June 26, 2020
Dear Florida Conference Churches and Clergy:
Last Thursday we wrote to encourage and inform you as you make decisions in the midst of this ever-changing reality. We know there is stress and anxiety in having to rethink decisions as the pandemic continues.
Today, we write to inform and encourage you so you have the information you need to make safe decisions. We are learning and adapting alongside of you. Bishop Carter stated on May 28th that our guidance around returning to in-person worship could change as the number of cases began to increase.
The latest information shows:
- Cases are rising exponentially in our state. The seven-day average of new cases is up 85% from the previous week (new seven-day average is 4,149) and the last two days have seen over 5,000 new cases each day (Breaking news as we send this says 8,942 more cases were reported today). The CDC and other health experts agree that this increase in cases is not simply connected to increased testing. (To listen to the latest CDC briefing click here).
- Even though the increase in positive cases is among younger people, the spread of the virus is real and dangerous for all people, especially those with underlying health conditions. Yesterday, the CDC updated its list of people at risk.
- We encourage you to look at all the data including: the number of new cases, the infection rate, the positive test rate, the hospitalization rates, and the ICU bed capacity. We have learned that it is not wise to base guidance solely on ICU bed space availability. As one of our health consultants said, “Sadly, by the time ICU beds reach capacity the outbreak will be uncontrollable.”
Based on this information we offer this updated guidance:
- This is not a time to relax any of our previously stated health guidelines, protocols, or FAQ.
- Virtual worship is the safest approach, and outdoor worship is encouraged over inside.
- Churches should consider delaying plans to return to in-person worship. We know some of you have already pushed your return to in-person worship date back in response to the rise in cases, and others of you have met in person and are now returning to virtual-only worship.
- Wearing masks is essential when any group gathers together. We ask everyone to wear a mask and do not consider masks to be optional.
We continue to honor the sense that there is not a "one-size-fits-all" approach for every church around the conference. Contexts are different as cases rise at different rates in different counties and zip codes (click here for a county and zip code break down).
At the same time, your church is not the exception. We have had increased positive cases among clergy families, church staff, volunteers, preschool families, church members, and more. Some of these are connected to individuals who made exceptions to the protocols. Others are connected to the increased spread of the virus around us.
We encourage you to continue your discussions with your local church teams. In your discussion, you and your leaders might refer back to the article Why Reopening a Church is Different. Although it was written a few weeks ago, a key point remains the same: “Our reopening plans are not about what is best for the management of our church, but what is best for the common good and greater community. This is not a time to focus primarily on what we may be sacrificing by not gathering, but how we are serving and loving all our neighbors by not gathering too soon.”
If you have questions, please reach out to your District Superintendent or contact the Episcopal Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Peace of the Lord,
Bishop Ken Carter and The Cabinet of the Florida Annual Conference