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A Message from the Senior Pastor Regarding COVID,
In mid-March, as information about the COVID-19 pandemic became available, the decision was made to move Littleton United Methodist Church to online-only worship, and to limit use of the church facility for any other functions.
In making on-going decisions about worship, gatherings, and other church-related events, we look to several sources:
Based upon guidelines from the above sources, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, we have developed internal guidelines for both indoor and outdoor activities. Our guidelines provide a framework for our approach to dealing with the COVID pandemic, while also allowing us to quickly make updates as new information becomes available.
The Mountain Sky Conference’s Status Levels allow Conference policies to be localized to a given area, allowing church facilities to re-open when viral spread is contained. Briefly, the levels are:
The Denver Metro area is currently in Red Status and has been since the beginning of the pandemic; no regular worship services are taking place in United Methodist Churches in this area, and the District Superintendent has clearly stated that permission will not be given for in-person worship at this time. Specific permission can be given for other (limited) activities when sufficient plans are submitted for review by the District Superintendent.
We are aware that some other churches in our area have either re-opened or never closed their facilities in the first place. Churches associated with several mainline denominations (including the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Episcopal Church) were asked to close their facilities by their denominational bodies. Other churches, many of which are not denominationally-affiliated, remained open.
In July, the Texas Medical Association released a widely-publicized chart depicting the levels of risk associated with various activities. It is worth noting that this was released prior to more recent evidence that COVID-19 truly is an airborne virus. In that chart, attending a wedding or funeral was rated as a 7 (out of 10), indicating a moderate-high risk; attending a large religious service was rated as a 9, putting that activity in the highest-risk category.
Littleton United Methodist Church will not resume in-person worship until it is clearly safe to do so.
Yes. Our conference covers a four-state region (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah – and one church in Idaho). In some rural areas, there has (at times) been little-to-no virus activity; in those areas, some of our churches have re-opened. COVID activity in some areas has also changed over time, so some churches that did re-open have now closed, due to increasing case counts. Many rural areas were not experiencing significant viral activity until fall 2019.
Some churches in the Denver area have re-opened for worship, but those are typically faith communities which are either independent or have a looser affiliation to denominational bodies. A brief survey of Denver metro churches which are affiliated with large mainline denominations (such as Episcopal Church in Colorado, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church) are generally either live-streaming their worship services (as we do) or holding services outdoors. All United Methodist churches in the Denver metro area are currently restricted from holding worship services indoors. Some Methodist churches in the Denver and front range areas had offered limited opportunities to observe the livestream in person; due to increased case counts, these were discontinued in the fall as the virus continued to spread.
Yes. The church office is open with limited staffing. Staff members who are not essential for day-to-day office operation either work from home, or from their offices in other parts of the church campus. Internal policies govern how we do our work during the closure, and all scheduled meetings of more then three employees are held virtually.
Depending on the current local levels of new cases, hospitalizations, and positivity rate, some larger gathering spaces in the church can be utilized for program activities. Use of the spaces require close supervision, participants must maintain physical distancing and wear masks (covering both nose and mouth), and specific cleaning routines must be followed. These areas are also cleaned by our custodial contractor (including anti-viral fogging) each night.
In determining which spaces are available, the capacity of our heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC systems) was taken into consideration. Changes were made to increase the amount of outside air brought into the spaces. Air change rates were factored in as well. The HVAC systems must be active while the spaces are in use. Church-affiliated programs are allowed to use these spaces as scheduling permits, although higher case counts and positivity rates can result in closure of these spaces with short notice. Our facility is not currently open for use by non-church-affiliated groups or purposes.
Our policy regarding indoor facility use was reviewed by the District Superintendent on behalf of the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Great Escape reopened in June, following strict guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and the Tri-County Health Department. Child care services such as Great Escape are allowed to remain open under all levels of the State’s COVID-19 dial, but must continue to meet specific requirements and stay up-to-date on the exact nature of those requirements.
Sadly, yes. We are aware of one instance where COVID-19 was a significant factor.
Yes, and they were mitigated by our protocols, which reduced the number of individuals exposed. A limited number of individuals needed to quarantine afterwards, and portions of our facility were temporarily closed for deep cleaning. Instances such as these are likely to reoccur as the pandemic continues, and our protocols remain in-place to reduce the overall risk as much as possible.
As far as we know, there have been none.
We have held small, safely-distanced funerals, memorials, and inurnment services in the courtyard and columbarium areas (outside of the main Sanctuary doors). In the courtyard, the number of participants is limited to around fifty; in the columbarium area, the number is limited to around 20. In all cases, everyone must remain masked. In addition, we have the ability to offer online Zoom memorial services.
Not really. Some background: on October 21, 2020, District Court Judge Daniel Domenico partially ruled in favor of two area churches that claimed some of the public health orders violated religious rights. Specifically, the challenge involved the requirement that worshippers wear masks during services. The Bishops of the Episcopal Church in Colorado, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Mountain Sky Conference subsequently sent a letter to Gov. Polis in support of the public health orders. You can read that letter here.
In November 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled that churches cannot be held to higher levels of restriction than secular organizations. In some states, including Colorado, this resulted in loosened restrictions regarding in-person worship. This ruling in no way makes it safer to worship in person, and nothing has changed in terms of the Mountain Sky Conference’s policy regarding in-person worship.
We anticipate being able to reintroduce in-person worship opportunities once COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, unless other circumstances prevent that change. Worship is likely to re-launch in phases, and we are beginning to plan toward that likelihood.
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