Bishop Tracie Bartholomew
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May 25, 2021
Dear Synod family,
We rejoice that we are now in the season of Pentecost as protocols for COVID19 are changing. The Spirit is breathing new life into our communities as more people are being vaccinated, new cases of COVID19 are decreasing, and gathering restrictions are loosening. Of course, this means that congregational leaders will need to continue to make decisions for the community that mitigate risk and keep the most vulnerable as safe as possible. What follows are some considerations that may help in your decision making.
Governor Murphy is lifting many COVID19 restrictions which have implications for our congregations:
Beginning Friday, May 28, there will no longer be an indoor mask mandate* (the outdoor mandate was removed last week) and no physical distancing requirements.
Unvaccinated people are strongly encouraged to wear a mask indoors.
Beginning June 4, there will be no capacity restrictions.
In addition to what is permissible, you will want to think about what is advisable. As usual, I have more questions than answers:
How do we gather in a way that honors God and is loving toward our neighbor?
Will you require masks when indoors? For some people or all people? How do you protect children and the medically compromised?
Do the communion practices you adopted during the pandemic still need to be used? What education needs to happen around our understanding of this sacrament?
Will you continue to gather outside and online? Why or why not?
I understand that decision fatigue is real. But this is not the time to stop asking and answering the hard questions related to coming together. The partnerships and innovations put into place over these past 15 months will serve you well as we move into the future. Remember, the decisions you make today are not decrees for all time – you can try something, re-evaluate, and adjust as the situation changes. If ever there was a time for experimentation, it is now. Use the freedom of this unprecedented time as a gift to try new things.
Finally, thank you for the ways you are and have been faithful to our calling as church – to love and serve God while loving and serving our neighbors in Christ’s name. Together we can make a positive difference in the lives of those who call New Jersey home.
Your sister in Christ,
Bishop Tracie L. Bartholomew
*Masks are still required in certain settings, including medical facilities, schools, public transportation, and prisons.