As we move closer to the proposed Washington Reopening date of June 30, I know there are many questions and curiosities about what it will mean for our church. Last week, I shared the final guidelines from our Reopening Task Force (read last week’s note here), which shed light on how we make our next steps forward.
This photo shows only some of the many masks I’ve accumulated around the house this past year. What purpose do these masks have going forward?
I’ve reflected a lot about what the role of face masks will continue to play in our life together. I want to share some of those thoughts with you. These ideas are simply my perspective on how we live as Christians in a pandemic world, where our greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor.
According to CDC guidance and plans for reopening our state, if you are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, you can go many places, indoors and outdoors, without a mask. I tried this recently at Costco. Honestly, it felt both freeing and weird. We’ve spent a year wearing these things. It’s going to take some time to transition out of them! But the science is clear: We can move beyond masking if we are fully vaccinated. And we should keep masking if we’re not vaccinated. (As a reminder, this applies to all older than two years.)
Our church guidelines state: “To protect those who are immune-compromised or who are not yet eligible for vaccination, those who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 MUST wear a mask and maintain a safe distance from others who are not from their own household while in the church building.”
So what does it look like to love our neighbor and consider masking?
I want it to be clear that we trust the science behind the vaccines and the opinions of medical professionals to guide us on what is necessary and prudent. So if you’re fully vaccinated, starting Sunday, July 4, you are welcome to be in the church building without a mask.
And I also want it to be clear that it is OK for you to continue to wear your mask at church. If it makes you feel more comfortable or if you have concerns about being near a more vulnerable or unvaccinated person, it is absolutely fine if you want to keep wearing a mask.
It’s a reasonably clear distinction. And yet, our Christian faith also encourages us to seek wisdom about following any law or rule. Here is a helpful question for each of us to consider: “Is how I am acting/living/masking helping me to love God and love my neighbor?”
For some of us, especially those who are frequently around small children (who are not yet eligible for vaccination) or vulnerable adults, you may choose to keep your mask on out of an abundance of caution. That’s a way you can love your neighbor. Love looks like ongoing caution and care.
For others of us, removing our masks can also be an act of loving our neighbor, as it encourages others to release their fears and anxieties that have so long held us down. Love looks like liberation and helping others trust the science and move forward.
In the early years of the Church, there were many debates over prudent Christian practice. One significant conversation was over whether or not meat used in ritual sacrifices should be eaten by professing followers of Jesus. For some, this was a line that they were unwilling to cross. For others, it was just meat, lacking anything extra that made the prohibition necessary. The Apostle Paul highlighted this division in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 8) and brought clarity and wisdom. I love Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message:
“But fortunately God doesn’t grade us on our diet. We’re neither commended when we clean our plate nor reprimanded when we just can’t stomach it. But God does care when you use your freedom carelessly in a way that leads a fellow believer still vulnerable to those old associations to be thrown off track.”
My perspective on this, extrapolating wisdom from this ancient teaching: It’s OK to take your mask off if you’re fully vaccinated, and it’s an act of solidarity in our collective moving forward. And if you’re not able or willing to be vaccinated, keep it on. Love your neighbors that way. Both can be expressions of faith.
Grace and peace,