If Possible, Gather Wisely and Safely

Religious Education in a Virtual World 3

There is still a great deal of uncertainty about what parish life will look like this fall because of the pandemic. While virtual meetings will still be the safest, or the only option available, in some places occasional in-person gatherings may be possible. Here’s a third installment with some ideas.

If Possible, Gather Wisely and Safely

We know that “place matters.” Classrooms and meeting spaces provide stability for groups. They help create order and ways to interact. Desks in a row say one thing; desks in a circle say another. Classrooms can be very inviting spaces, decorated with student work and inspirational photos. In a religious education classroom, icons and vigil lights can create the class’s prayer corner. Crosses and other religious items create the “sacred space” for learning, and can be utilized for lessons themselves.

While virtual class meetings will still be the safest, or the only option available, in some parts of the country occasional in-person gatherings may be possible. So, if it’s possible --  and that’s a big if --  to hold an in-person gathering for religious education and youth ministry, here are some things to consider.

Observe Local Guidelines

Before you arrange any in-person event, check the local guidelines about what is and isn’t possible. The variations across the country are huge. We can see this dramatically in what’s possible or not for church attendance. There are rules about masks, physical and social distancing, and sanitization protocols. Importantly, there are rules about the numbers of people that can gather in a place at one time. Can people bring snacks and drinks? Can certain snacks be available, grab-n-go style?

Is an Indoor Gathering Possible?

Every space in a church facility should be reconsidered as a potential meeting space, where the health rules can be observed. The church itself, the fellowship hall, and the gym all become possibilities where safe physical and social distancing can be observed.

Is an Outdoor Gathering Possible?

Weather permitting, lawns and parking lots could become meeting spaces. Picnic tables, pop-up tents (like the ones we cart to soccer games), and chairs can be used to designate classes. Maybe a parish could treat it like a picnic, with everyone bringing lawn furniture or blankets. This website has good ideas for working outdoors,

Then, determine how best to mark (tape, paint) the safe spaces and distances. Bookcases and plastic (shower curtains?) hung from simple frames (saw this in a barber shop) may create the right kind of barriers indoors. Sanitizer can be available everywhere, masks and other protective measures can be observed based on local guidelines.

The Meetings

Make the in-person gatherings somewhat different from what takes place virtually. Is an art or craft project possible? Is there a game that can be played? Completing worksheets, discussions, reading and sharing are still possible. If you are using the church itself, this is the time for doing activities that you couldn’t do during services.

If you plan multiple activities and groups meeting at the same time, limit the moving around. Keep the group in one place, move the teachers and others from group to group. Consider scheduling when groups arrive and depart so that you can avoid having children and adults congregating and not maintaining safe distancing.  You may have to encourage additional volunteers to assist, for organizing, working with groups, cleaning up after, etc.