As promised, here are a few more thoughts concerning Central’s response to the uptick in COVID cases in Holland. As of right now, we are doing what we can to keep our Sunday gatherings open. We are doing this because we are confident that if we work together we can continue to ensure that what has been true for our Sunday services since June, when we regathered, can continue to be true today. Our environments are safe, and by working together we can keep each other safe.
What I want to do here is share a few of the other interactions we’ve had over the last week.
Someone working at a local hospital wrote, “We currently have more than three times as many COVID patients in-house as we did at our peak in April, and the number of infections is rising daily. A number of my coworkers throughout the hospital have COVID, and staffing is becoming a serious issue.”
We reached out to a key leader in a local hospital. This person is a believer and values the church. Here’s what they said, “The trends we are seeing are quite concerning. We have run out of beds on occasion, as have all other area hospitals. At one point recently the closest location to move a transfer was over in Lansing! The volume of patients has been substantial, but our acuity levels—that’s the amount of time spent on a patient—have also increased dramatically.”
A senior member of staff told me in the middle of this week of an interchange with a friend. Here’s the text, “My father-in-law is an undertaker, he said up until now they have had zero COVID related deaths. They had 5 over the weekend. 2 people were sent from Holland hospital because they were full. One went to Detroit and the other Chicago...and died.”
All of these realities led the Kent County and local hospital leader to independently suggest we pause for a season. Gatherings of our size and the diversity of age groups led them to that conclusion. The official we spoke to in Ottawa County said she would “never discourage” us from meeting, but, if she could, she would say “take a few weeks pause.” The key leader in a local hospital said the same thing. The Ottawa County Health official did add, importantly, that churches and schools have, by and large, been safe places and that taking it week by week is a valid approach.
As I wrestled with this I used that MEDIC acrostic from a few weeks ago to help us discern what to do. I used the M – mourn and the E – expect to get my emotions in check. I mourned the momentum we’ve lost through this pandemic, the hardship people are experiencing, and the division this pandemic is exposing. That said, I am committed to trusting God for our church. I do not minister in fear, but trust that God is still Lord of all.
I know this topic is politicized but not for a moment did I detect anything other than love and care for this community in the people I spoke to. All of them seemed to love the local church and had the uttermost respect for ours. But I know this, they are right. While our environments are safe our community is not as healthy as she was. The last thing I want to do is to contribute to a child or grandchild being an unwitting partaker in their elderly parents or grandparents suffering.
So, here’s what we are going to do. Recognizing how important these services are to so many of us, to our emotional, spiritual, and mental health, we are going to believe that higher compliance by our church family will mitigate the COVID effect, and that all of you are up for the challenge. We’re going to take it week by week.
So, here’s what that looks like.
If you are vulnerable, please join us online.
If you are not well, join us online. Do not come to church if you are not well.
If you are in a home with someone who is not well, stay home and join us online. That's exactly what I have had to do.
Fourth, and this is important, please, help us contact trace by using the save your seat system on our website.
I know some of you don’t like it. It is important for you to know we do not and will not share your data. It is not permanently stored on our system, which is why we ask you to save your seat for every service you attend. At a time when the positivity rates are so high, we want to notify you QUICKLY if a COVID case comes up.
Fifth, after the services, limit interaction with other households. This is critical. The biggest risk that the health people told us was interhousehold transmission. So please, after the services, limit social interaction.
Sixth, do not greet one another with a holy kiss and the right hand of fellowship! I think in this season knocking elbows will do!
Seven, honor the protocols. At the very least, wear a mask into the worship service and after the service finishes. Please consider wearing your mask all the time, or at least for the singing. I will not mandate this in the service for the simple reason that I cannot ask you to go further than the law. That is alien to the law of the Spirit. However, I am convinced from the Scriptures that a believer acting in love and exercising the freedom they have in Christ should have no problem going further than the law requires.
In the balcony, you MUST wear a mask. If you do not, we will ask you to wear one. We will do this not because we are legalists, far from it, but because we want to honor our word. Some people want higher precaution levels, and the balcony is the place for that.
If we all follow these simple steps, we can keep these large gatherings open. If we don’t, and if our staff spends more time on tracing and managing more and more staff and volunteers being out, then we will need to go online for a season. That is the last thing I want to do but we would be foolish to ignore the words of people who love our town and love the church of Jesus too.
I thank you for praying for our church family and for Wibke and I personally in this season. We love you all and thank the Lord for allowing us to serve alongside you all.
We are thankful for you all. Happy Thanksgiving!