COVID-19 Update and Ministry Plan

10.01.20 | by Beth Valentine by Troy Howell

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Throughout the Pandemic, First UM Church has relied on and
benefited from a task force comprised of church leadership, some ministry staff, and the expertise of Dr. Wallace Greene, Diagnostic Virology Director, PSU, Hershey, and a church parishioner.

At a Sept. 21 meeting, Dr. Greene noted evidence of COVID aerosol transmission, reporting approximately 50% of current positive cases traced to indoor restaurants. He warned increased risk as heated indoor air aids virus transmission. Dr. Greene encouraged the group to imagine the Charlie Brown character “Pig Pen” and his dust cloud. That image represents the aerosol cloud of virus exhaled from the nose and mouth by a COVID positive person. That virus aerosol can travel farther distances, remaining suspended in the air. Accordingly, the 6-foot distancing requirement and wearing of masks is a minimum standard indoors.

This medical report, combined with the age or immune compromised vulnerability of a significant number of First UM Church’s membership, heightens the gravity of any decision to resume gathered Sunday worship. Such gatherings could be seminal events leading to community infection.

The overwhelming majority of Church leadership has indicated that we should stay the course with online worship and smaller gathering connections until science and medical advice indicates otherwise. In a September meeting of the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, leaders unanimously opposed reopening Sunday worship at this time.

As you may know, limited indoor gatherings have resumed with administrative committees meeting (less than 25, masked, and social distanced), along with a few smaller ministry groups. Efforts are underway to allow for increased small-group usage of indoor areas by Al-Anon, Scouts, youth, etc., per social distancing/face-cover requirements.

Additionally, purchase and installation of equipment to eventually “livestream” Sunday morning worship has been approved. Trustees just awarded the contract, though it will be 6- to 8-weeks before the equipment arrives, with additional time needed for installation and operation. Livestreaming could facilitate resumption of Sunday morning worship – though under present conditions sanctuary attendance would be very restricted (25-30 max.) One reality to keep in mind is that livestreaming will impact the online worship format/participation now experienced.

We realize that this situation grieves many. Our desire to resume some sense of gathered-church normalcy remains. We are blessed by the investment in making the current on-line worship “product” possible. Please hold this situation and leadership in your prayers, offering grace as we seek God’s wisdom to be responsible and faithful to do no harm and to do good.

Blessings in The Way of Jesus ...

Pastor Troy Howell

First UMC, Hershey, PA

 Below is our COVID-19 Ministry Plan with detailed safety guidelines. It is available to download (and view in larger font) by clicking the document icon at the top of this page beneath the headline. 

Guidelines for gathering:
● At-risk individuals (elderly, immunocompromised, underlying health problems) should stay home
● Anyone feeling ill, especially with fever or cough, must stay home
● Anyone with significant exposure to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 or travel outside
of the area to a “hotspot” in the past 14 days must stay home
● Outdoor meetings are preferred over indoor meetings if possible due to safety concerns
● Please notify the church office at 717-533-9668 prior to a planned meeting
● Please contact Facilities Manager, Mark Crowther, at 717-533-9668 x115 to make a reservation
(outdoors or Social Hall – other rooms are not open currently)
● Group leader must record and retain names and contact information of all attendees to ensure staff
has ability to perform contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 diagnosis. Send attendance records
● Attendees must maintain social distancing (family groups stay 6 feet apart, no handshakes, hugs, or
other close contact)
● Attendees must wear masks/face coverings
● Attendees should limit the use of any “common-touch” items and use sanitizer when sharing of objects is necessary
● No singing at gatherings since it may increase the spread of COVID-19
● Handwashing or use of hand sanitizer should be done before and after gathering