Pastor's Response to Lifting of Mask Mandate by the State of NJ
Summary: Today, the state of NJ no longer mandates masks or social distancing for indoor public spaces. The leadership of the church is aware of these changes and they will continue to evaluate and adjust our COVID precautions and procedures, providing advance notice of any changes. However, until further notice, masks and social distancing will continue to be requirements for Sunday worship and indoor gatherings at First United Methodist Church.
Pastor’s Full Letter:
As you may be aware, today Governor Phil Murphy lifted the mask mandate for indoor public spaces and lifted the six-foot social distancing requirement. We celebrate that we have made such progress in combating this disease through vaccination, masking, and social distancing. For the last month, it has been a joy to gather in-person again. I am so thankful for the faithful leadership and commitment of our membership during this painful and trying pandemic. That faithfulness has kept us motivated and hopeful amid great challenges. I am proud to say that our church never closed or quit. We have continued to adapt and innovate the ways we connect with God, with each other and with our local community. While we are so close to getting back to normal, I pray we never truly go back to normal. The past 15 months have taught me that our focus should be forward, never backwards, as we continue to seek ways to be innovative and adaptable in a constantly changing world. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14).
While we have come this far and overcome the worst of this pandemic, I advise that we, as a church, exercise compassion and empathy as we begin the process of evaluating and easing up on our COVID-19 precautions. For 15 months, we have faced the real and terrible threat of COVID-19. Not everyone will be comfortable enough or able to throw the masks and other precautions away immediately. While our church leadership continues to evaluate and adjust our current COVID precautions, we will be careful to move at a pace that honors the fears and struggles of all our people and honors the sacrifices and losses we have all sustained in this past year.
In Matthew 25, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). As the body of Christ, we must always reflect on who are the “least”. It is easy to make decisions for the majority. But our faith compels us to act in the interest of those who do not have all the power and influence and to look out for those who are often overlooked. While many of us are vaccinated and feel secure to return to many of our normal activities, others of us do not share that sense of relief. And some must continue to take precautions to protect themselves or loved ones. We have members of our church family who have cancer, members with autoimmune deficiencies and members with loved ones who are high risk. We have members who are not vaccinated and members who have unvaccinated children at home. As a diverse community made up of people of all ages and a community that does not turn anyone away, it is our duty to support and protect our most vulnerable members. So, even when we remove our mask and distance requirements, we will not question anyone who still chooses to wear a mask. We will not ask anyone to remove their mask. And we will not question anyone who wishes to maintain social distancing and refuses a handshake or hug. We must be mindful that we will all adjust to post-pandemic life at our own pace.
I am thankful for the vaccine and the willingness of many of our members to get the vaccine. But we must remain cautious and be mindful that change must come gradually for the comfort and safety of all. We are not a restaurant. We are not a business. We are a church, and we have a mission that calls us to humility, sacrifice, and care for the vulnerable. So, we will be transparent and give advance notice of any changes to our current COVID precautions. I ask that we all continue to be patient and understanding as we adjust and adapt in the weeks ahead. Please pray for our leadership as we discern next steps for our church.
In closing, I want to acknowledge the deep pain and grief that we are still grappling with in the aftermath of the pandemic’s worst days. As I write this letter, over 26,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the state of NJ. We have all been impacted by this terrible pandemic. May we take the necessary time to grieve and heal on this road to recovery. So, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or other leaders in our church. We are here to support you and help you navigate and process these past and current struggles. Through this pandemic, we have stuck together and remained united as the body of Christ. May we continue to stick together and support each other as we keep moving forward.
Keep the faith,