STATEMENT FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN CONFERENCE BOARD OF DIRECTORS REGARDING REOPENING OUR CHURCHES – May 14, 2020
Understanding Your Insurance Board Coverage
Preparing to Reopen Your Office – The Insurance Board
May 14, 2020
The RMC Board of Directors issued statements in March and April encouraging all RMC
congregations and associations to initiate electronic worship services, postpone in-building
church activities at least through the month of May, and follow the recommendations of local
and state health organizations regarding COVID-19 mitigation.
Our three states and multitude of counties and municipalities in the Rocky Mountain
Conference region are starting to amend orders to reduce the severity of mandated Stay at
Home and Safer at Home practices. Several congregations are beginning to talk about returning
to in person worship services and other in-building activities.
As part of its continuing role of pro-actively researching, role modeling and sharing best
practices on responding to the ever-changing impacts of COVID-19, the RMC Board of Directors
commissioned a team to research and report questions associated with developing a return to
on-site worship and activities. On May 14, 2020 the RMC Board of Directors met to review the
work of that team.
To promote the safety and security of our congregations and communities, the Board
recommends that all congregations commission a strategic planning team within their own
church to assess the wide range of issues associated with the decision to hold in-building
worship and other activities.
To assist in that process, this reference document is being sent to all congregations in the RMC
identifying many of these issues.
The Board encourages our membership to resist the urge to “get back to our normal way of
doing things as quickly as we can.” Take inspiration from this passage in Isaiah 43:18-19.
“So says the Lord:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a new way in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert.” (The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language)
We are Christ’s church, his hands and feet, voice and heart in the world. We are doing a new
thing! We are living into our mission as Christian churches of the UCC; each and every week in
myriad ways online and through other virtual means, we are proclaiming God’s unconditional
love for the people of the world who are suffering physically, emotionally, and spiritually. While
we have been used to attending church in a physical location and we yearn for our old ways
and familiar surroundings, we have found sacred spaces and reconnected with our beloved
church families in this “new thing” that brings us together in other ways, even as we are
physically separated. A local church strategic planning team will help us embrace the new thing
God is creating while also respecting and honoring, where safe and appropriate, our traditions,
new realities and longings.
WHY SHOULD YOU DEVELOP A STRATEGIC PLANNING TEAM IN YOUR CHURCH?
Ensures that the return to worship (RTW) plan is aligned with the mission and theology of
Helps ensure church leadership communicates and role models the details of the RTW plan;
Reduces risk of RTW plans being developed in isolation of other plans or is dependent on
the energy of one or a few people;
Increases the potential for full consideration of the safety and Health of staff and
congregants along with consideration of the risks and liabilities inherent in sponsoring
group activities during a pandemic; and
Provides resources for required changes in worship.
Is God calling us to “a new thing” – a new way of being church?
THREE OVERARCHING STRATEGIC QUESTIONS TO ASK AND ANSWER
What is the primary reason driving a desire to return to on-site worship?
For example, if the primary reason driving return to on-site worship is maintaining relationships
and honoring sabbath space, but your return to worship plans restrict almost all relational and
holy activity to ensure the safety and health of all, should you pursue other ways to meet the
Perhaps your answer to what is driving your desire to return to on-site worship is a feeling of
loss or anger over losing a cherished part of your routine. Again, if your return to worship plans
restrict almost all of your cherished parts of gathering and holy activity to ensure the safety and
health of all, should you pursue other ways to meet the relationship need?
In what ways are you going to continue to minister to your online congregants once you go
back into your church building?
Consider the creative opportunities as well as the inclusive opportunities that can be afforded
to people through virtual worship and alternative forms of relationship building such as chat
rooms, open office hours, “happy hour” social times, prayer groups, study groups, faith
formation for children, and interaction for persons living alone in isolation.
How will you research, confirm, or suggest to the church governing body the decisionmaking
process and the decision-makers, including who has the final say, for ongoing
decisions regarding the use of the church building and the protection of employees: pastor,
church board, overseeing manager, etc.? Consult your church governance documents,
covenants for conduct, and established models and practices for congregational decisionmaking.
ISSUES FOR YOUR STRATEGIC PLANNING TEAM TO CONSIDER
The relationship between the congregation, clergy and staff is summarized in documents such
as clergy call agreements, job descriptions, and personnel policies. The COVID-19 pandemic
may present unique personnel issues that may not be covered by those documents. Here are
some questions to consider. Please be aware that requiring employees to sign liability waivers
is both illegal and unenforceable.
What will be the church’s response to staff members who do not feel safe participating in
on-site worship and/or on-site church activities? Remember that the church as an employer
has a responsibility to make reasonable efforts to protect its employees, including clergy.
Have clergy and lay leadership developed together reasonable expectations for clergy hours
and responsibilities given the new realities? (See Addendum: Preventing Clergy Burnout.)
What will be the church’s response to volunteers who want to be on-site but are in high risk
When events, activities and programming beyond worship are resumed, will the church
have formal COVID-19 mitigation training for all staff and volunteers?
Will your church require clergy and staff to have personal protective equipment (masks and
gloves) when on church premises or engaged in church activities, including pastoral care?
Does your church have Workers Compensation coverage that will protect clergy and
support staff in the event they are afflicted with COVID-19?
Are you aware of relevant provisions in labor and employment law that apply to churches as
well as orders and guidelines set by your local and/or state authorities?
In order to comply with social distancing and group size limitations that are a part of orders or
recommendations from health organizations and government orders, many of our churches will
need to make changes to their building and property. These orders and recommendations may
also require adjustments to how people enter, exit, and move around the property.
Development, communication and compliance with necessary changes for worship, other
church sponsored programs and the activities of other groups using the building are reviewed
in this section on management and the section on other groups that follows it. (See Addendum:
Building Safety and Addendum: Worship Practices)
How will you communicate your strategic plan to your congregation and educate them in its
implementation? Who do people contact if they have questions or concerns?
Do you have a phase-in plan for various programs in your church that will protect vulnerable
persons such as aged parishioners, children and youth, volunteers, and staff?
Have you evaluated whether some programs or committees could be conducted remotely
on an ongoing basis?
Is there a plan for notification and response if someone in your church or a visitor becomes
ill – while on site, later after having been at your church? How will this be communicated to
individuals in your church?
Have you evaluated signage in your building: access, guidelines about distancing, activities
Have you determined which types of church social events or worship day hospitality will be
permitted in the building or on the grounds and the guidelines pertaining to those events,
such as distancing, types of activities, food, singing and dancing, etc.?
Have you identified changes that may need to be made in your building to improve safety?
• effective ventilation
• foot traffic patterns
• access to restrooms including distancing
• moving furniture and chairs
• replacing carpet with cleanable surfaces
• replacing pews with chairs that are easily distanced and cleaned
• marking floors and seating for standing and sitting
• protecting the pastor and musicians from contact
Have you identified and defined the parameters of mission projects sponsored by your
church or conducted on church grounds such as food pantry, homeless sheltering, care and
service to aged persons, errand-running, etc.?
Other Groups Meeting at Your Church
Have you assessed the implications of letting other groups and organizations meet at your
church when you lack control over whether they are following your policies and procedures
for virus prevention?
Have you checked with your insurance carrier to make sure clergy and church leaders are
indemnified from responsibility if you allow access to your building?
If you allow access to your building, are you requiring proof of adequate insurance and
written acceptance of any liability?
If you allow groups to come into your church, are you adequately prepared for health and
cleanliness after each gathering?
Have you made your church community aware that there will be other groups in the
Do you have an accurate listing of who has access by key or keycode to your building?
Failure to know who has access to the building or who is coming or going leaves the church
and staff vulnerable to groups or individuals who may be ill or may not follow health, safety
or security standards adopted by your church.
Financial and Insurance
The business of the church also needs to be considered before re-opening your building. How
to handle donations (including receiving the offering during worship), paper money and checks
so as to keep your volunteer counters safe is just one consideration. Hand in hand with financial
issues go insurance and liability considerations. Following are some questions for you to
consider. (See Addendum: Liability and Insurance)
Have you evaluated your capacity to accept contributions in a variety of efficient ways not
requiring the physical handling of checks and money? (See resource list, #6, Rocky
Have you evaluated and planned for increased costs in professional disinfection services
and sanitation supplies, signage, and possible building retrofitting?
What are the terms and coverage limits of your church liability insurance policy?
If your church operates a daycare or school in your building or on your property, what are the
terms and limits of your coverage?
Opening your church buildings carries its own set of challenges. Social distancing may or may
not be enough right now to protect people. Requiring congregants and volunteers to sign
liability waivers is unenforceable and unjust. (See Addendum: Worship Practices)
Are you replacing hands-on and contact worship activities with safer practices? (See specific
examples in the Worship Practices Addendum.)
Are you replacing hands on worship aids, such as hymnals, Bibles, and paper bulletins with
safer practices? (See specific examples in the Worship Practices Addendum.)
Are you having trained persons responsible for monitoring activity on church days to ensure
compliance with all protection policies?
Are you limiting the number of people in the church building at any one time in accordance
with the latest CDC, local and state recommendations or orders?
What procedures have you developed should an outbreak occur in your building or an
uptick in the cases in your geographic area warrant the closing again of your church?
Do you know what to do and who to contact if your pastor is ill with the virus, is hesitant or
refusing to enter the church building, or has issued an order for employees of the church to