By now most of us Michiganders have read the good-news proclamation of Governor Gretchen Whitmer on June 17: “'Today is a day that we have all been looking forward to, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us.’” And with that she announced, “Beginning June 22, capacity in both indoor and outdoor settings will increase to 100% and the state will no longer require residents to wear a face mask” (www.michigan.gov/whitmer/0,9309,7-387-90499-562084--,00.html).
So what does this good news mean for Pioneer? First a quick reality check. No governor’s pronouncement, of course, ends a pandemic. The truth is COVID-19 and its variants continue to appear the world over. But the upside is that here in Michigan and Berrien County we are fortunate, as the governor announced, that “COVID-19 cases continue to plummet following increased vaccinations” (ibid).
This Monday evening our Safety Committee, under the able chairing of Michael Tan, convened to review the governor’s latest directives. After discussion, the committee edited its “COVID-19 Preparedness & Response Plan Safety Update: June 22, 2021” document, which you can read here (pmchurch.org/safety/covid19).
To further clarify what this update means for our congregation, particularly on Sabbaths, we shared with the church board this six-point summation (from Michael Tan) of Pioneer’s safety protocol going forward:
• Pioneer Memorial Church (PMC) will continue to align with Andrews University's COVID-19 protocols with the goal of opening completely by Fall, 2021.
• Masks: Per the MDHHS [Michigan Department of Health and Human Services] guidelines, all unvaccinated persons are to continue using the masks and practice social-distancing indoors, and for some outdoor activities.
• Signage: PMC will remove masking requirement signs from the entrances effective June 22, 2021.
• Capacity: Pioneer will continue to remain at 50% capacity through July 2021. On August 1, 2021, the signs to keep vacant alternate rows will be removed.
• Individuals who are not feeling well are requested to participate remotely.
• Recognizing the need of members to express faith and worship in singing, and anticipating members and visitors will be compliant with the masking guidelines from MDHHS, and that there is an avenue of remote worship for at-risk individuals, the Safety Committee will not object to the suspension of the announcement to hum along during musical expression of worship.
Based on these Safety Committee recommendations, masks will no longer be required for vaccinated worshipers in our two services each Sabbath morning. As a precaution for our unvaccinated children, leaders in our children’s Sabbath Schools will continue to be masked. And of course, we request unvaccinated worshipers to continue to mask themselves (as per CDC [Center for Disease Control] requirements).
And, beginning on August 1, all rows in our sanctuary will be opened for Pioneer worshipers. The committee wisely waited until August 1 for implementation in order to give time for our worship leaders (deacons, greeters, and worship planners) to make worship protocol decisions, including the reception of morning tithes and offerings, in-person children’s stories, fellowship dinners, etc.
Also included in our revised safety protocol will be the resumption of congregational singing. Now not only the singers up front, but all who come to worship will have the opportunity to praise our Lord and Creator in song.
Truly He has been our refuge and our strength throughout these long, seemingly interminable fifteen months here at Pioneer (March 14, 2020, to the present). God has protected us at church—not a single case of COVID-19 has been traced to any activity of the Pioneer Memorial Church over these months. And I believe His divine protection has shielded us at home as well.
I am truly grateful to our entire Pioneer Family and our leaders for the way you have faithfully abided by national, state, and local protocol during this pandemic. It was a hard road, but it was the high road. And while we’re not out of the woods yet, to be sure, we have the assurance the same Lord who kept us safe during these fifteen months past will continue to protect His people for the journey ahead—with Him—until He comes.
Dwight K. Nelson