“If we love each other and care about each other we’ll put them back on.”
Over the last days I have watched with growing concern as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have increased across the country, including in Georgia. Yesterday I consulted with three of our parishioners with advanced degrees in public health (Ginny Harris, Deb Dee, and Lori Westphal), and with Jodi Guest, a professor of epidemiology at Emory. After those conversations and a long discussion with the vestry last night, I have decided that it is time for us to put our masks back on in church.
Here is what that will mean for worship: masks are required for everyone (vaccinated and unvaccinated). There will be no congregational or choir singing. There will be no procession, passing of the peace, or coffee hour. For now we are not limiting attendance or requiring distanced seating. I am pushing the altar and lectern closer to the back wall so that there will be a greater distance between them and the pews, making it safer for those speaking from the lectern or behind the altar to do so without masks. We will also have soloists singing from the narthex, as we did when we first returned to in-person worship in April.
I know that this is discouraging. It feels like a big step backwards, one that would not be necessary if our fellow citizens would turn off Fox News, stop listening to conspiracy theories, and get vaccinated. But low vaccination rates in Georgia, the increase in the virulent delta virus, and increases in breakthrough infections among people who have been vaccinated make these moves necessary.
It is not only science that convinces me this is what we need to do. It is also because we are a Christian community called to live out Jesus’ command to love one another. Lori Westphal put it exactly right when she told me, “If we love each other and care about each other we’ll put them back on.” We’re going back to masks for the same reason we were vaccinated — to protect one another and ourselves. That is worth a little discomfort.