Given a low level of positive COVID-19 cases and a high level of vaccination in our area, this week the Montgomery County Council officially lifted its mask mandate and no longer requires the wearing of masks in indoor public spaces. In keeping with our protocols throughout the pandemic and the decisions of our congregational leaders to follow county guidelines, the mask mandate is also lifted at St. Andrew. With this news, allow me to further inform our journey forward.
While we certainly give thanks for our improving public health, mask-wearing remains a personal option for those who attend worship and other activities. Individual “communion kits” will be made available for a few more weeks as we adjust to this change. Having learned that we can do so safely, we also plan to reintroduce the gathering of offerings within our services, since our offering is an integral part of our worship. Kneeling communion and individual passing of the peace will be considered a bit later as conditions continue to improve. Also, having provided the words of the liturgy and lyrics to hymns on our video screens during our Sunday traditional services, several of you have expressed your appreciation for continuing the practice, though printed worship folders and weekly announcements will still be available. Finally, those who remain concerned about social distancing should know that, of our four weekend services, the two smallest in terms of attendance are Sunday at 8:00 am and Monday at 7:00 pm, when there is more room to spread out in the sanctuary.
I also give thanks for the faithfulness and generosity of spirit and treasure that so many of you have shown throughout the past two years. Some, I know, desired to have our restrictions go beyond those of the county. Others expressed concern about perceived challenges to our religious freedom. Many more of you have made it clear that attending worship in person is as vital to your overall health as any restrictions and precautions we have rightly observed. Still others expressed great appreciation for our online ministry. Like you, I owe a debt of gratitude to our leaders, colleagues on our staff, and fellow church members who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in countless ways to support and encourage our life together in Christ even when we were not all together in person. We also give thanks to God for those in our flock who have served as first responders, medical professionals, caregivers, and educators, along with all who have worked for the good of the human family.
Since the pandemic first caused the closing of St. Andrew in March 2020, dozens of our fellow members have relocated away from the area while others were led to make our congregation their new church home. Suffice it to say that there has been a considerable amount of “going out and coming in.” After two shut-downs and numerous restrictions, more of our members are returning to worship in the Lord’s house in obedience to His injunction “not to give up the habit of meeting together.” However, we still have a significant way to go before we reach our pre-pandemic levels of in-person participation. But by God’s grace and your faithfulness, we are on the way. I encourage your prayers as more of our fellow members discern a time to return that is honoring to God and right for them. Until then, we are waiting for you, praying for you, giving thanks for you, and are ready to rejoice when we meet again!
I know that we haven’t seen our last case of COVID-19 by any means, and none of us can guarantee that a new variant won’t result in future precautions. But with the improvements we’ve seen, I pray that in the coming weeks and months we will recognize more and more of the dynamic ministry of St. Andrew. Join me in giving thanks for all that the Lord has provided and in being His answer to that prayer!
The Lord be with you+
Love, your brother in the ministry of Christ,
Mark A. Hricko