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Things to Consider About In-Person Worship During the Pandemic from SOS Bishop's Office


The following was produced on behalf of the synod by Pr. Larry Donner, Thrive Campaign Director, and the Bishop’s Outside the Box Team. Bishop Dillahunt greatly appreciates their work to pull this document together and hopes it, along with the other resources mentioned in the document, will be of help to you and your leadership team.


Things to Consider About In-Person Worship During the Pandemic


We are called to care for neighbor and ourselves (Matthew 22:39.) The Southern Ohio Synod has, therefore, provided guidance to Rostered Ministers and congregations regarding COVID-19 since the early stages of the pandemic. 

We are now entering a new phase of the pandemic that Civic authorities are calling a “re-opening.” That may be an appropriate description for many businesses but not for the Church. The Church – the body of Christ – has been open and working throughout the pandemic. Congregations, pastors, deacons, chaplains, and staff members and other ministries of our synod have continued to proclaim God’s Word, as well as provide member care, fellowship, faith formation, and service to neighbors, albeit in different ways. We can and should continue to engage in these ministries even if beginning to plan to gather in-person and in new ways.

Many congregations are now considering whether or not to reopen their buildings and once again hold in-person worship services. There is a risk in holding in-person services in that no matter what preventative steps are taken; nothing will be 100% safe.  For the safety of congregants, employees and church leaders, the Southern Ohio Synod continues to recommend that congregations abide by guidance and orders set forth by the Federal Government’s Coronavirus Task Force, the CDC, the Ohio Department of Health, and the Ohio Governor, when making a determination on whether or not to reopen buildings or return to in-person worship.

We anticipate our lives to be shaped by COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, so any plan you and your leadership create will need to be staged in phases. We will need to remain adaptive and prepared to move back and forth within our plans depending on changes in current Federal and State guidance and your congregation’s best interests as it relates to Matthew 22:39.

Consequently, we ask you join us in praying for: a spirit of discernment, wisdom and ; for researchers and medical professionals; for the ill and recovering; for the grieving and struggling; and for Rostered Ministers, Synod staff and all church leaders striving to implement faithful, loving decisions about the future.

It should be noted that churches averaging over 50 in attendance may be especially challenged in returning to in-person worship due to decreased seating capacity required to maintain social distancing. Any size congregation, however, may decide its most loving and faithful option is to continue holding online worship only. Such decisions are neither failings nor acts of cowardice, but rather the particular congregation’s expression of The Great Commandment during this extraordinary time.

Please read the ELCA’s ‘Considerations for Returning to In-person Worship’ document. It provides more specific details from various reliable sources for you and your leadership to review, discuss, and pray over as you decide what your congregation’s next steps will be.

We wish to stress that there is no 100% safe way to do in-person worship or prepare and administer Holy Communion. So, as you discuss the possibility of gathering once again, please consider the following in determining the safest plans for your context:

  • use facial coverings
  • maintain social distance
  • sanitize all hard surfaces before and after worship
  • wash hands thoroughly and often
  • receive communion in ‘one kind’
  • use wafers instead of bread
  • use pre-packaged communion elements
  • no common cup
  • no intinction
  • no passing the peace
  • no passing offering plates
  • no choirs at this time
  • refrain from offering coffee, food, or fellowship time

As it may be helpful to read and learn about what other congregations in our synod or other synods may be planning, please share your best practices with us so we may share them with others. Forward plans to Susan Barton-Nonno, SOS Director of Communications, Plans will be posted on the synod website.

Finally, please understand that this document is not to be construed as permission from the Southern Ohio Synod or its staff to return to in-person worship, or all that needs to be considered. Every congregation is advised to consult federal, state, CDC and ODH guidelines, and determine whether or not it is wise to re-open for in-person worship. If then choosing to re-open, it should follow those guidelines in planning the best practices for its context.

Thank you for your faithful leadership, commitment and service to your people, your community, and the Synod. We are grateful for you!

May the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ uphold and sustain you during these uncertain times.


Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations,

I am exalted in the earth.”

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.



Additional Resources:

COVID-19 Litany by Josh Brodbeck

24 Questions Your Church Should Answer Before People Return

Avoid this Big Mistake: Stepping Back into the Past when You Step Back into Your Building





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