It seems to me a good time to remind you or reiterate some of our thinking behind our responses to COVID and the government’s orders.
From the beginning, our default approach to COVID has been to follow the County health authorities’ guidelines. At the same time, we have intentionally not made commands to the congregation, or policed the congregation, on behalf of the county. We have sought to treat adults like adults, who can look these things up for themselves.
This is because the lockdowns and mask orders are controversial, because they have never existed just inside the “public health” sphere – these issues have never been apolitical. Our government’s COVID orders, from the beginning, have affected us economically, politically, personally, interpersonally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. And they continue to. That they have been intrusive is without question. The debate is by what right? For what purpose? At what cost? To what end?
We want to hear from you, and how you’re thinking about all this. Therefore the elders are thinking of ways to gather and listen. And we are also considering ways that we can utilize our space to live understandingly with folks of differing views on these issues. But for now, I want to clarify or remind you of a few items:
- Given social distancing between family units, the county has never required mask-wearing during outdoor worship. When we gather outdoors, it is thus a “mixed” environment, regarding mask-wearing. Those who are not wearing masks may therefore be in full compliance with county orders.
- The state’s guidelines exempt those who have a medical condition – be it psychological or physical – from wearing a mask. We leave determining the “medical condition” up to you. Our policy also exempts children who just can’t keep the doggone thing on. Thus even indoors our congregation may be a “mixed” group on any given Sunday.
- Which leads to another “order” – from God, not man. God calls us to welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you – not on external appearances, but on the work of Christ in the other person. We are bound by the grace that’s in Christ to make charitable assumptions about one another, and not judge one another, over what we do or do not do. Christians are bound by grace to treat each other the way God has treated you, and will treat you, on the last day. Our call, more than ever, is to live out the gospel with one another.
- Please read the above bullet point again.
- You may have questions, about practical, concrete moments in our life together – how do I live out the gospel here and now, with this person? The Christian life is not self-contained: as you have these questions, bring them to an elder, pastor or a trusted, mature friend. Normal Christianity does not keep such concerns to ourselves, in judgment or resentment or anger or fear. Normal Christianity fights for unity, in love for Christ.
The bottom-line questions that the elders are wrestling with: if the county’s guidelines suddenly disappeared, or if a court suddenly struck down all the lockdown orders, we would still be left with another mandate, again from God, to love one another, wisely, protectively, carefully. And at the same time, to maintain our unity in Christ, in the Spirit, in the bond of peace. What do these look like?
But there is another question: those lockdown and mask orders have not gone away. And what side effects this “medicine” has brought to the “patient”! Unemployment, economic destruction, isolation, loneliness, alcoholism, a rise in death by other causes, rule by fiat of experts and governors, not legislatures . . . Which reminds us of another mandate from God: to seek the welfare of the city and state God has placed us in. How to balance this issue with the first?
These are the questions the elders are wrestling with. So I suppose I’m writing to ask for your patience, and to let us know what you’re thinking and feeling, as the elders sort through these issues.
As for the next few Sunday’s, we will be meeting outside for worship – most likely for the next 3-4 weeks. That is, as long as the weather holds, and we remain in the “red” tier. This is not optimal – there are distractions and effort is required. But the primary reason is that we are seeking to live out Romans 15:6 – to join together, as with one voice – not separated into different spaces – to openly, freely praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In summary: on the one hand, no government has the authority to tell the church how we may worship. It’s not the government’s place to say “you have Zoom”. Livestreaming has been a concession for us, from the start. And yet, at the same time, we still have the mandate to love our neighbor, wisely, carefully. So please pray for us, as we pray for you, as we deliberate and makes plans for moving back indoors, as the weather cools.