What "Shelter In Place" Orders Mean for Churches

Officials in Tarrant County announced a “stay at home” order Tuesday to further combat the continuing spread of the coronavirus. Through a joint news conference, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams announced new measures designed to keep residents inside their homes.
A “stay at home” order means that residents are being told to stay inside their homes unless for “essential activities,” such as grocery shopping, obtaining medical supplies or medication, visiting a health care professional, or going to a job/obtaining supplies needed to work from home. Other exceptions also include outdoor exercise or going out for health reasons. “Essential Activities” are defined in section 15 of the Tarrant County order and section 16 of the Fort Worth stay at home order.
The new orders, which go into effect at 11:59 p.m. tonight (Tuesday, March 24) are an extension of the current disaster declaration currently in effect for the county, which already limits gatherings and shuts down places like gyms, clubs, and the dine-in areas of restaurants. These orders are expected to stay in effect until April 7 (local city orders expire as early as April 3, but the county order runs through April 7 unless otherwise rescinded).
What do the orders mean for local churches?
According to the declaration, the following are valid reasons for leaving your home while these orders are in place.
  • Online Worship Services. While no in-person worship services are permitted at this time, staff who are needed can attend to produce audio/video services for transmission. However, the number of people in attendance may not exceed the 10 persons limit for gatherings.
  • Travel by church staff/clergy for the purpose of production and remote delivery of religious services and other ministries may occur, though it is highly recommended to do as little in person as possible especially with those in the high-risk categories. Please consider doing as much as possible over the phone, email or other web-based communications tools during this time.
  • Food Banks/Pantries and other ministries that provide food, shelter, social services and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise vulnerable individuals are allowed as far as already established orders are followed (delivery and take out only, practice social distancing of six feet or more, etc.)
  • The pickup and delivery (while observing safe social distancing) of services or supplies (for example, food, pet and livestock supplies, and any other household consumer products, and products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences) to those who cannot provide for themselves is permitted.   
  • Business functions that can be done onsite in as limited a basis as possible include
    • Operations necessary to maintain security, payroll, upkeep, and maintenance of premises, equipment or inventory
    • IT or other operations that facilitate employees working from home

NOTE: If someone in a household has tested positive for COVID-19, all travel allowances are voided, and the household is ordered to isolate at home.  Members of the household cannot go to work, school, or any other community function until cleared by a medical professional but may seek medical services as needed from medical personnel and facilities.
The above are a few of the highlights of what is included in the “Shelter in Place” orders from Tarrant County and the City of Fort Worth as they pertain to our local churches, ministries, clergy and lay leadership. This is NOT the complete order. Please take the time to read the complete official orders from one of the following links.

PLEASE NOTE that while these orders a very similar to other civil mandates throughout the state and, to the best of our knowledge, reflect the rules and restrictions put forth by those orders, it is imperative that you take a few moments to do an online search [i.e. type name of city/county and orders in the search bar] and read the official orders for your area or call your city/county govt. office with questions.