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Dear FBC Family,

Here we are with more COVID decisions to make. At least two things remain constant: we will continue to try our hardest to keep meeting as normal as possible (Hebrews 10) and we will make every effort to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4). With the government’s new masking directives for indoor gatherings, we are placed again in the awkward position of deciding exactly what that means for us as a local church.
Last year, when everyone was grasping for facts about how to manage the virus both personally and as a church, we made certain decisions that put much of FBC on hold. We believed we should honor our health authorities and project solidarity with our wider community by sharing common protocols in regard to masking, distancing, sanitation and group size. We did not feel we should play the “religious liberty” card because churches in our state were not being singled out for any special restrictions and because protecting life is a legitimate role of government. When we were later asked not to sing, it was a bridge too far; we instructed each worshiper to exercise his or her own conscience. We appealed the limits that related to the number of worship leaders on stage and were sufficiently reassured that our stage could accommodate more leaders. In all of these matters, we complied humbly wherever we could, including compiling a detailed manual for how we would be applying governmental expectations.
So now, just as we have approached a near return to pre-COVID life, we face two things: (1) the current surge in cases and hospitalizations has forced the health authorities to call for a return to indoor masking even for fully-vaccinated citizens and (2) the surge in actual cases and hospitalizations WITHIN the FBC congregation is forcing us all to consider how we can best respond to this challenge.

So here are our recommendations. We are asking everyone to lovingly serve and extend grace to one another by respecting each other’s conscience. Because everyone’s knowledge of this situation is still so incomplete we don’t want to see people judging, arguing, and dividing over this. This means you will see some people wearing masks who haven’t been recently. Don’t judge who does and who does not. We are making the fireside room available as a masks-only area—if you’re not wearing a mask, please sit in the main auditorium which will likely contain people both with and without masks. If you’re feeling at all sick or have been exposed to the virus or just feel uncomfortable, then please stay home. Though we will miss you, livestream will still be available. (BTW, self-test rapid tests are available at drugstores, 2 kits for $25). Sunday School will continue to operate in the same manner as previous weeks while encouraging families to make individual choices on masking.
If you wonder why we don’t just require everyone to wear masks as we would have a year ago, we have come to realize that getting full agreement with that approach is hard to imagine. We have heard of many churches in our region that have collapsed completely under the chaos of disagreement. Families, too, have divided bitterly. The appetite for masks or other restrictions is greatly dampened by plain fatigue and by the proliferation of contrary opinions about the efficacy of masks, etc. So our directive is to be careful and loving—and live well with your own conscience. We’re very aware that not all of you will agree with the details of these decisions, but we hope you can sign on to the spirit of them. We continue to dialogue with health and government officials of a variety of viewpoints so that we can make the most informed decisions as we can. This is a very fluid and complex issue, so we will keep you informed over the next several weeks as we see where all of this goes.
Feel free to give us feedback. As usual, such things are a work in progress.
Loving you all,

P.S. We have had a positive analysis of our air filtering system in both the Fireside Room and the Main Auditorium and have been assured that it is top-notch (lots of fresh air being pumped in from outside).  We will also keep the system in the “on” position to provide fresh air (not recirculation) throughout the service. Just wanted to let you know in case that helps you breathe easier!