May 18, 2021
Dear colleagues in ministry,
Grace and peace to you in name of Jesus as we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Holy
Spirit at Pentecost. As before, the Provincial Elders’ Conference affirms your faithful leadership of congregations before, during, and as we start to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. You have provided thoughtful guidelines, in consultation with your lay leaders, regarding when, where, and how you gather for worship and other activities. Thank you.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States issued new guidelines
regarding mask wearing and other COVID mitigation protocols. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html. These guidelines only address behavior by those individuals who are fully vaccinated. In addition to the CDC recommendations, each state and province has established guidelines and regulations for wearing masks, social distancing, and the size of social gatherings, which
may or may not be modified as the result of these new recommendations. While some might argue that churches are not required to observe those guidelines and regulations, common sense would suggest otherwise. While we rejoice in the progress toward vaccination that many regions of our province have enjoyed, we are aware that not everyone in our congregations has been vaccinated. Since we may never know who has – and has not – been vaccinated, or who may visit our worship or other gathering at any given time, the PEC encourages congregations to continue to exercise caution as you gather. In his first Letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul likens the church to the Body of Christ. We are one body, and individually members of it. Paul writes, “21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no
need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.” (I Cor 12:21-23). To offer a paraphrase, “The vaccinated cannot say to the unvaccinated, ‘I have no need of you.’...” We believe that a powerful statement of care, welcome, and inclusion is for those who are vaccinated to exercise greater caution so that those who, for reasons medical or otherwise, are not vaccinated. Therefore, we ask that congregations continue the protocols of wearing masks, keeping distance, and refraining from singing, sharing the Right Hand of Fellowship, and sharing the sacrament of Holy Communion by the pastor in the pew. Sr. Nola Knouse, Executive Director of the Moravian Music Foundation, reiterates her caution against congregational singing. She cites a recent statement by the Ecumenical Protocols for Worship, Fellowship, and Sacramental Practices: "The latest CDC guidance for masks and social distancing is for what INDIVIDUALS CAN do-- not what CONGREGATIONS (in which both vaccinated and unvaccinated people gather together) SHOULD do. ... Many congregations include people who are unvaccinated, including children, older persons who have not yet been able to be vaccinated, and some who have refused vaccination. Unvaccinated people of any age can get the virus and spread it to others who are
unvaccinated. When we are among those who may be unvaccinated, we recommend being as the unvaccinated for the sake of the unvaccinated-- for their safety, and to avoid stigmatizing them. We are one body in Christ, no more protected than the least protected among us. In concrete terms, whenever we gather in groups that may include non-vaccinated people, we continue to recommend that all wear masks, that households remain six feet apart, and that congregational and choral singing be avoided
indoors." Nola continues with her professional opinion: If everyone is vaccinated, and you can verify that without causing embarrassment to those who for WHATEVER reason are not (whether a medical condition or vaccine reluctance) then I suppose mask-less and singing may be OK. [However], our singing is not more important than someone else's health -- emotional or physical. We acknowledge that each congregation exists in a specific context and that you have been making decisions based on the best information you have for your area. We ask that you continue to think of the most vulnerable as you go about discerning next steps and err on the side of caution. We trust you to do what is best for the people you love and serve.
Elizabeth D. Miller