March 16 — The Centers for Disease Control, in efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, recently recommended that large gatherings be canceled and that people age 60 and over avoid such gatherings — even services in churches.
While some churches offered services as usual yesterday, many provided online-only worship experiences, and others announced plans to do, at least until Palm Sunday on April 5.
However, the letter and spirit of the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control suggest that all but the smallest of small churches ought to close their doors until mid-May.
Here is the CDC’s latest recommendation, published Sunday, March 15:
“Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities. Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals.
“Therefore, CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”
They further recommend:
“Cancel gatherings of more than 10 people for organizations that serve higher-risk populations.”
Those “higher risk” populations include older adults and those with underlying illnesses, such as diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease, and heart trouble.
In an email sent today to subscribers, Rev. Lauri Boyd of Unity of Columbia (MO) explained why the church is closing until mid-May. She has generously agreed to share the contents of that email here, in service to other faith communities who may be deciding whether or how long to close their physical facilities.
Sunday Service via Zoom Meeting
Our leadership at Unity has been closely monitoring the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and our local, state and national government regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yesterday, March 15, 2020, the CDC came out with a new recommendation:
Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities. Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals.
Therefore, CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.
They further recommend,
Cancel gatherings of more than 10 people for organizations that serve higher-risk populations.
On Sunday, during our service, we held an open conversation about how we should respond. Please note, this conversation happened before the CDC published its new guidelines. You can view our conversation at: https://youtu.be/shLiLwx2B-4?t=2004
Decision: In alignment with this new recommendation, Unity has decided to close our facility through May 16.
We realize that, aside from the Sunday service, many of our activities might be for groups smaller than 50 people. However, in the course of a normal week, we average about 600 people coming into our facility. Recognizing that the virus can live on surfaces for 2-3 days, this means that, even if a group is small, you are effectively interacting with a much larger group when in our facility.
We have made one exception, allowing the Daycare facilities to stay open unless or until the Columbia Public School system closes schools.
Using Zoom Meeting
We will be offering our Sunday service via Zoom meeting which is an internet-based video-conferencing system.
After the service is done, we will offer a time for our children to meet online with their teachers.
If you are new to Zoom, please watch this 1-minute video tutorial about how to join a zoom meeting: https://youtu.be/vFhAEoCF7jg?list=PLKpRxBfeD1kEM_I1lId3N_Xl77fKDzSXe
To participate fully, you will need
- EITHER a computer with speakers and a high-speed internet connection
- About 10-15 minutes before the service starts, go to https://zoom.us/j/340768991 in your computer’s browser
- It may take a minute for the software to load if this is your first time using zoom. Once it has loaded, click the icon to Join Audio.
- OR a smart phone with the zoom app (download for free from your app store)
- join the meeting on your phone using meeting id 340 768 991.
You can also call in on your regular phone to participate with audio only at 301-715-8592. You will be prompted to enter the meeting id which is: 340 768 991.
Tips for a Better Online Experience
You can help make the online experience with Zoom better for everyone by following these guidelines to enhance internet performance.
- You can practice ahead of time by joining our Sunday Service meeting at any time between now and Sunday morning. Try it out and make sure everything on your end is working properly.
- Consider all the devices in your home that are connected to the internet. These include cell phones, iPads, Tablets, computers, TV cable boxes, and many more. Each of these devices uses a share of your internet “bandwidth”.
- Please turn off or set in airplane mode all devices you are not using for the Zoom meeting during the time of the Sunday service.
- On the device you are using, each application you open may be connecting to the internet. These may include email, calendars, cloud backups, any browser activity other than Zoom. Please shut down or pause any of these apps.
- Please note that on your phone, apps stay open and connected even when you switch to another app unless you explicitly close them. On a smart-phone, for example, you can close apps explicitly by double-clicking on the round button at the bottom of your phone and swiping up on each app that is displayed to close it.
- In order to give us a chance to interact, all microphones, cameras and telephones will be open as you log in.
- However, once the service starts, I will mute all microphones and turn off all cameras except for the person talking.
- Please do not turn your camera, microphone or telephone back on during the service unless you are presenting.
- After the service, we will turn the microphones, cameras and telephones back on to allow for some interaction time before we start the Youth Ed class.
- ‘Chat’ feature. You can also interact with other attendees using the ‘Chat’ button. Please refrain from chatting during prayer and meditation time, or any time you would not be talking with each other during an in-person service.
- Speaker View / Gallery View – you can toggle back and forth between seeing just the main speaker, or seeing everyone’s video. For our social time, you will want to be in Gallery View and for our service time, you will want to switch to Speaker View.
As I’m sure you are aware, our bills do not stop just because we are not meeting in person.
If you have not already done so, you may want to consider setting up your Love Offering to happen automatically through your online bill pay system at your bank. Or, you can set up a recurring donation with your credit card via our secure processing center at https://unityofcolumbia.org/donate/. We will also offer the option of donating via your credit card during the service via the chat stream.
If you know of anyone in our Unity community who does not receive our eNewsletter or does not regularly use email, please feel free to call them and spread the word.
I look forward to seeing you all (virtually) on Sunday!