Central’s response to COVID-19

Since mid-March when COVID-19 became an obstacle to us gathering together at our church, Central has facilitated numerous online activities to keep our members connected. Here is the latest news from a recent presentation made by the 201 Washington Street Task Force.


201 Washington Street Task Force Report to Session

July 6, 2020

Task force members:

Mike Sizemore, Convener

Melanie Bliss, Vice-Convener

Steve McKinney, Clerk of Session

Jessica Patchett, Senior Pastor

Kathy Ashe

Gary Cornell

Martha Crenshaw

Denise de La Rue

Kathy Harben

Jerry Miller

Mary Lillian Walker

David York

Preamble: We are not prepared at this time to return to the sanctuary or to indicate a date for return. We are working on a plan for developing criteria under which we would be able to make this recommendation. At this time, we

1. Move to session that we invest in building out a high-quality, professional live-streaming infrastructure in the sanctuary in anticipation of returning.

2. Authorize the staff to make incremental investments in current, dispersed online worship service production.

3. Suggest that if members or small groups of the congregation choose to gather in-person that they do so outdoors and with appropriate social distancing procedures as outlined by the CDC.

Mission: The purpose of this Task Force is to advise the Session about how our campus ministry activity and operations might look now and in the future given the ongoing challenges of living with COVID-19. Using church leadership and professional expertise, the members of this task force will help guide us to decisions that prioritize the health of every member, friend, and guest of Central Presbyterian Church and enable us to grow in mission and ministry with our neighbors in this unique season.

Process: We were specifically asked to first consider worship in the foreseeable future while protecting ourselves and maintaining our high expectations for a quality worship service. The task force has convened in myriad ways. We have collectively and individually read a number of documents and websites and consulted with other clergy and churches, the Presbytery, and each other to inform our decision. We have strongly considered the need to balance our responsibility for the health and safety of our entire congregation as well as staff members with the need for inclusive and meaningful worship services and congregational life. We have seriously considered the effects of the experience of worship should we return to the physical building while COVID-19 infection rates remain high. In addition, we have consulted CDC and other public health sources.

We consulted many websites that track disease spread. Amongst many resources reviewed, here are several statement-oriented writings we found particularly helpful.

• The Presbytery recommends we use this cite to gauge when to safely open:


• Message from Stated Clerk of Presbytery:



• “Straight Answers from the Top Epidemiologist who Predicted the Pandemic”:



Supporting information:

In researching for public health precautionary safety measure recommendations and guidelines, we understand them to include such actions as masks, listing all persons in attendance, spacing in pews, avoidance of touching, lack of choir, lack of bulletins lack of unified singing and auditory response, lack of shared coffee/snacks/lunch, inability to sit in small spaces for classes/committees, and more. We have determined that these measures would likely be cumbersome beyond the point of reasonableness for our staff, our volunteers, our congregation, and our visitors. In addition, it is likely that they would interfere and/or prevent the experience of worship in the way in which most people most miss: fellowship with others, singing, choir, communion, and corporate response.

Because infection rates remain high in Georgia and testing, although available, is still not easily available for masses, we are unable to project a date for return. Although some may argue that congregation members may willingly choose to risk attendance, we have a responsibility to the health and safety of our staff as well. Requiring staff members to work without consideration of their individual situations and concerns (medical or otherwise) goes against our mission to care for all. In addition, moving effort and energy into an in-person experience will detract from effort toward a quality virtual experience for all of those unwilling or unable to come in-person.

We prefer to be inclusive to all versus exclusive of some in order to accommodate some. We will continue to assess the time for safe return to the sanctuary and this decision will be data driven, including published infection rates in our local counties and state, a significant lasting decrease in the per capita rate of infection and percent positive testing, widespread testing availability, and availability and feasibility of precautionary measures that would prevent viral spread, such as masks, cleaning supplies, etc.

Specific Recommendations:

1. Move to session that we invest in building out a high-quality, professional live-streaming infrastructure in the sanctuary in anticipation of returning.

2. Authorize the staff to make incremental investments in current, dispersed online worship service production.

Many members report feeling connected to others and to our staff though our virtual experience. We are attracting new visitors to our service and website through our quality virtual service. We unanimously agree as a task force that the virtual streaming service should become a mainstay even post-COVID-19 pandemic so that people who are unable to come in person for any reason can experience worship with us. This may include people who are unable to leave their homes, people in poor health or temporarily sick, people who live elsewhere, people with small children, etc. For now, while the congregation cannot return to the sanctuary, we anticipate that most streaming will continue to primarily occur from our worship leader’s homes.

Having said that, there will come a time when Central will return to the sanctuary, and we would like to be able to livestream and record that service in a manner that preserves the integrity of the service. It has already been determined that the existing technology Central has cannot provide a high-quality streaming service from the sanctuary itself. We recommend that the administration committee (in coordination with the Communications Director) obtain quotes for the necessary infrastructure we will need and move towards installation as soon as possible. In consultation with other churches who have done this we are aware this may be a significant financial investment but that it will be well worth the return in terms of community participation and engagement.

3. We know that there are significant psychological benefits to gathering in-person. We suggest that if small groups of congregation members choose to gather, we strongly recommend they do so outdoors and with appropriate social distancing procedures as outlined by the CDC.

Clearly, the research purports that viral transmission outdoors is far less likely, especially with appropriate social distancing measures in place and the group is relatively small.

We are aware that many people deeply miss the experience of being in community with one another. Gatherings could potentially be held outdoors at someone’s home or at a location such as a park. Our task force has provided a list of measures and actions that we believe would help maintain safety in such gatherings, knowing that there is always some element of risk but that the benefit of being in-person may provide substantial gains. While Central Presbyterian Church cannot at this time recommend people gather in any type of in-person gathering, some existing groups may choose to coordinate on their own.

In conclusion, the decision to not propose a return-date and to offer guidelines for in-person gatherings did not come to us easily, was not unanimous, and we are aware that there are many in the congregation who may disagree. We understand that we all deeply miss the Church and our live and interactive community of believers fellowshipping and worshipping together.

We act now out of compassion and care for the greater good, health, and safety of us all, and pray that a return to our beloved sanctuary and ability to worship and fellowship together will come soon.

Central Presbyterian Church’s 201 Washington Street Task Force developed the following guidelines—using science-based recommendations from CDC—to assist Central members in making decisions regarding their personal safety and health during in-person outdoor gatherings. These guidelines will be updated as new information about COVID-19 transmission becomes available.

We recognize the immense psychological and social benefit to meeting people in person and gathering in community with one another. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the possible outcomes of viral infection, Central Presbyterian Church cannot encourage in person gatherings at the time of this writing. 

However, we acknowledge that many will choose to gather, and, if so, we hope that they will follow our foremost public health advice and gather outdoors. In this regard, the Task Force recommends that should the Session elect to make the below guidelines and protocols available to the congregation, that it make explicit in any such communication that guidelines and protocols are no more than lists of practices that can potentially mitigate, to an unknown degree, the dangers created by in-person gatherings. The recommendations that follow are intended to be used thoughtfully, carefully, and with the intention of creating safe environments, but no set of recommendations is sufficient without the commitment of all participants to respectfully abide by them and use good judgement.


  • An event should be limited to 12 people or fewer and to one hour in length.
  • If people are “hand selected/invited” v. an existing Central group (e.g., committee, parish gatherings) then the gathering is considered to be a private event and should not be considered or designated as a Central gathering.
  • All attendees have the right to decline an invitation without judgement or encouragement to attend.
  • We strongly encourage all attendees to consider their own safety, health, and risk factors for contraction of COVID-19, and to take appropriate precautions for protecting themselves.
  •  No Central Presbyterian Church staff member should be required, demanded, or requested to attend. No event can be organized around the attendance of any Central staff member. We must protect the health, safety, and personal/private concerns and/or risk factors of all of our staff and cannot place them in a position where they must choose attendance and/or be in the uncomfortable position of declining attendance. They may be invited to attend and can privately choose whether or not to participate but should not be subjected to encouragement. This includes events where a “worship component” is included. Based on the attendees who selectively choose to participate, worship leaders (who may be lay leaders/congregation members) may be chosen to lead.
  •  Consider scheduling Zoom events for Central staff, members, and guests who are at high risk and do not want to or cannot attend outdoor events.

General recommendations:

  •  All participants should provide their own transportation to the event and/or arrive in a family unit. For those who cannot provide their own transportation, we strongly recommend the careful and selective use of quarantining before/after events and the required use of masks in a car or other means of transportation.
  •  Schedule all meet-and-greets outdoors and follow the latest recommendations on face coverings and physical distancing. Indoor gatherings are not recommended at this time.
  •  Shared refreshments are not recommended at this time. Each household/individual can provide their own beverage(s), if desired.
  •  Hosts must record names and contact information for every person at an in-person, outdoor event.
  •  No shaking hands, elbow bumps, etc.; instead, wave or say hello in a non-touch manner.
  • All attendees are required to bring and wear masks/face coverings over nose and mouth.
  •  In the event of inclement weather, the gathering should be cancelled unless it is held under a large open air pavilion or the equivalent that offers open air flow.
  • Avoid group singing and shouting.

Recommendations for Hosts:

  •  Hosts should not be in a high-risk category if hosting at their own home outdoor space.
  •  Ask people to RSVP by 48 hours before event in an online forum.
  •  Send reminder the day before event asking people to stay home if they aren’t feeling well or might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
  •  Have someone on hand to greet attendees when they arrive or post sign directing attendees to outdoor space and offer instruction on procedures and safety protocol.
  •  Hosts should have additional masks available should someone’s mask become unusable or they forget to bring one.
  •  Direct attendees to set up their own chairs/towels/blankets at 6-foot distances (people from same household can sit together).
  •  If the host is comfortable providing access to their home’s bathroom, offer hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol), disposable paper towels, wipes/spray disinfectant for people to clean surfaces they have touched, and avoid letting a line form. Post sign in bathroom stating the sanitizing procedure, including to put the toilet seat down when flush. One non-resident person inside at a time. An open window or ventilation fan “on” is important in the bathroom.
  • Do not allow people to gather inside, including children who want to play or people who want to go into a kitchen, etc.
  • Offer an outdoor trash can with easy access to dispose of trash without handling a lid.
  • Because of COVID-19*, this is an outdoor gathering, and we will follow CDC recommendations to prevent spreading the disease. This includes required wearing of a mask and maintaining physical distance. Please bring a face covering/mask, hand sanitizer, and your own chair or blanket. As needed, you’re encouraged to wear sunscreen, sunglasses/hat, and bring your own water bottle. In the event of rain, this event will be cancelled.
  • Please RSVP no later than (48 hours before time/date). 

(Host name and contact information)

*Please do not attend if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the past two weeks or if you don’t feel well (that is, have symptoms such as fever/chills, cough, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle/body aches, headaches, sore throat, new loss of taste/smell, congestion/runny nose, diarrhea, nausea/vomiting).