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Want to Worship in Person? Some Churches Now Require Proof of COVID Vaccination

Pastor Chris Davis says he watches his Virginia community’s COVID dashboard and may conduct an anonymous poll of church attendees to gauge the vaccination rate. Some members tell him they won’t return until everyone has had shots. Others, he says, “scream at us because they say we’re trusting masks and not Jesus,” and “then they just don’t come back.”

Davis describes the pandemic as more like soccer than football. “You don’t line up in a tidy line. The field is changing. Every two to three weeks, you have variables to consider. You say, here’s what we know now.” The pastor adds, “With the Delta variant, we may need to up our game.”

Part of the frustration, say pastors, stems from the feeling that previous progress against the pandemic is being erased. Texas Pastor Bobby Hulme-Lippert says that “everyone felt conflicted” last week when his church returned to indoor mask-wearing. “It can feel with a decision like this that we’re going backwards,” he says.

Disability Advocate: Be Vigilant Until Everyone’s Safe

Amid pandemic fatigue and freedom debates, experts are raising concerns about vulnerable populations. The Delta variant is more contagious among children under 12, who aren’t yet eligible for COVID vaccines. (It’s unclear, however, if it’s making kids sicker.) And some people with compromised immune systems who’ve received COVID vaccines didn’t develop antibodies to the virus. That’s one reason the FDA recently authorized booster shots for some high-risk individuals.

Stephanie Tait, a disability advocate who’s immunocompromised, urges churches not to forget or exclude “families like mine.” When mask restrictions were lifted in May, she wrote about the tough choice between risking your life or “being excluded from church.”

Pointing to Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18, Tait writes, “I imagine that for the other 99 sheep, it might feel unfair to have their own preferences and desires put on hold, while the shepherd chases after the one who is missing. I know that for many people in churches, it feels like they have already spent an entire year making sacrifices for the sake of the vulnerable, and they feel they deserve to have their preferences matter again.”

But just a few verses later, she notes, Jesus tells Peter he must forgive someone 77 times. “I imagine Jesus would respond similarly to those who ask, ‘But we’ve been doing this for over a year already; isn’t that long enough?’” writes Tait. “I think Jesus would say, ‘Not just one year, but rather as many as 77 years. However long it takes for an unmasked church to be safe for even our most vulnerable members, that’s how long we should be willing to mask for them.’”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her family.