News from the Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk
The Coronavirus Sand Pit
When our children were young, they liked to watch the Winnie the Pooh animated videos. One story was about Rabbit, Piglet, and Pooh trying to get Tigger to stop bouncing everyone, so they took him out into the 100 Acre Woods with the intent of getting Tigger lost. But it is Rabbit, Piglet, and Pooh that wind up getting lost. No matter which way they went in the woods, they kept coming back to the same sand pit (which Pooh concluded must be following them). Rabbit was the one who wound up getting lost, and was rescued by Tigger because “Tiggers never get lost.”
It is the part about no matter which way they went Pooh and company wound up back at the sand pit that came to me as I was thinking about the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is the sand pit we keep coming back to, as the delta variant of the virus has sparked another surge in infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks. The CDC is recommending all consider wearing a mask in certain situations, and other steps that we thought we were getting beyond with the vaccine programs being implemented. But, not enough people are being vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus.
The current increase in infections is largely in the unvaccinated community. There are “breakthrough” cases of people who have been fully vaccinated contracting COVID-19, but these are a small fraction of the current cases and generally have less severe symptoms than those who are not vaccinated.
For various reasons, like many issues in our country these days, the vaccination effort has been impacted by politics. There are likely multiple and diverse reasons why people are not taking advantage of the vaccines, from concerns about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines given the accelerated approval process they went through to politics-influenced embracing or rejection of approaches in addressing the pandemic. Like everyone else, I try to stay informed about these issues, but I am not an expert. Our son, however, is a doctor, and his fiancée has two doctoral-level degrees in the pharmacy field. Neither of them has any significant concerns about the vaccines, how they were developed and authorized for emergency use, their effectiveness, and their safety, based on their connections in the medical community and the scholarly journals they read.
It seems fairly obvious that we are not going to get beyond the pandemic until enough people have been vaccinated to present few avenues for the virus to spread. Getting the vaccine is an individual choice and should not be forced but taken after receiving full and accurate information about it. Perhaps we need to balance the individual rights side of this issue with our responsibility to the communities in which we live, work, and otherwise interact. Not getting vaccinated makes it possible for the virus to continue to spread and puts other people at risk, and may not be the neighborly thing to do.
We are all tired of the whole “social distancing, wearing masks when advisable, cleaning protocols, and everything else” routine we have been doing since March 2020. But we need to continue to do what is necessary to push back against the latest surge in COVID infections, or this fall when people are more indoors than out is going to be a repeat of what we saw after the year-end holidays in early 2021. Of course, “what is necessary,” when it comes to life in a congregation – the way we worship, the fellowship gatherings we have, and other activities – is something for the session to discern and decide. CFP still has resources available on our web site, and we will update these as needed, but how we respond to the continued pandemic is an issue for the session to determine.
CFP is likewise discerning how it should respond to the current situation. While many of the meetings we have been holding continue to be on Zoom, some have been hybrid, and a few smaller meetings have been in-person. We have been planning the next stated meeting of Presbytery as an in-person gathering at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church on September 14 We will revisit these plans at the meetings of the Presbytery Planning Team and Council on August 10 and advise what our decisions are afterwards. [NOTE: Presbytery meetings are very difficult to hold as a hybrid meeting, and not every location lends itself to our ability to live-stream a meeting.]
These are not easy decisions. Opinions on the best approach to take will vary, and the situation being faced can be different depending on where our church is located, how many in the congregation have been vaccinated, and other circumstances. When I was a pastor and the session had to make decisions like these (usually, weather-related cancellations), I always tended to advocate erring on the side of caution.
Recently, I participated in an ordination and installation service, where the congregation responded to the installation questions for their new pastor. It is essentially the same question that congregations affirm when installing ruling elders and deacons: “Do we agree to pray for them, to encourage them, to respect their decisions, and to follow as they guide us, serving Jesus Christ, who alone is Head of the Church?” As our congregations’ leaders wrestle with the continued response to the pandemic, let us remember to pray for them and respect the decisions that they make.
Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk
Rev. Dr. Dan Williams