Post-Pandemic Worship Guidelines (March 20, 2022)
Hi Bridge Church family!
It’s hard to believe that we are finally here. In March of 2020 we were told that we needed to shut things down because of this scary new virus that was sweeping across the globe. We didn’t know a lot, but we were pretty sure that if we shut down everything in society for two weeks, we could flatten the curve of infection and get back to normal life.
It’s been a long two weeks.
But we are finally here. This week the provincial government rescinded all remaining public health orders and effectively ended the public health response to the pandemic. That means no more vaccine passports, no more gathering restrictions, and most notably for many, no more mask mandate. We can finally start to get back to normal.
All throughout the pandemic we at The Bridge Church have taken your health, and our place in society seriously in how we have formulated our responses to the situation. We have sought to strike a balance between following all the advice and guidelines put out by public health Manitoba, with our responsibility to be a light to all in society. That has meant that we have, in all ways, at all times, abided by the letter of the law in our response to the pandemic, but also opted for inclusiveness when we were given the opportunity to choose to trade decreased gathering restrictions for checking vaccine status at the door. In doing so we decided that we were all in this together, and we either all met in-person, or we were all doing church online. Our goal has always been to protect both the safety and the unity of the congregation.
Now we have come to a juncture where we are no longer compelled by any public health restrictions and where we are being given complete liberty to return to our pre-pandemic reality if we so desire, and we know that our fellowship is comprised of people who have different (sometimes strong) feelings about that decision. Some of you have been waiting for this day since the pandemic began and are excited about not having to wear a mask, or physical distance anymore. Some of you are wary that this is all happening too fast, and you would like to be cautious, and move more slowly in returning to pre-pandemic practices—wanting to see how things go now that restrictions are removed. Some people feel this way because of their age, some because they are immuno-compromised, and some still just because the experience of the past two years have left you with low-grade anxiety about Covid and you’re not ready to move forward yet. We want to honour both groups and to continue to do what we have done for two years in protecting both the safety and unity of our congregation.
In Romans 14 the Apostle Paul gives a famous exhortation on how to respond in a situation where one believer’s freedoms are in conflict with another believer’s caution. The issue in Rome is whether believers can eat meat sacrificed to idols, but the principle has rightly been applied to many issues of personal freedom and compassionate accommodation. Paul tells the church that the freedom that the one group has is real, but for the person who is convicted in their heart that they cannot eat meat sacrificed to idols, the sin of eating meat that has been sacrificed is just as real. And while adherence to public health guidance in the absence of restrictions is not a matter of sin and righteousness, it remains a matter of conscience for many people.
For the church today, the issue is not meat, but masks. In the absence of a mandate requiring them, how now should the church proceed? Those who proclaim that they have freedom to ditch the mask are correct—that freedom is real and is available to them; but those who do not feel the same freedom yet (for any of the reasons we have already mentioned or others) have reasons that are just as valid. How do we bridge this chasm of perspectives?
Well Paul tells the Romans that our concern should be on kingdom matters, and that our decisions regarding our liberties should reflect those priorities. Specifically, he says,
…let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore, do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
What we see is that the apostle appeals to both the indulgers and the abstainers to not let their positions on these disputable matters distract them from the bigger call to unity in Christ, and in mission. As such, we want to apply the same principles to our decision regarding masking in the church going forward. Throughout the pandemic at The Bridge Church, we have welcomed both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated indiscriminately. We have sought to understand and love one another even if we have disagreed about matters related to the pandemic, and we have not broken fellowship over any public health matter. Beginning this Sunday, we are approaching the issue of wearing masks the same way. If you feel liberty to not wear a mask anymore, we respect your right to choose, and you will not be asked to do so. If you feel more comfortable continuing to wear a mask for any reason whatsoever, we want you to feel comfortable doing so. In this we are striving to become a church that is ‘Mask Friendly,’ but not mask required. There will be no judgment extended to either group, and we will continue to find unity in Christ who is our head.
Irrespective of the decision about masks, we are going to continue to keep our seating spaced out in the auditorium to provide those who would like extra space the comfort they need—at least until attendance grows to a point where that is no longer feasible—and we are encouraging you to be conscious of people’s comfort levels when it comes to personal space and physical touch. The Bridge Church is committed to being a community that practices indiscriminate hospitality toward all, and that starts with our sisters and brothers in the church family.
Thanks for loving each other well.
On behalf of the Board of Elders,