EHBC COVID Response: Part 1

This article was initially published in EHBC’s custom back page of The Baptist New Mexican on about January 15, 2021.  Section headings have been added here for ease of reading and reference.
 
I’ve been reluctant to write about our COVID response to this point, because, to be completely frank, it’s a divisive issue. The problem with writing is that there’s just not much nuance to the written word, and it’s extremely hard to express emotion in writing. Even now, my heart is racing as I write this. The fact is that the positions that godly, loving, kind, and giving brothers and sisters in Christ hold when it comes to this pandemic are diverse, running a wide spectrum of feelings and concerns over not just the health risks, but over the emotional, economic, employment, and political issues that this time has brought to our world, our nation, our state, our church, and our homes. While I have been reluctant to write about it, I have not been so when anyone has wanted to speak with me about it. I have had some GREAT conversations about this issue with some of our members. I just feel like face-to-face is better, but it is far too inefficient. I need to cast a wider net. Thus, this article. To be honest, probably the next article as well…
 
Initial housekeeping
Let me first say the following: 1) I don’t hold anyone’s position on this topic against them. We all have different risk tolerances, and different priority hierarchies in our thinking. If someone wants to stay at home because they have particular health risks and feel unsafe coming to service, I completely respect that. If someone else wants to stay at home because they hate wearing a mask, I completely respect that as well. It’s a personal decision that each must make. This is why we have worked so diligently to maintain our streaming platform, and made such an investment into it. 2) If you are someone with whom I’ve had a conversation regarding this topic, please know that it is not because of our conversation that I’m writing this. You are NOT the only one I’ve spoken to. Not by a long shot. There is no “straw that broke the camel’s back” here. And 3) I fully expect that there will be some who vehemently disagree with what I share here and in the next article. That’s fine. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean that I don’t respect your position or that I don’t love you, or that you don’t love me. It just means that we disagree about an issue which reasonable people can disagree on in Christian love. It does not affect my seeing you as my brother or sister in Christ, and it does not affect my desire and willingness to pastor you as the Lord and the body of Eastern Hills has appointed me. I love you all.
 
With that being said, I want to make it clear that at every turn in our response to COVID as the church body at Eastern Hills, the decisions that have been made have not been made in a vacuum. The entirety of the church staff has been involved and in agreement at every turn. The deacons have been consulted on all major decisions, and have agreed with every move we have made thus far, as have the Ministry Group Leaders. So, when I speak in the collective in this article (“we,” “our,” etc.), I include all of these groups. At times, we have had to make decisions with great speed, and I commend the church family for your “agility” in this regard. God has protected the church gathering from any need of contact tracing or risk assessment to this point, and while a few church members have contracted the virus, none have done so at a church gathering, and none have died from COVID. Praise Him for His provision!
 
Our COVID response and the Gospel
Our overarching approach to COVID has been based on, and for the sake of, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This has been our ethos throughout the last 10 months. We decided early on that until such time as we believed that we MUST be disobedient to the government in order to protect the integrity of the ministry of the church, we would choose to comply with government restrictions for the following reasons: 1) so that we would honor God with our reasonable compliance with our government leaders (Rom. 13:1-5); 2) so that we would not give a poor testimony of the love of Christ to our watching neighbors (1 Peter 2:12); 3) so that we would practically care for and show love to the people in our church family who are at an elevated risk for COVID-related complications (John 13:34-35); 4) so that we would give the watching world no reason to malign the Gospel of Jesus Christ or His Bride, the church (1 Pet. 2:13-17); and 5) so that we are able to continue the operation of Eastern Hills Christian Academy, a ministry that is vital economically and emotionally to about 150 families, and through which we have a daily opportunity to share the Gospel both verbally and by example with children and their parents, many of whom this year have come to EHCA precisely because we have in-person learning every day.
 
We wear masks, practice social distancing in service, and give instructions on leaving every Sunday morning because we love one another, not to give a nod to the government. We took the two Sunday hiatus in November because we love each other and wanted to protect each other during that initial surge, and because we could still worship “together” (sort of) through our streaming platform. We haven’t opened the entire building up for Bible studies and such because the school has special rules for cleaning for the sake of the children just because it is a school, and we want to protect those children’s ability to attend school as “normally” as possible in a time when they are facing pressure and stress unprecedented in their lives, and so that they can experience the love of Christ through that fellowship and through the caring, personal attention of their teachers. I know it’s been difficult. But I believe that it’s completely worth it: One child has already come to faith in Christ at our school this year! God is at work at Eastern Hills!
 
Closing
I need to sign off for today, but I will write again next week (and the next, if necessary) to address some of the issues that have come up as a result of our COVID response. Thank you, church family, for your love and support throughout this time, for your prayers for the staff, for your kind and encouraging words, for your love for one another, and for your continued faithful participation in the church family at Eastern Hills. It is my honor and joy to pastor such a beautiful group of people.
Blessings,
Bill