An abbreviated version of the story of the conversion of Saul: Saul had been a persecutor of the early Christians. One day he was traveling and saw a bright light, he was blinded and Jesus spoke to him. His conversion was not immediate. The story goes on to tell us that blind Saul was led into town and went to the house of Judas. Ananais is told in a prayer to go Saul, lay hands on him, and restore his sight. At first Ananais is reluctant to approach the person who is known to persecute Christians, but he follows the divine command. Saul is healed, becomes Paul, and becomes a zealous follower of Jesus! (You can read the complete story in Acts 9)
Earlier this week, I was in discussion with my husband, Kevin, about the ReLaunch protocols we are developing at the church and he said, “It is the road to de-mask-us!” I had a chuckle, but as I began to think about his pun, I could see many ways the real Damascus story could inform us as we move into this next phase of Covid recovery. Particularly, as we remember Paul was not instantaneously converted, but there were steps involved.
A few members of Mt. View joined together as the ReLaunch team over a year ago. The purpose was to study, evaluate, and create safe ways for us to be in community. They followed guidelines from Boulder County Public Health and the Mountain Sky Conference UMC. The staff also worked with ReLaunch to make sure we were following specialized recommendations in areas pertaining to ventilation, music, children, and many others. It was a steep learning curve, and it continues to be one as we move into this last stretch. The commission has always been to Do No Harm as we provide community and connection as we protect our most vulnerable.
The committee, after careful study, decided outdoor worship with social distancing, masks, sealed communion, and pool noodles would be appropriate. We have been able to have outdoor worship every single month since May of last year. It was also decided that indoor worship produced too great a risk. Finally, it appeared we could move to indoor worship in November, but you will remember there was a spike in cases and we had to scrap that plan. We adapted and had meaningful outdoor Christmas Eve services, new Holy Week worship expressions, and a glorious outdoor Easter service. While all of these were wonderful, we began to plan for in-person worship again. As we looked at the trajectory of Covid cases, vaccines, and the church calendar, Pentecost Sunday, May 23 seemed like a good day to start back up.
The planning had started well before the new guidelines were issued recently. We had registration in place, the musicians were rehearsing, I was planning a Pentecost sermon, we arranged the chairs in a socially distanced manner, and then — like this whole pandemic time — the news shifted. Colorado, and more importantly, Boulder County went to status clear, meaning there are very few restrictions in place. The CDC recommendations changed, and anyone who is vaccinated doesn’t need a mask. ReLaunch met yet again to consider how this information impacted our Pentecost service, small groups meeting in the church, and other issues. (The whole committee deserves a huge thank you for their tireless work!)
We want to make our worship services are as accessible as possible. We want to be sure our littlest Mountain Viewers are included. We want to be sure those of our members that are not yet comfortable without masks will feel welcome. We do not want to have to ask for a proof of vaccine or create an uncomfortable setting. Boulder County Public Health advises in larger indoor settings masks are still the best way to proceed, unless there is proof of vaccine. We have followed their guidance all along. As of this writing, ReLaunch has made the following decisions. They may seem conservative to some, but they include as many of our congregation in a way that does no harm. Of course, as we continue on this journey, they will be refined and changed. If you have questions or comments, please let me know.
Worship and Memorial Services – masks are required, vaccinated leaders will remove masks when they are speaking, children’s time leader will be masked because of the closeness of the children who cannot be vaccinated, soloist will be unmasked and stood far back from the congregation, and the choir will wear masks.
Outdoor Worship – will continue on the first Sunday of the month. This will provide an opportunity for our members who are not ready to gather inside just yet an opportunity to attend the communion service.
Small Group Indoor Gatherings – if everyone in the group is vaccinated and comfortable with removing masks, the gathering may be maskless. If even one person expresses discomfort with this policy, masks are to be worn.
Choir – may rehearse without masks, if all are comfortable. Singing to the congregation will require masks as indicated by several sources. This is because we don’t know if the whole congregation is vaccinated, and do know that anyone under 12 is not.
Outdoor Gatherings – masks are not required, even for worship and fellowship times.
Children – our little Mt Viewers do not yet have access to the vaccine so we will keep them safe by having them sit with their families during worship and we will wait a bit to add nursery and Sunday school.
Paul had people guiding him in his journey, praying for him and helping him become the one who established the church. It was not an immediate process and our own Road to De-Mask-Us is that way as well. Let’s continue to support each other on our journey, providing as many ways as possible to make the church inclusive as we open our doors.