Dear South Carolina Synod Leaders,
Grace and peace to you in Jesus’ name!
Like many of you, I was surprised this past weekend when the Center for Disease Control released their newest recommendations and guidelines on Covid19 safety precautions. This is news that many of us have been hoping to hear for a long time, but this is also news that presents us with some challenges for being the church together. I recognize that the guidelines now allow fully vaccinated individuals to resume life without wearing a mask, while unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals are advised to continue wearing masks. You can review the CDC guidelines use the CDC chart as a reference using these links. Throughout this pandemic I have trusted in the wise discernment from our pastors, deacons, council leaders and congregational medical teams to determine what is best for their own context by reviewing the guidelines carefully, and then discerning together what will work for their community. I believe you have all done a remarkable job to date of faithfully considering how best to function within your community. I encourage that kind of prayerful discernment to continue on this end of the pandemic as much as it was in the beginning. Thank you for continuing to work at keeping everyone as safe as possible.
I recommend that you continue to turn to the CDC guidelines to help you in determining the direction for your worship community moving forward, but I also ask that you consider our Christian calling to love and care for all our neighbors. The new guidelines present us with the challenging circumstance of having to rely on each individual to use personal discretion whether or not they will adhere to the CDC guidelines. For example, if an unvaccinated, or partially vaccinated individual, returns to worship and decides not to wear a mask, it is their personal choice, while a vaccinated individual may choose to wear a mask, even though CDC guidelines outline that it would be safe for them to not wear one. At this point in living with COVID-19, we are truly counting on everyone’s personal integrity and care for their neighbor. We also have to recognize that the youngest members for our faith communities are not yet eligible to be vaccinated and in many cases this will naturally raise concerns for parents who seek what is best for their children. We also know that children can contract COVID19 and be carriers. Please take the time to consider the next steps for your congregation carefully so that everyone can be treated with respect and love that the children of God deserve. I would like to encourage those among us who are yet not vaccinated to consider being vaccinated. I understand that approximately 1/3 of our population has gotten vaccinated and it could make a tremendous difference in keeping our congregations and communities safest if the percentages were much higher and we could reach herd immunity.
Please let us know what decisions your congregation is making during this phase of the pandemic, and if you would like to have conversation about anything please give me a call. Thank you for your faithful discernment and partnership. Thank you for your care and concern of neighbor. Thank you for your faithful witness in the name of Jesus during this incredibly challenging time in history. I continue to hold you each in prayer and give thanks for all the ways you proclaim the good news!
I am including the link https://careynieuwhof.com/the-coming-church-split-its-not-what-you-think/ to an article I recently read by Carey Niewhof which I think has some really good food for thought for church leaders to consider as they are preparing to move forward from this pandemic related to outreach ministry. I know that this next year will set a tone for our ministry and outreach in the future, and I believe that our last year has taught us so much about community and life together in the church. I am praying that we take with us into the future the best practices from what we have learned.
Niewhof says, “In my view, churches that effectively reach unchurched people in the future will likely be those that:
- Fully embrace hybrid ministry—digital and in-person forms of ministry.
- Focus on moving people forward, not getting them ‘back’.
- Embrace the people they’re trying to reach rather than judge them.
- Be Gospel-driven rather than ideologically driven or partisan.
I hope that his insights into things we might consider about being the church tomorrow is interesting food for thought as you move through today.
Bishop Ginny Aebischer