A caring community and COVID-19

By Rev. Rick King

“For American parents, particularly those with young children, the last couple of months have been dizzying and beyond frustrating.”

So begins a recent New York Times article chronicling the patchwork of guidance on how to reduce the risk of coronavirus spread. This is just as we’ve entered Lent and the lead-up to Holy Week and Easter, typically a busy time for local churches. Our church’s Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday celebration was in-person again this year after being virtual in 2021 (2020 was in-person, but COVID shut things down soon after)—though we did not have a pancake supper this time because of unmasking to eat and risking transmission.

The good news is that after worshiping online-only during the Omicron variant outbreak, we resumed hybrid worship and in-person gathering for some groups. And while our youth are nearly all fully vaxed and boosted and so have been meeting in person, children’s faith formation and at least one Super Sunday activity stayed online out of an abundance of caution. Choir rehearsals are resuming for the first time in two years this week, but on Zoom—although in-person rehearsals will start soon, and the choir is planning to sing in worship in April.

But the bottom line on our practice of COVID safety protocols has always been and still is this: We are a community of faith that puts our love into action by caring for one another, especially our most vulnerable members—those who are immunocompromised, elderly, and/or not eligible for the vaccine, including children 4 years and younger. If masking or distancing will protect even one vulnerable member of an FHC group, we mask and distance!

It’s this latter group that moved us to close the nursery and hold children’s faith formation classes on Zoom during the Omicron surge. Though we’re reopening the nursery this Sunday, and (as of this writing) plan to resume full in-person gatherings for faith formation on April 3, the Times article highlights the reasons for parents’ confusion: in early February, it looked like the Pfizer vaccine was on its way to approval for kids 4 and under—and then, 10 days later, it wasn’t.

In addition, the CDC recommended vaccines for children to protect against Omicron, but then rescinded mask mandates for 90 percent of Americans indoors, including schools with young children. As a result, states no longer require masking indoors, either. So parents are extra-cautious about bringing their youngest children to church.

At this point, in addition to the Youth Group and Emerge, a few church and community groups have been meeting in our building in person, but most are still on Zoom, such as Monday meditation, Tuesday Bible study, the Executive Board and most ministry teams.

One piece of good news is that Pfizer and Moderna both plan to report results from clinical trials of their vaccines in young children in the coming weeks. Until then, we will practice hybrid worship, social distancing and masking indoors, and are asking people to voluntarily verify their vaccination status, so we can have an idea what proportion of active participants are vaccinated.

Thanks to all who have so conscientiously practiced safety measures for so long! My hope is that the pandemic is receding, and will continue to. Let’s work together to have Easter be a joyous day and not the start of an infection spread.