A LETTER FROM REV. DR. DREW SMITH:
I’m excited about our new Sermon Series – Say Yes to God. Let’s learn from Biblical characters who said yes to God in a variety of circumstances. On the other hand, I’m not excited about the continued increase of COVID-19 in our city and county that I read about in the Cincinnati Enquirer – “COVID-19: New cases skyrocket as pandemic’s fourth wave hits Greater Cincinnati.” A link to the article is included at the bottom of this letter.
Hamilton County and all the surrounding counties have moved from Substantial to High levels of COVID-19. City, county, and federal health officials recommend that ALL wear masks while meeting indoors. Many of our local school districts are requiring face coverings for all adults and children. I concur that the wisest actions at this time would be for all, vaccinated or not, to wear masks while indoors in large groups. After prayerfully consulting with staff and session, CHPC will require all to wear masks while meeting indoors starting this Sunday, Aug. 15. We can do our part to reduce the chances of the virus spreading among us.
I know this is not convenient nor comfortable for many, but a minimal price to pay to honor and protect one another. Wearing masks will allow us to continue with our upcoming schedule of the open house this Sunday and the launch of children’s ministry next Sunday with maximum participation and health. As well, we will continue to sing in our worship gatherings.
Having just completed our study of Romans, we can find passages in Chapters 14 and 15 that apply in our current situation. You may recall that the church members in Rome had very different opinions about what food to eat and when to meet. Paul told them in vs. 1-4 that they should not quarrel over opinions or despise one another over these issues but welcome one another like Jesus welcomes us. We will have different views about masks and this virus, but these differences must not cause division or judgment. Paul is teaching us how to be a diverse community of Jesus followers.
Paul encourages the Romans to express their freedom in Christ but never use that freedom to hurt, tempt, or grieve another. If we do, then we are no longer walking in love. We are using our freedom to harm. We must in every way, “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (14:19) We have tremendous freedom in Christ, and some of us have great freedom in being vaccinated, but let’s not use that freedom at the expense of others who do not have that same freedom for whatever reason.
Consider Romans 15:1-3, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” Some of you may be thinking that you have done what you are supposed to do and have a right not to wear a mask. You would be correct. However, we follow Jesus, who gives up his rights for the benefit of others. Consider wearing an inconvenient mask as a spiritual practice of following Jesus – doing what is inconvenient or even unnecessary, in your opinion, for the possible benefit of others. Remember, God uses all things to work together for good – to be conformed into the likeness of Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29) God can use this situation to lead us to follow Jesus more closely.
In these continually challenging times, I am thankful that God continues to provide for God’s people. Let’s pray that the vaccine has an ongoing life-affirming impact in our community and around the world. I am thankful that we have the means to include all in our gatherings through streaming and audio-visual recordings on Facebook, YouTube, and chpc.org.
Let us continue to pray for God’s wisdom for all in pursuing the best way forward. Let us continue to pray for the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of the community and world. Let us continue to pray that God will indeed use all things for good by forming us at CHPC more and more into the likeness of Jesus.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor, College Hill Presbyterian Church