This is the third time we’ve suggested protocols to keep everyone safe during this pandemic, and I want to start by admitting that such protocols are never going to be able to keep up with the current realities, especially as those realities change from week to week. The discussion at the end of this post provides some of the reasoning behind these new protocols.
In summary, the new policies give leeway for groups to meet and community to prosper, but you should always exercise your own judgement and do what you think will keep you and the people you love safe.
Here are the policies that we are setting for now:
- We will only be allowing vaccinated people to attend in-person worship services. We invite unvaccinated people to participate in the service online.
- We will hold services in the sanctuary, but ask attendees to be fully masked and maintain social distancing. These services will be streamed.
- We will continue to sing hymns and service music. We will require all choir members to have booster shots.
- Small groups and formation classes can meet in the building, as long as all group members are vaccinated and best practices such as mask wearing and social distancing are observed. (This is the most significant change to our previous protocols.)
- We will ask any groups that meet in the building to wear masks while meeting, and to consider making vaccination mandatory for participants.
In early August we set protocols for the Delta Variant, at a time when we expected it to surge and then decline by early October. The decline in cases never really happened, and now Delta is being pushed out by a new variant, the Omicron variant. All of the reporting that I’ve read suggests that this might, in the long run, be a good thing, as Omicron has milder symptoms in vaccinated people, although it’s more virulent and able to break through vaccine protections. There are a lot of indications that Covid won’t ever go away, but simply become less and less life threatening as it mutates. Instead of a medical end to the pandemic, we are probably going to arrive at a moment when Covid is endemic, meaning that it’s always floating around in the world, but with reduced effects.
Recently the New York Times reprinted an article from May of 2020, titled “How Pandemics End.” You can read the article here. The basic thesis is that most pandemics don’t have a medical end, but they do have a social end, that occurs “not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of panic mode and learn to live with a disease.” This is a morally difficult idea for a Christian to wrestle with. We are committed to protecting life, and to avoiding doing harm to other people. If we can keep the virus from spreading, we should. At the same time, we try not to live in fear, especially if that fear results in lonely, isolated lives that are devoid of the joy and support of community. As a church, we try to set policies that reflect this balance.