Church, Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You

"...even if it turns out you’re right, can you not sacrifice your ideal for a season, out of love for others who believe the precautions are necessary? Even if you personally think it is silly, or even cowardly, for someone to stay home even after the church is open again on Sundays, can you not heed Paul’s wisdom in Romans 14: 'Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother'?" - TGC

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Jonathan Charles's picture

About masks:

In Pennsylvania, the Dept. of Health website says: "Members of the public are encouraged to wear homemade cloth or fabric masks.:

Scroll down the page, and you find this sentence: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend the routine use of face masks and respirators in the community."

Then another Dept. of Health page gives this: "It is recommended that all Pennsylvanians wear a mask any time they leave their homes for life-sustaining reasons. Members of the public are encouraged to wear homemade cloth or fabric masks and save surgical masks and N95 respirators for health care workers and first responders...Businesses that serve the public within a building or defined area require all customers to wear masks while on premises, and deny entry to individuals not wearing masks.  Individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition may enter the premises without having to provide medical documentation.

Finally, the CDC website gives this: "Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance."

I don't anticipate people having a problem with social distancing at church, but wearing masks will be an issue.  For one thing, at the outset we were told not to wear them, that wearing them would not protect from the virus.  People remember that and think the change of mind about masks was more about making people feel safe than actually making them safe.  For another thing, the state of PA nowhere tells citizens directly that masks are mandatory.  They probably know from a legal perspective that it would not hold up.  Everyone I know who has told me they don't plan on wearing masks claims it has to do with "trouble breathing" while wearing one.  The CDC guideline probably has to do with trouble breathing without wearing a mask (e.g. COPD), but the website doesn't clarify it, so it gives people who feel stifled while wearing a mask something to excuse it.  Finally, denying people entry to church over not wearing a mask is something I am not going to do.  My brother is general counsel for a national retailer, and their approach has been to put the notes on the door about wearing masks, and then to leave it at that.  They are not going to create altercations with customers over something the government wants but which is practically unenforceable.  All a customer or parishioner has to say is that they can't wear a mask for physical reasons, and because of medical privacy, they don't have to say anything more.

A  church could say, "If you can't or won't wear a mask, please stay home and watch the service on livestream." But since some of our parishioners who can't wear a mask are needed for us to have a worship service, I am going to say, "If seeing someone in the service not wearing a mask would make you feel uncomfortable, please stay home and watch the service on livestream."  Doing the former would put me in a position of having to deny someone entry to church, which I am not going to do.  Doing the latter would put the onus on those who expected everyone to wear masks to decide to stay home.           

Joeb's picture

Nicely said and done Jonathan.   I think you captured a very good approach in dealing with the mask issue.  My problem is most people would like to stuff a rag in my mouth once I start singing or speaking.   

Aaron Blumer's picture


The core of CDC's recommendation is this (emphasis added)...

CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.  Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure. - Use of Cloth Face Coverings

Also this elsewhere at the CDC site...

It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus.  CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others....  - Recommendation Regarding...

I would add that as far as church procedures go, it's important to separate these two, very different question:

  1. What can we legally get away with?
  2. What is wise and thoughtful toward vulnerable members as well as the community?

In Wisconsin, the governor's emergency order expired due to procedural problems. This changed question 1 (for the time being). It did not change question 2. So my own thought process is to consider these two questions separately. The expiration of the governor's order is not particularly relevant to me as far as church meetings go. (The court did correctly hand ongoing rule-making back to the legislature, and I'm glad to see proper checks and balances preserved in my state.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Don Johnson's picture

clinical studies cloth masks

it might make you better informed at least

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

One thing I heard recently is that, while masks will prevent you from touching your mouth and nose, and may prevent droplets from getting into your mouth/nose through the air, a lot of people are "braver" with them on, and hence the net effect isn't that big.  Not that I'm signing up to have my next surgery done by doctors and nurses not using them, of course, but it would seem that wearing a mask is no substitute for good general sense about these matters.  It also illustrates part of why there is mixed advice--different people are speaking to (perceived and real) different audiences with different tendencies to change their behavior.

(note; I do not have any surgeries planned right now, if anyone was curious)

Physically, most good cloths are made from a fabric with > 200 threads per inch, so if you've got 90% coverage or more, you're going to interfere with general air flow and the flow of "globs of spittle", to use the technical term, but it's still possible and/or probable that an aerosolized virus could make it through.  The true masks will filter down to the micron sized particle, but really they also work by diverting air flow, something that anyone who's ever suffered with fogged up glasses and a surgical mask can tell you.

My best guess; it's nice to wear a mask if you know why and you're not taking a lot of risks because you think it's protecting you, really the same kind of thing I'd say about a ballistics vest or carry permit.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.