Yesterday, Governor Brian Kemp issued a handout with answers to frequently asked questions about his latest executive action that took place on Monday, April 20. In the question and answer document, the governor covers a number of subjects that would be of interest to most people. He gives guidance on a number of areas such as businesses, healthcare facilities, and best practices for religious services.
At the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, we continue to get many questions regarding how Governor Kemp’s executive order applies to places of worship. As has been stated from the start of the virus response, Governor Kemp’s emergency orders did not band “person to person” meetings in churches. However, the governor did issue 20 rules that had to be maintained once he issued his Shelter-in-Place order. Those rules gave the basic understanding of what social distancing and safe environments are to look like in a practical way.
Since the governor announced the first phase of reopening the state, he has continued to recommend that churches use online services and drive-in church rather than person-to-person meetings. However, today’s guidelines are for the purpose of showing how strict social distancing protocols should be maintained if a church chooses to begin person-to-person worship services again.
The governor recommends that congregations should take into account the size of the room that they will be meeting in and the number of people who may be attending. This knowledge must be taken into consideration in order to maintain the 6-foot-distance requirements in social distancing. You will also note in the list below that “family members and cohabitating individuals are allowed to sit together.”
Bear in mind that what the governor gives by way of guidance does not cover every scenario. The recommendations are for the purpose of giving direction and counsel. Each church will need to take into account what the specific needs are and the resources that they have available in their environment.
Here is the governor’s list of the best practices for religious services:
• Online, call-in, or drive-in services remain the best options to mitigate potential exposure to coronavirus.
• Do not attend religious services if you are not feeling well, have a fever, or have had direct contact with someone who likely has or is confirmed to have COVID-19.
• Throughout the service, maintain at least six feet between the person in front of you, behind you, and each side of you.
• Family members and cohabitating individuals are allowed to sit together.
• Please wear a face mask or cloth covering to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
• Depending on the size of the congregation, additional services may be necessary to achieve at least six feet between non-cohabitating members.
• When members arrive, they should immediately be seated, and once a service ends, rows should be emptied sequentially with everyone immediately going to their vehicles.
• Refrain from using items touched by multiple people unless you can sanitize after each use. For example, in lieu of offering plates, consider using a drop box.
• If you closed nurseries, childcare, Sunday School classes, or related functions, strongly consider keeping them closed for the foreseeable future.
• Medically fragile and elderly Georgians should continue to shelter in place and utilize remote services instead of in-person services.
• Strongly consider cancelling choir and choir practice to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Governor Kemp has worked hard from day one to make sure that – while keeping our health and safety secure – he has also respected and maintained the rights related to our religious freedom. Therefore, please take these guidelines seriously as you consider opening back up your buildings for public ministry and worship services.
Continue to keep him in our prayers and respect these reasonable guidelines. Also, check out this link for more instruction and ideas.
I might also add in closing that after the governor issued his handout on guidance, he issued that afternoon (April 23) another Executive Order that will go into effect May 1. This order is an extension of the previous shelter in place order that goes out on April 30. It contains all the changes related to the Phase 1 Reentry Order and new guidance going forward until May 13, when the original Emergency Order deadline is up. There are no changes regarding what churches can and cannot do.
There’s no doubt that in God’s timing we will get back to enjoying those days of corporate worship and ministry as soon as possible. Until then, let’s cooperate with our state leadership and press on for the sake of the gospel.