From the Executive Director: Churches and Stay at Home 2.0

UPDATE Since the “Stay At Home 2.0” order went into effect, several of our members have issued new guidance to their congregations, clergy and lay members:

Dear Church,

On Friday, May 1, 2020, Governor Sununu gave New Hampshire a “Stay At Home 2.0” order. These orders “flex” open some economic sectors of the state including restaurants, lodging and cosmetology. Information about the Stay At Home 2.0 order can be found online at the NH Economy Business Center.

Church leaders and members will have questions about how the Stay At Home 2.0 order affects them. At his Friday press conference, the Governor made two points important for churches:

  1. The Task Force gave no exemptions for churches or other religious bodies. The Governor hinted that this could be a part of a future “Stay At Home 3.0” order, but it is not a part of today’s order.
  2. All stay-at-home orders remain in effect. The Governor was clear that this is a second version of the earlier “Stay At Home” order. Gatherings of more than 10 people remain prohibited. This provision continues to apply to churches and religious bodies.

Many churches stopped in-person worship before the Governor’s restrictions went into place in March. The move to online worship and gatherings was an act of religious freedom and was done as much out of Love of Neighbor as out of compliance with state regulation.

Over the past week, as the Executive Director, I have been in consultation with diverse Christian, Catholic and Jewish leaders in the state. Across these ecumenical and interfaith groups, there is a clear consensus that we expect to continue online worship and other gatherings as long as the 10-person gathering limit is in place. This may continue well after such a limitation is lifted. They phrased this expectation in the terms of spiritual principles such as  prioritizing the Common Good, Love of Neighbor or pikuach nefesh (saving of life).

Because of the new Stay At Home 2.0 order, now is a good time for denominational leaders and local church leaders to communicate clearly the following:

  1. Gatherings of 10 or more remain prohibited. The new order does not exempt religious gatherings in any way.
  2. Reiterate any existing denominational regulations or advisories which the congregation must follow.
  3. Continuing online worship and meetings is not a step taken alone but is taken together with diverse ecumenical and interfaith partners.

The NH Council of Churches is committed to being a resource to support churches during the pandemic. We will continue to listen attentively to the State of New Hampshire directives on public health and safety and help to interpret them for the sake of your ministry.

Yours in faith,

Rev. Jason Wells