UPDATE On April 16, 2021, Governor Sununu allowed the statewide mask mandate to expire. This mandate was initially ordered in Emergency Order #74 on November 20, 2020.
Churches should know two things as the statewide mask mandate expires:
- Local cities and towns may have their own mask ordinances that are still in effect. Please check with local authorities as the expiration of the Governor’s mask mandate may or may not affect local policy.
- Pay attention to your denominational authorities which may apply in addition to civil ordinances. Like private businesses, churches are within their right to require a mask to enter their building. The expiration of the statewide mandate is not an excuse to ignore denominational or local church requirements.
On May 29, Governor Sununu issued flex guidance for Places of Worship: “Effective immediately, in person religious services may resume in accordance with the following guidance and religious services taking place under this guidance shall be exempt from Emergency Order #16. This guidance applies to indoor and outdoor religious services, including weddings and funeral services.”
- Download the March 25, 2021 revised guidance from the State of New Hampshire on Places of Worship (PDF).
- Download the original CDC Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith, referenced in the NH guidance (PDF).
UPDATE: On Thursday, March 25, 2021, Governor Sununu eliminated the 50% capacity restriction from the Places of Worship guidance. This formerly read: “All places of worship shall limit building occupancy to 50% of the building’s maximum permitted occupancy level as documented in its occupancy permit on record with the municipal building department or other municipal record holder.”
Please note that the requirement for 6-feet of social distancing still applies. Many churches observe that this limits their capacity at or below 50%. As you reconsider your capacity in light of the Governor’s new guidance, do not ignore the ongoing requirement of 6 feet of social distancing.
Before your congregation considers returning to in-person worship, the NH Council of Churches recommends:
- Read the 17 points of guidance in the document. Much of the guidance given is not easy to implement. In-person worship gatherings should not be undertaken with a spirit of laxity toward these guidelines.
- Consult with your denominational leadership. This guidance is not intended to circumvent requirements issued by your own denominational authorities. Churches should approach in-person worship in obedience to both the State guidelines and their denominational guidelines.
- Having done the above, communicate clearly, consistently and lovingly with your congregations. Pastors will have to repeat their decision-making many times to their members and clear, consistent and loving communication will show the respect this weighty conversation merits.
News Reports on COVID response in NH churches
- Union Leader, Gathering the flock: Services to return, with restrictions
- WMUR, Stay-at-home order extended to June 15; reopening guidance given for houses of worship, day camps
- Laconia Daily Sun, Some churches resume in-person worship, while others wait
- On Friday, August 7, 2020, WMUR reported that NH state officials reported that at least 16 people contracted COVID-19 while attending services at Crossing Life Church in Windham, NH. While this church is not affiliated with the NH Council of Churches, please adhere to the denominational and state guidance below so that our churches may remain houses of healing and not become sources of sickness. See the news story here.
- On Thursday, October 1, 2020, several news outlets reported on a COVID outbreak at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Portsmouth, NH. The Attorney General’s office is working with the church to urge compliance with the Governor’s guidances above. See the news story here:
- WMUR, Portsmouth church notified of COVID violations amid report of outbreak
- Providence Journal, COVID-19 outbreak at New Hampshire Greek church may be linked to shared chalice, spoon
- Union Leader, After outbreak among NH worshipers, AG warns defiant Greek Orthodox Church to stop sharing chalice
- National Herald, New Hampshire Attorney General Intervenes in the Metropolis of Boston Regarding COVID-19
- Seacoast Online, COVID-19 outbreak at Greek church in Portsmouth not linked to communion, leader says
- On Thursday, October 22, WMUR reported that Gate City Church in Nashua has had a COVID outbreak with 39 people affected: Investigation shows 39 COVID-19 cases linked to Nashua church outbreak
- On Friday, November 6, WMUR reported that New Life Church in Raymond has a COVID outbreak: Potential community COVID exposures announced in Nashua, Raymond
- On Friday, November 13, WMUR reported that Calvary Church in Wolfeboro has a COVID outbreak with 25 people affected: Officials announce COVID-19 outbreak at church in Wolfeboro
- On Sunday, November 16, the Executive Director, Rev. Jason Wells, joined other faith leaders in commenting on the WMUR9 segment: Granite State houses of worship implement guidelines as cases rise
- On Tuesday, November 17, WMUR updated their story on Calvary Church in Wolfeboro, with a quote from Bishop Rob Hirschfeld of the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire: Places of worship continue COVID-19 guidelines in wake of rising case numbers
INFORMATION BELOW THIS LINE IS NOW OUT OF DATE
As of January 4, 2021, clergy are eligible to register for the COVID-19 vaccine. Please see our page dedicated to the vaccine for details.
On Thursday, November 12, 2020, Governor Sununu expanded permission for churches to have “Pre-or post-service communal gatherings (e.g., coffee hours or other food services).” In the wording of the Executive Order, these are still “discouraged” but “may take place but must comply with all applicable guidance and Emergency Orders, including the Universal and Food Service Industry guidance, and Emergency Order 63.”
Any church wishing to resume these communal gatherings safely and responsibly should download the guidance above and comply with all of the steps required in the multiple Food Service Industry guidances.
- Download the November 12 revised guidance from the State of New Hampshire on Places of Worship (PDF).
On Friday, August 21, 2020, Governor Sununu expanded permission for the resumption of nursery, childcare, and in-person youth education programs. The new guidance, linked below, removes the previous line 18b which prohibited these programs.
The Governor did not provide any guidance on how to resume these programs safely. A church seeking to resume these programs safely may want to consult with the existing General Guidance to Protect Child Care Providers, Staff, and Children.
On June 15, Governor Sununu issued new guidance for Places of Worship. There are two changes to note from his guidance released on May 29 (below). Those changes are:
- All worship services shall limit building capacity to 50% of the maximum permitted occupancy level.
- A note on point 7b has been revised to be clear that “healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients while wearing appropriate personal protective equipment can attend” in-person worship services.
The change to a capacity of 50% is an increase over the May 29 guidance, which allowed for 40%. This appears to be an adjustment to match with the 50% capacity allowed for funeral homes and wedding venues.
NOTE Many pastors have reported that in order to meet social distancing requirements, the actual capacity of their buildings is closer to 25%. Attempting a capacity of 40% or 50% would most likely violate the social distancing requirements.
NOTE If your church is unable or unwilling to obey the guidance given in Emergency Order #52, then your church should not be gathering for in-person worship services.
Find the full guidance on the Governor’s website. NOW SUPERSEDED BY THE GUIDANCE ABOVE
Download pages 60-62 only of Executive Order #52, Exhibit B, Section R (PDF). This is the segment of the 100-page document pertaining to Places of Worship. NOW SUPERSEDED BY THE GUIDANCE ABOVE
In a press conference on May 29, Governor Sununu issued new flex guidance for Places of Worship: “Effective immediately, in person religious services may resume in accordance with the following guidance and religious services taking place under this guidance shall be exempt from Emergency Order #16. This guidance applies to indoor and outdoor religious services, including weddings and funeral services.”
Download the 4-page guidance from the State of New Hampshire on Places of Worship (PDF). NOW SUPERSEDED BY EMERGENCY ORDER #52 ABOVE
- Read the statement from the National Council of Churches, NCC Urges Churches to Exercise Extreme Caution Before Re-Opening. “The National Council of Churches USA is urging churches to exercise extreme caution when deciding whether or not to open its doors for services Memorial Day weekend and in the near future. Churches have been reported to be a source of outbreaks of the coronavirus and opening prematurely could have deadly consequences.”