We’re approaching the three-year anniversary of those scary first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’ve settled into a new normal: COVID numbers rise and fall, we get booster shots, we do our best to stay healthy and to keep our germs to ourselves, but we’re finding ways to live our lives within this long pandemic tail.
First Church has required masks in worship ever since we returned to in person worship in October 2021. We’ve been carefully monitoring COVID numbers until they stopped being accurate, at which point we switched to monitoring wastewater numbers. But the time has come to shift our practice, in recognition that the pandemic has changed. COVID is not as deadly as it was, and we have much better treatments. We’re very nearly 100% vaccinated and boosted in our congregation. We have wide access to N-95 standard masks that keep the wearer very protected. Things are not as dangerous as they were.
And requiring masks in worship isn’t without its own costs. I recently spoke with several congregation members with hearing impairment. Each let me know that mask-wearing in worship was significantly hindering their ability to connect with other people, as removing the possibility of reading lips meant that they really couldn’t converse with others indoors. Masks have done a lot to keep us safe, but they do also make it harder to read each other’s facial expressions, to feel connected to each other.
For these reasons, Council took up the question of relaxing our mask mandate last week, and staff continued the conversation this week to make the final decision to move to a mask-optional worship service beginning Sunday, March 12. We will still make N-95 masks available to any who want them in the hall of entrance, and people are still completely welcome to wear masks if they prefer, but we will no longer require masks to attend worship in person. All are encouraged to make the decision that is right for them about wearing a mask at worship.
If you have questions about this shift, you can certainly reach out to Rev. Kelly, Rev. Molly, Rev. Hannah, or Jeanne Strauss, our moderator. We hope you will join us in committing to being one unified congregation even when some of us are masking and some of us are not, just like we are one congregation with some of us in the room and some online. May the Holy Spirit grant us courage, wisdom, and safety as we walk forward into a new phase of our congregational life.
— Rev. Kelly (3/9/2023)