God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear: Psalm 46:1-2
For some, mask-wearing during church services is an exercise in the spiritual practice of “love thy neighbor.”
But for others, wearing a mask signifies the loss of personal liberty, no matter where masks are worn, whether in grocery stores, restaurants or even houses of worship.
Over the past year, Christians throughout Indian River County have been grappling with the mask issue, trying to decide what the right thing to do is. More than a half-million people across the country have died from COVID-19, and the pandemic has affected every facet of how we live our lives, including our faith.
In our Spring, 2020 issue, Connecting NowFaith took a look at how local churches were coping with government restrictions – how they were managing to keep people connected throughout a tenuous situation that could easily divide us. Through it all, worship services, whether in-person or virtual, have been the glue that allows Christians to break through the isolation and support each other during this unprecedented time.
At the Morning Star Church in South Vero Beach, Pastor Trevor Raborn said the congregation switched to virtual services for about seven weeks at the start of the pandemic but in hindsight, he wished they would have continued in-person worship. He sees the value in the congregation coming together each week to pray and support one another through Jesus Christ.
“We encourage people to wear masks if that makes them more comfortable,” said Pastor Raborn. “But we certainly don’t mandate it and I would say that maybe 10 out of 80 people wear a mask during services.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Pastor Raborn said he has seen an uptick in the number of people who want to come to church.
“I’ve seen a lot of new faces,” said Pastor Raborn. “If churches are just not meeting, even for special occasions, I find it very sad. I think churches need to be meeting in person now more than ever.”
For Pastor Alex Pappas from the Oceans Unite Christian Center at the Indian River County
Mall, the question is not about wearing masks but rather acceptance of others who make personal choices that may be different than your own. In a recent Sunday service, Pastor Pappas spoke to this very topic, urging more tolerance and acceptance of others.
“I want people to be able to come to Ocean’s and be comfortable to wear masks if they want to and not to wear masks if they don’t want to,” said Pastor Pappas. “You shouldn’t condemn or go against anyone who wants to wear a mask or who doesn’t. It doesn’t matter whether you do or you don’t; feel free to do what is in your heart.”
Pastor Pappas said many people are facing the decision as to whether they want to take the COVID-19 vaccination, and it is truly something each person must decide for themselves.
“You have to make the decision about what you want to do,” said Pastor Pappas. “If you know someone who has taken the vaccine, please don’t judge them because they have made a decision for their own health.”
At the start of the pandemic last March, Grace Lutheran Church stopped holding in-person services out of an abundance of caution. By the time Easter came, the church began offering on-line services only but by June, people could choose to worship in-person as long as they wore masks, used hand sanitizer and practiced social distancing. Most of those rules are still in place today, according to Pastor Matthew Luttman.
“We are still doing those same things,” said Pastor Luttman. “People are very accepting of the rules and follow them. We haven’t had any problems and if someone forgets to wear a mask, we simply remind them.”
People who are not feeling well or are otherwise health compromised are encouraged to wait to return to church when they are well. Recorded services are posted on Facebook so they may be watched at home, Pastor Luttman said.
Deacon Dave Hankle from St. Helen Catholic Church said the parish is still requiring the congregation to wear masks and practice social distancing. To assist with social distancing, the church had installed dividers on every other pew so they were not accessible.
Deacon Hankle anticipates they will be removed shortly. Hand sanitizers are also placed strategically throughout the church, and parishioners must enter and exit through two doors.
The mass can also be viewed on the church’s website, allowing infirmed people to participate in the service.
“People have been very cooperative,” said Deacon Hankle. “They are respectful of the rules and of each other.”
As we continue to navigate this uncertain world, people are still worried and anxious about the future. Will we ever see a return to what some people think of as normal? Probably not, but there will be a new normal – one where people feel free to worship together and feel safe, loved and cared about, with or without masks.
“Do not seek your own good, but seek the good of your neighbor.” 1 Corin. 10:24