I’m not going to make this post data-heavy. I just want to make an appeal to church leaders and congregants for this Easter weekend. I’ve based these recommendations on what I would feel comfortable with this weekend as an epidemiologist and a Christian/pastor’s wife.
✅ The big-picture from a data standpoint: As of today (April 1, 2021), 16.4% of the country has been fully vaccinated (29% have at least 1 dose). 31 states have increasing cases. The B.1.1.7 variant, which is more transmissible and more severe, is circulating quickly in the US and all data indications point to it becoming the dominant strain. Our friends in the UK are warning us that this strain explodes in cases and is more severe. I’m also hearing more anecdotal stories from MDs on the front-lines I trust that the people being hospitalized in the US with this strain are younger, without co-morbidities, and have more severe disease. All of this points to caution, friends.
✅ This is also Holy Week and is the most important week for many of us in the Christian tradition. It’s also the highest attended Sunday of the year. It’s special because you want to go with your family, even if you don’t attend church for the rest of the year. Lots of people go only on Easter. And, for good reason, friends! As a Christian myself and a pastor’s wife, this week is really special, important, and anchoring. In the middle of the pandemic and the brink of the 4th surge, let me give some guidance to church leaders and then to congregants.
✅ Church leaders
1. If you meet outdoors, everyone needs to distance and wear a mask all the time. Not just when people get to their seats. All the time. Even if people are vaccinated, masks are a sign of respect to those that aren’t – which is the majority (84% of the country). There’s other ways to do outdoors that many of you are doing – car-church, parking-lot-church, etc.
2. If you meet indoors, masks need to be on at all times. Not just when people walk to and from their seats. All the time. We can praise and pray behind the masks. But, the big-data-picture I mentioned above warrants extreme caution this weekend.
3. Speaking on indoors again – High ceilings, extra ventilation efforts, temperature checks, and partial-masking (in and out of the sanctuary) are good – but those are like putting a small stopper to a fire-hose outlet. It won’t work. We know what does though. A simple mask and distancing.
4. You will get pushback to this and you probably have. If you need help reframing the precaution efforts of masking to be faith-filled and faith-ful as protecting our neighbors, I’ll put those links at the end. Reframing to Jesus on Easter may help squash some of the blowback you get.
5. You can’t assume “herd immunity” in your church. For example, if you think that most of your congregants are vaccinated (and your staff), you can’t assume you’ve reached herd immunity protection for your church and forego masking. Remember we need to get to 80% and you will have LOTS of visitors. NO state is over 25% vaccination yet. Vaccines are ramping up, so hold on a little longer.
6. I’m praying for you. As a ministry family, we know what these decisions cost and the pushback you receive.
1. If you go to a church that does not require masking at all times during the service (the whole thing), this weekend is really risky for you to go – even if you’re vaccinated.
2. If you are vaccinated, remember that no vaccine is 100% protective. They work really well, praise hands! But, there are break-through cases that can occur even with 90% efficacy. The more people you are around, the more risk you have.
3. If anyone in your family is high-risk, this weekend is the time to continue staying the course of being vigilant.
4. I know that this is the Sunday where your family member wants everyone there to sit with in church. And, this can cause some discomfort if you don’t want to go out of justified caution. I’m sorry for that and just remember that this won’t last. It might be uncomfortable for a while, but it won’t last. If you see some encouragement, go see my Holy Week Wednesday post from yesterday. What are we doing in the Smith-fam? We are going to a church that has been doing in-person, outdoor services since the weather is better here in Texas. We all still mask and distance the whole time. It is something special to remember the Cross when I and all others around me are wearing a mask. It’s a powerful reminder of the real sacrifice that was made.
✅ A special note to you church leaders who have been doing this for over a year now: You have drawn a line in the sand and are sticking to it for love of neighbor. Many of us are just so grateful for that line. My Holy Week reflection tonight will talk about that line to say a more eloquent thank you. But, thank you here too.
𝑰𝒕 𝒊𝒔 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒇𝒓𝒆𝒆𝒅𝒐𝒎 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝑪𝒉𝒓𝒊𝒔𝒕 𝒉𝒂𝒔 𝒔𝒆𝒕 𝒖𝒔 𝒇𝒓𝒆𝒆…𝑭𝒐𝒓 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒘𝒆𝒓𝒆 𝒄𝒂𝒍𝒍𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒐 𝒃𝒆 𝒇𝒓𝒆𝒆. 𝑶𝒏𝒍𝒚 𝒅𝒐 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒖𝒔𝒆 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒇𝒓𝒆𝒆𝒅𝒐𝒎 𝒂𝒔 𝒂𝒏 𝒐𝒑𝒑𝒐𝒓𝒕𝒖𝒏𝒊𝒕𝒚 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒇𝒍𝒆𝒔𝒉, 𝒃𝒖𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒈𝒉 𝒍𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝒔𝒆𝒓𝒗𝒆 𝒐𝒏𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒐𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓. 𝑭𝒐𝒓 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒊𝒓𝒆 𝒍𝒂𝒘 𝒊𝒔 𝒔𝒖𝒎𝒎𝒆𝒅 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒔: “𝑳𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒏𝒆𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒃𝒐𝒓 𝒂𝒔 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓𝒔𝒆𝒍𝒇”. – 𝑮𝒂𝒍𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒂𝒏𝒔 5
Happy Easter, friends. -FNE
✅ Other posts on faith:
Masks are faith-filled and faith-ful. Faith-filled is about us. Faith-ful is about the neighbor. Both/And are important. The distinction matters. https://tinyurl.com/y2od5n6f Church video
– Church and COVID: A Conversation with Dr. Emily Smith – https://tinyurl.com/y3gqefht What if Christians led the way out of this?
Redefining our freedom according to the Cross-https://tinyurl.com/y2qoow7t
Who is the neighbor? – https://tinyurl.com/y9ykykve