Reopening & COVID-19
(19 May 2021)
Camp Luther ... Vespers Knoll cross
West Virginia - Western Maryland Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Page Contents
  • Reevaluting
  • Hunkering Down
    • Have a Reclosing Plan
    • Rapidly Changing Landscape
    • Church-related Outbreaks
  • Reopening & Polity, Law, and Ethics
  • Synod Recommendations
    • Reopening Checklist
    • Reopening White Paper
    • ELCA Guidance
  • Government Declarations
  • Medical Sector
    • CDC
      • Guidelines
      • MMWR 5/19/20
    • CIDRAP
      • On SARS-CoV-2
      • On Crisis Communication
    • From WV-WMD Health Providers
      • Hand Washing

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So much has changed in just the last few weeks in terms of CDC guidance and government announcements that we haven't caught up with it all. We are reevaluting the reopening guidance. In the meantime, visit our Government page for details on that front.

Hunkering Down for the Long Haul

Hope that life would return to normal sooner rather than later now appear overly optimistic. We've seen new outbreaks, undoing gains made in controlling spread of Coronavirus. Several congregations have returned to in-person worship since the easing of restrictions on public gatherings in some of our jurisdictions while others are taking a wait and see approach. Continued employment of best practices for worship and gathering during COVID-19 is important if we want to mitigate risk to our attendees, clergy, and staff.

Reclosing: Have a Plan

As much as we talked about reopening---we have a webpage dedicated to it---we also must be prepared to reclose our buildings. Monitoring of the situation in each of our communities should continue and help inform congregational leadership on the question of staying open or closing again. We may find that we will oscillate between open and closed states for the next several months to year until a vaccine is found, better treatments are employed, or heard immunity develops. As much as a congregations had plans to reopen, they should have plans to reclose.

Rapidly Changing Landscape

Information on this page is updated often. Checking back periodically is not a bad idea. If your browser caches pages---most do---you may want to hit the refresh button.

As the two states and one commonwealth in which the congregations of the WV-WMD Synod find themselves lift various restrictions related to COVID-19 and then reimposing them, our congregations face decisions related to reopening and reclosing for worship and other activities. The pace with which these orders and recommendations change, however, is so rapid, that it is hard to keep up and make long range plans. Additionally, public health advice evolves as research on the pandemic continues. What is the case today may not be the case tomorrow. What may be the best advice that can be given today, based upon what we know and suspect, may not be the best advice tomorrow.

With this in mind, this page is maintained (to the best of our abilities) to provide information from official outlets (governmental and ecclesiastical). There may be a lag in time in our receiving that information and in getting posted. Your assistance is welcome in notifying us of things we have not yet captured.

Church-related Outbreaks

There have been reported outbreaks connected to churches in WV (none in our congregations). Gov. Justice of West Virginia made mention of this in his 10 June 2020 press conference, urging churches to follow the guidelines. To hear his remarks, click here.

Reopening & Polity, Law, and Ethics

Synod does not have the authority to open or close your church building or congregation (except under the narrow limitations and very, very rarely applied provisions of †S13.24 and/or S13.25). Synod can advise and counsel. Synod can even urge, but it can not order. Consequently, this is a congregational decision. For a discussion of congregational polity with respect to opening and closing, click here.

Does the civil government have the authority to open or close your church? Well, much depends there upon some complicated tests. There is no simple answer that covers all situations. One cannot simply say, "We have a First Amendment right, and we will do as we please," nor can one say, "We must be obedient to the civil authorities in all matters." On the latter point, Luther's explanation to the Fourth Commandment points us in the direction of obedience, but this obedience has limits as both Luther and Melanchthon teach in other places. For a lengthy conversation, feel free to call Bp. Riegel: he rather enjoys this sort of thing and will be happy to supply a reading list. The former, however, is not one of the limits that Luther and Melanchthon ever invoked (for obvious historical reasons). As a matter of American jurisprudence, matters have been in flux in recent decades. There is no absolute protection under the First Amendment that covers all circumstances. For example, the First Amendment will not exempt a church from the Fire Marshal's maximum occupancy standard, assuming the Fire Marshal applies the same standards to non-church entities.

It may be the case, that your congregation, depending upon its civil jurisdiction, is exempt from this or that regulation. If the regulation is a good idea, even if not required to follow it, why wouldn't a congregation do so? Of course, there may be good ideas that compete with each other. Again, it's not simple. This is where ethics comes in, and ethics requires that we take a step back from our appetites and our fears, considering the matter coolly and rationally, looking at the competing moral demands and differing hierarchies of values, and choosing a course of action with full recognition of the costs and benefits not only for ourselves but also for our neighbors. Not everyone will come to the same conclusion, but, regardless of the conclusions reached, let them be thoughtful and informed.

Synod Recommendations

ChecklistChecklist (Updated 5/18/20)

Synod has produced a checklist to serve as a tool for congregations in their thinking through decisions related to reopening. The checklist is not a list of things your congregation must do in order to reopen. It is a list of things your congregation should think about. Your congregation makes its own decisions, but we can often overlook a decision to be made, especially if theses are not the sorts of decisions we make on a regular basis. The checklist is offered in two editions. Both editions can be downloaded in either PDF or MS-Word. Your leadership team my find the MS-Word version particularly helpful in that your local commentary and decisions can be inserted into the doc either inline or as footnotes. By manually adding spaces between checklist items, you can even convert into a worksheet for Council or committee members to use in their preparation and deliberation.

These checklists have been update and uploaded the evening of 18 May 2020. Check the date on the checklist and make sure it says, 18 May 2020," for the most recent version. Questions have been added about worship related hospitality, water fountains, and kitchens.

  • Checklist with Explanations and Questions [PDF][MS-Word]--- this is the fuller form in which most items on the checklist are accompanied with explanation, advice, and/or questions for consideration.
  • Checklist (only) [PDF][MS-Word] --- this is just the checklist. Much shorter, but without the supporting material.

White Paper

DEM Sherri Schafer prepared a white paper on reopening that was presented to pastors at the 30 April 2020 Zoom meeting. That white paper can be downloaded here.

ELCA Guidance

The ELCA Churchwide Offices have produced a guidance for returning to in-person worship. You may download it by clicking here. Keep in mind, when reading this guidance, that it was designed with with the broader church in mind. Some of the recommendations are more suited to large congregations (e.g., the recommendation about removing hymnals etc. assumes more than one service per week is taking place). There are also liturgical recommendations which seem to be informed by aesthetic concerns that, if implemented, would seems forced (e.g., the strange alternatives to shaking hands at the Peace). There is much that is useful in the document, and there are a few things which would seem out of place among most of our WV-WMD congregations.

Government Declarations

Government declarations, orders, and statements are on their own page. Click here to visit the COVID-19 Government Declarations page to find our what recommendations and orders our elected officials are promulgating that might affect church life (among many other things). Of particular interest will be those statements in each jurisdiction directly related to reopening.

Medical Sector

CDC banner



The CDC and other public health agencies have posted numerous guidelines for churches and community organizations. This excellent collection can be reached through the CDC's website. Visit our COVID-19 Government page for links to the CDC (and state/commonwealth) resources, information, and guidelines. You'll find there:
  • Sample posterInterim Guidance for Administrators and Leaders of Community- and Faith-Based Organizations to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  • Checklist for Community and Faith Leaders
  • Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes
  • FAQs for Administrators and Leaders at Community- and Faith-Based Organizations

We encourage the use of these resources. The site even has downloadable posters related to hand washing, wearing masks, knowing the warning signs, and more.

If you are looking for general information on COVID-19, you can find it at the CDC's dedicated Coronavirus (COVID-19) page (

MMWR (5/19/20): Case Study of Church Outbreak

CDC released a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report report late 19 May 2020 entitled, "High COVID-19 Attack Rate Among Attendees at Events at a Church — Arkansas, March 2020." It is a sobering analysis of a COVID-19 outbreak in an Arkansas congregation, the time of transmission being prior to the issuance of the Federal lockdown recommendation.


CIDRAP Viewpoint


The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy of the University of Minnesota prepared an insightful "viewpoint" with respect to COVID-19. The paper examines past pandemics, comparing them to each other and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Various scenarios are subsequently explored. The document was published April 30. Download here.

CIDRAP cover

On Crisis Communication

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy of the University of Minnesota has issued a second "viewpoint" covering crisis communication in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pastors and congregational leaders may find this helpful not only at this time but also for future events and situations. The document was published May 6. Download here.

From WV-WMD Health Providers

We're starting a new section here. Only own, Synod recommended that congregational leadership turn to the health professionals in their own congregations to assist in responding to the challenges posed by COVID-19. The Synod should have taken its own advice---well, we did, but we weren't transparent as to the significant role it played (and continues to play) in informing synodical advice and action. Let's fix that.

                  WashingHand Washing

Jennifer Loughty, who works with the providing of educational and training material for Certified Nursing Assistants, writes,"One of the skills that CNAs must demonstrate properly before being certified is hand washing. We thought it would be a good idea to put together a hand washing guide page on our website using material from our CNA training resources to help better educate the public on the proper steps for hand washing to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases." Check it out:

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West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod, ℅ St. Paul Lutheran Church, 309 Baldwin Street, Morgantown, WV 26505
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