Can Churches Open In Washington State

Maria Johnson
• Sunday, 10 January, 2021
• 9 min read

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to more accurately reflect Washington state changes for indoor church services. Washington state has eased part of its COVID-19 restrictions on indoor church services following a federal appeals court decision.

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In a Supreme Court case, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish synagogues sued to block a New York order restricting attendance in worship services. Inslee’s announcement this week still restricts indoor singing by congregations and choirs, and emphasizes social distancing between family groups, as well as wearing face coverings.

Solo performers are allowed at services, as long as face coverings are worn or removed only when playing an instrument. “We know that people treasure religious gatherings, so this has been a difficult issue of how we simultaneously defeat this virus and maintain our congregations,” Inslee said during a press conference.

In Phase 1 of the state's reopening plan, churches can offer outdoor religious services with up to 100 people present. Parishioners and church staff need to wear face coverings and follow physical distancing guidelines, including six feet between seats and pews, Inslee said.

Churches should also clean and sanitize frequently, educate employees about COVID-19 and provide protective gear to staff as appropriate. Inslee said he is also encouraging congregations to maintain a voluntary log of attendees at services to help with contact tracing if an outbreak does occur.

“Based on expert guidance from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Thomistic Institute and public health experts, we created practical guidelines outlining how we can safely return to public worship, while ensuring reverence and respect for the Sacred Liturgy of the Mass,” a statement from the Catholic Conference reads. President Trump said on Friday that churches and other houses of worship should be considered essential, and allowed to open during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Trump deems church essential and threatens to override state governors if they keep them closed. “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship,” Trump said.

The president's announcement came as new questions surfaced about hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug Trump touted as a possible 'game-changer' treatment for the COVID-19 virus. A new study published on Friday by the medical journal The Lancet reveals it's linked to a much higher risk of death in coronavirus patients.

Medical experts warn there could be a second wave of COVID-19 as states continue to ease social distancing and restrictions this holiday weekend. “Our healthcare system is at a critical point right now,” said Montgomery, AL, Mayor Steven Reed.

Contradicting the commander-in-chief, CDC Director Robert Redfield is not ruling out a second lockdown if the country faces a spike in new cases. Religious leaders around the country applauded the president's action on social media.

Entered Franklin, the senior pastor of Free Chapel, wrote, Thank you, Mr President! Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, wrote, Churches are essential.

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Johnnie Moore, a current commissioner for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, also tweeted, “FACT: Virtually every church, synagogue & mosque, etc. Help us continue to be a voice for truth in the media by supporting CBN News for as little as $1.

Washingtonstate’s places of worship can start to hold services again with restrictions that are laid out in new coronavirus safety guidelines, Gov. For the 24 counties that are in or have been approved to move into Phase 2, indoor religious services can be held at 25% capacity, or with up to 50 people, whichever is less, Inslee announced.

The churches and houses of faith are expected to have members follow social distancing guidelines inside when attending services, have members wear face masks, clean and sanitize areas frequently, provide personal protective equipment to staff and provide employee education on how to self-screen for symptoms. In-home faith services or counseling at a person’s home can be held with five people or fewer, excluding religious staff.

We know that people treasure religious gatherings, so this has been a difficult issue about how we simultaneously defeat this virus and maintain our congregations,” Inslee said. That way if an outbreak occurs, such as the one that happened at the Skagit County choir practice, people who have been exposed can protect themselves and their families as soon as possible from the coronavirus, Inslee said.

The counties that are in Phase 2 as of Wednesday are Adams, Austin, Columbia, Cowling, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Hittites, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Pacific, Pend Braille, San Juan, Ska mania, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Wahkiakum, Wall Wall and Whitman. The 11 counties that remain in Phase 1 are What com, Skagit, Snohomish, King, Pierce, Flanagan, Ch elan, Douglas, Yakima, Benton and Franklin.

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(Source: www.onlyinyourstate.com)

Modified restrictions for restaurants will take effect Wednesday, November 18 at 12:01 a.m. Although the case numbers are higher than they were in March, these restrictions are in fact less extensive than those implemented during the initial shutdown.

The fundamental difference: In March, nearly all communal activities were banned outright. Eating at restaurants is allowed, but only outdoors and with no more than 5 people at a table.

Personal services, like barbers and hair salons, can stay open now, but they too must keep it to 25 percent capacity. Church services are allowed at 25 percent capacity as long as that means no more than 200 people.

Interestingly, there are specific bans this time on choirs and bands performing, as singing indoors has shown to be particularly dangerous during the pandemic. Nonprofits are required to register with the Department of Revenue and comply with certain tax rules.

Nonprofits that intend to solicit charitable donations must register with the Charities Program of the Secretary of State. Nonprofits can be formed for any lawful purpose except acting as a labor union, cooperative organization, bank or insurance company.

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(Source: www.joinmychurch.com)

A nonprofit that wants to be classified as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempted organization, must file an application with the Internal Revenue Service requesting 501(c)(3) status, and the articles of incorporation filed with the Secretary of State must include specific language that meets IRS requirements. State tax registration requirements include obtaining a Unified Business Identifier, which is typically done when the nonprofit incorporates.

Applications for property tax exemptions are submitted to the Washington state Department of Revenue. Certain nonprofits qualify for an exemption from registration, such as those operating as a political organization or church.

Registration must be done prior to fundraising and, as of October 2011, the initial filing fee is $60 with annual renewals at $40. (2) “Public place” means that portion of any building or vehicle used by and open to the public, regardless of whether the building or vehicle is owned in whole or in part by private persons or entities, the state of Washington, or other public entity, and regardless of whether a fee is charged for admission, and includes a presumptively reasonable minimum distance, as set forth in RCW 70.160.075, of twenty-five feet from entrances, exits, windows that open, and ventilation intakes that serve an enclosed area where smoking is prohibited.

Public places include, but are not limited to: Schools, elevators, public conveyances or transportation facilities, museums, concert halls, theaters, auditoriums, exhibition halls, indoor sports arenas, hospitals, nursing homes, health care facilities or clinics, enclosed shopping centers, retail stores, retail service establishments, financial institutions, educational facilities, ticket areas, public hearing facilities, state legislative chambers and immediately adjacent hallways, public restrooms, libraries, restaurants, waiting areas, lobbies, bars, taverns, bowling alleys, skating rinks, casinos, reception areas, and no less than seventy-five percent of the sleeping quarters within a hotel or motel that are rented to guests. (3) “Place of employment” means any area under the control of a public or private employer which employees are required to pass through during the course of employment, including, but not limited to: Entrances and exits to the places of employment, and including a presumptively reasonable minimum distance, as set forth in RCW 70.160.075, of twenty-five feet from entrances, exits, windows that open, and ventilation intakes that serve an enclosed area where smoking is prohibited; work areas; restrooms; conference and classrooms; break rooms and cafeterias; and other common areas.

I pastor a church in Seattle, Washington, less than 20-mile drive from a senior care facility in Kirkland where the coronavirus (COVID-19) has claimed a half-dozen lives as of March 3, 2021. There are now reports of actively contained COVID-19 infected individuals in Seattle less than a mile away as well.

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Needless to say, there is cause for prayer, bereavement care, but also preparations for faith communities to continue to function amidst public health concerns–and indeed assist in the effort to contain this virus’ spread. As a public service, this document was created to help churches decide how to respond before the virus reaches their ministry contexts.

Please note the following is an interpretation and application of the presentation and Q&A for local churches by pastors, not written by the Public Health department. It is more like the flu, not like measles, meaning it does not sit in the air, it settles in droplets.

Immediate vicinity of COVID-19 infected persons where droplets from coughs or sneezes or breath can be inhaled by other people. At this time (March 4, 2021), the best research and case history shows that people over 60 years of age and those with underlying medical issues are the most vulnerable.

The following is a summary and application of recommendations received by the Public Health department from King County, Washington. INSTEAD, churches should switch to individual cups that can be served without hand-to-hand transmission, meaning that receivers’ hands should not touch cups other than their own.

If you go the latter route, consider paying a bit more money for compostable cups like these, so you are better participants in creation care. The Public Health official was not insistent that gloves must be worn, although she recommends that for food service.

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(Source: www.joinmychurch.com)

She allowed that a person with properly cleaned hands can offer bread safely as the communion host. Some churches have baptismal fonts at the entrance to the sanctuary or chapel so that congregants can dip their fingers in and place them on their foreheads to “remember their baptisms.” Because this is a common liquid that more than one person uses, it can potentially transmit COVID-19 droplets, so it should not be used by vulnerable populations.

Bishop Bokanovsky of the Greater Northwest region of The United Methodist Church suggests the following : NO, durable objects can retain droplets of active COVID-19 for hours or days, and certainly a few seconds while being passed down a pew or row of chairs.

INSTEAD, I’ve seen churches (often in Africa or Brazil) that will sing and dance and place individual offerings in a stationary basket or plate. And remind offering counters to not touch their face or mouth while counting, as the virus could still be active hours or a day later, depending on the environment.

YES, hymnals contain the words of the faith and encourage congregational singing. Pick up the hymnal, sing the song or join in the liturgy, and then disinfect your hands before you touch your face or phone again.

Single-use bulletins are better than hymnals, but woefully a distant second due to environmental and congregational singing concerns. Communion objects (plate, cups, etc) are disinfected and prepared with clean hands and food service best practices.

(Source: www.abc27.com)

A soap dispenser, which the participants wash their hands for at least 20 seconds (two times through “Happy Birthday” or two verses of “Baby Shark” or the chorus of “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson or “No Scrubs” by TLC are also acceptable…just not out loud on the altar) Paper towels thrown in a trash, and then celebrant doesn’t touch face or other durable objects other than the communion items. It doesn’t have to add time to the worship service, but doing it in front of everyone will reassure people.

Toys with fur or fabric (stuffed animals, etc) should not be used during this season of COVID-19 concerns. If this is impossible, consider removing as many durable objects as possible in multi-use spaces so there are fewer surface areas to clean.

Church Staff should pre-emptively figure out how to accomplish as much of their jobs as possible remotely. Human Resource church committees should set expectations of what they want staff to do in case of feeling sick, fear of getting sick, or a potential shutdown so that as much ministry coordination as possible can happen remotely.

I believe the COVID-19 outbreak shows we are in the gap between the unexpected responsibility and the organizing to share with each other. It is a place of uncertainty, but knowing we are called to do something to share what we have can be a time of transformation and care for one another.

Living in this gap between responsibility and an effective plan is a difficult place to be, but with Christ alongside us and Science informing us, it is possible. Churches are hesitant to change centuries-old practices, especially around rote rituals like Holy Communion.

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If viruses can be stopped from transmitting in houses of worship and faith communities, then the church is doing its part to protect its membership. If we ask people to stay home if sick or vulnerable, it minimizes risk.

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