Very little about 2020 is “business as usual.” If your parish is planning to begin the academic year with in-person gatherings, you need to develop clear guidelines for your ministries and, because nothing this year is predictable, have contingency plans ready.
Communicate clear guidelines for in-person gatherings
Setting clear guidelines can provide a sense of security for your parishioners. Consult your diocese and city, county, and state health officials for the most up-to-date recommendations, and determine how you will implement these recommendations in your context. Create a plan and share it with ministry leaders and parishioners.
Below are some guidelines you may consider when making your plan:
- Basic reminders and recommendations
Ask parishioners to wear masks for all parish events (indoor and outdoor), wash their hands frequently, maintain physical distance even when wearing masks, take their temperature before attending, and stay home if experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.
- Encourage good hand hygiene
Make hand sanitizer available at all entrances and ask everyone to use it when arriving and leaving. If necessary, set up hand washing stations. If working with students, have them wash their hands before going to their classroom or meeting space.
- Space out seating
Prearrange furniture so seating is spaced six feet apart. If seating is immovable, clearly mark spaces for people to sit that allow for appropriate distancing. If children will be sitting on the floor, use masking tape or chalk to indicate where they should sit.
- Make contact tracing easy
Assign seats. Keep an attendance record at every event. Should someone later test positive for the virus, contact attendees to notify them of their exposure and advise them to consider quarantine.
- Utilize small groups and outdoor spaces
Limit the size of groups and classes, and, if possible, limit the total number of people in the building at a given time. For youth-oriented events, consider adjusting drop-off and pick-up routines to limit the exposure risk. If weather and space permit, consider meeting outside whenever possible.
- Clean meeting spaces frequently
Provide cleaning supplies and train leaders to clean all surfaces before and after each gathering.
If we’ve learned anything these past few months, it’s that everything can, and likely will, change. In creating your plan, you’ll need to create contingencies as well. Here are questions to consider:
- What will happen if a parishioner who attended an in-person parish event tests positive for COVID-19? How will you notify those who may need to quarantine? What consequences will this have for the affected ministries? Will you shut down in-person programming? If so, for how long?
- What happens if in-person gatherings are no longer possible given local guidelines or an outbreak at the parish? What programs can reasonably be transferred to an online or at-home format? How can your leaders prepare for this transition in advance? How will they bring closure (however temporary) to programs that cannot take place online or at home?
- How will you utilize technology throughout the year? What digital tools will your parish need to maintain contact with parishioners? If you are not familiar with these tools, what leaders or parishioners can you recruit now to help develop and implement a plan for digital outreach and programming? How can you use technology to minister to parishioners who cannot attend in-person programming?
- If you minister to children and teens, what online communication methods are permitted by your diocese? (You may want to see if these policies have been updated this summer.) What parental permission do you need to utilize these communication tools? Can you obtain parental permission during registration, rather than waiting until later in the year when you may actually need it?
When faced with creating ministry plans and responding to challenges with contingencies, remember the mission of your work: “to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (Catechesi Tradendae, §5). Return to this mission whenever the logistics become overwhelming, and return often to your own relationship with Christ to keep you grounded in the midst of what is sure to be an interesting year.
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