God expects, but more so as Gospel. As God’s people, God promises to be with us and empower us to make choices that will serve the Gospel, build up the body of Christ and love our neighbors.
27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,- Philippians 1
Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. – Philippians 2
Many across our synod are afraid. Some are losing loved ones or experiencing illness. Some are having their economic lives damaged. All of us have had our lives turned upside down. We lament it all, even the smaller losses people are experiencing of missing what was normal.
We all still have the capacity to offer to God our stewardship of our communities and personal life. We will not get all the decisions right, but we are called to work for the best possible future and outcomes as we live into the coming days of uncertainty.
One path forward is denial. It is human nature to keep hoping that “things will get back to normal.” But after spending multiple days reading everything I can find that might be helpful to our synod, congregations, institutions and to you as the baptized, it becomes clearer. We will be living with this virus for the foreseeable future. There is no escaping this slow moving pandemic disaster that will impact almost every sector of our life for months, if not years, ahead. We will see how interconnected our lives are for ill and for good.
When you read through the Center for Disease Control and White House phased approach document called, Guidelines for Opening Up America Again. (www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica– Click on English to get a pdf that is a more easily read than the web site.) You realize in the coming days we will return to something that is a little bit like normal. When we get to the point that we know that level of normal is not releasing the pandemic’s greatest dangers and move to Phase 2, then we will take another baby step to something that looks a little bit more like normal but is still far from the life we have known. This will be true for us as people, businesses and congregations.
For congregations and our people, my best wisdom as of today is that we continue to use the wisdom of physical distancing, washing hands and now add the use of facemasks. Digital, radio or low tech forms of worship and ministry like cards and phone calls need to be our primary tools of ministry into the coming month and likely months. Funerals and weddings can happen with groups under ten and the rest of the family, friends and community can attend in video forms. We will begin to do deeper thinking about how to return to face-to-face gatherings so we can do that as well as possible with task forces gaming out scenarios and deepening our capacity for when the moment of allowing ten, or twenty-five or fifty people to gather comes again.
We canceled our synod assembly because there will not be a return to large groups of people gathering safely in the coming months, until there is a vaccine. If our gatherings are under ten people, people who have symptoms/fever or been in recent contact with someone who is infected will need to quarantine.
People will have to sit six feet apart at a minimum, wear facemasks to protect our neighbors, ask at risk people (pre-existing conditions and plus 60) and pastors to participate and lead digital forms of worship and ministry.
We are a long way from “getting back to normal.” In fact, for the coming months, this will be our new normal. I want to urge caution about outside worship services or drive in services. We will have a little more freedom in the coming days, but with the freedom also comes personal and communal responsibility. I don’t know what the new normal will look like, but I suspect we will all be transformed in this experience, including how we do ministry.
This is an image of where our rostered and lay ministers said pinches were developing in their congregations. It is not surprising, but it is helpful to see the places we need to do proactive work with rostered and lay leaders working together. You may want to talk to each other if you are not already.
There is a state survey for religious leaders that I have shared with our pastors in a direct email. I encouraged pastors to do the survey with their congregational president. The survey talked about all the ways that congregations might move to protect their people, guests, staff and community. I found it helpful to think about all the steps we need to take before opening our office somewhere in the future or before we start having people gather for worship even in small groups. I found myself thinking about how we will have to shift our ways of doing things and create new norms in order to be safe as we wait for the vaccine for the virus (9-18 months most argue but in history such speed in development has not yet been possible) or dramatic new treatments that reduce the risk.
Because some states abruptly changed their stance about what can happen last week, we have encouraged congregations, pastors, lay ministers and councils to think about what they will do and also their principles as we enter into the coming phased approach giving people more freedom to return to work and businesses and their personal life. Our guidance continues to be take it slow moving forward. I would ask that you carefully think through how you will love and protect people who participate in your ministry and serve as employees. It will take some time to read through the layers of current guidance from our state and nation. This will be nothing compared to the time you would spend if someone in your congregation became sick or died because of a lack of good effort to manage the risks in this disease. I have added on to this document what I found helpful as I read through these documents.
This image below shows the emotional journey through a disaster. The current disaster is a very slow moving crisis that will unfold over the months ahead. It will take years to work through our grief and losses. The losses will include people we love and experiences that we have taken for granted.
Based on my current reading we need to understand that we are in a marathon not a sprint. We need to prepare for our decisions about how we serve the Gospel and sustain our ministry to people and communities in this time. The economic damage will also be ongoing, so we will need to equip people to care for people in financial, mental and spiritual health crisis.
You will also need to do contingency planning for you congregation and we will help you with that in coming weeks. We need to think about how to sustain the lives of the congregations in this time. I also ask that you work to love and support your pastors, ministers and staff. We will need to love our neighbors who are experiencing economic losses with food and other forms of support in the days ahead as well.
Yesterday I went to the local Runnings store for things I needed in my garden and house. I was one of three people who were wearing a mask in a building with three dozen folks in it. I noticed people have mostly stopped looking at you like you are from Mars. The people with whom I was walking did not know that my spouse has a pre-existing conditions. I am more aware of my vulnerability given how this strange virus spreads without showing symptoms. When I got home I washed my hands and left what I had bought out in the hot sun for a few hours. I am aware of how easy it is for me to infect others in my work or trips to get food.
We need to pace ourselves. We have to be stewards of our well-being and our energy. We can take it slow and steady. We can make decisions for the coming month, reserving the right to change our mind if something dramatic changes for the better or the worse.
For now, your synod staff will be in their offices in their homes, with occasional presence at the synod office. I would recommend you look at that kind of option until you have carefully thought about and created signage and other ways of protecting one another. For example:
- Tape on floor – 6 feet
- Facemasks if people need to leave personal work space.
- Pay attention to door handles, coffee room space and sanitation and rest rooms
Jesus emptied himself of power to come and walk with us and proclaim the Good News. He was committed to being a healer in physical and spiritual ways. He challenged people to think anew about their traditions while focusing on loving God and their neighbors.
In this season, we can live in denial or we can choose to empty ourselves of our rights and do what will show love to our neighbors.
Addendum of Resources:
Social distancing and religious services.
Minnesota Department of Public Safety (04/03/2020)
Church services have been exempted as a permissible activity under the Governor Walz executive order #20-20. In accordance with the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines, we still recommend that people should not gather in groups of more than 10 and maintain social distancing while participating in the service.
Churches wishing to hold modified Social Distancing services should follow the following guidelines
- Six feet separation should be maintained between the celebrant and the worshipers.
- If the service is a “drive in service” car separation does not need to be spaced six feet apart even if the windows are open. The distance between someone in a car seat in one car relative to someone in another car seat would be sufficient just with the necessary distance between cars.
- Music should be over a sound system, shortwave radio, or livestream, and choirs are not suggested
- Porta potty or other outdoor bathroom facilities should be acquired and should be spaced for social distancing should the service be conducted in an outdoor sitting.
- Handwashing stations should be acquired and should be spaced for social distancing should the service be conducted in an outdoor sitting.
- Communion or other ceremonial proceedings in which items are shared among celebrants and worshipers if provided should be in individually wrapped packages and be available to be picked up and not hand delivered unless proper PPE is used. If in the case of a mobility impaired parishioner the pastor/leader/celebrant should be wearing gloves and face coverings when giving communion.
(4/14/2020) The Minnesota Department of Health has released guidance relevant to faith communities on how to safely perform essential or optional duties during the pandemic. These include:
- General guidance for faith-based communities (.PDF)
- Visiting people at home (.PDF)
- Services in Parking Lots (.PDF)
- Conducting funerals (.PDF)
Workplace “What workplaces can do to prepare for COVID-19, if the workplace has cases of COVID-19, or if the community is experiencing spread of COVID-19)”
Minimal to moderate:
- Encourage staff to telework (when feasible), particularly individuals at increased risk of severe illness.
- Implement social distancing measures:
- Increasing physical space between workers at the worksite
- Staggering work schedules
- Decreasing social contacts in the workplace (e.g., limit in-person meetings, meeting for lunch in a break room, etc.)
- Limit large work-related gatherings (e.g., staff meetings, after-work functions).
- Limit non-essential work travel.
- Consider regular health checks (e.g., temperature and respiratory symptom screening) of staff and visitors entering buildings (if feasible).
- Implement extended telework arrangements (when feasible).
- Ensure flexible leave policies for staff who need to stay home due to school/childcare dismissals.
- Cancel non-essential work travel.
- Cancel work-sponsored conferences, tradeshows, etc.
Community and faith-based organizations “What organizations can do to prepare for COVID-19, if the organizations has cases of COVID-19, or if the community is experiencing spread of COVID-19)”
Minimal to moderate:
- Implement social distancing measures:
- Reduce activities (e.g., group congregation, religious services), especially for organizations with individuals at increased risk of severe illness.
- Consider offering video/audio of events.
- Determine ways to continue providing support services to individuals at increased risk of severe disease (services, meals, checking in) while limiting group settings and exposures.
- Cancel large gatherings (e.g., >250 people, though threshold is at the discretion of the community) or move to smaller groupings.
- For organizations that serve high-risk populations, cancel gatherings of more than 10 people.
- Cancel community and faith-based gatherings of any size.
- Coordinate with local public health officials.
- Require staff, volunteers, and members to stay home if sick.
- Teach and reinforce everyday preventive actions.
- Clean and disinfect
- Communicate with staff, volunteers, and members regularly.
- Plan and monitor staff absenteeism.
If there is minimal or moderate spread (PDF) in the local community:
- Continue steps above and follow the directions of state and local authorities.
- Cancel or modify in-person group activities.
- Use multiple social (physical) distancing strategies.
- Develop ways to continue essential services.
- Consider the needs of those at higher-risk for severe illness and vulnerable groups.
If there is substantial spread (PDF) in the local community:
- Continue steps above and follow the directions of state and local authorities.
- Cancel all in-person group activities.
- Limit access of non-essential visitors to the facility.
If there is COVID-19 within your organization or facility:
- Activate your emergency plan and notify public health officials.
- Give any person who is sick a facemask and separate them from others until they can go home.
- Clean and disinfect the facility.
- Communicate with staff and members about possible exposure.
Social distancing, also called “physical distancing,” means keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your home. To practice social or physical distancing:
- Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people
- Do not gather in groups
- Stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings
In addition to everyday steps to prevent COVID-19, keeping space between you and others is one of the best tools we have to avoid being exposed to this virus and slowing its spread locally and across the country and world.
When COVID-19 is spreading in your area, everyone should limit close contact with individuals outside your household in indoor and outdoor spaces. Since people can spread the virus before they know they are sick, it is important to stay away from others when possible, even if you have no symptoms. Social distancing is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
Why practice social distancing?
COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet) for a prolonged period. Spread happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and droplets from their mouth or nose are launched into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs. Recent studies indicate that people who are infected but do not have symptoms likely also play a role in the spread of COVID-19.
It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. COVID-19 can live for hours or days on a surface, depending on factors such as sun light and humidity. Social distancing helps limit contact with infected people and contaminated surfaces.
Although the risk of severe illness may be different for everyone, anyone can get and spread COVID-19. Everyone has a role to play in slowing the spread and protecting themselves, their family, and their community.
Tips for social distancing
- Follow guidance from authorities where you live.
- If you need to shop for food or medicine at the grocery store or pharmacy, stay at least 6 feet away from others.
- Use mail-order for medications, if possible.
- Consider a grocery delivery service.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others, including when you have to go out in public, for example to the grocery store.
- Stay at least 6 feet between yourself and others, even when you wear a face covering.
- Avoid large and small gatherings in private places and public spaces, such a friend’s house, parks, restaurants, shops, or any other place. This advice applies to people of any age, including teens and younger adults. Children should not have in-person playdates while school is out. To help maintain social connections while social distancing, learn tips to keep children healthy while school’s out.
- Work from home when possible.
- If possible, avoid using any kind of public transportation, ridesharing, or taxis.
- If you are a student or parent, talk to your school about options for digital/distance learning.
Stay connected while staying away. It is very important to stay in touch with friends and family that don’t live in your home. Call, video chat, or stay connected using social media. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations and having to socially distance yourself from someone you love can be difficult. Read tips for stress and coping.
Older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.
Watch for symptoms
People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness.
These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
When to Seek Medical Attention
If you develop any of these emergency warning signs* for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.
Appendix A: Underlying medical conditions that may increase the risk of serious COVID-19 for individuals of any age.
- Blood disorders (e.g., sickle cell disease or on blood thinners)
- Chronic kidney disease as defined by your doctor. Patient has been told to avoid or reduce the dose of medications because kidney disease, or is under treatment for kidney disease, including receiving dialysis
- Chronic liver disease as defined by your doctor. (e.g., cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis) Patient has been told to avoid or reduce the dose of medications because liver disease or is under treatment for liver disease.
- Compromised immune system (immunosuppression) (e.g., seeing a doctor for cancer and treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation, received an organ or bone marrow transplant, taking high doses of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressant medications, HIV or AIDS)
- Current or recent pregnancy in the last two weeks
- Endocrine disorders (e.g., diabetes mellitus)
- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Lung disease including asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (chronic bronchitis or emphysema) or other chronic conditions associated with impaired lung function or that require home oxygen
- Neurological and neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury]
Interim Recommendations for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-1
Minnesota Department of Health
-Click here to read and download guidance as of 4/10/2020
Minnesota Department of Health
Practices that employers may need to implement include:
- Pre-screening of employee by employer for temperature measurement and the presence of any respiratory symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat), and subsequent exclusion from work if symptoms present.
- Regular employee self-monitoring under supervision of the employer’s occupational health program.
- Using face masks/cloth face coverings as a source control measure.
- Practicing diligent hand hygiene.
- Avoiding sharing items such as headsets, other equipment, food, and utensils.
- Maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet from others, including during break times; staggering break and meal times and preventing congregation.
- More frequent cleaning and disinfecting all workspaces including offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment, and commonly touched surfaces. Refer to CDC: Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019- ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html ) and CDC: Resources for Businesses and Employers (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019- ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html ). § Working with their facility maintenance personnel to increase air exchanges in rooms.
- Ensuring that employees immediately go home (or not report to work, if they become ill at home) if they develop respiratory symptoms or a subjective (feeling feverish) or measured temperature (≥100°F). § Following MDH recommendations that any employee with symptoms consistent with COVID19 should isolate themselves at home until:
- At least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared; AND
- At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since recovery, defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath).
Here is the language of the State of MN Public Safety Survey I have lifted up.
Although we are currently operating under an active Stay at Home order across the State of Minnesota, State Government leaders are in the process of thinking through what new “social distancing norms” should be once the Stay at Home order is eventually lifted (Should everyone keep wearing masks? How do we stay 6 feet away from each other in an elevator, etc.)?
Our main goals are to help Minnesotans stay safe & healthy while enabling more social and economic activity, but this is a bit more complicated than it sounds. This is why we need your help to get the design of these new norms right.
This survey is designed to identify trends across organizational categories rather than focusing on the views of one organization, so we will anonymize the results as much as possible by removing survey comments that identify specific people or organizations.
We’ve spread the survey questions across four pages to help the survey load faster for you. PLEASE share your thoughts on all the questions – we need your feedback.
- What high-level group does your organization best fit into?
- The organizational categories above are relatively general, so how would you describe your organization in your own words? (Grocery store, school, restaurant, church, bank, nonprofit, government agency, etc.)
I lead a synod of 240 congregations in Southwestern Minnesota (Bishop Jon Anderson)
- Which category does your organization fit in?
- Which option best describes the status of your organization?
We have effectively shut down all or most of our operations due to the COVID-19 situation
We have significantly cut back our operations
We have made some changes to our operations, but we haven’t cut back much
We are operating the same way we were before the COVID-19 situation
We have scaled up and/or expanded our operations
Other (please specify)
- How long do you believe your organization will be impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation?
Less than a month
2 to 3 months
4 to 6 months
7 to 12 months
More than a 1 year
I have no idea
N/A – It hasn’t impacted us
- Once the Stay at Home order has been lifted, what norms would you recommend for organizations like yours over the next 3 to 6 months as we all work to “flatten the curve”?
Rate these statements with DON’T recommend, SOMEWHAT recommend, STRONGLY recommend, N/A Doesn’t apply to us
Provide training for employees on why new norms matter and how to adhere to them
Provide training for customers on why new norms matter and how to adhere to them
Post signage to explain new norms & why they matter
Ask or require employees to stay 6 feet away from each other
Ask or require customers to stay 6 feet away from each other
Modify our locations to help employees and/or customers adhere to norms (Spread out tables, install plexiglass screens, mark ground at 6 feet to help people know where to stand line, eliminate need for people to touch the same surfaces, etc.)
Limit the amount of customers that can be in any one space at a time (Caps on total customers per SF, Meeting with customers only by appointment, etc.)
Staggering start times and/or break times
Find or invent some sort of technology to track or alarm when someone gets within 6 feet of someone else
Ask or require employees to wear face masks
Ask or require employees to wear gloves
Ask or require employees to wash hands at regular intervals
Provide hand sanitizer for employees and/or customers in all useful locations
Reducing hours to provide more time for cleaning
Install or improve air filtration and/or purification systems
Ask or require employees to complete temperature screenings one or more times during the day
Ask or require customers to complete temperature screenings before interacting with our staff
Minimize or eliminate face to face interactions with customers (Contactless curbside pickup, Contactless delivery, etc.)
Shift to delivering services remotely (By video, over the phone, etc.)
Minimize or eliminate in-person meetings
Minimize or eliminate travel
Ask or require employees not to ride in vehicles with others
Ramp up cleaning and disinfecting procedures
Ask or require employees to work remotely as much as possible
Ask or require customers to pay online or via apps to avoid touching their cash or credit cards
Ask or require customers to sign in or share their contact information in case we find out they were exposed to COVID-19 in one of our facilities
Ask or require employees to track who they interact with to support potential contact tracing
Ask or require employees to notify your organization and self-quarantine if showing any COVID-19 symptoms
Ask or require employees to notify your organization and self-quarantine if they have been in close contact (within 6 feet, etc.) with anyone showing any COVID-19 symptoms
Ensure that employees have sick leave benefits or something similar to increase the chances they will report feeling sick or being exposed to someone with COVID-19
Report any case with COVID-19 symptoms to health authorities
Keep employees fully informed regarding who within the organization has been exposed to COVID-19
Use incentives (rewards, penalties, etc.) to increase adherence to new norms
Stay closed until there is a vaccine or “herd immunity”
What else would you recommend? (Please share as many practices as you can – we’re looking for all the ideas we can get)