Churches today are operating in a new age as the COVID-19 pandemic remains a major concern for The Bahamas and many other societies.
While churches have faced extended periods when in-person worship services were prohibited, churches are now free to hold in-person gatherings once again, but must do so in line with certain health protocols aimed at reducing the risk of the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Specifically, churches are asked by the competent authority to adhere to reopening guidelines as set out by the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) — though the BCC characterizes them as “recommendations”.
The BCC said the new guidelines seek to provide a safe environment for attendees to return to churches, post-COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.
These guidelines do not intend to infringe upon the right and customs of the churches’ worship traditions and faith but seek to provide recommendations based upon globally accepted best practices and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Christian Council also said.
The new guidelines are “recommended” for all church activities including church services, funerals, weddings, seminars, conferences, youth meetings or any such assembling of people within the facility inclusive of activities not organized by the church, it added.
The guidelines cover every aspect of the worship experience:
1. Practice proper hand cleansing & hygiene
It should be noted that all bathroom facilities with hand washing stations should be operable and hence, hand sanitizer dispensers, with at least 60 percent alcohol, are deemed as an accompaniment to them. To this end, it is recommended that there should be one hand sanitizer dispenser for every 100 attendees. Hand sanitizer dispensers should be strategically positioned in key locations such as facility and sanctuary entrances/exits as well as food serving areas.
2. Pre-arrange church seating
To maintain safe social distancing, it is recommended that church occupancy should be no more than 33 percent of seating capacity. For example, if church seating capacity is 100 seats, then no more than 33 attendees should be permitted in the sanctuary, choir loft or meeting room, whether the room is allocated for adults or children.
Should same household family members choose to sit together, the overall seating capacity is still governed by the 33 percent recommendation.
To this end, whether individual chairs, church pews or theater seating is used, it is suggested that chairs to be occupied, be identified in advance of church events or activities.
3. Floor markings
To maintain safe social distancing, floor markers may be placed on the ground/floor or walkways and signs on walls at least six feet apart at the entrance of the facility/sanctuary where it has been designated for attendees to wait before being seated.
Guides for creating “one-way routes” in hallways with signs are recommended.
4. Facility disinfection
It is recommended that adequate time should be allotted to ensure that the sanctuary is disinfected between each church service, especially frequently touched surfaces.
Please ensure the safe and correct application of disinfectants and keep them away from children. Cleaning products should not be used near children, and staff should ensure that there is adequate ventilation when using these products to prevent children or themselves from inhaling toxic fumes.
Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly, and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, etc.
Do not open windows and doors if they pose a safety risk to children using the facility.
If your faith community offers multiple services, it is recommended scheduling services far enough apart to allow time for cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces between services.
Take steps to ensure that all water systems and features (for example, drinking fountains, decorative fountains, baptistries) are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other diseases associated with water.
WORSHIP SERVICE PRACTICES
1. Wearing cloth face coverings
It is advised that all attendees wear a face covering during the church service. Congregational singing or loud talking should not occur continuously for longer than 15 minutes at a time.
Persons seated on the platform should also wear face coverings at all times except when actively speaking from a microphone.
Please note: cloth face coverings should not be placed on children younger than two years old, anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, and anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance.
2. Maintaining physical distance
It is recommended that persons seated on the platform should maintain a safe physical distance from others.
Singers such as praise teams, choirs and/or ensembles should be separated in a horizontal line at least six feet apart while standing to minister in song. If more than one line is required, the singers should be placed at a staggered interval behind the second line and at least six feet between both lines.
Wind instrument players should sit in an isolated area at least six feet from any other person. All other musicians (organists, pianists, keyboardists, guitarists, base players, drummers, etc.) should wear masks at all times and practice good hand hygiene.
3. No social contact
It is recommended that attendees do not engage in physical contact (e.g. shaking hands, hugging or kissing) with each other before, during or after the church service.
Consistent with the community’s faith tradition, it is recommended that churches temporarily limit the sharing of frequently touched objects, such as but not limited to, prayer books, hymnals and bulletins, while encouraging congregants to bring their own such items.
Stationary collection boxes or electronic methods of collecting regular financial contributions instead of shared collection baskets is recommended.
If food is offered at any event, pre-packaged options are recommended, and buffet or family-style meals should be avoided.
4. Elderly and at-risk health
Those who are elderly, particularly with comorbidities, as well as at-risk health individuals, are advised to remain at home.
5. Quarantined/isolated individuals
Quarantined and isolated individuals must remain in quarantine until such time as they have been approved by health officials to end their period of isolation.
Care should be given to ensure that all volunteers are in good health in order to serve. Where applicable, volunteer deployment should be reduced to maintain proper social distancing.
Frontline volunteers, such as ushers and greeters, should wear face masks and gloves while performing their functions. Hands should be washed after disposing of gloves and face masks with strict adherence to hand hygiene protocols.
Ministers administering or handling sacrament and individuals involved in counting money are required to also wear face masks and gloves. Hands should be washed after disposing of gloves and face masks with strict adherence to hand hygiene protocols.
All church staff, volunteers and attendees are encouraged to follow proper hygiene, inclusive of washing hands for at least 20 seconds.
7. Facility consecration
The church facility and sanctuary should be consecrated by asking God’s protection and healing of attendees and deliverance of the nation.
These guidelines are intended to provide practical protocols to ensure that churches in The Bahamas are maintaining healthy practices. Additionally, all church participants and attendees are required to exercise due care in the course of church attendance.