Update from Rev. Matt Gough. Church and Covid

We move forward cautiously and conditionally towards in-person indoor worship this Fall.

Please get vaccinated if you are eligible.

Greetings First Presbyterian Friends and community,

It is great to be back with you after my sabbatical. There has been  much to catch up on and I am still catching up. However, I want to speak today about our most pressing task before us which is the question of gathering. Before I go into that, many have asked about my family, and specifically my wife Christine’s status. We are grateful for the amazing health care we received. I am happy to report that Christine’s scans have indicated that she is now clear of any recurrence of cancer. This is good news and we are glad to return to day to day life. While there will be some continual medicinal preventative treatments we now will settle into a rhythm of scans and checks every 6 months that many of you are all too familiar with. She has shown great strength and spirit and I am proud of her and of the community in the ways they showed her, and my family, love and support. Thank you.

Like many of you, I had hoped that by now we would be looking towards a Fall where we could return to gathering in person. I am disheartened by the direction things have taken.

Today we face an Oregon that has full and overburdened hospitals with the National Guard being employed to assist them. Covid 19 infection rates are doubling daily and now setting new records everyday. 

There is good news amidst this for us.  In Benton county our rates and numbers, while increasing, are doing so at a slower rate and our numbers remain low. However, our regional hospital, Samaritan Health,  is full with many Covid 19 cases.

There is good news for the vaccinated, while a vaccine does not automatically protect you from new variants, like the Delta variant, if you are vaccinated you have much less chance of becoming seriously ill.  Samaritan Health reported that 95% of their hospitalized Covid 19 cases are unvaccinated people.

Benton County is more isolated and has a demographic that has taken the threat more seriously, has trusted science and data, and that have chosen to be safe and limited interactions.  Our church has resisted rushing to resume in-person gathering until the data and science support such a move. You, and your willingness to forego gathering, are part of the reason our rates remain low.

Leadership has grappled with whether the data and science now support coming together in-person. It is not an easy decision.

We have tentatively and cautiously opened the way for worship services to resume indoors beginning no earlier than September 19. Teams are working to prepare our facility to do this.

This is conditional on seeing a reversal of our current surge. Additionally,  for me personally to participate in leading in-person worship, I will need to wait until our hospitals are not longer dangerously maxxed out. To do our part for the community I cannot in good conscience support large in person indoor gatherings or anything that may result in increasing the surge until the hospitals are not overwhelmed.

So hold September 19th loosely as it seems like a very optimistic timeline. I do hope that we will see a reduction, and our State authorities are optimistic because of what their modeling indicates, that things will begin to turn in the coming weeks, However, it may take more time than what we have before Sept. 19th. So it may be a week or a month beyond that before we actually resume.

Beyond worship The Session has determined that:

  1. We are not yet opening our building for social gatherings or receptions. These events inevitably result in people mingling and ignoring the distancing requirement. It is best to hold off and wait until we are in a better place.
  2. We will maintain a mask mandate and distancing mandate in our facilities. We ask that building use be restricted to only the most essential tasks or meetings.
  3. We further request that, of those who are 12 and over,  only those vaccinated enter our facilities when we open or gather. Unvaccinated children accompanied by their parents, caregivers or guardians may enter with masks and a commitment to maintain distance from others. We will not institute vaccine checks and operate on an honor system.

Vaccines work. The ones maxing out the hospitals are largely the unvaccinated. Samaritan Hospital reported that 95% of their Covid cases are unvaccinated individuals.

We do not give voice or weight to arguments against vaccines and we ask that those who choose to not vaccinate remain home and participate online.

If you are eligible for a vaccine, do not have a medical exemption, but still choose to remain unvaccinated then please do not come to our facility for indoor gatherings. For your own safety, for the safety of our community, and for our medical workers who are overburdened because of the unvaccinated. This mindset and choice creates a threat to all of us. Religious exemptions are false as this is a violation of Jesus’ greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself.

This is not what I wanted to bring to you in my first weeks back from Sabbatical. Part of me wants to put my head in the sand, throw caution to the wind and just open the doors. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of people getting mad at leaders for making right but hard choices. OUr anger should be towards the virus, towards our mortality, and we should band together to do everything we can to beat it. Consider New Zealand, which recently detected one case and shut down the whole country. They remain an example of what it takes to conquer a pandemic.

I know some of you may remain unconvinced and I understand.

On the one hand, most of you have your vaccine and can survive being infected. With mandatory masks and distancing, we can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of being infected. I’ve heard from many of you who are willing to risk being infected in order to gather, I completely relate to that.

However, this is exactly the attitude that has put us where we are, with overburdened hospitals and new variants arising. We must grieve and not let denial and bargaining keep us from accepting what we must do and what we must give up in order to emerge from this.

We will emerge from this, we will get through this, let us stay strong.

No matter what, we are a church that is here for you. We will continue to offer worship no matter what, we will continue to seek ways to connect, and we will respond to your pastoral needs. You are loved, your in person presence is missed, and we look forward to a day, hopefully sooner than later, when we all can be together in our sanctuary again.

Worship online this Sunday and next. August 22, 29 at 9 AM

Worship OUTDOORS on September 5th at 10 AM. With Communion (individually wrapped) Bring a chair, wear a mask and keep a minimum of 6 feet from others.  THIS WILL BE STREAMED ONLINE TO OUR REGULAR SOURCES

 Many thanks,

Matt Gough