To sing with the joy of angels praising their Lord − or to forbear?
That is but one of many questions addressed on the website of a Fort Wayne property-casualty insurer out to help churches across the country navigate the tricky task of safely reopening in-person Sunday services during a pandemic.
The posted information was pulled together “for churches that are still struggling with when to return, how to prepare. No one’s been through this unprecedented type of thing before,” said Jeff Renbarger, assistant vice president of marketing and communications at Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co.
A banner at the top of the BrotherhoodMutual.com home page contains a link to frequently updated information on preventative steps churches and their ministries can take to help keep congregants safe.
It takes visitors to videos and articles on the subject as well as links to authoritative pandemic information sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tim Cool, chief solutions officer with Smart Church Solutions, shot five, 2-minute videos Brotherhood is sharing on general church cleaning and on preparing their entrances, sanctuaries, restrooms and gathering spaces for the safe return of worshipers.
The articles posted cover topics from singing and staffing the children’s ministry to pastoral care and reducing fear while increasing connection through communication.
The COVID-19 Resources for Ministries part of Brotherhood’s website also provides information on insurance coverage issues and the process of applying for funding available to churches under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
The insurance in formation covers subjects from liability to the proactive cancellation of activities to the complete interruption of ministry operations.
Immediately below the home page banner flagging COVID-19 resources is a link to a videotaped roundtable discussion where church leaders including two northeast Indiana pastors share reopening plans and experiences.
“This is just one other way to get good information from people who church leaders would relate to. Their peers talk about how they’re dealing with that, and I think we’re just happy to be able to provide that kind of channel and vehicle for other churches to benefit from,” Renbarger said.
“We’re so all about helping churches and their ministries; we just kind of take that one fully to heart. It goes way beyond the property/casualty insurance company; we kind of look at it as a total ministry protection,” he said.
Back in March when states went into non-essential activity lockdowns to slow the spread of coronavirus, Brotherhood worked with a Seattle-based company called Subsplash to help minimize a gap in giving that could develop without physical gatherings.
The safe, secure Subsplash online giving platform designed for churches was made available without charge for a couple of months.
“Churches have been doing that for years but once all the restriction apply to COVID-19 were hitting, I think some churches either had to accelerate it or think about that kind of technology, Renbarger said.
“A lot of the congregations have continued to be very supportive,” he said. “Many churches were streaming online so a lot of people were still participating via different methods of streaming and downloading.”
A poll the company conducted of church leaders tuned into its June 9 webinar featuring the COVID-19 Moving Forward roundtable discussion showed respondents with a wide range of plans for resuming Sunday worship services.
“Of the almost 400 replies we’ve got, it is nearly a dead heat. There is not a clear winner here,” said Adam Clark, a senior manager for agency marketing at Brotherhood, who moderated the discussion.
“The reactions to this are so varied. And it looks like July wins by two votes, which is an amazingly narrow margin, with that many people voting.”
The question asked when church leaders planned to hold their first in-person worship services since the COVID-19 shutdown. Of the responses, 23% already had started, 20% planned for June, 29% were shooting for July and 28% had set the target date for August or later.
The COVID-19 Resources for Ministries part of Brotherhood’s website includes a message from Mark Robison, its chairman and president.
“Like you, we are doing things a bit differently. Most of our employees are working remotely from home, and for those essential staff who must be in the office, we’ve implemented rigorous safeguards to keep them protected,” he said.
“Rest assured, we’re fully engaged, fully capable of serving you, and operating at full capacity.”
Near the end of the message Robison refers to good works church members have carried on across the country to help everyone get through the pandemic despite the restrictions and limitations it has placed on their ability to serve.
“We are excited to witness the way the Lord innovates in the midst of a crisis,” he said. “Be safe. Be well. We are praying for you.”