Coming Out of the Cloud
I would like us to reflect on the goals for our community as we ease the COVID restrictions in the worship services that have been commonplace in the last year .
I wanted to remind us of what I had sent out about a year ago as we continue to move into this post-pandemic season. Although I will not include all of Romans 14 – 15:13 here, it would be helpful to read it, again, for yourself (I recommend reading it from The Message or NIV versions. you can access this online through biblegateway.com).
One of the underlying themes throughout Romans is Paul’s drive to make sure we understand we are all in the same boat, spiritually speaking.
Romans 3:10 says,
“There is none righteous, no not one.”
For Paul, he was talking about the Jews and the Gentiles, who both had very different ways of relating to the world. The one thing they had in common was sin. Everyone misses the mark and comes up short when measured against God’s holiness, as well as His expectations for being in relationship with Him. The Jews and Gentiles were no different in this way.
As he gets to the end of this letter, Paul moves away from the theological points he had been making throughout the letter and into the more practical aspects of being the Church: living with each other’s differences. The specific example is on the issue of eating “unclean foods.” The Jews were raised with the Law that dictated what they could and could not eat. The Gentiles, however, had no such law nor did they have the same sensibilities. The modern-day equivalent would be those who are vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian, compared to the omnivores (like me). If you have ever been around someone who is vigilant with their eating habits AND has an opinion about it, you’re getting close. Throw in a smattering of religious overtones and a hint of judgement and you will be close to what Paul was addressing.
Eugene Peterson translates this in The Message:
“a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome?”
It is the same attitude Peter had when God asked him to eat “unclean” food with Cornelius (not a Jew) in Acts chapter 10. When asked, BY GOD, Peter says,
“By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”
“No thanks God. I know what’s best.”
The Jewish converts could be a little judgy.
They had thoughts about those who didn’t eat like they did and had more “freedoms.” So, the Church being new and all, Paul has to set some boundaries for how they should relate to one another in order to maintain the whole “love God and love your neighbor” thing. In the process of laying out some boundaries, Paul makes some points that, I think, are important for us to understand.
· Living in community can be difficult because of our differences
· It is easy to forget that God is in charge
· Our focus should be on oneness rather than flexing our rights
· Our actions need to build one another up
· Our goal is supposed to be about pleasing others before ourselves
· Kingdom living is about righteousness, joy, and peace
It is with that context that we now look at how Trinity will move back into some form of our pre-pandemic patterns of worship.
Specific Regathering Guidelines
Bishop Megan has sent out some guidelines for regathering to the churches in the Diocese of Northern California. She recognizes that our diocese encompasses churches in both rural and urban settings that have met in many different ways over the past 15 months.
While she gives many recommendations (I will get to that),
there is one restriction at this time:
We will not be sharing wine together via the common cup.
Many have asked about little cups of wine for each person as a way of getting around this, but we will not be doing this for one very important theological reason:
the Common Cup speaks of our oneness and community.
Little cups do not.
So we will continue with the Bread only.
The CDC, the State of California and the Office of the Bishop encourage all people who can to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. The vaccines have been shown to be effective in slowing the meteoric cases that were seen in the winter. If you are not yet vaccinated, please consider doing so.
Having said that, anyone not vaccinated will not be required to get a vaccination to participate in services or meetings of any kind at Holy Trinity.
A few things about this:
- Those who choose to not be vaccinated assume the risk for the possibility of becoming infected with COVID-19. We have all had an opportunity to think through the risks inherent with either being vaccinated or unvaccinated. Adult decisions assume there is some risk either way and proceed accordingly. This is the same thinking as getting in a car to drive or flying on a plane. Our choices have risks. This particular risk is limited because of the next two bullet points.
- Those who choose not to get vaccinated will benefit from those who are vaccinated. Statistics show that a vaccinated population (California is currently at about 45%) benefits those who cannot or choose not to get the vaccination.
- Those who are vaccinated have very little risk of getting COVID-19 from an unvaccinated person. If, by chance, someone who is vaccinated gets infected, the statistics show that the cases are either very mild or asymptomatic. Also, even when the vaccinated get infected, their chance of passing it along is greatly reduced.
-If you have not been vaccinated, you are encouraged to wear a mask.
· Care for the vulnerable
Our decisions to meet or not meet over the past 15+ months have been largely made with the goal of caring for one another. When we didn’t know much about COVID-19, we chose to not meet physically at all.
Once some things were known about the virus, we chose to meet in-person with restrictions (sanitization protocols, masks, distancing, exchanging the Peace from a distance, no Common Cup).
Now that most have been vaccinated in our congregation, we have started having a choir back, I have not been wearing a mask and there is a more generous Peace-giving.
Now we are at a point where everyone has had the opportunity to be vaccinated and are able to enter a worship time that is more reminiscent of our tradition prior to March 2020. Our care is now moving into the stage where we value the power of community and the traditions of the Church.
· Care for our guests
We always want to think about those who will visit us and make Holy Trinity home. Those who come to visit will benefit in the same way as was stated in the vaccinations section. We will care for them by the gathering guidelines that follow.
Gathering for Worship
Starting June 20th, our gathering will look like this:
· Those who are vaccinated are free to go without a mask. This follows the guidelines from the CDC about the efficacy of vaccinations. Those who are not vaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask, but we will not be requiring a “vaccination passport” to come to the worship services. As a reminder, masks have provided a time buffer when we are closer than 6 feet to another individual, meaning, for the unvaccinated, the mask has made it safer to be together.
· We will exchange the Peace.
· The choir will continue to provide musical offerings, and we will restart our Compline Choirs).
· We will be able to sing.
· We will be sitting closer together, although it is still recommended to allow some space between individuals from different households as seems appropriate.
One More Thing...
“Love thy Neighbor”
Let’s think back to the underlying theme in the Romans passage from above about all being in the same boat, spiritually speaking.
We realize that there will be those (both Holy Trinity members and our guests) who will feel more comfortable wearing a mask during the service, not sharing the Peace and having more space.
We will respect this and those who choose
to be more cautious at this time.
If there are any questions or concerns about these changes, please feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.