March 2020 | ATLANTA 

The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) around the world demands the attention of the global ecumenical community. Church leaders have a unique role to play in response and recovery efforts, as they are trusted leaders with platforms for communicating important health information. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have the most updated information regarding preparedness and prevention. Global Ministries’ Global Health unit is monitoring these recommended protocols carefully. 

The CDC also published Guidance for Administrators and Leaders of Community- and Faith-Based Organizations to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease. This interim guidance is based on what is currently known about the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

UMCOR worked diligently with the Interfaith Health Program at Emory University, a consortium of faith-based organizations, to develop COVID-19 resources to help guide various global communities, high- and low-income countries, in implementation of CDC and WHO guidance. You can find those documents here.

Additionally, the most comprehensive and up-to-date COVID-19 data can be found at the John Hopkins University COVID19 Dashboard and The COVID Tracking Project.

Leading through the coronavirus

A wonderful way to lead during this unusual time is suggested by Christian Connections for International Health, which urges faith communities “to take time to T.A.L.K.”: Time, Access, Lead, Know. 

Take time to reflect and pray about the coronavirus and consider how it is affecting those in your community. 

Access truthful information from reliable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), your state health board, or country specific Ministries of Health. 

Lead by reinforcing the importance of following the guidance of health experts. 

Know the symptoms of this illness – it’s new and different and misinformation is rampant.

Tips for preventing the spread of COVID-19

Promote good hygiene and health behaviors by inserting recommendations for best health practices in church newsletters each week. Provide simple educational tools that help explain best practices, such as instructions for hand-washing and instructions for using hand sanitizer. Post these instructions at home, too, to remind children and adults to wash their hands. When soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer is the best substitute. 

Clean common spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms according to CDC guidelines. Use disinfectant spray on all hard surfaces, including door handles. 

We are still in the middle of a severe outbreak. Continue to use online streaming as much as possible, rather than on-site worship services and meetings. Provide pastoral care remotely via phone and social media and develop innovative strategies to engage your church community in meaningful ways online (video devotionals, prayer groups, share songs and poetry, etc). 

Consider the ways you can continue to assist your community during this outbreak: 

Might you distribute food and water? 

Might you establish a food pantry for those needing assistance? 

Does your congregation or community consist of high-risk groups such as the elderly, the homeless or those immunosuppressed? Is so, how can you assist them?

How will you share local information and referrals to community-based services?

Guidance for reopening of churches

Many states are removing shelter in place orders and this leaves church communities with the decision to open campuses, daycares, summer bible schools, etc. Many UMC conferences have developed guidance (some examples are shared below) based on the premise of “church is not a building but the body of Christ.” Additionally, individual states have reopening guidance documents and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released detailed guidance.

UMC Conference Reopening Guidance 
– North George Conference 
– West Virginia Conference

List of State by State Reopening Guidance Documents

CDC Guidance for Reopening Faith Based Community Services

Additional Resources

Community Mitigation Strategy (PDF)
Workplace, School and Home Guidance (PDF) 
God of Life (Covid-19 Prayer PDF)