Recommendations July 14, 2020
After a review of the status of the COVID19 pandemic in the Pioneer Valley, we concluded it was premature to
reopen the meetinghouse. While we continue to explore what conditions and precautions would allow us to
meet together indoors eventually, we also gave thought about what we could recommend for safe worship right
We understand that gathering virtually for worship is not as satisfying an experience for us. Many of us long to
worship together in person. However, it remains true that virtual worship is the only worship that does not expose
our members and attenders to a health risk. We expect that virtual worship on Zoom will continue for the
foreseeable future—even after the meetinghouse reopens at some point, as there will continue to be risk to those
with underlying conditions for a long time to come.
However, we also understand that some Friends are already worshiping in small groups, in local meetings for
worship outdoors. We urge Friends attending these gatherings adhere to the following guidelines. (Explanations
follow in the Q and A.)
Recommendations to Local Small Group Gatherings for Worship
- Meet outside
- Limit attendance to ten people.
- Attendees should bring their own chairs when possible,
- Maintain social distance of at least six feet.
- All attendees should wear masks the entire time the group is meeting.
- Attend to hand-washing and bathroom cleanliness.
- Do not serve refreshments.
- Do not sing.
- Keep records of who attended each meeting (with contact information if needed) for at least three
weeks after each meeting.
- We recommend those attending a small worship group ONLY attend worship with one group;
avoid intervisitation between groups.
Q and A on Small Meetings for Worship
1. Why should meetings be held outside?
The much better airflow will minimize possible exposure to the virus from one another’s respiratory
droplets and aerosols. It’s also easier to keep good social distancing.
2. Why do you recommend limiting the group to 10 people?
Short answer: the more people you mingle with, the greater the risk to everyone .
Longer answer: A ten-person circle keeping six feet apart is already a 60 feet around and 20
feet across! A larger circle would make it very hard to hear without shouting—something, like
singing, that increases the risk of transmitting the virus if you have it.
Adding additional circles isn’t recommended, either, because the more people you add, the harder
it is to manage social distance, and because you then need to make sure to join the same circle
from week to week. (Remember—avoid “worship surfing” from group to group, so as to
avoid potentially exposing more people over time.)
3. Why should attendees bring their own chair when possible?
This is to limit the possibility of contracting the virus via contact with surfaces others have
4. Why should we maintain a distance of at least 6 feet apart?
COVID19 is thought to spread mostly through droplets expelled from people’s mouths and
noses when they talk, cough or sneeze. Droplets are relatively heavy and drop out of the air
within six feet.
5. Why should we wear masks the whole time? Isn’t it safe to take my mask off once I sit down?
Think about how your breath lingers in the air on a cold morning. If there is a collection of people
their collective breadth can make the air misty. That mist is a visible example of how the
While COVID19 is thought to spread through droplets, there is emerging information that it
might also spread through smaller drops of moisture that stay in the air longer, and travel farther
—aerosols. Someone across the circle could speak or cough and their respiratory secretions may
drift in the air for a long time. If that person is wearing a mask, it will reduce the spread of both
droplets and aerosols. You also wearing a mask reduces the likelihood of you inhaling those
droplets even more.
6. What if I have to use the bathroom?
If you have to use your host’s bathroom, we suggest you wash your hands before using the toilet
– this will protect you from any germs you brought into the restroom. After using the toilet,
close the lid prior to flushing (some evidence suggests that COVID can be spread through feces,
and flushing could spray it into the air). And of course, wash your hands again after using the
toilet – this part protects you and other people.
7. Why can’t we serve refreshments?
Food preparation and serving typically requires lots of handling. This opens up opportunities for
contamination. Sharing utensils (like the sugar shaker, or the milk container) increases the risk
that the virus can be transmitted. As food is typically moist, the virus is likely to stay active on
food. Also, social distancing is difficult when people are sharing food and drink.
8. Why can’t we sing?
Singing typically requires inhaling deeply and exhaling robustly to project the music. On that
deep inhale you are risking inhaling any virus particles in the air around you. On that gusty exhale,
you expel your breath further than six feet and risk spreading the virus if you are a carrier.
9. Why should we keep records of attendees at worship?
If someone in attendance at one of your worship groups becomes ill with COVID19, everyone
who was there should be informed, so that they can be tested for the virus and not spread it to
10. Why should I attend only one small group?
The goal of attending just one group is to reduce overall interactions. When you create one
group, you create a group of people who share air space. Every time you meet with those individuals
you share their air space.
Suppose a person—let’s call him George Fox—was exposed to COVID19 on Saturday. The
next day, George, who was contagious although not sick, attends a small meeting. Perhaps,
even though the group used precautions, some members of the group will contract the virus.
The next Sunday George is still contagious, though he still feels fine. Remember, it can take
fourteen days to begin to have symptoms! So George decides to attend worship again. If
George continues to attend the same small group, he’ll expose the same people again…some of
whom may already have the virus. On the other hand, if George decides to visit a new group, he
will then expose a whole new group of people. Now some of them may get sick, too!
It could be even worse. By the third week, perhaps George is feeling a little under the weather,
but he thinks it’s just his usual allergies. What if he attends yet a third small meeting? George
could have exposed up to 30 people to the virus, all before he even knew he was sick.
If, however, George had always gone to the same group meeting, while there would have been a
risk to the original group of ten, no one else would have been exposed.
Sticking to ONE group reduces the risks for everyone.
Recommendations of the Mt. Toby Ad Hoc Committee on Health, July 14, 2020. Present: Cynthia
Jacelon (clerk), Kate Green (recording), Steve Ball, Sandi Albertson-Shea (clerk, Care & Counsel),
Ruth Hazzard (clerk, Ministry & Worship) Cat-Chapin-Bishop (clerk of meeting), Susan Conger (incoming
clerk of meeting).