May 20, 2021
From Bishop Lewis, the Cabinet, and the PRG Team
New Technical Assistance Manual and Frequently Asked Questions
As Virginia United Methodists we are tremendously blessed and have a great deal for which to be thankful and praise God. With the COVID-19 pandemic subsiding we are accelerating the return to in-person worship services, while continuing to ensure the safety of all.
Since the pandemic emerged in March 2020, the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church (VAUMC) has provided requirements and guidance that have both ensured safety while also continuing worship and other ministries. Our 1,175 churches have adapted and found innovative ways to worship and serve Jesus Christ.
Safety has consistently been VAUMC’s top priority. As worship requirements ease and churches return to their role of structuring worship services, I am confident safety will remain the top priority.
As Christians, we are commanded by our Lord and Savior to be especially protective of those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 – the elderly, the sick, those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, and children who have not yet been vaccinated. We must also remember that some who are now fully vaccinated can be afflicted with COVID.
Effective May 28, 2021 an updated short and concise five-page Technical Assistance Manual (TAM) has the requirements for in-person worship. Until May 28, churches are to continue to submit their plans to District Superintendents for approval based on the current TAM.
Churches should activate their Post-COVID Re-Entry Groups (PRGs) as soon as possible. Once worship plans are developed, they should be submitted to the District Superintendent for review two weeks prior to implementation. These processes are to be collaborative, done with Christian patience and understanding, so that best practices are shared and implemented.
The VAUMC’s PRG Team, led by Rev. Seungsoo “RJ” Jun, has been working diligently during this time of transition. If you are not already familiar with this group, please visit its website and watch for webinars and other announcements at https://vaumc.org/prg/.
Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and links to important information. Please read the FAQ carefully.
Thank you for your attention to these matters and your continuing service.
Peace and Blessings,
Bishop Sharma D. Lewis
Where can I find information about in-person worship requirements and recommended practices?
The current Technical Assistance Manual (TAM) governing in-person worship requirements until May 28 can be found here. The new Technical Assistance Manual, called TAM – Phase 3, goes into effect on May 28 and can be found here. TAM – Phase 3 is a much shorter and easier to follow document than earlier versions.
The Post-COVID Re-Entry Group (PRG) website is at https://vaumc.org/prg/. You are encouraged to attend webinars that PRG will hold on May 20, 27, and June 3.
A lot of changes have taken place recently in easing COVID restrictions from both the Governor and the church. In a nutshell, what are they?
Effective May 15, through an amendment to Executive Order 72, Governor Northam ended the mask mandate for those who are fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated is defined as two weeks after receiving the second Pfizer or Moderna shot or two weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson shot.
It is anticipated that starting on Friday, May 28, through Executive Order 79, there will be no requirements for fully vaccinated individuals to wear a mask and no limits on the numbers of people at public gatherings.
As soon as possible, churches are to activate their PRG teams and submit their plans for returning to worship to their District Superintendent. Two weeks should be allowed for plans to be reviewed.
How does the May 28 date of the Governor’s Executive Order impact the previous July 1 date for PRG Teams and related activities?
In short, the July 1 date has been moved up to May 28. Churches are urged to structure PRG Teams as soon as possible so that worship plans can be provided to District Superintendents on May 28 or soon afterward.
What are the most immediate potential changes to worship at VAUMC churches from the Governor’s recent Executive Orders?
While the Conference recommends a cautious approach (i.e., to continue indoor worship with masks), if churches feel it is important or warranted, they can do the following:
- Fully vaccinated leaders may preach without a mask
- Fully vaccinated persons may be unmasked in indoor and outdoor settings, including worship
- Fully vaccinated persons may sing without a mask in indoor and outdoor settings, including worship.
Churches can make these changes as guided by their Healthy Church Team and with the approval of the pastor. The District Superintendent’s approval is not required. For additional guidance on preaching without a mask, please click here.
What is the role of PRG Teams at churches?
The PRG Team is to continue the work of the Healthy Church Team (HCT) so that safety and best practices are identified for worship and other church activities going forward. In some cases, it may be best for the HCT members to also serve on the PRG team. In other cases, HCT members may want a well-deserved rest from their service.
The PRG Team is also to assess the vision and ministry of the church as church continues its work in the Post-COVID world. With COVID, many churches have changed their worship practices and there are some elements that should be preserved and built upon going forward, such as online worship. There is much flexibility in how a church’s PRG Team can be structured and the recommendations it makes.
Why is the Conference now providing churches with much greater leeway on worship practices?
We trust local churches’ decisions to provide safe, healthy places for all to worship our Lord and to be a beacon of hope to their communities. At the same time, we ask you to remember that, should the positivity rate rise or more variants of COVID-19 emerge, the Bishop and Cabinet retain the right to reinstitute mitigation measures, such as mask-wearing and no singing. We certainly hope that is not necessary, but our approach is guided by science and the safety of our members and their communities.
May 15 Letter from Bishop Lewis, Cabinet, & the PRG Team
Executive Order 72, Office of the Governor of Virginia