Current Coronavirus Policies
What you need to know:
- Masks are required to be worn by children and volunteers while in our MercyKids environments through Sunday, December 19th.
- The Mercy Staff Team will continue to wear masks until further notice.
Please Read this Message from Pastor Spence:
Thank you for your continued patience and grace as we navigate the many issues related to our COVID protocols. We said in March of 2020 that 2 Timothy 1:7 would guide our decisions around how we gather for worship as the pandemic unfolded.
7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.
Thank you for modeling your belief in these words over the past eighteen months. The Holy Spirit continues to guide us in power, love, and sound judgment. Your prayers over me and our elders have been beneficial as we discerned how to walk forward in God’s power, love, and wisdom. I’m so grateful for how you have demonstrably prioritized the love of neighbor over personal preference in so many spaces. You have honored the name of Christ as a church family!
I could have written a quick update to inform you, but I feel the need to say a little more in hopes of shepherding you as we go forward. But like a good sermon, I’ll do my best to keep this organized and clear!
We will slightly change how we approach our mask protocols in a way that I believe will be more faithful to scripture and hopefully will relieve some pressure from all of us. Here, I want to offer:
- The Biblical principles informing our plans
- A consideration of our present situation
- Our plan moving forward
- A transparent pastoral word
First Biblical Principle: God is our eternal sovereign king reigning over this moment, so let us have his peace and strength anew for today. I know the pandemic has been tough on each of us in different ways. Some of us have lost family, coworkers, and friends over the past eighteen months. The fragility of life has never been so familiar. The weight of grief and the loss of normalcy have stretched the patience of everyone. If you feel tired and a little frustrated, you are not alone! One Mercy member who is a counselor described our present climate as the slow unfolding of collective trauma, and I couldn’t agree more. This is why, more than ever, I have found thankfulness in the sovereignty of God over all things. I am reading Psalm 45 this week, and in verse 6, the Psalmist says, “your throne God is forever and ever.” I’m so thankful to serve a God who will not be dethroned by Covid-19 nor will ever be dethroned by anything. I’m also grateful our forever-reigning God gives power, love, and sound judgment to those He loves. The present guidance of the Holy Spirit is something I’ve learned to lean on in new ways these days. My daily dependence on God has grown so much amid uncertainty. Our God reigns, and our God gives strength and peace to those in Christ who ask for it! What a God we serve!
Second Biblical Principle: In light of the gospel, we are called to practice neighbor love. As followers of Jesus, we want to model his love by putting the welfare of others above ourselves (Lev 19.18; Matt 19.19, 22.39; Mark 12.33; Rom 13.9; Gal 5.14; Jam 2.8;). In short, we want to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This pandemic certainly allowed us to put this into practice! In the early stages of the pandemic, “social distancing” and “face masks” were the only practical means each of us had to mitigate the spread of the virus. So to help this effort, our worship gatherings went virtual in March 2020. Then, in August 2020, when enough time had passed to re-gather for worship, we gathered outside, wearing masks, socially distanced from one another. In February 2021, it was time to move indoors, so we remained masked and socially distanced from one another. Shortly after that move, the Covid-19 vaccine became more widely accessible to the general public, and the case count in Mecklenburg county dropped significantly. We then felt the freedom to move to a mask-optional practice in our services. When Covid-cases spiked locally, especially here in the members of Mercy Church, we decided it was best to collectively require masks in our worship services again for a short time.
The advent of the vaccine broadened the ability to care for your neighbor and created an option to protect yourself. Thus, releasing some of the pressure on the Covid-19 social contract. Before the advent of the vaccine, the general social understanding was that an individual’s defense against the vaccine depended on their neighbor’s willingness to wear a mask and remain distant. Now, through the availability of a vaccine, individuals have some ability to protect themselves as well as their neighbors. We believe the availability of this option, deemed by experts to be a more effective measure against the spread of the virus, changes the nature of the Covid-19 social contract enough to allow us the opportunity to reconsider how we approach our gathering protocols.
Third Biblical Principle: We are called to submit to governing authorities placed by God over us. Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. — Romans 13:1-2 This passage has undoubtedly caused some ink to be spilled over the centuries in the church. When the Apostle Paul wrote these words, his governing authority was the emperor Nero, known for his horrific torturing of Christians. So, when God, through Paul, tells us to submit to authorities, He isn’t saying this casually. Because God is sovereign and because He is our avenger, He says we can submit to our authorities. The only cause for disobeying our authorities is when our governing authorities ask us as Christians to violate our conscience before the Lord. A present example in this pandemic would be the gathering of the church for worship. While we were willing to “go virtual” for some time to aid the effort against the spread, we knew we would gather together again for worship regardless of the local government’s restrictions. We are thankful things unfolded where we were not forced to disobey our local authority in order to obey our Lord. We do not desire to stir conflict, but instead, as Romans 12:18 says, we desire to “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”
Fourth Biblical Principle: The Church gathers for community, connection, and care. I think we all feel that it’s been a little harder to communicate with one another while wearing masks. The constant uncertainty of whether we understood what the other person was saying is a new normal that can be so frustrating! As your pastor, it has been a challenge to try and connect and communicate with you each Sunday in the brief conversations we have. I see our staff and ministry teams feeling the same thing as they try to minister to one another. I’ve found a new appreciation for the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians where he says, “I long to see you face to face!” Two-thirds of our facial muscles are on the area of our face covered by our face masks, which means all those nonverbal cues that we use in conversation are missing!
I look forward to being able to see one another again!
A Consideration of our Present Situation
Like any good missionary seeking to advance the gospel where they live, we should always consider the context the Lord has placed us in. In August 2021, a few days after we, as leaders, deemed it appropriate to require masks in our services, our local government issued a mandate requiring citizens to wear masks in all indoor public settings. And for the first time, this mandate did not give a religious exemption for when you enter a house of worship. Now, a few months later, because of the widespread availability of the vaccine and the decreased case count, we, as your leaders, do not believe we should require masks to gather for worship. But this conviction does not necessarily release each Christian from the guiding biblical principle in Romans 13 explained above.
So what do we do?
Just as I am not an expert or authority in public health, our local authorities are not experts or authorities in corporate worship. So, while our community functions best when the church and the state can allow one another to function in their areas of expertise and authority, in our present moment, there is some tension.
In summary, here are the realities we are considering in our present moment:
The advent and widespread availability of a vaccine offer a sense of personal protection for those who desire to avail themselves of it. Such availability is new for children ages 5-11, which will impact how we will approach our kids’ ministry in the short term.
Praise God the Covid-19 caseload in Charlotte is on the continued decline!
As we understand it, the mandate currently in place is written to and incumbent upon individual citizens.
Our Way Forward: A Matter of Conscience
Since this latest mandate is incumbent on individual citizens, we believe our way forward will be to encourage you to do two things:
If you feel so led, reach out to your local officials and encourage them to lift or change the mandate. If you choose this route, do so in a manner worthy of the gospel. I am confident our officials have not had it easy these past eighteen months. It will be a grace to them to offer your request graciously and lovingly.
Prayerfully decide for yourself if wearing a mask for corporate worship is a violation of your biblically informed convictions before the Lord. I’ve spoken with some of you who believe it is and some who believe it isn’t. If you come to the conviction that wearing a mask violates your conscience, then you are welcome to worship without one at Mercy Church. However, in an effort to give time for families who desire to vaccinate their children to do so and still feel comfortable attending worship at Mercy, we will require masks to be worn by children and volunteers while in our MercyKids environments through Sunday, December 19th.
For now, the staff team will follow my lead and wear a mask during our worship services. However, because we are not the local governing authorities, we will leave it up to you to prayerfully decide how you will approach this mask mandate. Our volunteers will continue to greet you and welcome you, and we will have masks available if you do indeed feel led to wear one but forget to bring one.
A Transparent Pastoral Word
There is a reason the New Testament contains weighty words about preserving unity in the church. The enemy finds great victory in his cause when a church takes its eyes off the lost and gets consumed by infighting. When this happens, the reputation of Christ is stained, and the lost are dissuaded. By God’s grace, this has not been the story of Mercy Church during the pandemic. Your love for one another has been a remarkable testimony to the love of Christ. My warning to us is not to let our guard down now. Fatigue is so often the moment of attack from the enemy. I implore you to devote yourself to the Lord each day. To beg him for strength to be quick to love others with the Love of Christ. I say this to you and even more so to myself. Church, I feel both fatigue and frustration over the mask discussion. I’ve felt sadness from the members who have left our church over our practice. Have I been operating out of fear? Have I done a poor job discipling our people? Oh, I’ve felt the urge to lead from emotional reaction instead of biblical conviction. And oh, how I need the grace and strength of the Lord in these days.
Because I believe this is a matter of conscience, I believe it is worthy of ongoing grace-filled discussion among believers. I believe together, across tables, with open Bibles, we will find our convictions strengthened in this area, as in so many others.
– Pastor Spence
What if I forget my mask?
- We will have extra masks if you show up for a worship gathering and have forgotten yours. You can find them in the lobby when you first enter the building.