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Statement on Coronavirus COVID-19

Dear Michigan Church Member,

March 12, 2020 - With multiple cases of the coronavirus COVID-19 now confirmed in the state of Michigan and the recent implementation of community mitigation strategies by the state of Michigan, many are concerned about its impact upon our church communities, schools, and families. On Wednesday (March 11), the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At the current time, there are approximately 135,000 reported cases worldwide and over 1,700 cases within the United States. That number is expected to grow exponentially across our nation and within our state.  

The Michigan Conference is carefully monitoring these developments, in cooperation with the local health authorities. Please know that moving forward, we plan to communicate pertinent information as it relates to our churches, schools, and events as we anticipate varying levels of disruption to our weekly church service routines and the day-to-day operations of our schools. 

At this time, we are asking that every church member err on the side of caution by implementing the preventative measures recommended by the CDC. This entails:

  • Frequent washing of hands or using hand sanitizer (60%+ alcohol)
  • Avoiding close contact with others
  • Remaining home when sick
  • Covering coughs & sneezes
  • Wearing a face mask (if you’re sick)
  • Cleaning & disinfecting frequently touched surfaces 

We also strongly encourage those who are at high risk for developing serious illness from COVID-19 to avoid large gatherings, which includes church services and other weekly events. This is especially so if COVID-19 becomes widespread within the state. Those who are at high risk include:

  • Older adults
  • People with chronic medical conditions:
    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Lung disease

 

PROTOCOL FOR CHURCHES

Furthermore, as it relates to our churches and entities, we are asking that our churches abide by the guidelines recommended by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) for faith-based organizations. They are listed as follows:

  1. Identify safe ways to serve those who are at high risk or vulnerable through outreach and assistance. 
  2. Encourage staff and members to stay home when sick and to notify the organization of illness. 
  3. Communicate and reinforce best practices for washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes. 
  4. Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs, keyboards, cell phones, and light switches. 
  5. Ensure hand hygiene supplies are readily accessible. 
  6. Implement social distancing measures as feasible. 
  7. Reduce in-person gatherings and activities, especially for organizations with individuals at risk of severe illness. Consider offering video or audio of events. 
  8. Determine ways to continue providing support services to individuals at risk of severe illness while limiting group settings and exposures. 
  9. Avoid large gatherings (e.g., greater than 100 people in a shared space) or move to smaller and staggered gatherings. 
  10. For organizations that serve high-risk communities, cancel gatherings of more than 10 people. 

We are also asking that churches abide by the recommended guidelines for mass events that include the cancellation or postponement of large gatherings and conferences greater than 100 people in a shared space. There are several options for larger churches, which may include:

  • Streaming service where the pastor and limited numbers are present to facilitate the online service (fewer than 100 attendees), 
  • Conducting multiple worship services where each service has less than 100 members,
  • Conducting worship in the homes of various church members, 
  • Churches may also opt for other options, as long as they are compliant with state recommendations. 

We have also included guidelines from the Lake Union Conference for conducting worship service for churches that have less than 100 attendees. Please consider the following as you plan your weekly services, prayer meetings, and other gatherings:

  1. Ask your members to worship on-line from home if they: have active cold or flu symptoms; have recently (last two weeks) traveled in a CDC level three country (wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/); have reason to believe they have recently been exposed to people infected with the virus; or are senior citizens and/or have underlying chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease. 
  2. Make special efforts, using appropriate safety measures, to stay connected with and support those that must stay home, especially the elderly, as they are at special risk for loneliness and depression during times of extended isolation.
  3. Ask church attendees not to give hugs and handshakes, and to maintain a safe social distance from others (generally three feet or more); we strongly recommend that Communion service be suspended for the Spring quarter.
  4. Provide anti-septic soap dispensers [hand sanitizer] (with 60% alcohol content, if available) at all church entrances, with signs indicating a no handshake zone; have greeters place bulletins on tables or trays for people to pick up, rather than handing them out.
  5. Avoid hand-holding prayer or singing sessions; organize the children’s story time to avoid contact among the children, and; find alternate ways to take up the children’s or “lamb’s offering,” especially during March and April.      
  6. Do not pass offering plates [deacons could handle the plates exclusively and have members simply insert their offering]; place plates in the back, or the front, to be used as people leave.
  7. Provide alcohol wipes and regularly clean high-touch surfaces, like door handles, stair rails, drinking fountains, light switches, and Sabbath School room tables after use, especially in the children’s Sabbath Schools. 
  8. Consider cancelling potlucks and community meals, at least for the months of March and April. If group meals happen, use food servers with gloves rather than allowing self-service.
  9. Share reliable information from church and government agencies, such as www.cdc.gov,  that will help promote safe practices, and that will defuse stereotypes and myths.  For instance, it is not true that certain immigrant groups or nationalities are causing the spread of the virus within the United States, and there is simply no evidence that the virus was engineered or intentionally spread. 
  10. Plan health nuggets in Sabbath School and church reminding people of immune-system boosting behaviors, such as getting regular exercise, sunshine, good sleep, and avoiding excess sugars. The Adventist health message provides an anti-Coronavirus behavior template, let’s share it that way!

For tithes and offerings, when members may not be able to attend their local churches, please take advantage of Adventist Giving Online. You may also mail your check to your local church address (not the conference office). Churches may also opt to devise their own plans for receiving tithes and offerings. 

We are requesting that local church leadership thoughtfully implement these protocols effective immediately. 


 

PROTOCOL FOR SCHOOLS

In relation to our schools and childcare entities, we are requesting compliance with the school guidelines issued by the MDHHS. They are listed as follows:

  1. Educate students and the community about COVID-19 and preventative hygiene practices. 
  2. Encourage staff and students to stay home when sick. 
  3. Report influenza-like activity, absenteeism, and potential school dismissals to public health officials. 
  4. Separate sick students and staff from others until they can go home. When feasible, identify a “sick room” through which others do not regularly pass. 
  5. Communicate and reinforce best practices for washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes. 
  1. Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs, keyboards, cell phones, and light switches. 
  2. Consider having students eat meals in their classrooms as opposed to a cafeteria-like setting, or alter meal schedules for smaller-group gatherings. 
  3. Limit large gatherings such as assemblies and limit inter-school interactions. 
  4. Alter schedules for recess and entry/dismissal to reduce the mixing of large numbers of students and staff. 
  5. Schools with students at risk of severe illness should consider implementing plans for distance learning for those students, to the extent feasible. 

School related field trips that take place beyond school premises are not permissible until further notice. Please note, we are not closing our elementary schools, junior academies, and K-12 day academies because it is not the current recommendation by the state. However, this could change in the near foreseeable future, and we will provide further notice if changes are made.  


 

TRAVEL (CONFERENCE EMPLOYEES ONLY

We are suspending all work-related releases or trips that involve interstate and international travel by airplane or automobile. We are also discouraging international travel for obvious reasons (e.g., persons may be unable to return to the United States). We will continue to monitor the situation throughout the month of March and inform you of any changes that are made. 

CANCELLED EVENTS | CAMP MEETING 

Please note that the Marriage Retreat scheduled for March 13-15 has been cancelled, along with New in Ministry for our pastors, and all mission trips that fall under the auspices of the Michigan Conference. At this time, there are no plans to cancel camp meeting. We will continue to assess and monitor the situation as we approach the summer months. 

FURTHER INFORMATION | RESOURCES | LINKS

Please note that forthcoming information and announcements will be provided at www.misda.org, and we will also alert our members via the Michigan Conference Facebook page, and our weekly Conference newsletter (subscribe). We also plan to list multiple online streaming options for Sabbath School and Sabbath services from our territory. 

If you have any questions regarding COVID-19 as it relates to the Michigan Conference, our churches, schools, camps, etc., you may email your questions to: communication@misda.org.  


 

LEAN ON JESUS | MINISTER TO A DYING WORLD   

We invite you to continue praying for our communities, churches, and schools. We serve a living God who is in control of our lives. We urge every Seventh-day Adventist to initiate and attend prayer meetings pleading with God for revival and reformation, and God’s continued leading. Now is not the time for public evangelism gatherings. It’s time to focus on one-on-one, door-to-door, and small group ministry. Now is the time to seize the opportunity for reaching our community with the everlasting gospel. 

Finally, let us take courage in the following words from Scripture: “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand” (Isaiah 41:10).