Just this past week I received seven separate inquiries about the NC Synod Re-Gathering guidelines. They all had a common theme, which I’ll summarize and paraphrase like this: “Hey, we’ve been waiting and watching for the synod’s Re-Gathering Guidelines to change, and now Christmas is coming, and our people are really anxious and insistent that we just do “normal” Christmas Eve this year after missing everything last year. Our people are basically done with the pandemic and protocols. Y’all haven’t changed the guidelines since August. Did we miss something?”
The simple answer is no, you haven’t missed anything. (Read the August guidelines here.) And yes, I can’t imagine how hard it is to navigate COVID protocols at church for 21 months and then have the pressure of Christmas Eve bearing down on you. The NC Synod Re-Gathering Task Force is following the CDC guidelines, and those guidelines in August recommended again: masks indoors for all, regardless of vaccination status. There is some good news since this time last year:
- We can gather indoors.
- There’s no indoor capacity limit.
- We can sing indoors (albeit with masks on).
- Many are vaccinated, even boosted.
While singing indoors is okay with masks on and there are no numerical restrictions, it’s a wee bit more complicated than that. The mask recommendation is based on whatever the COVID transmission rate is in your county—which means it changes week to week.
For all Orange and Red counties, that mask recommendation applies. For Yellow (or better) counties, that mask recommendation does not. For example, last week, Orange County, NC (Chapel Hill) was Yellow, so they wouldn’t wear masks necessarily. However, most counties in NC are in fact Orange or Red, and COVID is on the uptick now, especially after the Thanksgiving holiday and with the approach of the Omicron variant. Bottom line: We’ll change our synod guideline when the CDC changes theirs. You can check the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker site for your county’s status (color) which would translate into the mask recommendation or not.
Meanwhile, and as always, each congregation must discern according to their own local circumstances (airflow, do windows open?, numbers of people per square foot, building configuration, etc.) what their own protocols will be. Also, please be aware that as winter sets in, NC Synod staff may only participate in indoor activities that follow the synod guidelines, even though normal congregational protocol decisions may diverge from those.
We continue to pray for each of you in these challenging times, and we stand ready to help you process decisions and challenges as best as we are able. We know that active clergy and other church staff and volunteers are really busy right now, and we pray that, if not before, you’ll take some respite time after Christmas. Remember that our full recorded synod worship service (yep, Scripture, music, liturgy, everything) is being assembled for you to use either Sunday, December 26, or Sunday, January 2, and should be available by the middle of this month. Additionally, a sermon clip will be provided by Pastor Danielle DeNise for Sunday, December 26.
God bless you for the holy work you do. Be of good courage. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.