How to Write a Church Reopening Plan in 68 Easy Steps

  1. Close your eyes and pray.
  2. Take a deep breath and offer your life and ministry up to God. Ask for guidance, wisdom, and grace as you attempt to lead your community through a faithful response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Consider both the short-term health of your individual church members and the long-term health of the church.
  4. Consult your state, local, and denominational reopening guidelines.
  5. Shit, these guidelines are all different. Which ones are you supposed to follow?
  6. Probably the most conservative ones, right?
  7. But wait, those guidelines are by definition overly broad. Maybe you’re being too cautious. There have been a lot of coronavirus cases in your state, but not that many in your region.
  8. Yet.
  9. Why do these denominational guidelines say you’ll be receiving more information in June when it’s already August?
  10. Hang on, you’re looking at the wrong PDF. This is version 1. Your regional judicatory is now on version 6.
  11. Check your email to see if version 7 has come out yet.
  12. There’s no version 7, but you do have a new email from a parishioner who would like to see you. After a lifetime of struggling with alcohol, she was finally getting her drinking under control when the pandemic hit. Now she’s drinking to the point of blackout every night and feeling very scared. She would consider inpatient rehab, but she’s in her 60s and afraid of contracting COVID-19.
  13. Reply to her and offer to meet with her next Thursday.
  14. Recall that this parishioner is confused and overwhelmed by Zoom. Suggest that you meet outdoors, in the park across the street from your church building, where you will sit six feet apart from each other while shouting over the noise from the busy street, your voices muffled by masks.
  15. Briefly anticipate yourself squinting through your foggy glasses, sweat trickling down your temples, as you lean forward and repeat: “I SAID, SO YOU MENTIONED BEFORE THAT YOU STARTED DRINKING AS A WAY TO COPE WITH TRAUMATIC FLASHBACKS FROM THE ABUSE YOU EXPERIENCED AS A CHILD?”
  16. Close your eyes and pray.
  17. Okay, back to the reopening plan.
  18. Review your notes from the last Zoom meeting of the reopening committee. Two members feel strongly that the church should reopen its building for worship, two members feel strongly that the church should keep worship exclusively online, and two members missed the meeting because they logged into Google Meet instead of Zoom.
  19. Recall that all six members are in agreement about one thing and one thing only: Ultimately, the final decision and its consequences belong to you.
  20. Check your email to see if you’ve heard anything new from the reopening committee.
  21. There’s nothing from them, but you do have a new email from another one of your parishioners with a link to that month-old New York Times article about coronavirus transmission in churches. The subject line is “Have you seen this yet??????”
  22. Reply to him with a complete sentence, not just the word “Yes.”
  23. Re-read the article in spite of yourself.
  24. Gosh, it’s pretty bad.
  25. Close your eyes and pray.
  26. Think about Frances. Frances is a 96-year-old woman who has been attending your parish since she was baptized there as a baby. She has no home Internet access, so she hasn’t been able to participate in online worship. Every time you talk to her on the phone, she tells you tearfully that she’s been a faithful churchgoer every Sunday of her life, and she never thought she would go so long without darkening the door of a church.
  27. Think about how, frankly, you never thought you would either.
  28. Think about how you would very much like to live long enough to do Frances’ funeral.
  29. Think about Esther. Esther is a 6-year-old girl who has been attending your parish since she was baptized there as a baby. Every time you talk to her on the phone, she tells you with quivering resolve that she misses church and Sunday school “so, so, so, so much.” Her mom and dad helped her mail you a picture she drew of your family and her family having a picnic together at church. It is labeled PICNIC HAPPY. You put it on your fridge.
  30. Think about how you know first-graders named Esther, Vivian, Hazel, and Ruby.
  31. Calculate how long it takes old-lady names to become baby-girl names again.
  32. Think about how it would feel to do Esther’s funeral.
  33. Close your eyes and pray.
  34. No, for real now, you need to get to work on this reopening plan.
  35. Jiggle your key in the lock to let yourself into the sanctuary. It will take you a minute to get the door open.
  36. Remember that you used to do this key jiggle flawlessly, without even noticing, back when you were in the church every day.
  37. Inventory your supplies. You have 500 disposable masks, 6 gallon jugs of hand sanitizer (you wanted those touchless dispenser things but couldn’t find anywhere to buy them), and 30 rolls of blue tape.
  38. Is it even smart to be messing around in your sanctuary with the blue tape? Should you just be holding services outside in the noisy public park?
  39. Wait, speaking of noise, you need to do a microphone check. Turn on the sound system, tighten your mask, and recite your favorite psalm into the pulpit mic.
  40. Pretty good. As long as you have no parishioners who depend on seeing your entire face to help them understand your words, and as long as you are careful not to say any words ending in “t,” people should be able to hear you just fine.
  41. Back to the matter at hand. First, you need to figure out your newly reduced seating capacity, based on safety guidelines and the size of your worship space.
  42. You know what would be really helpful here? A tape measure.
  43. Leave all your rolls of blue tape piled on the altar and wander away to go look for one.
  44. Return to the altar 40 minutes later, defeated. There is no tape measure to be found anywhere in this church.
  45. Oh well, you’re 5’3″, so if you can lie down between two seats with a decent amount of head room, that’s about six feet, right?
  46. Remember your former bishop’s admonition never to set your pen or coffee cup on the altar because “the altar is reserved for that which you are offering up to God.”
  47. Touch the altar. Think about how long it has been since you received the Eucharist.
  48. Gaze heavenward and say aloud, “Look, all I have to offer you right now is myself and this fucking blue tape.”
  49. Close your eyes and pray.
  50. Go back to your state, local, and denominational guidelines about seating capacity. Based on the guidelines, determine that your new capacity is either 35 or 50 or 124.
  51. Probably best to go with the most conservative figure, right?
  52. Get to work taping out 35 seats for worshipers.
  53. Wait, you and the organist have your own seats. Do you count as part of the 35?
  54. Probably best to assume yes, right?
  55. Get to work taping out 33 seats for worshipers.
  56. Under your breath, start singing one of your favorite hymns from childhood: “Be not afraid; I walk before you always …”
  57. Abruptly remember that you’re not allowed to sing.
  58. Pull out your phone and check your email to see if your music director has had any epiphanies about participatory worship music with no singing.
  59. There’s nothing from him, but you do have a new email from the sexton. All the basement flooding from heavy rains this summer has led to black mold in the third-grade Sunday school room. He just wanted to let you know.
  60. Size up the X of blue tape you have laid out to demarcate the seats in the fourth pew. That’s about six feet, right?
  61. Crawl under the X. Lie down on the pew and line up your feet with one end of it. Reach up above your head. Yup, seems fine.
  62. Look up at the ceiling. Watch the light filter in through the stained-glass windows. Look at the particles of dust dancing in the air, captured by each ray of sun.
  63. Think about how much easier all this would be if COVID-19 particles were visible to the naked eye, like dust.
  64. Take a deep breath. Breathe in the stale, holy air of this space.
  65. Breathe in all the prayers and hopes and dreams that people have brought here over the generations.
  66. Breathe in the Holy Spirit.
  67. Remember that the Holy Spirit is everywhere.
  68. Close your eyes and pray.

5 thoughts on “How to Write a Church Reopening Plan in 68 Easy Steps

  1. I laughed, full on, with rolling belly, by step 6. I was weeping with awe at step 63. I can only offer my prayers on your altar for your resolve to be that light for others. May God continue to bless you with that which makes human holy: humility, joy, love, and humor, in equal measure.


    1. I will take all the prayers I can get! Your blessing means the world to me. May God grant you all the same and more during these uncertain times.


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