Dear People of God,
This past Tuesday and after much discussion, church council unanimously voted to return to indoor worship starting November 21. Since virus activity in our county still remains at a high level, I wanted to share with you the reasoning behind this decision to modify the plan we had put forward in August.
There are two components that have to be weighed against each other in making these sorts of decisions: virus risk and the burden of not worshipping in our sanctuary. Regarding risk, the virus is currently the most infectious it has ever been in Skagit County and it is putting a strain on our hospitals. This is complicated somewhat by the fact that not everyone has been immunized. Unvaccinated people, as well as those who are immune-compromised, are currently near the highest risk from this virus that they ever have been, while those who are vaccinated are at much lower risk of serious illness than they were prior to vaccine availability, even when breakthrough infections do occur.
The second component, burden on the congregation, is difficult to measure, but there has been increasing strain and frustration around not being able to gather inside. The prospect of going through another Advent and Christmas distanced from each other is disheartening, and the weather is becoming less cooperative as we enter the winter months.
In weighing these two against each other, we concluded that while virus risk still remains quite high, especially among those without immunization, the burden on the congregation has increased to the point where a change needs to be made. This was not an easy calculation to make, but we think it is the best decision for the overall well-being of the congregation.
This is not a return to normal; we are still in the middle of a deadly pandemic. To that end, we are going to take some steps to further reduce risk in addition to the modifications already laid out in our August plan.
First, we will have additional audio-only seating options available in the fellowship hall, and we will continue to have the FM broadcast if people want to park in the parking lot. Online options will be the same as the drive-in, though with an increase in video quality.
Second, since an infected person is much more contagious while singing than when silent or speaking, there will be no congregational singing in the service. We will still have music and hymns, but they will be sung by a small number of singers, and we will ask the congregation to simply listen or hum along.
Third, while our plan already requires masks for indoor worship, I strongly encourage you to maximize your respiratory protection with a well-fitting N95 or KN95 mask. These are far more effective than cloth or surgical masks, particularly in indoor group settings. And if you have facial hair, consider imitating me in shaving it to a goatee, as even an N95 loses much of its effectiveness when the edges are not sitting directly on the skin. We plan to have KN95s available in the Narthex as well, so feel free to take one of those. Some really good information about various types of masks and their effectiveness can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/3xp9kfc9
I know this is exciting news for some of you, and disappointing news for others. For some of you, this move indoors is more risk than you can reasonably take on. I understand completely, and I am open to look for ways to accommodate those of you who require safer options. Others of you have been waiting for this for a very long time, and I thank you for your patience.
Finally, remember that none of us are isolated individuals, and we all bear responsibility for each other’s well-being. Consider carefully the potential risk of infection you bring with you when you are deciding to come to worship. Any risk you take on during the week will be imposed on everyone you come into contact with. This is especially important if you are not immunized, as your baseline risk of infection is around ten times higher than those who are immunized. If you have taken on high infection risk during a particular week, consider worshiping from home for the sake of the community. And of course, if you feel sick or suspect you were exposed to Covid, do not attend indoor worship!
These are not easy decisions for us to make, either as church leaders or as individuals. Though the right action is not always clear, we still must make the best choices we can in the knowledge that “each of us will be accountable to God” (Romans 14:12). There is a long road ahead of us, and the way is far from clear, yet God’s Holy Spirit continues to work in our midst bringing about healing and wholeness.
Your brother in Christ,