Christians are no strangers to hope. The resurrection of Jesus ensures our hope. As we move into the summer months, there are new reasons to hope that our past year and a half of strict precautions will soon be ending. New recommendations from national and local health officials as well as the trends of illness, especially severe illness and death, due to Covid-19 are on the decline in our country. Thanks be to God!
To that end, we will begin a new phase of protocols here at St. John’s beginning on June 6. This date is convenient for several reasons. First, there are already some changes planned for that date, and introducing them all at once is more efficient than rolling them out piecemeal. Second, St. John’s Lutheran School dismisses for the summer on June 4. The school will maintain its current protocols through the end of the school year, and June 6 is a natural day to adjust our practices in the church without worrying about conflicting with school protocols.
What’s going to change? First, we will return to our single morning service at 9:30 a.m. beginning June 6. The guidance for occupancy during Illinois’ “Bridge Phase” is 60%, which translates to 120 in the sanctuary. Additionally, many of you have told me that you are fully vaccinated, and fully vaccinated individuals do not count against this figure. Our evening service will remain at 6 p.m., which is an opportunity for people to attend service with a small crowd (often only myself and two elders assisting with worship).
We will also remove the pew ropes and replace the Bibles and hymnals. The consensus of the most recent reports is that surface transmission is negligible, especially if you practice good hygiene. Furthermore, distancing measures beyond close, personal contact are also negligible. Six feet of distance is essentially the same as sixty feet of distance. However, please remain respectful of people who might wish to keep their distance for the time being.
We will no longer “require” face coverings in the building. It was never a requirement, but we asked for people to be respectful and act out of the principle of Christian love and self-sacrifice. This change was the most difficult decision because the recommendations are that fully vaccinated individuals do not need face coverings in most settings. This means that children and those who choose not to receive the vaccine should still keep their face coverings on. However, since there is no practical way to make this distinction, the only options are to keep a full requirement for masks or to make them optional for all. At this point, I am comfortable making face masks optional and inviting individuals to use their own best judgment as to when and how to continue their use.
Since I am fully vaccinated (and I recommend it for you also, see last month’s Eagle newsletter), I will not wear my face mask for most circumstances. However, I will still carry it in my back pocket and put it on when I might be in close contact with others, such as distributing communion. I invite you to consider how you might express Christian charity in a similar way.
What will remain the same? For now Bible class and other social gatherings will remain on hold. God’s Word and Sacrament are the one thing needful; all other fellowship opportunities are secondary. We hope to restore other activities in the fall, God willing.
Also, Covid has renewed the importance of personal hygiene and cleanliness in general. I will continue to take additional precautions in the distribution of the Lord’s Supper, including hand washing and sanitizing, as well as sanitizing the communion chalice with high-proof alcohol. Please also continue to practice good hygiene, especially when you are feeling under the weather. What might be a mild illness for you could be serious for someone else.
Our ongoing practices, especially during cold and flu season, should also include a renewed practice of staying home when you feel ill. Similarly, I’ve decided that whenever I feel that little twinge of illness come on, I will not be afraid to wear a face covering until I am recovered. These two small precautions will help us avoid big changes like a complete shutdown or universal mask requirements.
We will continue to live-stream one service each weekend for those who are still not ready to return to public gatherings at this time. We will also keep some sort of service broadcast into the future, whether it’s a fully live-streamed service or a recording of a portion of the service. That way, if you or your household are fighting the flu 2 years from now, you will still be able to tune in to participate.
The next few months I will write about what we can anticipate over the next months in establishing what will be normal for us going forward after the pandemic.
under the cross,