The following is a message from our pastor, Matthew L. Camlin, regarding our Session’s determination as of May 19, 2021, on recent changes to COVID-19 safety protocols.
Dear Siblings in Christ,
It is almost impossible to overstate just how disruptive the Covid-19 pandemic has been to our way of life—how we live, how we visit, how we travel, how we do business, how we worship. We all long for the day when we can whip off our masks and allow our noses to bask in the fresh air and sunlight! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently offered new scientific insight about the efficacy of the vaccines that many of us have received, indicating that it is safe for vaccinated people to gather, indoors or outdoors, without masks; and this has been received as good news, a sign of hope!
It should come as no surprise that this good news inspired conversation at our most recent Session meeting, held just last evening. “What does the CDC’s statement mean for us?” we wondered. “Can we reverse our coronavirus protocols?”
Our unanimous feeling is: not yet.
One Elder recalled that, when they heard the CDC’s statement, they “felt almost giddy! I thought, ‘Where can I go without wearing my mask? I need to go somewhere!’” And we all smiled, because we knew exactly how they felt. As the pandemic drags on, we have become very weary of all the protocols—perhaps none more than the wearing of masks. And in our haste to throw them off, it would be easy for us to forget the careful, determined resolve with which we agreed to put them on in the first place. When we made the heartrending decision last March to close down the church building and ask everyone to worship from home, I wrote the following:
“While it is indeed the case that COVID-19 is not fatal to the vast majority of people who contract the virus, those who do become dangerously ill are those who are 70 years of age or older, or who have other pre-existing conditions, or who are immune compromised. It is for their sake that we take these precautions.”
It is for their sake that we take these precautions. That continued to be our theme throughout the past year: who are the “least of these” under our present circumstances, and how can we best show our concern for their wellbeing? When the pandemic began it was the elderly who were more likely to die from Covid-19 than their younger siblings. Now, the vast majority of our seniors have been vaccinated and are undoubtedly grateful to hear that the CDC has declared them generally safe from infection.
But that doesn’t mean that we, as a congregation, can take off our masks; it simply means that our seniors are no longer the “least of these.” Now, it is our younger families—and especially children under the age of 12—who are the “least of these,” because there is no vaccine available to them, yet. While there is good reason to hope that vaccines will be approved for children under the age of 12 in or near September, they will remain at risk of infection in the meantime. It is now for their sake that we will continue to wear masks and sit apart during worship. As we read in the book of Proverbs: “The wise are cautious and turn away from evil, but the fool throws off restraint and is careless” (Prov. 14:16, NRSV).
The announcement by the CDC has allowed us some relief, however: the Session has said it is reasonable for groups of vaccinated individuals, such as our Saturday morning Bible study group, the men’s Bible study, our committees, or our elected boards, to gather without masks if everyone in the group consents. It may not seem like much, but it is progress, and an acknowledgement that masks present a problem for folks who are hard of hearing, among other issues. (In those situations, wearing a mask upon request is still the order of the day, as doing so is a matter of common courtesy.)
As we discipline ourselves not to be too hasty in relaxing the ways in which we protect one another, let us continue to pray that the pandemic ends with all due haste!
Yours in Christ’s Service,
Matthew L. Camlin,