Q: Tell me, Pastor, so many other churches are singing the whole service – why don’t we? (09/27/21)
A: Singing is such an important part of worship throughout the whole Christian Church and, in the Lutheran tradition, it is especially cherished. There are certain hymns that touch a special place in our heart for any number of reasons. Some hymns comfort us, others encourage us, and still others inspire us. And, there is something very meaningful about hearing our own voice joined together with others during worship. I miss it very much and I know that so many others do as well.
When we resumed in-person worship last Easter, we did not sing. This decision by the Covid Response Task Force and the Council was based upon information about how the coronavirus is spread – primarily through aerosols, those tiny, imperceptible, mist-like drops that come out of our mouth when we speak or sing or breathe. These aerosols hang in the air for a good amount of time after we expel them. And when we speak or sing with more volume or projection or gusto, there are more aerosols and they travel farther. The primary reason for masks is to diminish the spread of aerosols from our mouths.
As situations improved earlier this summer, we shifted our safe distancing from six feet to three feet and we began singing the last hymn. Why just the last one, you may wonder. Remembering that risk is cumulative and recognizing that our singing expels these aerosols in abundance, singing only the last hymn meant that people’s exposure to the aerosols was limited and the risk was thereby reduced. A complicating factor in this is the air exchange rate in our sanctuary. This rate reflects how long it takes for the air in our sanctuary to be completely replaced removing the aerosols. The rate in our sanctuary is a fraction of what currently is recommended to minimize risk of Covid. It takes a number of hours to replace air that, if we were singing, would be holding all of our collective aerosols.
Earlier this fall, the Delta variant went on a rampage through Polk County and elsewhere. Positive test results approached 30% while the high in the previous surge was 16% and the target is under 5%. Daily new cases approached 150 while the high in the previous surge was 83. And our county vaccination rate continues to be rather sluggish. In light of this, we returned to six foot distancing and we stopped singing. All of this was done to help care for each other, to love each other, to keep each other safe.
And our efforts have been successful! To my knowledge, there have been only three cases of Covid in our community of faith and none of these were contracted as a result of congregational activity. We earned a gold star!
What’s next? Well, the surge in our community for Delta is easing considerably, though our statistics are still very high and in some cases are still worse than those in the previous surge. So, at church we’re holding steady for now. The steps that we are taking are working. And we know that we long to sing together again. Our choir longs to bring its offerings to our worship. We are making plans for that. Assuming that the current trends continue, we hope to have more singing in our worship over the coming weeks and months. And the safety of all physically present with us on Sunday morning is of paramount importance.
Please remember this – assumption of risk is not all-or-nothing. It is cumulative. Accepting one risk does not mean that we should expose ourselves to all risks. It’s kind of like being on a diet. Indulging in a special dinner on a special day does not mean that you should do the same thing every day. And, it may mean that the next morning you go back to a calorie light breakfast. In our everyday lives we all are exposed to any number of risks at the grocery store, the gas station, the pharmacy and even church on Sunday morning. Our desire is to provide layers of safety where we can to keep each other safe.
I know that there are congregations where they have returned to “normal” worship. Less known to us is the significant number of congregations which are only now beginning to return to in-person worship at all. I remember as a teen-ager trying to convince my parents to let me go to a certain event about which they had justifiable hesitations. “All the kids are going,” I pleaded. They were not convinced. And, of course, I heard the line, “And if all the kids were jumping off the bridge, would you too??”
On behalf of all who are worshiping with us, thank you for your spirit of cooperation and patience as we navigate these unknown waters.
Peace and grace to you,
Q: Most of us have been vaccinated so why can’t we go back to normal? (08/29/21)
A: Yes, after we got the “jab” as the Brits call it, we thought we were good to go. And many of us started to venture out a bit more, we relaxed some of our previous safety precautions. We began planning trips and thought about the holidays ahead remembering those we have missed over these past years.
But then as I see it, two things happened. The vaccines we received are very good, very effective in keeping us out of the hospital and keeping us alive. But, like every other vaccine we receive, they are not guarantees against getting sick. Many of us expected, having been vaccinated, that we were immune to the disease; that is, we would not contract the disease. Sadly, that is not the case. Even though we are vaccinated, it is possible for us to contract the disease and then transmit it to others, even if we ourselves do not have symptoms. So the vaccine was not a free pass, as much as we wish it were.
Then, the Delta variant was upon us. Now, remember this – a virus’s “purpose for being” is to live on and it does this by shifting and changing and adapting to the circumstances around it. So, when there was a vaccine that was effective for most strains, the virus adapted into a variant that was less affected by the vaccines and much more virulent – it was stronger and more transmissible. The Delta variant dramatically and suddenly changed the covid landscape of earlier this summer, a landscape that saw many of us thinking it was safe to go back in the water, so to speak.
This does not mean that vaccines are ineffective and that we shouldn’t get them. The vaccines are very effective, more so than many of those we commonly receive. They well protect us from hospitalization, intubation and death. The reason that we still are undertaking safety precautions here at church, remembering that we can still transmit the virus even if we feel fine, is to show our love and care for our neighbor who may not be able to be vaccinated, who may have a compromised immune system, or be one of the few who gets sick even though vaccinated.
Now, I offer these thoughts merely as one who has been reading and learning more than I ever wanted to know about coronavirus, epidemiology, public health and vaccines. If you have specific health questions, please address them to an appropriate professional. I am simply trying to sort this all out, as you are, and sharing my thoughts along the way.
Peace and grace to you,
Q: My neighbor’s church has been open for months – why do we have to close? (08/23/21)
A: It’s so difficult when we see others around us making different decisions, isn’t it? So let me offer a couple of thoughts. I know that when we have changes in our schedule or our routine, it may seem like we are “closing.” But that just isn’t so. We at Grace have continued on doing ministry. We’re just doing it in different ways. More meetings happen via technology rather than in person. More conversations with each other happen by phone rather than in person. Sometimes meetings that might not really have been necessary don’t happen.
This is not to say that there aren’t things that we miss – fellowship hour, potlucks, larger parish gatherings, and even more. Yet, for now, out of care for each other and for the visitor who may join us, we are taking precautionary measures.
Now, as to why other churches aren’t doing the same thing, well, I don’t know the answer to that. Yet, I do know that the risks of exposure are greater at church events than they are at the grocery store or outside park events. Other churches may assess that risk differently. We admittedly are taking a very cautious approach in these times of pandemic. And I note that over the past 18 months we have had only two confirmed cases of covid among us and neither of those who suffered spread it to anyone else in the congregation. I count that a win.
We aren’t “closed.” The Church of Christ never closes. We simply are called to do things differently. Thanks for your question.
Peace and grace to you,