April 28, 2020 COVID-19 Update / First Evangelical Free Church, Sioux City IA
As many of you may have heard or read, Governor Reynolds’ address on Monday, April 27 2020 loosened a number of restrictions throughout many areas in Iowa. Woodbury county, however, was specifically exempted, and remains under almost all the same social distancing and 10-person-maximum rules as before, with one exception: the ban on church gatherings has been lifted as part of a statewide mandate.
What does this mean for us?
Short answer: we will continue to suspend in-person services and programs through May 17th at a minimum, and potentially longer if the situation warrants it. The church leadership, while thankful for the freedom to decide when to resume services, does not believe it is wise for our specific church with our specific congregation and situation to gather together at this particular time. We have been working on plans to resume services and programs and we expect to be able to share more by May 17th, which will allow us to take into account any helpful information from the scheduled May 15th re-evaluation of Woodbury county. Until then: continue to connect online, over the phone, or through the mail; be in prayer; and spend time in the Word. Thank you for your patience with this entire process during a difficult time – we’re excited to meet again as soon as it is wise to do so!
What is the rationale behind this decision?
All of the data that we are aware of – from the rapidly increasing case load and hospitalization rates in Sioux City; to the number of folks in our congregation who are at high risk for COVID-19 complications, which includes a majority of our volunteers; to the need for planning out long-term enhanced sanitization and social distancing changes to our programs – indicates that this is not the time to be gathering again.
Governor Reynolds’ explanation for lifting the ban was helpful: she said that she was taking this action because of the “significant constitutional liberties involved”. Said another way, Reynolds’ reasoning is legal, rather than medical. We should applaud her stance on religious freedom; but we also need to understand what this means: the governor is allowing churches to decide for themselves when it would be best to meet again. The risk and responsibility of resuming services well falls upon our own shoulders. What’s more, her actual order goes on to state that any religious gathering which does choose to meet “shall implement reasonable measures under the circumstances of each gathering to ensure social distancing of employees, volunteers, and other participants, increase hygiene practices, and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 consistent with guidance issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health.” These are serious considerations which require solid plans to respond rightly to. We treasure the trust of Christ’s people, and doing well by one another requires all of us to take the time to make the very best determinations that we can.