I was meeting with our Executive Team of church leaders when the weekly topic of coronavirus came up. The proverbial 2×4 of the obvious hit me during the discussion that Skyland UMC is operating with a set of understandings that need to be made explicit from time to time. I offer this column as a measure of transparency for how your church is going about ministry and as an invitation to conversation.
The leadership at Skyland understands that COVID-19 is a real and serious threat. We desire to follow the Christian ethic to first do no harm.
In conducting ministries on and off the campus of Skyland UMC, the leadership assumes that there is a reasonable risk of the virus being spread. We understand that the virus is spread primarily through respiratory droplets. We understand that the virus can be spread by both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. As a result, we are asking everyone to wear a face covering while indoors. Even two people in the same room, who might have an informal conversation indicating that both people are fully vaccinated, should wear a mask. The staff of Skyland UMC is practicing this precaution.
In conducting ministries outside, masks are optional because the free air typically diffuses the viral load down to safer levels. Care should still be taken outdoors because safety from COVID-19 is not an absolute. The virus doesn’t know whether it is indoors or outdoors. Therefore in addition to being outdoors, we want to maintain more personal space than we are used to so that free air can do its thing.
Some organizations are within their rights to restrict access based on vaccination status. My personal favorite was the sign I saw online (so it might not be real) that the lunch special was $195 and that a 95% discount would come with proof of vaccination. But we are a church and not a lunch counter. By our sound theology, Skyland UMC will not enforce any kind of official vaccination status barrier to worship, to holding office, or to participating in open groups. At any open meeting we assume that anyone present is capable of spreading the virus, and thus we hold everyone to the same standard of precaution.
Having said that, churches have always held closed groups. For example, a grief group might meet and close off new participants except at stated annual intervals. SPRC meetings are not open to the general membership. The fellowship of AA differentiates between open and closed meetings. We close or modify some activities by age due to safety or legal concerns. For example, a member of the Trustees must be of legal age. I can imagine a group that needs to trust one another in terms of vaccination status to carry out its ministry. For example, I would support a homebound member’s request that only vaccinated persons make personal visits. As these situations arise, the staff will handle them on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the Executive Team.
For the eight people that read all the way to here, thank you. I’ve received full vaccination. I hope that you will too. If you’re still considering it, here is a good resource written in part by a faculty member of Duke Divinity School directed at Christians about COVID-19 vaccination. https://www.christiansandthevaccine.com/faqs