COVID and churches – It’s been a minefield. I’m thankful that here at The Sacred Grace Englewood we have prayed for wisdom on how to best care for each other and our literal neighbors and adjusted our ways of connecting accordingly. It’s been a period of constant changes and vulnerability, and our staff deserves big respect and gratitude for navigating and leading us on often murky paths.

The vaccines are a huge step in the direction of renewed health and stability. It’s been good to be able to carefully gather again. And yet, we are not in the clear. As Nathan has shared, we must continue to pay attention to what is happening with the trajectory of COVID, including the impact of variants. As I read more stories about the more easily transmissible delta variant that can cause more serious disease (including this one from Kaiser Permanente and this one from The Wall Street Journal), I’m getting concerned. Our area is not as resistant to vaccinations as Mesa County, but a significant number of our neighbors are still unvaccinated. Some choose not to get the shot, and some can’t, either because they are children or because they have a medical condition that contraindicates it. I would hate to see us experience a surge such as they are seeing in Mesa County, or for our church to contribute to surge in any way.

Getting my two Pfizer shots felt incredibly positive. Sure, it was about my own protection, but also it was something I could do to contribute toward community health and safety after so many months of powerlessness. I enjoyed a few weeks of not wearing my mask to gatherings at Acoma. But even as a vaccinated person, for now I’m going to go back to wearing my mask at inside services with people who may or may not be vaccinated.

One reason is personal safety. Don’t get me wrong; vaccines work and are safe. Something like 99.8 percent of all current COVID cases and deaths are now unvaccinated people. But vaccines don’t give 100 percent protection. It appears that vaccinated persons stand a little more than a 1 in 10 chance of getting sick with the more virulent delta variant COVID. The extra layer of protection of a mask in a gathering inside makes sense to me.

Second, as has been true all along, I could pass the more highly contagious virus on to immune-compromised or fragile-health individuals and children who can’t get the vaccine. If we are to be an inclusive community, we need to provide a safe environment to welcome everyone to our midst. It is not safe for them if they can’t tell who among the unmasked is vaccinated and who is not.

I think our state is at about 50% fully vaccinated. That’s good, but it’s not enough yet to give us a “get out of the pandemic free” card. I know Nathan and the rest of the staff pay close attention to state and local guidelines, which is necessary because conditions vary from state to state and community to community. Decisions often need to be made at the granular level. That’s hard.

I would rather be safe than sorry. Since the pandemic’s start, it’s been clear that the best protection is layers. Masks aren’t fun, but I don’t see any downside to wearing one for the hour. Even post-pandemic, I intend to follow the example of people in other countries and wear one during flu season or when I have a cold or sore throat. I now see how doing so is a common courtesy to our neighbors.
Nationwide, information has been muddy from the beginning about COVID and how we should protect ourselves and do our part to promote public health. It’s some better now, but it’s still murky due to both intentional misinformation and continuing research. I don’t think there is any way around that, given the nature of the disease, mutations, spread, and the sociological and political factors contributing to how people respond and communicate. Unfortunately, uncertainty and fear can and often do undermine trust. That’s one reason the transparent approach of Nathan and our church matters so much. We need to keep open communication and dialogue about it going as long as necessary. As we’ve said all along, our through-line must be care for each other and our neighbors. If we hold to that, we’ll keep finding our way.

We follow the way of Jesus, who told us to consider the needs of others before our own individual desires and rights.

I urge you to join me in wearing a mask for the above reasons. And if you haven’t been vaccinated, please, get the shots, for your own safety and to help stop the spread and future mutations of COVID

Written by Parish Elder Carol Willis

Update: As of August 8, due to a rise in the Delta variant and the suggestions of our local and national health advisors, we have implemented a requirement for all visitors to wear masks while at church. We thank you all for your understanding, your adaptability, and your willingness to love and care for our neighbors by doing whatever we can to decrease the possibility of transmission.