This is a big week for Virginians, our church included. It marks, what is being reported as, the beginning of the end of COVID restrictions across the Commonwealth.
Over the past year, our leadership has led our church to submit to the governor’s guidelines, in the spirit of 1 Peter 3 and Romans 13. On behalf of our elders, I want to say thank you for helping us! I know it has not always been enjoyable or convenient. (Between fogged-up glasses, forgetting your mask in the car, or awkward fist/elbow bumps, there have been many small frustrations.) But whether it was the spaced-out seating, suspended Sunday School classes, event cancellations, or just small disruptions to our normal gatherings, our church family has navigated each one with grace and in a spirit of cooperation and humility.
I’m sure there are some who have not liked the fact that we’ve tried to abide by and encourage the governor’s restrictions so closely. But at the end of the day, the softest pillow is a clean conscience – and I am convinced that our elders and church, as a whole, have operated in good faith to obey our governing authorities as directed by Christ. Our goal was never to implement anything beyond what we were required or longer than necessary. And this week, Lord willing, much of it will be lifted.
Governor Northam recently issued the latest Executive Order (#79) related to COVID-19. It is entitled, “ENDING OF COMMONSENSE PUBLIC HEALTH RESTRICTIONS.” (That title alone sounds good to me!) The governor has re-tooled the state-wide guidelines to be in line with the CDC’s recommendations. In short, fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks. Capacity limits and distancing requirements will no longer be enforced either. A spokesman from the Governor’s office has said that those who are not vaccinated are “strongly encouraged” to continue wearing masks, per the CDC’s advice.
The result, though, is that many of the health-related guidelines we have gotten used to are expiring soon. According to the Executive Order, they go into effect Friday at midnight (May 28). Chances are, though, you have already noticed things changing. Local businesses, such as Target, Home Depot, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart are removing their signs and lifting their restrictions. You may personally think that it’s long overdue but just remember the old saying: better late than never.
From Black & White to Gray
If I can put it this way, we are moving, experientially, from Romans 13 into Romans 14 territory. In Romans 13, we are told to be subject to government, obeying them as we would obey God. We have sought to do that. But now, the guidelines are not as black and white. And Romans 14 tells us what to do in those gray areas, those issues which are left up to individual conscience and voluntary participation. Paul says that in those cases, we should not judge others who may think differently, we should not force our conscience on others, and we should not flaunt our freedoms nor guilt our brothers and sisters needlessly. Given how we have operated for the past year with thoughtfulness and charity, I do not think that this will be a problem for us.
What does all of this mean practically at FBC? Starting next Sunday (per the May 28 date), you will notice a few changes to our services and gatherings, such as:
Our colorful COVID signs on the entrances and those on our TVs will be removed. (A friendly reminder of the CDCs current guidelines for those not yet vaccinated will be posted.) Water fountains will also be reopened and available.
The most obvious change is that our sanctuary seating will go back to the rows instead of these segregated seating groups. Hopefully, this will eliminate the need for using our foyer space (especially for the early service.) For anyone who may not feel comfortable yet sitting in the sanctuary, we will still have seating in the Map Room. We will be restocking the seats with Bibles, guest cards, pens, and offering envelopes. Sunday School classes will be free to adjust their seating as needed.
(I know Baptists prefer the word ordinance, but I was trying to alliterate. Ha!) Since it is before the May 28 date, we will still be using the required, pre-packaged elements today. But Lord willing, this will be the last time that we eat and drink what tastes like Styrofoam and Dimetapp. Uh.
I’m sure there are some specifics that we haven’t thought of yet. Please be patient as our staff helps us return to the “new normal after the new normal.” Here are a few other specifics:
- We will still be receiving our offering via the boxes at the doors, for now.
- We will still have hand sanitizer and masks available if you need either.
- We are hoping to resume fellowship times and even meals when possible.
- For those in Sunday School, Preschool, Children*, or Youth Ministry keep an eye out for follow-up emails about specific changes or adjustments.
(*FYI – We are looking towards resuming our Wednesday evening events for children and adults in the Fall. Given travel and other events, summer is an incredibly impractical time to relaunch anything like this. Mark your calendars!)
Between decision fatigue, information overload, and learning how to parse an Executive Order (#frustrating), this year has been a trying one as a pastor. But please know, as a church, you have made it a little bit easier each step. I’m praying for us what Paul prayed for the Philippians,
“that your love may abound more and more…so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ…” (Phil 1:9-10)