In accordance with updated CDC masking guidance released earlier this month, we will no longer require masks within the church building except in the sanctuary for worship beginning tomorrow, March 9. As we have done previously throughout the course of the pandemic, our COVID-19 mitigation strategies remain focused on public health guidance and the grounding of our Christian faith.
In two gospel accounts, Jesus tells a story about a shepherd who has lost a single sheep out of his flock of one hundred but does not write off the loss and instead leaves the flock to search out the solitary one. It is a striking expression of the Christian love for the lost or vulnerable and, increasingly, my guiding principle in considering our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, in response to the continuing decline of cases of COVID-19, the Michigan State Health Department relaxed their masking recommendations and the Washtenaw County Health Department has shifted from a masking requirement to strongly recommending universal masking in educational settings effective on February 28. As White House chief medical advisor Dr. Fauci has said, the country is heading out of the “full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19.” This is promising news for the majority of us as the risk of serious complications or death from COVID-19 has decreased dramatically, particularly if we’ve received a vaccination course and any available boosters!
There is a small portion of the population and our communities, however, who remain especially at risk for COVID-19 including: the immunocompromised, children and infants under the age of five who cannot be vaccinated, and the elderly. As the shepherd left the majority to give special care to the one percent of lost sheep, so too will our COVID-19 response be increasingly directed toward protecting the vulnerable few.
Under the CDC’s new masking guidance, Washtenaw County is classified at a “medium” risk level and masking is not required except in “high-risk congregate settings.” Considering these guidelines alongside our responsibility to the most vulnerable led to no longer requiring masks except in the sanctuary during worship. Other groups, including outside organizations using our building, are similarly welcome to require masks as needed to best protect their individual participants. We trust this balance will continue ensuring that the most fundamental elements of our congregational life, including worship, are as safe as possible for all people.
I am so thankful for our congregation’s commitment to providing a safe environment for every last member of our community, even when it requires the inconvenience of wearing a mask. Your willingness to go out in search of every last sheep has been profoundly evident over these last months (and years!). Thank you for continuing to embody the inconveniently expansive love of Jesus Christ.