Today, Friday, May 29th, Gov. Sununu made the following announcement in his afternoon briefing:
NH places of worship will be free to meet in groups of ten or more people, up to 40% occupancy, effective immediately, under guidelines consistent with the CDC’s guidelines for places of worship.
The “Live Free or Die State” now joins 44 other states that have already eased stringent restrictions on the ability of churches to assemble together.
There has been a concerted effort in the state to resume public gatherings of worship. Last week, state Senator Bob Giuda presented a draft emergency order directly to Gov. Sununu’s administration, penned by the senator’s Working Group for Resuming Public Worship, outlining what removing the prohibition of gatherings of ten or more people in places of worship could look like. The working group included leaders from faith traditions ranging from Buddhist to Catholic, and from Evangelical to Jewish, among others. Their proposed emergency order had three major goals:
- Lift the prohibition on groups of ten or more worshippers
- Apply the primary principles of the “Universal Guidelines for NH Employers and Employees” to a worship context, and
- Be the least restrictive in terms of interfering with religious practice
How to proceed will be at the discretion of each church and its leadership.
Some churches began meeting in person again earlier this month with more than ten people, adhering to social distancing and face-covering protocols. Most did so while maintaining close communication with local police and board of health officials.
With some effort, other churches will be ready and willing to resume in-person worship this weekend, aligning with the guidance for houses of worship. Still others may be ready in a week or so.
Other churches may find compliance with the guidelines too burdensome or feel that the critical public health interest of their particular congregation still outweighs the need to meet in person at this time. Those churches may elect to continue in a virtual format until Emergency Orders expire or until the public health situation improves.
Stay Tuned: We’re Here to Help
Regardless of which category you may find yourself or your church in, we know that church leaders are weighing many important decisions! We are working to bring you a webinar and/or round-table event next week to help you process your next best steps, and we will keep you posted. In the meantime, please check out the resources below from my colleagues in other states that have been working through similar issues related to resuming public worship.
Also, if you need masks: access the NH Dept. of Safety’s Mask Order Form here to see if your church can receive masks.
Resuming Public Worship
Resources from Around the Nation
NH: Fashionably Late to the Party But Certainly Not Alone!
- Florida Family Council: Re-Opening Churches (comprehensive resources for churches of all sizes, including webinars on strategy, technology, and more!)
- Iowa’s The Family Leader: Church Guidelines for Re-Opening
- Massachusetts Family Institute: “Reopening the Church in MA” Webinar
- Minnesota Family Council: “When Can We Meet Again? Resources for Churches After Covid-19” Webinar
- Ohio’s Citizens for Community Values: Guidelines for Re-Engaging in Public Worship Gatherings
- Pennsylvania Family Institute: COVID-19 Resources page, including a “To Open or Not To Open: Considerations for Churches” Webinar