Dear Congregations and Leaders of the South Dakota Synod:
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! Very recently the Center for Disease Control, CDC, released updated guidelines for COVID 19. You may access them here (or at CDC.gov).
The guidelines allow fully vaccinated people to:
- Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.
- Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.
- Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.
What does this mean? These reduced restrictions only apply to small gatherings, six people or less. Listening and talking to scientists and experts in the field, these guidelines allow fully vaccinated adults to gather with other fully vaccinated adults in small groups without wearing masks. Therefore, if you are fully vaccinated, you should now once again be able to enjoy the company of your vaccinated friends in the privacy of their or your own home without wearing masks. Fully vaccinated adults can also once again embrace those they love if these individuals are also fully vaccinated. Go and hug an adult, remember to ask for consent, and inquire about their COVID vaccination status. ☺
It further means that vaccinated adults may now go and visit with unvaccinated people of one household without wearing a mask, if these unvaccinated household members are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease. This is the word that grandparents have especially been waiting for since the beginning of the pandemic as it gives them permission to once again be in close contact with their grandchildren without fear to either contract or pass on COVID-19. I have heard many grandparents over the last few days cry tears of joy as they dearly miss the hugs from their grandchildren. What a beautiful reunion this loosening of guidelines provides. Thanks be to modern medicine!
What it DOESN’T mean. These updated guidelines do not give us permission to remove any form of protective measures for any large or small group gatherings at our ministry sites. In fact, the guidelines are very clear:
For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:
- Take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing.
- Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and adhere to other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease.
- Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households.
- Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings.
While we are anxious about returning to worship and to gather in our ministry sites in ways we were accustomed to prior to the pandemic, we are yet not at a point as a nation, and as a church, to do just that. Please, remember while we make great strides in vaccinating adults, not all of us are vaccinated yet. We also need to remember that as of yet there is no available vaccine for children, but our children can still carry, contract and pass on COVID-19.
As you Bishop, I urge you to please abide closely to the guidelines. This is not the time to take our masks off, to remove any means put in place in our sanctuary and buildings to provide for social distancing, and to encourage fellowship in small groups. The good news is that because of the advancements of science, we are very close to being able to assemble in ways we are accustomed to. But for right now, we are not there yet!
Dear South Dakota Synod, instead of quickly rushing back to what we consider as “normal”, let us use our restlessness to plan for the day when we actually can let the guard down. I suggest that you ponder questions such as:
- How will you continue to minister to those who have joined you for online events?
- What have you learned from the “classroom” during the pandemic?
- What new and life-giving ways of being church have you (re-)discovered in these past twelve months? And how will you harness and share the energy generated through these new ways?
- What things of the past have you not missed during the pandemic and are dreading to come back as restrictions are lifted?
- What kind of safe spaces and opportunities can you offer for people to process their grief and bring their hurts? How will you offer means for forgiveness and reconciliation when division has ravaged your people?
I am sure you can think of more questions you can wrestle with. Wrestling with these questions will put your restlessness to good use while the SD Synod’s Revitalization Task Force is working diligently on materials, tools and modules you may use in your context to re-engage ministry once all restrictions are lifted in the very near future. But for now, people of the SD Synod, let us not haste to rush back only to find out that by doing so, we actually delayed the lifting of restrictions, because numbers are once again rising. Instead let us continue to be mindful of our neighbor’s needs, especially those who are still not vaccinated, including our children or adults who are at a higher risk.
Journeying with you in Christ,
Bishop Constanze Hagmaier