Council Decision on Worship for June & July 2021
First, the “What” and then the “Why”…
What Worship will be for June and July:
Pastor Laura and Council went prayerfully and methodically through a list of guiding questions regarding risk (found in Council minutes in June newsletter), theological questions (also in the minutes), and your results from the survey to guide our discussion. (Thanks to all who responded. When you are considering the names of people you actually love instead of just a blanket “stance” it makes a HUGE difference. It gets you outside of yourself.) Discussion still went round and round, and at times we were leaning towards a different route, but ultimately decided on this one for a number of reasons.
1. The number of people in our congregation who have been vaccinated. We have NOT asked for anyone’s vaccination status, but most people have freely told P. Laura when they’ve gotten vaccinated. Based on our regular attendees under normal circumstances, between 65-68% have been vaccinated (that includes all ages, not just adults; if we subtract those under age 12 who are not eligible for a vaccine, then 70-73% of people old enough to receive a vaccine have been vaccinated).
2. Current case counts: The number of new cases each day in the U.S. as a whole has plummeted over the last month, and the current 7-day average is now as low as it was at the end of March 2020. Our local numbers in Watauga County have also dropped dramatically, with only 7 active cases as of this writing – and that number has been under 10 for a week.
3. CDC Guidelines: Council’s decisions have always been heavily influenced by CDC guidelines, regardless of local laws. (Last year, Council actually made the decision to require masks for worship, based on CDC guidelines, the week before the NC Governor’s office issued the mask mandate. Our decision wasn’t in response to the law – it was what we believed was right at the time.) While the current CDC guidelines for vaccinated people are aimed at individual behavior and not decisions for venues hosting gatherings (which can introduce a lot of complicating factors), based on reasons 1 & 2, we believe the risk to be lower in our context at this time.
4. Reaching Out: Real talk here: We know there are people who have been staying away because of the mask requirement, for a couple reasons. Based on reasons 1, 2, & 3, we believe the risk is currently low enough at this point to lift the mask requirement in the hopes that they will join us for worship again, while hoping that those who are more cautious will understand the reasons, not feel excluded, and can still join us either in person for part of the service, on Zoom, or Outdoors in July.
5. It Ain’t Over Yet: While the numbers are looking really good and hopeful, the pandemic is not over yet, which is why we are still taking several mitigating factors in our Worship (distancing, keeping service short, only singing last hymn, allowing time for people to leave, worshiping outdoors or in cars, and keeping the Zoom option). And these decisions for June & July are not etched in stone forever-and-ever-Amen. They are based on our current situation. If numbers spike this Summer, Council will meet and make changes in our protocols in response to those numbers.
6. The Purpose of Worship: The purpose of Worship is for the body of Christ to worship and sing praises to God together in one place. In the book of Revelation, St. John’s vision of heaven is of all creatures singing praises around the throne of God. When we do this now, we participate in the heavenly chorus. That is the goal and vision, and has always been. We have not been able to do that in its fullness for almost a year and a half. As the body of Christ, when any members are absent, it is painful – like an amputation – and our worship is impoverished. We long for and pray for the day when ALL our voices can be mingled together in praise in one place. A global pandemic has caused us to shift and to temporarily “give up” certain things – like an extended Lent we didn’t ask for. In the church, we have done this willingly out of love for our neighbor. At times that has looked one way, at times another. But while our current focus is on safety for God’s people, our goal is always to be together in worship. We hope that you’ll continue to worship with us however you are comfortable for the time being, and pray along with us for that day we’ll all be singing praises to God in the same space. That’s truly heaven-on-earth.