The Debate Goes On

When I was a boy, I remember my dad telling this story on himself to a group of my friends: “I was the toughest kid in my neighborhood—whenever the boys saw me coming, they started running—but they could never catch me!” And I recall feeling so upset because his story made him look like a weakling. Every child likes to think the authority figures in his or her life are invincible.

That’s why it is so confusing for the American public to decipher who of our many authorities are the ones we should believe, trust, obey. Look at all the debates we’re having, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic: (1) over face masks and social distancing; (2) over whether schools across the country should open or remain closed; (3) over the safety or lack of it for air travel; (4) over whether churches should open or not. Confusion over authority, confusion among authorities—how do you decide?

Take the decision of our Pioneer church board and board of elders, augmented by the protocol recommendations of our reentry taskforce—to open up our sanctuary this coming Sabbath, July 11. Talking about trusted authorities, here was a Zoom screen full of them, volunteer leaders of our congregation with a very much vested interest in Pioneer getting it right. So did they make the right decision?

I believe they did. But the more important question is—the right decision for whom? 

The Centers for Disease Control and the President’s coronavirus taskforce all are agreed—COVID-19’s greatest threat is to individuals 65 and older as well as those who have preexisting medical conditions. Does that mean everyone over 65 and/or with preexisting health conditions will contract COVID-19? Hardly. But it does mean individuals with these risk factors do well to evaluate the outside-the-house environment they choose to occupy, even on a Sabbath morning.

Here is the CDC’s counsel (irrespective of your age or health condition):

  • “In general, the more people you interact with, the more closely you interact with them, and the longer that interaction, the higher your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.
  • “If you decide to engage in public activities, continue to protect yourself by practicing everyday preventive actions [wash your hands often, cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when others are around, clean and disinfect et al].
  • “Keep these items on hand and use them when venturing out: a cloth face covering, tissues, and a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, if possible.
  • “If possible, avoid others who are not wearing cloth face coverings or ask others around you to wear cloth face coverings.” 
  • ( ncov/need-extra-precautions/older-adults.html)

In accordance with this counsel, our Pioneer reentry taskforce is taking these actions: 

  • Providing hand sanitizer for every worshiper entering the church;
  • Requiring face masks for all worshipers age two and above (if you forget yours, we’ll give you one);
  • Designating physical distancing in the sanctuary by limiting the number of worshipers in each pew (by maintaining six feet between families and/or individual worshipers, and keeping every other pew vacant); 
  • Disinfecting the pews, door handles, and restrooms between first and second service;
  • Dismissing worshipers by rows at the end of the service (in the back) through the south narthex exit, (in the front) through the canopy exit.

Why all this protocol? First, because your life and health are what matters most to your Pioneer Family. We not only want you to be safe—we want you to feel safe. Second, because being Christlike means considering the needs and safety of others, irrespective of our personal decisions (hence the required face masks). I believe our task force has made every safety provision so we may gather to worship our Creator and Savior in peace and confidence.

Does that mean we all show up this Sabbath? I doubt that will happen. Every worshiper must determine when is the right time to go back to church. Which means nobody needs to feel guilty about not worshiping in person. You’ll know when the time is right. And you will still enjoy a full live-streaming experience (9:00 AM/11:45 AM ET) where you live.

But for those of us who will venture into this “brave new world” this coming Sabbath, I say we celebrate our return with the words of David: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1).