Stuff To Ask When Ditching The Masks
It’s safe to say that last Thursday, a whole lot of stuff happened really fast. The Centers for Disease Control said that fully vaccinated people can ditch the mask outdoors and mostly ditch them indoors. President Biden followed up by saying “get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do.” Some national retail chains said they’d continue to enforce masks for all, while others said they were dropping the mandate immediately. At our own church, what was to be an easing of restrictions in June at our permanent facilities was pushed ahead by the CDC’s announcement.
Again: a whole lot of stuff really fast. And for most of us, it was hard to mask our surprise. (Did you see what I did there?)
The point of this post is not to debate whether Thursday’s calls were the right ones, or whether your church should follow CDC’s guidelines now or should / should not have followed them for the last 14 months. No, the point of this post is to ask a few questions of our infrastructure now that many are taking another step back to normal. In other words, what do we need to think about now that we can stop thinking about masks? (Spoiler: you still need to think about masks. At least for a little longer.)
1. How will this decision be made for our church?
How should be accompanied by who and when. You should utilize the same team who has been making pandemic-related decisions for the past year. Those voices – armed with the common conversations and decision-making processes – are the best ones to make the call. When may look different, depending on the congregation. Some churches chose to make the move last weekend. Others may decide to take a little more time. And how encompasses the things below…
2. How will I show humility and grace?
I’ve said before that our stance on masks isn’t just about the mask. And regardless of where we stand on the issue, we must recognize we could be wrong about our stance. That means we should listen to those whom we disagree with, show grace to them as an image-bearer of God, and commit to loving them well even if we don’t land in the same place. No matter what the decision, we won’t make everyone happy, and we should be kind anyway.
3. Should we ask for proof of vaccination?
I could answer that for you. But I could also say disparaging things about your grandmother. Both things would probably be equally popular. So let me say (by example) that our church has chosen not to. We are asking adults who have not been vaccinated to continue to mask up for the time being, but we are not asking anyone to show their card at the door.
4. Are there different rules for different ages?
Again, by way of example: we’re still requiring masks for our kids, as well as kids staff and volunteers.
5. How will we communicate this?
Ah, the $100,000 question. Because of the speed of the announcements last week, many churches were (understandably) caught off guard on who needed to know what when. I’ll unpack this more in a future post, but for now, here’s a teaser: documented talking points are always helpful, so everyone is literally on the same page. Senior leadership should roll the decision to staff and ministry leaders, who can communicate to their volunteers. That way, when the announcement gets to the entire church, everyone is ready for the follow up questions that will ensue.
6. What “contradictory artifacts” need to go?
I walked into several non-church establishments over the weekend that had plenty of mixed messages. There were signs on the door that said masks required … but store employees were unmasked. There were signs that competed with each other on what the current rules were. For those of us who seek a streamlined guest experience, these things ought not be. Look at your website, walk your building, inspect your messaging, and make sure whatever is in print matches your current process.
7. How will we care for those who can’t or won’t _____?
Fill in that blank with whatever you’d like. Some will not be comfortable coming back to your church because masks are gone. Some people who’ve ditched the masks will question the faith of those still wearing one. Some who still wear masks will question the wisdom of those not wearing one. And we’re called to care for all of them. So re-read #2 above, and ask what accommodations will be made to make sure everyone is cared for as we move forward?
Ministry friends, I’d love to say that the end of the mask mandate means the end of conflict in our churches. But I’m afraid this is just another hurdle we have to jump as we navigate the weird waters that have made up this global pandemic. Love well, communicate well, and care well for those in your charge.