In preparation for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, an email was sent out to students involved in Southern’s LifeGroup ministry, outlining the new safety guidelines that leaders and participants will be expected to follow.
Following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the University Church, Associate Chaplain Anna Bennett wrote in the email that LifeGroups are an integral way for those on campus to pursue a sense of belonging and community. Therefore, LifeGroups will continue to remain in place, but with a few new policies.
In an effort to follow social distancing guidelines, LifeGroups are required to only host a maximum of 10 individuals gathered in the same space at the same time. According to the email, this regulation will be double-checked upon LifeGroup registration. In regards to location, Bennet encouraged groups to gather outdoors whenever possible, but said that if meetings need to be held indoors, special gathering accommodations will be made.
“In any circumstance that requires your LifeGroup to move indoors, we believe enclosed spaces with recirculated air become a greater risk the longer the group meets, which emphasizes the need to limit the LifeGroup to no more than one hour weekly,” Bennet said. “Free Zoom accounts will be made available to any LifeGroup leader wanting to hold their weekly meetings online.”
Additional requirements include refraining from attending in-person meetings in the case that one does not feel well, utilizing hand sanitizer dispensers that will be readily available, minimizing physical touch, avoiding the sharing of food and beverages and wearing masks. However, according to the email, face masks are not required as long as students are able to stay six feet apart.
Bennett wrote that she encourages group leaders to exercise great care and show empathy towards their group members, as individuals have their own opinions on what is the safest way to gather. Additionally, she advised that allowances be made for those who wish to be only around those who are wearing a mask and vise versa, as well as creating an open space for sharing recommendations whenever possible.
“We strongly advise against attempting to manipulate, cajole, ridicule or force individuals to behave outside the dictates of their conscience,” Bennett wrote in the email. “As our spiritual theme for this year encourages us, “United: Pursuing Jesus Together,”we pray you will find ways to grow diverse, meaningful friendships during this difficult time, even or especially with those who may disagree with you.”