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EBIC response COVID-19 | Jul 3, 2020 12 pm

Dear EBIC Church Family,

I hope you're getting into the swing of summer! In this new "green" phase of our county's reopening, I trust that you're enjoying the loosened restrictions while also continuing to take precautions to remain healthy. As we are now less than two weeks away from our Comeback Sunday on July 12, I'm happy to provide some more information on what you can expect, if you choose to attend in-person.

Details for our planned Comeback Sunday are available at this link, so this letter will deal less with the "what" and more with the "why." But in summary, our initial plan includes:

  • Online registration (or by phone call to the office if you cannot register online) prior to attending
  • The expectation that all those age 2 and up, unless there is a medical exception, will wear masks while they are in the building
  • Limited entrances and exits from the building
  • Two venues for participating in each service-—our sanctuary & our gym (live video feed from the sanctuary)
  • Organized, spaced seating to maintain social distancing
  • Cleaning after each service
  • Exiting the building following orderly dismissal from each service

All of these plans are subject to change in weeks ahead as conditions change and we see how implementation goes. As revisions are made, we will do our best to communicate them ahead of time, so that you know what to expect before you attend. In the meantime, this is what we are asking of you, and if you choose to attend in-person, we trust that you will make every effort to follow these expectations.

As you weigh these particulars, you will need to choose how soon you want to return. Just because we are reopening the building for services does not mean that everyone should rush back! Because COVID-19 can be spread by people without symptoms, please know there is a chance of becoming infected in our services. We will do all we can to minimize that risk, but we can't eliminate it all together. We strongly encourage you to continue worshiping online from home if you are sick or vulnerable to infection.

Now, I'd like to speak to some of the underlying issues behind these guidelines. As with the announcement of our initial 5-step comeback plan, I expect that some of these precautionary measures will be disappointing to some of you. You may know of other churches that have seemed less restrictive in their reopening guidelines. Let me encourage you to avoid these types of comparisons as much as possible. Comparing yourself individually to someone else can be extraordinarily detrimental; when we do this, our tendency is to compare ourselves to someone who seems to have what we don't or excel where we wish we did, and usually, we compare without seeing the full picture of the other person's experience. This is also likely to be true when you compare EBIC's response to that of other churches. Our congregation is made up of unique people with unique demographics and perspectives and experiences, and it is difficult to make a true "apples to apples" comparison with another church. Our leaders are making the best decisions we can, given the resources available to us. As you have no doubt heard endlessly, these are "unprecedented times" that none of us has experienced in living memory. Every church must do its best to contextualize the information available and prayerfully discern the wisest course of action for their particular community. It is not helpful or necessary for me to criticize other churches who approach their reopening differently than we do. Rather, I encourage you to pray for every congregation that is wrestling through reams of data and widely divergent opinions in their church bodies to make wise decisions. And pray for the type of unity amidst diversity that Jesus prayed for, that our love for each other would be evident in our attitudes and actions and would supersede our differing opinions and preferences.

The point of our Comeback Sunday plan that will likely be least popular is our expectation that people wear masks, so I would like to comment on that. It is disheartening to me the way that even mask-wearing during a pandemic can become a political issue in our divided society. Some who prefer not to wear masks may view those who are in favor of mask-wearing as living in fear or bowing to government overreach. Others who see mask-wearing as essential may view those who don't as unloving or unscientific. I would suggest we start with the premise that everyone has reasons for their opinion, and those reasons, even if we disagreed with them, would make more sense to us if we sought to listen and understand. Without casting judgment on anyone's motives, I will simply ask that all those who attend services at EBIC in the weeks ahead wear masks while in the building, until we are able to change this expectation.

Our reasons for asking people to wear masks have to do firstly with our desire to submit to the governing authorities. The PA governor and secretary of health have now instructed that masks be worn whenever anyone leaves home, and so we will endeavor to follow this instruction, in line with Paul's counsel in Romans 13: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities...For the one in authority is God's servant for your good (vv. 1, 4). Beyond this particular order for our state, a strong consensus from those in healthcare seems to be that mask-wearing is helpful. The U.S. surgeon general, the CDC, and local healthcare professionals, including doctors in our own congregation, all agree on this. Just the other day, I read an article from Penn State Hershey Medical Center with the title "Don't get lax with the mask." And the CDC website, in an article updated on June 28, had this to say about masks:
A cloth face covering may not protect the wearer, but it may keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others...Cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings. The spread of COVID-19 can be reduced when cloth face coverings are used along with other preventive measures, including social distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

As COVID-19 cases increase across the nation, including renewed surges of infection in some areas, it is prudent to heed the counsel of these medical experts.

Alongside the medical recommendations, let me suggest to you that, regardless of your personal opinion about masks, wearing one is a small way to in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3b-4). Jesus modeled servanthood for his disciples by washing their feet, which met a very practical need in a place and time where people walked everywhere on dusty roads. Christians in the 21st century sometimes discuss what 1st-century feet washing looks like today, and perhaps wearing masks is one form of that-—doing something tangible but uncomfortable to serve and contribute to the well-being of others.

We as staff feel the way many of you do-—we are saddened to be at this spot where something we used to take for granted, gathering for worship, now seems so complicated and restrictive. At the same time, we recognize the importance of meeting together, for our spiritual and emotional health, and we are willing to do what is necessary to allow that to happen. I fully expect that the guidelines we have put in place will be only for a season, and hopefully before too many weeks or months go by, we will be able to return to some semblance of normalcy in our times together. In any event, I have great confidence in our resilience and in our ability to sacrifice our comforts and preferences as expressions of the love we have for each other.

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11b-13 NIV

In Christ's strength,
Pastor Adam

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