Dear church family,
Over the past month as we have been transitioning back into meeting at the building, we have heard from many of you about concerns related to the use, or lack of use, of face masks or coverings in our worship assembly. Thank you for taking the time to express your concerns to us. We appreciate all the input we have received. The elders have prayerfully considered how we should respond to a situation in which there are many different strong opinions and feelings.
While we recognize that there is still much that we do not know about COVID-19, the elders have looked at mountains of data from medical professionals about things to do to slow or prevent spreading the virus. With cases on the rise again nationally, as well as in West Tennessee, it is especially important to do what we can to limit this viral spread. After careful consideration, we have concluded that we have much to gain, and little to lose, by continuing to abide by “best-practice” guidelines for our assembly together. These practices include maintaining 6-feet social distancing, limiting the size of crowds, using hand sanitizer, washing our hands thoroughly and frequently, avoiding congregating in small areas, and wearing a face mask or other facial covering.
Therefore, in the interest of looking out for each other, the Estes elders are requesting that everyone – if they are physically able – wear masks from the time we enter the building until we are away from the crowd. Of course, masks or face coverings will be removed for a short time while participating in the Lord’s supper, but we also request face coverings be used during singing.
If you are unable to wear a face covering, we do not expect you to be miserable or put yourself in any danger, or feel that you are not welcome. But if you are physically able, we ask you to submit to this decision, whatever your preference might be. We realize some members disagree with this, but we ask that you submit to our decision in this matter. We strongly believe it is in everyone’s best interest, physically and spiritually. We do not think this is too big a request or too hard a thing to do. If we, who are able, all wear masks and follow the other guidelines, we should cut the risk of spreading the virus by a substantial degree.
While the elders are concerned for the physical wellbeing of the body, our greater responsibility is for the spiritual wellbeing of the flock.
Shortly after the quarantine was proclaimed, we moved to an online-only service, which seemed the best short-term option to prevent widespread disease. The problem: this eliminated personal interaction and fellowship. The lessons and sermons that were so ably given helped, but we are a social people, and we need time together. Proverbs 27:17 states that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another,” and though this can be accomplished to some extent even while we are physically apart, God meant for the church to be together.
However, if a significant percentage of our members is not abiding by these guidelines, this prohibits some in our church family from being able to attend services. Some members are in a more physically vulnerable condition than others. While we understand the wearing of face coverings and maintaining social distancing cannot entirely protect someone from catching the virus, these measures do help; and if our wearing masks and maintaining social distancing can help others to be back at Estes with the church body, we should all do that, if we are able.
In numerous passages in the Bible, our relationship with each other, and our dealings with each other, are addressed as vital parts of Christian fellowship. In Romans 12:4 and following, Paul writes that “as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” We belong to one another. Paul uses very similar language in 1 Corinthians 12, where he writes that “the body does not consist of one member but of many.” Just as in the human body, where the foot needs the hand, and where the eye needs the ear, in order to be complete and to function as it should, so in the church, we need each other to function in the way that God intends for us to live. This means that we give special consideration to others and their needs. This is the example that Jesus set for us. Philippians 2 reminds us how Jesus, in humility, counted others (us – and our needs) more significant than his own needs. Paul in this chapter urges us to do the same in our treatment of each other: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:4). With these mandates from scripture and the example of the Sacrifice that allows eternal life, our walk as Christians is first of all to be an imitation of Christ’s love for us. We show our love by considering our brothers’ and sisters’ needs in this regard, even if that sometimes impinges upon our own preferences.
Finally, let us avoid resentful judgments of one another (Romans 14:1-13). “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (vv. 7-8).
If you would like to discuss this with any of us, we welcome your calls or emails. It is our prayer that we all will continue, with humility and gentleness, with patience, to bear with one another in love, eagerly maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:2-3).
The Estes Elders