Do the New CDC Guidelines Mean a Return to In-person Worship? | Sojourners

Do the New CDC Guidelines Mean a Return to In-person Worship?

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On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released updated guidelines telling people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine that they can now attend a full-capacity worship service and sing in indoor choirs, among other activities.

While people “will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation,” the CDC guidelines now say that if “you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did before the pandemic ... without wearing a mask or physically distancing.”

The message from the CDC and other experts: The science is clear; the vaccines work. For those who have received the full vaccine dose and waited two weeks, it’s time to begin returning to pre-pandemic life.

"Today is a great day for America," President Joe Biden said in a speech from the White House Rose Garden.

These new guidelines are subject to “federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations,” meaning that it will be up to individual states to decide whether to mandate masks. Some municipalities and states, Denver and New Jersey, for example, have issued statements that masks will still be required at indoor gatherings. In states with no requirements, the new CDC guidelines are another step toward a return to church gatherings.

On Twitter, some faith leaders expressed concern about who will enforce these guidelines, and whether they’re truly safe for their congregations.

Many are wondering how to shepherd their churches through a season where some are fully vaccinated while others are not. On Twitter, Rev. Miranda Hassett of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wis., asked, “Would you hold church services where vaccinated people are allowed to go maskless & others are asked to mask?”

Emily Goins Smith, director of discipleship and engagement at Northwest Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, wrote that the new guidelines aren’t consistent with the fact that children under 12 still need to wear masks, as they can not be vaccinated. Goins Smith tweeted that the presence of at-risk children should prevent places of worship from being mask-free.

“Our church has an active older population and they are vaccinated, but unfortunately our children are not yet vaccinated,” Goins Smith told Sojourners. “It’s really important to our church leadership that all of our church members be comfortable and safe, which means everyone will wear a mask until everyone is vaccinated.”

The new CDC guidelines were released after some states already announced plans to loosen restrictions next week, though mask mandates would still stand. In New York and New Jersey, most capacity limits will be removed starting May 19, including for houses of worship. In Connecticut, all remaining business restrictions will be lifted.

Accordingly, the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport in Connecticut revised its guidelines earlier this week: As of May 19, Pentecost Sunday, social distancing will no longer be required indoors, missals can once again grace the pews, and congregational singing is permitted. But the diocese’s document makes one requirement clear: Masks must be worn by all congregants.

Now the diocese, along with other communities of faith, will have to reevaluate or reinforce their restrictions before Sunday.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Brian D. Wallace, director of communications for the Diocese of Bridgeport, told Sojourners. “We’ve heard from people who can’t wait to get those masks off and return to worship, and we’ve heard from people who still don’t feel safe without masks. We’re in an awkward position between jubilance at the lifted restrictions and a desire for caution.”

Wallace continued: “It takes the wisdom of Solomon to know what to do.”