For several months, Americans have been sheltering in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19. During this time, families, friends and church communities have depended upon technology to stay connected and stimulated as they remain at home. While many areas have begun to reopen, the summer months also offer opportunities for families and churches to leave their screens and move activities to the outdoors – all the while continuing to practice social distancing and taking necessary precautions to protect the most vulnerable.
Digital fatigue is rampant after so much time around our television and computer screens. Now is a great time for families, especially those with children, to get out into the fresh air and sunshine. Physical exercise is vital to healthy living and is easier when spending more time outdoors. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has posted guidelines for outdoor activities.
Use your backyard
The best place to play and relax outside is one’s own backyard. There is no need for masks or social distancing in common family spaces. Encourage small children to spend more time outside. Move family meals to the backyard. Pay games like catch or hide-and-seek. Pull out the kid pool or slip-and-slide. St. John’s Episcopal Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina encouraged its members to host a backyard scavenger hunt.
Visit local parks
For families who do not have a backyard, public parks are the next best thing. The larger and less crowded the park the better, since this will make social distancing easier. Remember to bring masks and hand sanitizer with you and stay at least six apart from other people. Follow any other safety guidelines set by the park authority or your state/local government. Playgrounds and restrooms maybe closed. Families with children should bring soccer balls, jump ropes or other recreational items. You can also bring food and blankets for a picnic. For adults and older children, the park is the perfect place for a jog or bike-ride.
Consider swimming options
Pools or swimming areas may be another option. The CDC states that there is no evidence COVID-19 can be spread through water, and chlorine chemicals kill most viruses and bacteria. The CDC recommends pools limit the number of swimmers at a time and encourages swimmers to continue social distancing in the water or around the pool area. Bring your own towels and pool toys from home. Some areas may also have public beaches that are open. Remember that while the water is safe, crowded areas are not, so avoid beaches or swimming areas that appear overcrowded. Waterparks should probably be avoided.
Go to a drive-in
Drive-in movie theaters have seen a resurgence during COVID-19. They offer a fun and safe way to get the whole family out of the house for the night. Many drive-ins are offering special deals on tickets or lifting restrictions on bringing food from home. Others are doing concessions via no contact pickup.
Outdoor church ministry
Some churches are encouraging members to get out of the house during this time by offering safe alternatives to online ministries.
Host drive-in worship services
Boiling Springs United Methodist in Lexington, South Carolina, is offering drive-in worship services in front of its Family Ministries Building using a makeshift pulpit and loudspeakers. “Each person/family is expected to remain in their vehicles during the time of the service,” said the Rev. Ken Prill. Not all congregation may be ready or able to participate in drive-in worship services, especially high-risk members. To accommodate them Boiling Springs is recording the services and streaming them online.
Visit members outside
Pastors and church leaders can also encourage their members to offer outdoor visits. The Rev. Mary Ellen Cochran serves as pastor of Maury City and Floyd’s Chapel in Crockett County in Tennessee. To stay connected to members who lack the technology or ability to meet online, Cochran makes outdoor home visits. Cochran meet members face-to-face but keeps her distance during each visit and remains outside the whole time. “We keep our social distance, but I visit with them and have prayer,” Cochran. As always pastors should schedule the visit with the person ahead of time and make sure they are comfortable with it.
Encourage spiritual practices in nature
Many Christians encounter God more deeply in nature. Pastors and small group leaders can encourage members to leave their homes to spend time alone in nature in prayer and/or meditation. Leaders can write guides for congregants to use or borrow materials produced by others. The Center for Spirituality in Nature has extensive resources for connecting to God in nature. At home, we can quickly become bored and restless. In nature, we more easily find peace in our solitude.
As you continue to connect with friends, family and church members online or by phone during the pandemic, remember and remind others of the importance of stepping away from the screen and getting into the fresh air. It is good for our physical and mental health, and it is another spiritual venue in which to draw closer to God.
Philip J. Brooks is a writer and content developer on the leader communications team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.