As governors alter their state mask mandates and vaccinated Americans feel safer to return to public places, Holston Conference is also responding to reduced numbers of coronavirus cases by giving local churches freedom to decide how to proceed through the rest of the pandemic.
Beginning May 1, a conference-wide “protocol” of requirements and restrictions, established to prevent people from spreading COVID-19 on church property, will no longer be in effect.
The only requirements that remain in place: “You still have to wear a mask,” said the Rev. Jeff Wright, “and you still should social-distance as much as possible.”
Churches are also expected to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendations. Vaccinations are “strongly encouraged,” Wright said.
For the last year, Wright has chaired a 14-member task force, created by Bishop Dindy Taylor, charged with navigating the spread of COVID-19 throughout Holston communities in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.
The task force created and implemented a 29-page document in June 2020 that has both been praised and criticized for protective measures such as prohibiting congregational singing and limiting the number of people inside church buildings.
Beginning May 1, local churches in Holston Conference may set their own protective guidelines for resuming activities.
For example, they can sing during worship, as long they’re wearing masks, Wright said. They can have Sunday school and offer a nursery to parents. They can also return hymnals and Bibles to the pews, since the CDC noted in early April that the risk of contracting the virus from touching a contaminated surface was less than 1 in 10,000.
Wright and the task force announced the end of the Holston Conference safety protocol in an April 23, 2021, email to church members and leaders.
“In lifting the Protocol, we are not saying just do what you want to do,” the email said. “We are still trying to save lives. Wesley’s three simple rules -- Do No Harm, Do Good, and Stay in Love with God -- must still guide our hearts, our minds, and our actions.”
On April 29, Wright said in a telephone interview that Holston churches are still expected to proceed carefully. If church leaders alter the pandemic safety plan they submitted to their district superintendents over the past year, the task force requests they inform their district offices of their new plans, as a matter of record.
“We’re still in the middle of a pandemic that hasn’t gone away yet,” Wright said. “What we want them to do is to be safe.”
Wright said he is often asked why congregants are still required to wear masks if they have already been vaccinated or if their states have ended mask mandates.
“Our answer to that is because the CDC says so,” Wright said. “We’re hearing in the news about how many people are not getting vaccinated, so we’re still trying to ‘do no harm’ and keep people safe.”
We are committed to meeting the standards set forth by the Holston Conference in Taking steps forward faithfully and safely.
When having outdoor worship we will utilize both in car parking and lawn chair seating. Cars will be parked in designated areas and volunteers will serve to direct people where to park. Lawnchair seating will be marked with a 6ft distance between spots. Persons seated in Lawn chairs or on blankets will be asked to mask; participants older than two must mask. Persons in cars must remain in their cars and they are encouraged to roll windows down periodically to help cycle air.
We will be using both an FM Transmitter and PA. The FM transmitter will transmit over 500 yards. The worship leaders will be on an elevated platform allowing for easier lines of site.
We have staff who will be helping with registering attendance; they will also be on the lookout to ensure proper social distancing and that people stay in the group they came with. The will be tracking participation through our check-in provider and updating a google document for registering attendance.
Any offerings will be received electronically and there will be drop boxes at the entrances to the worship area. The drop boxes will be collected after worship and stored in the security office until counting.
In an effort to let everyone know of the plan for outdoor worship, we will utilize MailChimp, remind-text, Facebook, the website, and our video services.
The building will not be open to the use of restrooms.
Staff is reaching out to the local law enforcement to make them aware of the service.
Our insurance provider has approved our process for outdoor worship.
Those leading worship will maintain social distancing. We will also utilize plexiglass as a barrier for worship leaders to be behind.
The leadership will be on a platform at least 15 feet away from the congregation.
Each person involved in the leadership of the service will have their own microphone.
Gloves and masks will be worn while setting up and tearing down.
Anything touched by multiple users will be sanitized.
We will continue to utilize existing protocols regarding the counting of money.
We will monitor the weather and act accordingly regarding rain and heat.
We encourage everyone who is not feeling well or considers themselves to be at risk to stay at home and listen to the service on the radio at WGRV or watch via Facebook live or youtube at Asbury UMC Greeneville and Asbury connected.
Dear Holston Family,
In an ever-changing world, the one constant in 2020 is the love of God and the mission of those who follow Jesus. Hebrews 13:8 tells us, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." God is still creating, Jesus is still saving, and the Holy Spirit is still transforming. Thus, the church is alive!
The drive and determination of the churches of the Holston Conference to share the message of Jesus has never been more evident. From Alexander Memorial in rural Tazewell County, Virginia taking out 112 pre-packaged meals each Thursday; to Camp in the Community offering virtual programming and sending churches, who signed up, materials for crafts and lessons; to Wesley Memorial in Cleveland, Tennessee hosting a virtual mental health forum featuring three mental health professionals where people could ask questions and receive information; to so many others, God is clearly at work!
During this unprecedented time, our pastors and local church staffs have worked nonstop to provide for the basic needs of our people in so many creative ways, including offering online services. I cannot thank all of our Holston folks enough for the way they have served so faithfully.
Leaders throughout Holston have worked prayerfully and carefully to make plans allowing our churches to share God's love while also keeping the community safe. As the situation around us changes and as we learn more about the pandemic itself, and as we continue to look to medical insight, we continue to evolve our approach.
After several meetings with the COVID-19 Task Force, I am excited to announce, that with safety measures in place, churches are now able to offer outdoor opportunities for worship, service, and connection. Be sure to re-read pages 16-17 of the Taking Steps Forward Faithfully and Safely - Second Edition for guidelines on safe outdoor worship and now, gatherings.
While I still look forward, with an expectant heart, to the time when we can gather safely indoors, I hope these outdoor opportunities will help our churches feel connected and full of hope that the best is, indeed, still to come. These opportunities include worship, small groups including youth, adult, and older adult, scouting, and recovery programs. Your District Superintendents and I are looking forward to visiting these outdoor gatherings. However, please remember your District Superintendent must approve all plans for these meetings.
I look forward to seeing the creativity of the Holy Spirit unleashed in and through the Christians of the Holston Conference as you love and serve your communities well in these challenging days. I am so proud of all you have done this year, and I can't wait to see what God has in store for the days to come.
God's love, mercy, and grace is always more than sufficient,
Mary Virginia Taylor
Holston Conference of
The United Methodist Church
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Dear Asbury Family,
During this time of Covid-19 separation, I have found myself saying, “They didn’t teach this class in seminary.” Perhaps, we all feel unprepared for what we have experienced so far and are even more concerned about the future. While thinking about this and our preparation for returning to worshipping together, I was reminded of Luke 10:1-9 and Jesus sending out followers. He sends out seventy to go ahead of him to places he intends to go. He gives them the authority to work with people, sharing peace and healing. This is my prayer for the reopening of church. May it be a sharing of peace and healing not just for us as individuals, but for our community as well.
You may have questions and concerns regarding reopening. Please understand that our plan is submitted to the district superintendent with the intention to follow the guidelines set forth by the conference. In this same spirit of connectionalism, we are partnering with our sister churches to be able to all open together.
Some may wonder about the timeline. There are several things that we have to work on putting in place for us to safely open. Two of these are our sanitizing protocols for in between the services and registering attendance. These will require volunteers to help manage. We are hoping to have 16 volunteers, this will enable persons to serve one week a month. Because of the one hour turn around in between services, this is required for us to be able to open. We also plan to introduce an automated registration system using a kiosk set up for smartphones. We understand that not everyone has a smartphone. That is the reason for the redundant backups, picture taking, and volunteers listing attendees. If you are in one of the at risk categories we encourage you to continue to worship with us online.
We thank you for your continued support of the mission and ministry of Jesus at Asbury. We have been so blessed by your generosity and have been able to continue the benevolence ministry of the church and begin new ministries like our safe shopper program. Some have been able to continue their giving to the church while others have had to adjust their giving. I want to share with you that we find ourselves about $8,000 behind where we were to this point last year, as well as behind to our budget plan. We do expect our expenses to increase as we open up the church under these unprecedented times. The leadership of Asbury hopes that as things open up, people will continue to be able to give to the ministry of the church.
I look forward to seeing you as we are able to safely gather together. Please continue to join me in prayer for our community, our leaders, and our nation. I ask God’s hand to be on you and to hold us each safely as we reopen Asbury. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Blessings and peace,
Rev. Gerald Jones