GBC Gatherings & The New OHA Guidance
Hey GBC family,
As an elder team we’ve met for many hours praying and discussing how to best lead our church forward in this season. This writeup is indicative of our shared conviction as an elder team and will guide how we will be gathering together on Sundays right now and into the weeks ahead. If you have any questions or concerns, as always, we are happy to meet with you and listen and try to provide better understanding.
You can email any of us with your questions by using the email links here: https://www.greshambible.org/leadership
The State’s Announcement
By now you are well aware of the new masking guidance that has come from the CDC and that our state authorities (OHA and governor’s office) have adopted that same guidance. The guidance given is that masks are no longer required for those who have been fully vaccinated (upon 2 weeks completion of your 2nd dose) in many indoor and outdoor settings. Anyone who is not fully vaccinated needs to continue to wear a mask indoors and outdoors when they cannot socially distance themselves.
Our local authorities in Oregon have asked that any organization that allows for fully vaccinated people to take off their mask indoors must check for people’s vaccination status.
We have arrived at a decision of continuing to ask everyone to please wear a mask for the next few weeks, until Sunday, June 13th. On that Sunday we will move to mask wearing as optional. ‘Masks optional’ does not mean that we advise people to merely do what they want. ‘Masks optional’ is our best way of honoring each person’s medical privacy, conscience, and asking us as a church to function honestly, honorably and with the highest goal of loving one another, yet respecting each other’s personal needs for their decisions.
We want to be very honest and say that this is easily the hardest decision we’ve had to make as an elder team over the course of this pandemic. We praise God that throughout these difficult situations, He has granted us tremendous unity as an elder team. We also want to make clear that it is not our desire to go against our governing authorities unless we are being led to do something that we think is damaging to the commands and vision of Christ for His Church. In our desire to act honorably and honestly, we’ve talked with our Faith Liaison for the Oregon Health Authority and notified them of our plans and we were encouraged by their response that they support our decision.
We do not want to contribute to the spread of COVID-19 and have no intention of leading our church family to shrug off guidance given to us.
But, this is the first guidance given where we are being guided to lead the church to allow some to do one thing and ask others to do another. Our message has been universal in application for how we’ve asked everyone to function in this season for the sake of the other. We’ve avoided making distinctions that would give preference to some and not to others. An example: some have asked for us to create sections of seating where some places in worship are mask optional and others are mask required. We’ve said ‘no’ to this because we have no intention of unnecessarily splitting up the church. We acknowledge that clearly there is disagreement over mask guidance. But our hearts as elders have been to fight for unity in disagreement and learn how to function together in love instead of drawing out the disagreement in visible ways.
We are asking everyone to please wear a mask for the next few weeks because we need time to adjust, we want you to have time to prepare, and we want to give space for not only process but questions. On June 13th, we will move to ‘masks optional’ because there are a multitude of reasons why someone should or would want to continue to wear a mask.
We cannot follow the new guidance to a T and therefore check vaccination status, because as elders, we understand that each person’s medical decisions are private, furthermore, we whole-heartedly agree that a person’s decision to get vaccinated or not is an A-moral decision. We will not encourage you one way or another.
If we follow the messaging of the guidance, it will give privilege to some because of their conviction about this vaccination and it will in other ways give off the oversimplified assumption that those who are wearing masks have the conviction to not get vaccinated. There are many reasons why someone should or would want to continue to wear a mask.
- They are around vulnerable people and that requires greater caution in their actions.
- They are convinced, as we are, that the Scriptures call us to submit to our governing authorities, yet they do not want to get vaccinated (and there are many reasons why someone would not want to get vaccinated).
- They may be advised by their doctor to not get vaccinated for health reasons.
- They want to show support to others who need to wear a mask.
- More options could easily be given.
Suffice to say, if someone is wearing a mask, no one could know exactly why. And if someone isn’t wearing a mask, we assume their integrity and loving intentions for the whole.
We don’t say ‘masks optional’ because we are merely tired of wearing a mask (no one likes wearing them and we all long for the day when masks are no more). We don’t say ‘masks optional’ because we are making a political statement. We don’t say ‘masks optional’ because we are throwing caution to the wind.
We are saying ‘masks optional’ because we want to trust that our church family will act in an honest, honorable and loving way to one another while protecting people’s privacy and consciences.
Our goal as an elder team, and as a church, is to not lose sight of what Jesus has saved us from and what he has saved us to. We are people who want to submit to Him and follow His leadership and we look to the Scriptures for that guidance. We want to continue to learn how to function together, even in the midst of disagreement, because we know that we really want the same things.
We want Christ to be known and nonignorable in our city and amongst the nations. We want to display the fruit of the Spirit as we walk in the Spirit. We want people who don’t know Christ to ask us for the reason of the hope that is in us. We don’t want to contribute to the harm of our neighbors. We want people to be healthy physically, spiritually and emotionally. We don’t want safety to be our primary mission. We want to glorify God whether that comes through suffering or prosperity. We want our faith to inform our civic ethic. We don’t want our politics to be an idol.
You guys, we are one. And it’s not our opinions that unite us; it is our God. That makes the less than primary issues a bit messy at times. But, as long as we assume the best of one another and act in sacrificial love for each other, we can agree to disagree and walk together. This is hard to do in a world that unites around opinions and preferences. But we do it because we have the very Spirit of God living in us. And we must do it, for the sake of Jesus.
With great affection for you all,
Josh (with contribution and approval from the elder team)