Dear First Presbyterian Church Family:

Session, the leadership council of the church, met last night for our monthly meeting and discussed building use policy, mask requirements, and how we will worship in light of COVID-19.

We recognize that things are shifting as the case counts drop and the vaccine becomes more widespread and available. We also know that some businesses, organizations, and institutions have changed their mask policies in the last few weeks.

With all of that in mind, we spent some time focusing on the particular role of the church. What is our mission and how do we accomplish that? Different from a business or a school district, our primary mission, expressed in our mission statement, is:
Welcoming all;
Living the love of God and neighbor;
Seeking to transform ourselves, our community and our world to be more Christ-like through service, worship, prayer, education, and fellowship.

What steps can we take as the church to embody a mission of radical welcome and generous, self-sacrificial love for our neighbors?

One member of Session reflected on the baptismal vows that we say as a congregation whenever we baptize an infant or child. We promise, with God’s help, to support, pray, and love the child, and to assist the child in becoming a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. And together we say “We do!” And so we asked ourselves, how can we support, love, and assist our baptized children in this current context?

After robust discussion, the Session voted to keep the mask and social distance policy in place on Sunday mornings in the sanctuary for worship. The reasons for that included:

  • Currently children under the age of 12 are not eligible for the vaccine. Masks and social distancing will help protect those children and create a welcoming environment for them and their families. We have more than 30 member families of the church with children in this age range and also have families that visit the church with children in this age range
  • We have no way of knowing who does or doesn’t have the vaccine, and the church doesn’t want to get in the business of verifying that, so a mask and distance policy resolves that.
  • Theologically and biblically, we are called to “love our neighbor.” Wearing a mask is one way to show that love, particularly for those who are not eligible for the vaccine like children or those who are immunocompromised.

Session is grateful for your understanding with this policy. We are hoping and praying that the COVID-19 numbers continue to drop and the vaccine becomes more widespread and available so that we may be able to return to worship in the sanctuary without masks or social distancing by the fall. We are closely watching the data and the “Risk Dial” that is published and updated weekly by the South Heartland District Health Department.

We recognize that this is a challenging policy for some. Masks are uncomfortable and mask fatigue is real. We also miss seeing each other’s smiling faces. We know that some of you are looking at other churches that are taking a different approach and wondering why we are taking this approach. Session chose to focus on our own church, our building, and our members. We know that we have older members who are immunocompromised who could be put at risk without face masks. We know that we have 30+ families with children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for the vaccine. And we know our building, our HVAC system, and our capacity to cleanse and purify the air. So we chose to focus on our own church context and made our decision based on that.

The good news if you really don’t like wearing a mask or are suffering from mask fatigue, is that we will also create a worship opportunity that is mask optional this summer. Starting on June 13 we will have a worship service in Alexander Park every Sunday morning, weather permitting, at 9:30am where masks are not required, though still recommended. We will also allow congregational hymn singing at this service. The science tells us that outdoor spaces are safer than indoor spaces for air flow and disbursement of aerosolized particles and the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight does work as a natural disinfectant.

Church family, it has now been 14 months that our lives have been disrupted by this pandemic. We all long for a return to a sense of normalcy. We can’t wait to be back in our church building, smiling at one another and singing our favorite hymns. If we can just hold on for a little while longer, we think that we will get there. And in the meantime, we will continue to do everything that we can to help protect the health and safety of our church family and our community.

Thank you for your patience and we ask for your prayers. Pray with us that the numbers of infections continue to drop. Pray with us that vaccination rates will go up. Pray with us for those who have suffered from this horrible disease, and for those families who have lost loved ones. And pray with us that no one else will have to suffer. It is that desire, more than anything, that underlies this decision; a desire to love our neighbors as ourselves and ensure that no one is suffering needlessly. Please join us in this prayer.

Your Servants in Christ,
The Session of First Presbyterian Church of Hastings
Moderator: Rev. Greg Allen-Pickett
Kathy Amyot, Joe Black, Mary Fisk, Kay Georgiana, Jodi Graves, Kris Horton, Harold Korb, Cheryl Lockwood, Bev Rader, Neil Riley, Mary Seiler, Scott Shardelow, Ben Welsch