The State of Emergency in Virginia is being lifted, and all the emergency health measures discontinued. It is time to phase-in our regular worship procedures over the summer, beginning on June 20 (Father’s Day).
Bethany has tried to maintain the balance outlined by Martin Luther in his letter, “Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague”. Luther warns Christians away from two errors: fear and foolishness. He makes a Biblical case for Christians to rely on faith to stay and fulfill their various callings. At the same time, he warns against “tempting God” by using faith as some sort of false shield. He writes that Christians should follow the advice of leaders where to go or not to go, to follow safety advice like fumigating a house, and to take medicine when it will help you and those around you. His letter, written during the time of the “Black Death”, remains very relevant for us today.
Virginia had a phased re-opening that started last summer when the number of COVID-19 cases decreased and our health care system had sufficient equipment and capacity to handle outbreaks of the disease. There were clear “must do” rules and also a list of “best practices” that could be negotiated according to what worked for each house of worship. Our Board of Directors reviewed a document that I wrote with some research and suggestions when we were planning on again opening the sanctuary doors for worship.
The “must do” procedures have now been relaxed by the Commonwealth for those who are fully vaccinated. This came after the national Centers for Disease Control & Prevention had updated their guidance for those fully vaccinated, because “Currently authorized vaccines in the United States are highly effective at protecting vaccinated people against symptomatic and severe COVID-19. Additionally, a growing body of evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection or transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others.”
There is a note of caution, however. “How long vaccine protection lasts and how much vaccines protect against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants are still under investigation.” Also, there is still concern for those who have a compromised immune system. “People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken the immune system should talk to their healthcare provider to discuss their activities. They may need to keep taking all precautions to prevent COVID-19.”
The Governor of Virginia also announced recently that the State of Emergency would soon be lifted and all the health measures discontinued. God’s people should take the cue to lift up our praises that by our Lord’s grace, we have navigated through an unusual and challenging season.
Bethany issued a short survey to get some data from the congregation that would help us chart a course for the summer. Almost everyone who responded let us know that they were vaccinated. That jibes with the conversations I have with folks each week. I am happy that many took that step, since this greatly helped the speed with which the health measures were able to be rolled back in Virginia.
The comments and suggestions were very diverse, so the other thing we learned is that there is a wide range of attitudes toward these health measures, in general. I felt it was helpful to see the diversity of opinions. It makes me very grateful that despite the different attitudes, everyone worked with the leadership to maintain “the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace”. In other words, the members of the Bethany family looked out for one another, and I pray that we continue this loving attitude as we go forward.
Beginning on Father’s Day (this Sunday, June 20), Bethany will begin to follow CDC and VDH recommendations and not require masks of the fully vaccinated. This includes our choirs and worship leaders. All members may continue to find a way to worship that meets their needs and the needs of their families, OUTSIDE, INSIDE, or ONLINE.
Last Sunday, we took the tape down and put the hymnals and Bibles back in the pews. For the next two weeks, we will have a designated area in the sanctuary for people to wear masks and observe social distancing. This was recommended as an extra protection for children and those who have compromised immune systems.
I may mask up to serve Communion, but this will be the last Sunday for that. Our process of distribution will still be continuous, and I will have someone assisting to distribute the wine.
On Sunday, July 4, all health measures will be discontinued as Virginia ends the State of Emergency. We will once again have a Lay Liturgist for our services. Communion will still be served in continuous distribution for July, and then we return to our regular distribution in August.
We will need acolytes, ushers, readers, Lay Ministers, and Lay Liturgists to be trained as we head into the fall. Please look for the online sign-up and talk to me or Tom Bolick, our Worship Director, if you would like to join the worship team!
Whenever I mention how healthy I have been during this season, I normally get an “Amen” from those with whom I’m speaking. It makes sense to keep some of the practices we learned during the pandemic (to be honest, we learned them in Kindergarten!). Frequently washing our hands and covering any coughs and sneezes are simple yet effective ways to prevent germs from spreading. I think one thing that has changed during this pandemic is that we are going to encourage you to stay home when you are not feeling well. I understand that it is not as good as personally having fellowship in church (which I hope we all missed when we could not gather), but for one Sunday, it is better to be at home and to participate online.
Speaking of which, I also believe there is a potential to extend the reach of our Gospel message through the variety of different ways we’ve been reaching people. Going forward, we will keep offering outdoor worship opportunities, weather permitting. In the fall, we will experiment with keeping the 8:30 service and moving it indoors when there is bad weather. You can also expect that we will keep broadcasting our main service. Perhaps we’ll even learn some new ways to reach people using that technology!
I think I hear Barry Manilow singing in the background, “Looks Like We Made It”! We made it through the weirdness. We made it through the suffering. We made it through the uncertainty. To be sure, there is a lot of work to do. We will work to rebuild some of what was lost and continue to pray about how the Lord is going to use us in new and old ways to be a beacon of hope here on Beacon Hill. But before we go forward, let us take a moment to look at how far we have come by God’s grace and celebrate!
Bethany family, I pray that it will not be long before I can see your smile.
Grace and peace!