I’ve been asked that question by some of you. I responded to a version of the same question earlier this week when talking with a clergy colleague. It was a helpful conversation. It required me to articulate some of my reasons. My responses were these:
We are still masking because we care for the entire community and not just some individuals. For many, it may seem like it’s been a long time since you had the opportunity to be vaccinated. You might wonder: “Shouldn’t everybody that wants to be vaccinated, have been vaccinated by now?” The answer is, “No.” Not everyone has yet had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated (14 days after the 2nd vaccination or 14 days after the Johnson and Johnson one-dose vaccine.)
For those 16-65, the first opportunity to be vaccinated was April 5th. Those 12-15 were able to be vaccinated beginning May 14. Because of initial limited vaccination supply and different eligibility and processes in different counties in the state, many people were not able to be vaccinated right away on April 5th or May 14th, so even among those who have wanted to get vaccinated, they may not yet be 6 weeks past their first vaccination. Currently those under the age of 12 have not been approved for vaccination, so some of our youngest members won’t have the opportunity to be vaccinated until much later. Some people have health conditions that don’t yet allow them to receive the vaccination, even if they want to.
In Iowa, while 86% of the over 65 age category have been vaccinated, only 46% of the total population of the state have been fully vaccinated (as of June 4, 2021, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health). We don’t – and don’t intend to – ask people’s vaccination status. Until a little more time has passed and more people have moved into the fully vaccinated category, continuing to mask would seem to be a good practice.
We are still masking because we want everyone to feel safe attending worship. Some have suggested to me that there are people who aren’t attending in-person worship because they don’t want to wear masks. I have no doubt that that is true. I also know from conversations with some members, that some people are attending in-person worship only because we are still masking and practicing social distancing and that if we weren’t, then they wouldn’t feel comfortable attending.
On a recent Sunday, a fair estimate (based on age and what some have shared with me about their current vaccination status) is that about 20% of those in attendance at worship are not yet fully vaccinated. I would ask each of us to think about that for a minute – 20% of those attending worship may not yet be in the same vaccination status category as you are.
We are still masking because we are moving towards resuming singing during worship. When we began in-person worship in mid-April I made the decision that we would not be singing. I stand by that decision as one that was then, and is now, sound. Not surprisingly, that has been a difficult thing to get used to and many people miss singing. Quite frankly, for right now – if we are going to sing, then we are going to do so while masked. And, if we aren’t masking, then we won’t be singing for quite a while!
So what does the future look like? Will masks be required in worship forever? No, of course not. While I assume that many people will want to continue wearing masks for some time (and hope that they will comfortable doing so) we know that the time is coming when are current mask requirements will be easing.
While circumstances may necessitate altering from this anticipated schedule, these are the dates that we are optimistically aiming towards:
- Beginning with the worship services on July 8th (Thursday) and July 11th (Sunday) we will be adding congregational signing to our worship services.
- Beginning with our worship service on Sunday, August 22nd we anticipate easing our masking and social distancing requirements for those who are fully vaccinated. (This date coincides with Urbandale schools beginning the academic year on August 24th)
- While we anticipate some significant changes in our Fall programming (much more information on this in weeks to come!) our Fall Educational Programming, including Sunday morning opportunities, will resume on September 19.
I am aware, that we are of differing opinions about continuing to wear masks during worship. I would welcome conversations about what we are doing and why we are doing it. I want us to be safe. I want us to be welcoming to all. I want us to be a place of community.