I wanted to give some practical guidance for churches as we navigate this fourth (and brutal) wave of the pandemic. I don’t have to tell you that this is the worst wave because of Delta. So, that changes the guidance I want to give with more urgency for you all. First though I want to ask three questions of you as you think through this guidance.
Regarding what precautions you are (or are not) taking in your church:
Is it truthful? By truthful, I mean are your precautions based on the truth of a deadly virus (based on the reality of the data and overwhelmed hospitals) or a congregational survey based on comfort (that is not truthful or reality)? The virus does not (and has not ever) care about how your congregants “feel” about the vaccine or masks. It’s just a novel virus (so, NOT the flu) that is highly contagious with severe outcomes (both hospitalizations/death and long COVID-19). Delta has changed the game - the other variants were not near as contagious. One person with Delta can infect 6-10 others (the previous variants were 1-3). Hence, it can spread quickly. So are you making precautions in your congregation based on the truth of the virus from reality or comfort surveys that can be skewed by cable news and politics? The latter will not protect against Delta. Please make your decisions for your church based on the truth of the reality we are seeing played out in our communities and hospitals right now.
Is it faithful? Given the transmissibility of Delta that is exploding in nearly every state, is it unfaithful to not wear a mask in your church? I would say yes, it’s unfaithful. Faithfulness according to the Cross is loving God and loving neighbor - of living out as ambassadors to His Kingdom (not a country) that calls us to align our comforts, allegiances, and freedoms according to the Cross. Faithfulness proves our allegiance according to that Cross - not according to how people feel about masking and vaccines. Would Jesus display his faithfulness with a mask and vaccine if He were physically walking the earth today? I think he most certainly would. This brings me to the third question.
Is it loving? Is it loving to your neighbors in your congregation, community, cities, towns, and friends to not mandate masking in your church? Is it loving to not encourage vaccination and combat the gross misinformation and disinformation about vaccines that seem to be invading churches, particularly evangelical churches. Loving our neighbors means taking the Cross-centered road of wearing a mask and getting a vaccine to protect the most vulnerable - those that you see in your congregation and those you see in the grocery store and those in the hospitals. Delta has made this even more evident.
Church leaders, I know you are tired and bombarded with LOTS of voices on all sides of this thing. I want to say - this is not a debate though. There are no sides. There’s only a deadly virus that has mutated detrimentally and is roaring through states and communities with low vaccination rates. I’m asking you to take the Cross-centered road and make precautions that are truthful, faithful, and loving in your churches. It might not be popular and may seem political to your congregants - especially in certain parts of the country. But time will tell that you made the right decisions. With that said, here’s my guidance.
If you’re in an area with positivity rates above 10% (which is a lot of your areas), masks should be mandated, not encouraged, for everyone inside. Regardless of vaccination status. At all times. This includes children. I can’t stress this enough. It’s one of the greatest weapons we have right now against the Delta variant. This new wave will end and come down at some point. But, all data indications show that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Preemptive mandatory masking is a good idea before that happens. We have seen how quickly Delta can explode in communities with low vaccination rates. So, the more proactive we can be, the better.
If you have 2 services where 1 is mask-optional and the other is full-masking, I would stop doing the mask-optional one for a while. We can’t tell when the peak of infections is going to hit because the curve is so steep. So, for a time I would not do the mask optional service.
Singing - This is risky. You might consider limiting the number of songs again and number of people you have on stage.
If you have a high-risk congregation (based on age, poverty, un-insured, etc) with low vaccination rates, you might consider going to an online version again. At the very least, limit the number of congregants in your sanctuary again with masks mandatory for those that do attend. Open doors and windows if you can.
Food - Sorry, Baptists. No potlucks for a bit. If you are going to have a fellowship meal, order in individually boxed food or ask your congregants to bring their own. And, then eat outside!
Lastly, I’m going to encourage masking again - regardless if someone is vaccinated or not. Delta can still be spread if you’re vaccinated. So, we have to take it seriously - more than ever. I know making masks mandatory in the building at all times (not just walking in and out) is not popular in some of your churches. But, Delta changed the game. Please make masks mandatory for everyone at all times, including the sanctuary when people sit down.
Pastors and leaders, bless you, bless you, bless you. It’s been a long road for you all and some of you have been doing the right thing from the beginning - at great cost. I want to encourage you to stay the course during this wave. It’s just brutal and seems to be affecting our children and hospitals more than the other waves. Let’s do this for our congregations, children, and neighbors. As a ministry family, I deeply understand how hard some of these decisions are for you and your families. I’m praying for you today to be encouraged with all of our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faiths. I’m also praying for your sweet families if you have a spouse/partner and children.
Bless you, bless you, bless you.
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"are your precautions based on the truth of a deadly virus...or a congregational study on comfort". <-- This. I really have grown to dislike the phrase "comfort level". Jesus calls His disciples out of comfort and into discomfort.
It seems that I have been hearing that I am welcome to do what is good for me, and need to not bother myself with what someone else chooses for themselves. I have been asked to have all the grace for others and believe that my convictions are merely a worldly issue, a conscience issue that God allows us to fall on either side of. And, I struggle with this. A lot. Because I do want to love well. All people. On both sides. But, it is hard for me to align myself with congregations that favor personal comfort levels than corporate efforts. I know that one of the arguments is that they don't want to force people away because of masks. But I wonder if we are missing an opportunity. If our faith is so fragile that wearing a mask would cause us to fall from God, or the church - we might have something bigger to address.
My heart is greatly burdened for pastors. I am frustrated with some of their choices, yes. But I know they are struggling just as much as I am. We are all tired. And, I wonder if the desire to escape the weariness has won out for so many leaders to just put the responsibility on individuals rather than corporately and at the end of the day they know they can't control others. It seems we should be able to say we can control environments, however.
My congregation keeps to their come as you are comfortable stance, but that really limits my time serving. For instance,I can't, with good conscience, teach sunday school to under 12's without asking everyone to mask. And I can't ask that, because it is against church policy. How does one know when it is time to leave and when it is time to wait until things are better. This thing seems both trivial and essential all at the same time.
Thank you so much for this. I've been so disheartened to see church becoming church for the cavalier only. We've walked out of three different area services and despair of finding a congregation that cares for the vulnerable by masking.