Outdoor Services & Masks

Outdoor Services & Masks

An important update on outdoor services and masks…

It was great to see so many of you for yet another gorgeous Sunday morning of worship! It was especially fun to kick-off Park Kids for the first time since the pandemic hit. I want to give a big THANK YOU to all our staff and volunteers who are once again helping to create safe and fun environments where kids can learn to know and follow Jesus. The journey back to normalcy has been slow, which is why every single step forward is important.

Speaking of steps forward, the recent updates to the CDC and state guidelines are encouraging, and they also raise questions for Park’s own safety guidelines for worship. With this in mind, I’d like to share an update:

Effective this Sunday (May 23)

  • Masks are no longer required while outdoors.
  • We do continue to ask that masks be worn at all times while indoors, including at 312 Hance Avenue and *if it rains at 31 Park Road
  • We ask that every child participating in Park Kids wears a mask from when they are dropped off until they are picked up, whether they are indoors or outdoors.
  • We also continue to ask everyone to maintain social distancing both indoors and outdoors.

While we are excited to take this step forward, it will likely raise questions. You might be wondering, “Isn’t this going too far too soon?” Or, on the other end, maybe you’re wondering, “Why aren’t we going further?” Both questions deserve a response.

Too Far?
Throughout most of the pandemic, New Jersey guidelines for houses of worship have required masks for outdoor environments “where social distancing is difficult to maintain.” If you’ve been to any of our outdoor worship gatherings at 312 Hance Ave, then you know that we are blessed with plenty of space. Participants are free to stay as far away as they please. And yet, until now, our practice has been to ask everyone to wear a mask – not because we have been required to, but because we have wanted to err on the side of safety and comfort.

I mention all of this simply to say that the decision to no longer ask people to wear masks outdoors is consistent with CDC and state guidelines. With the positive momentum of decreased covid numbers, increased vaccination numbers, and recent updates to CDC and state guidelines, no longer asking people to wear masks outdoors seems like a natural and reasonable next step for us at this time.

Not Far Enough?
While some may feel that we are going too far by no longer asking people to wear masks outdoors, others may feel it’s not far enough. The question looms, “Why haven’t we moved inside yet?” It’s a good question, especially since many other churches in our area are doing things inside.

The simplest way to answer this question is with one word: kids. The sheer number of kids that we have makes transitioning indoors to 31 Park Road while maintaining social distancing very challenging. Many of the churches who have moved indoors have done so because either 1) they don’t have a viable outdoor option (we do), 2) they don’t have many kids (we do), or 3) they have abundant indoor space (we don’t). Continuing to meet outdoors, especially with the weather getting better, provides more flexibility and freedom for our families with young kids and allows us to safely reopen Park Kids.

I’d like to end with two pastoral words about masks.

First, at Park, the question of masks has never been about politics. It’s been about wisdom and love. Let’s commit to resisting the divisive and antagonistic spirit that has haunted this pandemic. I was at a small outdoor gathering on Sunday afternoon and witnessed a woman without a mask approach someone with a mask who has significant health challenges. As she approached, she put her mask on. It was beautiful. That’s the spirit we want.

Second, while some may be eager to “ditch the masks,” the fact is that for many of us, masks have provided a tangible layer of comfort during disruptive and uncertain times. It’s completely understandable why removing masks may be a slow and difficult process for some. No longer asking people to wear masks outdoors doesn’t mean we are discouraging masks. I anticipate a number of people will continue wearing masks, and that’s great. Let’s be sensitive to one another and give each other permission and space to navigate this time according to our differing comfort levels.

Thank you for your patience, grace, and faithfulness as we continue to follow Jesus together during this time.

As always, if you have questions, feel free to email me at michael@parkchurchnj.com.

In Christ with hope,