Elder Update | June 18, 2020
We are 10 days into Phase 2. Some churches have not decided to meet yet. Some of the churches who have begun to gather are following very few recommendations, many are following most, and several are following none of them in accord with their respective consciences. Our elders are taking a measured approach, evaluating each week and seeking to discern what is right, wise, and safe. We do not expect every church nor Chrisitan to agree in this regard; but we do expect everyone to exercise the kind of forbearance--for the purpose of love and unity--that Paul details in Romans 14 as we each make decisions.
Throughout this pandemic, there has been a tremendous amount said or posted about fear. Some of this has been wise; some has been foolish. There are those who are fearful of the virus, those who are fearful of disobeying authorities, those fearful of dividing the church, those who are fearful of not being "safe" enough, and those fearful of losing loved ones to death. There are others who are fearful of a recession, fearful of losing their rights, fearful of governmental overreach, fearful of not being faithful, fearful of not being bold "enough", even fearful of other people being fearful.
There has also been a lot said about faith, again, some wise some foolish. Some have questioned the faithfulness of members who are reluctant to gather, while others question the faithfulness of those quick to make such judgements. There are those who believe our leaders have been faithfully leading, while others believe they have been fearfully abdicating their leadership. It is becoming obvious that the enemy is not using this pandemic to create fear as much as he is leveraging different kinds of fear to create division. Let us not be unware of his schemes.
The elders are responsible to make decisions for this church family. But God holds us accountable for how we shepherd this flock. We do not believe that means we need to make a statement about every event or write a position to address every issue. Being accountable does mean we help teach, protect, and encourage our membership towards maturity as we equip them to engage the world as an ambassador. To that end:
- We are asking our members to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry (James 1.19).
- We are encouraging our members to grow in empathy towards those who are suffering (Romans 12.5) and in humility toward the weaker brothers among us (Romans 14, 1Corinthians 8).
- We are instructing our members to care about every injustice (Micah 6.8) and to support and pray for those in positions of justice (1Tim 2.1-3, Romans 13.1-3).
- We are calling our members to faith over fear. That means we are calling some of our members to trust in God's sovereignty, to fear God, not men, not sickness, and not even death (Matthew 10.28). That also means we are also calling members to trust in God's sovereignty by believing that God's truth is never ultimately thwarted by any one of Satan's lies, that his purposes always come to pass, and that it takes just as much faith to say "not yet" as it does to say "no
Please know, we are making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit, to remind people to believe, love, and gather fearlessly. At the same time, we are also being careful not to believe, love, or gather foolishly. This is a difficult tension to navigate but a responsibility that we fully embrace.
Each week we will try to answer some frequently asked questions about COVID-19, current injustices, or other issues relevant to this unique moment in history.
Why are we not requiring masks?
The guidelines for the State of Washington include wearing masks for all services, whether they are indoor or outdoor. There is very little rationale provided for many of these church-specific guidelines. Even though the authorities often appeal to various models, throughout this entire pandemic we've seen these same sources change their projections and even contradict the recommendations of other so called "experts". In other words, there is no little disagreement about the effectiveness of masks, some arguing they are useless or harmful while others deem them essential. Seeing as Google is a search engine and not an answer machine, we are confident that anyone can find someone to support their particular view.
Everyone has their personal view on masks but, at the very least, wearing masks makes our gatherings different and our worship a bit difficult. At this time, the state does not require masks to patron secular businesses, though most businesses require staff to use them in most contexts. Discerning what is helpful and wise for our context is difficult for us when very little justification is given for the church's mask requirement, especially when the medical experts don't make clear or consistent recommendations. In April, our local Health District put out a memo referencing their support of the CDC guidelines (Center for Disease Control). Currently, the CDC is recommending cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. In so far as we are able to maintain social distancing measures in our gatherings, we are recommending masks for all services.
Why are we increasing our registration capacity beyond 50?
When counties enter phase 2, secular businesses such as restaurants are allowed to serve people up to 50% capacity of their building regardless of size. They also need to maintain various social distancing guidilnes. Additional restrictions have been applied to church gatherings, limiting any indoor gathering size to 50 and outdoor gathering to 100. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit filed at the beginning of June. In it, you can read the legal arguments that are being made against state for how allowing exceptions for secular businesses unfairly discriminate against churches who follow the same social distancing guidelines. The elders agree that that Romans 13 does not empower Governments with unlimited power and that Christians are not required to blindly submit indefinitely. In other words, there is a time to submit to reasonable and universal restrictions such as we have done for the last three months.
We also understand, however, that there comes a time when we are free---even commanded--to disobey those restrictions we judge unreasonable or, in some way, serve to unfairly hinder our worship of Jesus Judging when that time has come is, obviously, debatable among God-fearing Bible-loving Christians. In the filing of this lawsuit, the ADF (an organization we trust and support) seems to be declaring that they believe the restrictions have become unreasonable due to various "secular exceptions." The legitimacy of ADF's lawsuit does not necessarily give us complete freedom to disobey our authorities; but it does help us discern whether or not adhering to the same standards as secular business is actually sinfully rebellious.
As it stands, with clear conscience, the elders have decided to increase our capacity for our services beyond a hard 50 people and, instead, limit our gatherings in accordance with other secular businesses. In this way we are following the spirit of the restriction as oppossed to the letter. Based on the past two weeks of attendance, we have increased our registrations to 65 in addition to allowing a 10-15 person buffer. Our normal seating capacity is 217. Our socially distanced sanctuary seating is 113. Allowing approximatley 75 people per service maintains a 35% capacity in the room (15-20% for the entire building) which is much lower than the 50% allowed for secular businesses.
**June 18, 2020 Update***
After writing this post, Governor Inslee announced that: Indoor services are allowed at 25% capacity or 200 people, whichever is less.
If you have any questions, you can always email firstname.lastname@example.org