SEPTEMBER 2, 2020
As we enter into the season of re-gathering as a church, we wanted to communicate our heart as elders about how we are approaching the many tensions and issues that face us as a group during this time.
We are convinced that God’s will for his people is to physically gather together and we know that, at some point, things will return to normal. Until then, we find ourselves in this period of uncertainty about gathering and, because of this, we want to try and communicate as clearly and as much as possible. Our guiding text to navigate the uncertainties has been Romans 13-14, which contains great instruction for how we can handle these days. This re-gathering is slow and will take time, but we are convinced it is the right direction.
In any and every situation, our goal is to trust in the Lord and his plan. We must start there. He is our savior and protector. It is him that we trust! In light of that trust, we have three concerns guiding our approach:
1. We are looking at overall health, not just “Covid health.” While the pandemic is of concern to us and we are taking necessary precautions, it is not the only sickness we have to consider when it comes our church activities. From what we see, there are more people with depression, anxiety and addiction than with Covid. It is important for us to keep that perspective. Quarantine life has increased issues like depression, anxiety, addiction and suicide. As a church leadership, we are seeing these things a lot and helping many get better. Gathering in physical community is part of the healing process for many. Covid-19 is a reality and something to be cautious of, but let’s not lose sight of overall health.
2. We desire to be consistent in grace. However, that means we will be inconsistent in “practice” when it comes to following safety guidelines. Trusting him does not mean that we ignore protocols of mask wearing and social distancing for protection from virus transmission. However, we are all making judgment calls. Maybe we decide to gather in a small group with masks, but we also decide to go out with friends to a restaurant (and not wear masks) or have people in our houses and not wear masks. We are all making judgment calls every day as we try to live in this temporary new normal. We, as a church, are no different. Each group will have to follow the protocols a little differently based on their makeup and situation.
So for us as a church right now, as all of our various ministries and gatherings start back up, we are not setting a single, across-the-board mask policy. Nor are we setting campus-wide rules for every gathering. We are simply using the language of the CDC which “recommends” the use of masks. Our church is not just one type of meeting or context. We have many different scenarios going on where masks would actually be a hindrance (situations where people have developmental disabilities or hearing impairments). Asking a church to have a mask policy is like asking Fry’s to have the same policy as a hospital. We are not Fry’s and we are not a hospital. We are a church made up of all kinds of people in all kinds of different situations. We have allowed each smaller gathering and ministry make their own decisions about masks and distancing based upon the function of the meeting and who is attending. The pastors and volunteer staff are working together to clarify these things for specific contexts. That makes decisions go a bit slower, but because of our desire to be gracious, we are okay with this.
Although we are inconsistent as a church in terms of policy, we will strive to be consistent in grace toward one another. We will seek not to pass judgment on another in matters like mask wearing during this time. We are to let each one be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5). In each of our various ministries, gatherings and meetings, we have found the best practice is to think through:
- best practices for physical health,
- the emotional/spiritual/physical condition of those in the group (determine if anyone is vulnerable, at risk, disabled, hard of hearing, etc.), and
- simply ask what others are comfortable with and truly listen to them.
Then, as a group, make a decision alongside the leader of that particular group. Over the past couple of months there have been many different scenarios to think through and we have found the best way to handle them is to be gracious and loving toward one another (Philippians 4:5). Here are a few of the scenarios that have arisen already and will arise again:
- Let’s say you come to a gathering and you are not wearing a mask but another person is. Go ahead and ask that person, “Would you be more comfortable if I wore a mask during our meeting?” And if someone asks you that question, go ahead and respond with as much honesty as possible: “Yes. I have a health issue that puts me at high risk of death if I get Covid.” Then, that would be a good time to simply put on a mask for the love of that person. That’s being gracious.
- Let’s say you have a mask on and another person doesn’t. Go ahead and ask that person, “Would you be able to put a mask on?” Then that person then responds, “I would rather not. It makes it hard for me to breathe and I end up with a terrible headache.” There is no need to force that person to wear a mask. That’s being gracious. We can simply practice social distancing in this situation, as the CDC recommends.
- Let’s say you are going to a meeting where the group has already established that masks are optional. Feel free to ask the leader about the decision and find out why. If you still have a hard time with that decision, then don’t go. That’s being gracious. There are many different options we have for online meetings and groups.
Here is the point: do not, for the sake of masks or no masks, destroy the work of God. Communicate with each other and let there be no division.
As we personally fight Covid-19, we may have disagreements, but we must be on guard against divisions. The enemy wants to create divisions so that we, as a church body, are distracted from sharing the reality of Jesus with others.
3. We are keeping in mind the original point of the quarantine: to not overwhelm the healthcare system with Covid patients. The government put the state in quarantine because we needed to “slow the curve.” In other words, quarantine was never about preventing people from getting Covid; the strategy was about slowing it down. It is a virus that we can’t stop but we can slow down. We stopped our physical church gatherings to help slow the spread, as we were told this disease would spread and cause a huge amount of deaths in a matter of weeks if we didn’t shut down. So we shut down for a while. However, as of right now, we are seeing the hospitalizations and deaths decrease significantly. We are seeing that our healthcare system is not overwhelmed. So we can resume in-person meetings. We recognize there is risk to having physical meetings again. But we feel the risk is worth it because of what’s been said in points 1 and 2. We do care about the physical health of people. We will still follow the guidelines given by health professionals as much as possible. We are watching the data and should there be an outbreak or sudden increase in hospitalizations and death rate, we will seek the Spirit’s direction concerning our physical gatherings.
The church is central to God’s mission in this world and it is through it that he works to bring the message of his salvation to the world. We are confident that God will continue to guide us and use us for his work in the coming years. The harvest is indeed plentiful!
The Elders of Red Mountain Community Church