In many areas of the country, churches that shut down during the first wave of COVID-19 outbreaks have moved back to in-person services and now may be shutting down again. Some members are likely to be uncomfortable with the decision to continue in-person services, and you may be one of them. You may feel pressure to go along with what the church leaders decide, but you can resist it kindly but firmly. Here are some strategies for maintaining the lines of communication while not sacrificing your own convictions and comfort level.
Identify Your Boundaries
If you hear that your church is opening back up and that makes you nervous, that is probably a sign that going along with the crowd would cross a line for you. When you find yourself feeling this way, you may be able to figure out why you're uncomfortable by assessing your own comfort level and values. To define your boundaries, ask yourself these questions:
- What sources do you trust?
- What safety measures do you still consider necessary?
- What social behavior is within your comfort zone?
After you understand your own comfort level, consider how you will communicate it. You certainly don't owe anyone an explanation of why you set your particular boundaries. In fact, offering unbidden, excessive explanation may come across as defensive or as an invitation for the other party to argue with your choices. Instead, focus on clear, direct statements of the limits you have set.
Recognize Your Emotions
Opposing comfort levels can bring up many different feelings. These feelings can affect both your relationships with others in the church and your own mental health. Acknowledging your emotions is the first step to dealing with them in a productive manner.
Your gut reaction may be to feel judgmental about the decisions that are being made, particularly if there is not an open discussion that allows members to weigh in before plans are finalized. When people behave in ways you consider harmful, it's natural to have a negative emotional reaction. If, however, your judgment consumes you, it can lead to anger that is hard to overcome. Before this happens, try to gather more information on how leaders came to their decision so that you can better understand where they are coming from.
You may also be feeling a lot of loneliness, particularly if you live alone or have been relatively isolated for months on end. The thought of others getting together without you may intensify these emotions. The dissonance created by opposing desires of craving the social connection you miss and wanting to keep yourself and loved ones safe can add an extra layer of sadness on top of what you are already enduring. Talking with a certified counselor or therapist can help you identify and work through these issues so that they don't consume you.
Inquire About Options
Ideally, someone from your church will reach out to you to address any concerns you may have. If this doesn't happen, though, don't assume that those in leadership don't care or don't want to know. You may just have to take the first step yourself. Call the church office and ask if you can schedule a video conference to discuss the leaders' decision to start meeting in person.
During your meeting, it's a good idea to start by stating the precautions you are personally taking. This gives the pastor or representative a clearer picture of your needs and comfort level. Ask for clarity on the safety practices that will be in place during services, as they may fit your boundaries more closely than you expect. Once you each understand the other's position, try to find options that allow you to remain an active part of the church while still maintaining the social distancing you require.
You shouldn't have to sacrifice your own safety or peace of mind just to stay in touch with your faith community. By knowing where you stand, communicating it clearly, and working together, you are likely to find a workable solution.