Today Minnesota Gov. Walz issued Executive Order 20-63 (or try revised link here), which generally maintains the prior limit of gatherings to 10 people but now permits churches to gather up to 250 people or 25% building capacity, whichever is less.
The order requires churches to follow a special Minnesota Employer Preparedness Plan Requirements Checklist for places of worship. Here are some highlights.
(Note: On May 28, 2020, the government website altered the URLs for both the EO and the checklist, and also modified checklist. This blog was written on the basis of a May 27 version, which has slightly different content and consequently different pagination.)
Bibles, Hymnals, and Bulletins (p. 4, pt. 6)
Shared hymnals and religious texts should be removed as they cannot be effectively cleaned. Consider the following options:
➤Use projectors to guide participants through the order, prayers, and texts of the service.
➤Distribute paper copies in a way that minimizes contact by anyone but the service participant, and do not reuse.
➤Provide electronic copies of text used for services to participants to access on their personal devices prior to the service
Singing (p. 5, pt. 10)
Singing is a higher-risk activity as it more forcefully expels respiratory droplets than speaking. And the act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols. Congregations should refrain from singing. Congregations are strongly encouraged to offer pre-recorded music or only one cantor singing at a distance of at least 12 feet from anyone else during the service, while wearing a facemask.
Holy Communion (p. 5, pt. 12)
Communion for some faiths is a critical part of their ritual. Faith communities that cannot make communion a touch-free encounter should follow these guidelines:
➤Communion should be distributed hand-to-hand, not hand-to-mouth.
➤Both the distributor and the receiver of communion should wear face coverings.
➤6 feet of distance (two arm’s length) distance should be maintained between the communion distributor and the receiver. This would require both parties extending their arms as comfortably as possible.
➤The distributor of communion should use hand sanitizer prior to initiation, and repeated after touching their face, coughing, or sneezing, or significant touching of another person or object in the process of distributing communion.
➤Hand sanitizer should be used before touching a mask to take it down for communion, and after touching a mask to put it back on.
Note: handsanitizer must be applied thoroughly and allowed to dry to be effective.
Questions to Ponder
- What, exactly, is the public emergency that justifies the continuation of executive power over matters that otherwise are legislative?
- Where does the authority of the state (whether legislative or executive) end, and that of the church begin?
- What is the significance of the First Amendment singling out religious free exercise as a protected right, one which the Supreme Court has repeatedly identified as a “fundamental right”?
- What are the essential properties of the divine service—in other words, how much may be altered (neo-Levitical codes because Holy Communion is deemed unclean?) or removed (no congregational singing?) or added (a face mask even on the cantor who is 12 feet away) while still preserving the essence of public worship, and without desecrating the sanctuary?
- How best can congregations continue to gather for the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments while showing loving concern to the medically vulnerable?
The following offer comprehensive and balanced treatment of timely topics.
- Rendering to Caesar and to God: Pandemic Health Codes and Religious Liberty
- To Mask, or Not to Mask … That Is the Question!
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of Into Your Hands LLC and the author of several books, including Rediscovering the American Republic (2 vols.) and Debating Evolution before Darwinism. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschooled children in Casper, Wyoming, where he serves as Academic Dean at Luther Classical College. He previously taught American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College, 2003–2023 He also serves as President of the Hausvater Project, which mentors Christian parents. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.