The breaking news on June 5 was that Clark County officially moved to Phase 2 in Washington state’s reopening plan. After three long months we would finally be able to gather for worship again! However, my initial joy was quickly tempered as I read the fine print detailing a long list of restrictions: limit of 50 people per service, careful social distancing, no serving coffee or snacks and so on.
The restriction I chaffed against most was the requirement of masks. “All employees, members and visitors in attendance shall wear face coverings before, during and after the service, whether indoor or outdoor.” Ugh. I must admit I did a fair amount of ranting about this rule for the next couple of days, some of it out loud. Thankfully, I am not on social media so the spread of my fuming was limited.
I resented this particular restriction for a variety of reasons. First, I have real concerns about the government telling us how we may or may not worship, however wise or well-intentioned it may be. Second, masks greatly hinder our ability to see each other, talk to each other and sing to the Lord, which are significant reasons we gather in the first place. Additionally, the news seems to swing back and forth as to the actual value of masks, depending on who you listen to.
But if I’m being honest (and I try to be), my strongest objection was that wearing a mask is simply annoying. I had been fond of quoting Fezzik in The Princess Bride, “People in masks cannot be trusted.” Until last week, I had managed to avoid wearing one, and I had quietly hoped I might manage to get through the whole thing with my string intact. But I wanted to go to church Saturday night, so there was no way around it. I pulled in to the church parking lot feeling like a frightened groom who was uncertain he wanted to go through with it. Thankfully, I did.
If you feel inclined to rebuke me for my attitude, feel free, but I’m afraid God beat you to it. My heart was deeply impacted first by seeing John and Ruth in the foyer, welcoming everyone with smiling eyes and kind words. And as I mingled with others, I saw that genuine love was easily overcoming the obstacles of face coverings. It was really no contest.
However, it is when we began our time in the Scripture that God really began dealing with me. As Pastor Ryan started leading us into Matthew 14, the Lord suddenly brought different kinds of people to mind. First, I saw a healthcare worker who had just finished a 12-hour shift at the hospital, most of it behind a mask. Then I saw one of our members with fragile health, who has been wearing a mask every single time they go out. Finally, I saw a small gathering of persecuted Christians, perhaps in China, who were meeting in secret in a dimly lit house. I looked at each of their faces, and suddenly my complaint about having to wear a mask at church for 90 minutes died on my lips. I was rebuked without words. I was finally ready to hear God speak to me in his Word.
My views about masks remain pretty much the same, but my attitude is very different. I plan to wear one willingly as an expression of love for God, who has called me to respect the decisions of my leaders (government and church), and of love for people, especially those who are vulnerable or afraid. So, next time you see my masked face at church, just know I’m probably smiling. 😊