Last summer (2021) there were some pretty strict rules in place in the province of British Columbia, Canada, regarding masking and the number of people that could be in a church at the same time. These rules loosened in the fall, but now the province is about to return to stricter rules, but now with a new twist.
The new twist is this: if everyone in the church is vaccinated, then 100% capacity is allowed. If only one person is unvaccinated, then only 50% capacity is allowed.
This is not the place to debate or even discuss the reasons—stated or unstated—for this new rule. Nor do I want to discuss possible political responses to this latest mandate. My concern is how to help my community respond to this rule in such a way that the vaccinated and the unvaccinated don’t accuse, judge or harass one another.
Here is what I wrote to my community:
You have probably heard on the news that there are new provincial health department rules for churches. The exact rules have not yet been published nor put into effect (which means that this weekend continues on the old rules). Probably what the new rules will entail is a requirement for worshipers to wear masks indoors and a limit on the number of people in the building. We have done this before, so we know the drill. Once we have the details, we will let everyone know the plan and will make an online sign-up sheet available.
I want to make clear to everyone that we will not be asking anyone about vaccination status. As in almost all matters, so with government health mandates, it is possible (probable) that very godly, intelligent and well-meaning people will disagree. Let’s not let self righteousness—and her children, fear, anger, and judgement—keep us from loving one another and believing the best of one another, even if we don’t see eye to eye on this or any other political or medical matter.
Strong feelings quickly become passions. Let us not lose this opportunity to love our neighbour, especially the neighbour who doesn’t see things the right way (i.e. the way I see them). Below is a reflection on the Love of God based on a passage from St. Silouan of Mt. Athos.
“The Lord loves us more dearly than we can love ourselves.”
It is very hard for us to believe that God loves us as much as He does. It’s hard to believe because our hearts and minds are so caught up in this empty and ever-changing world. We think we have life in this world somewhat figured out, and just then, WHAM!, everything changes. And we wonder, if God loves us, why is life so painful and confusing?
When times are good for us, we can come up with all sorts of arguments to explain away the pain of others and the existential angst we occasionally experience in our wealth and privilege. But when times are bad, all logic and arguments fail. Then what we think we believe is stripped down to what we actually believe. And sometimes we are frightened by just how paltry our faith seems to be, frightened by how quickly we lose the certainty that we had a short time ago.
St. Siouan understood what it is to lose certainty, to be overwhelmed by pain and confusion. He was a saint who had seen the Light of God and had visions of Christ and the Holy Theotokos; and then, with no warning or explanation, God took it all away from him—for fifteen years. And yet, toward the end of his life, St. Siouan could say, “The Lord Loves us more dearly than we can love ourselves.” The Saint goes on to explain:
“But the soul [person] in her distress supposes that the Lord has forgotten her, even has no wish to look upon her, and she suffers and pines. But [this] is not so, brethren. The Lord loves us without end, and gives us the grace of the Holy Spirit, and comforts us. It is not the Lord’s desire that the soul should be despondent and in doubt concerning her salvation. Believe and be sure that we continue in suffering only until we humble ourselves; but so soon as we humble ourselves there is an end to affliction, for the Divine Spirit discloses to the soul, because of her humility, that she is saved.”
Why is humility so hard for us? It’s hard because this humbling of ourselves, of our souls, is not what we are used to. We are used to being in control, or at least somewhat in control. We are not used to trusting God for what we don’t see, don’t understand. We are used to rights and privileges and opportunities. We are not used to the constraint that all humble people experience. We are used to our own will, not to “Thy will be done.”
During these days of floods, changing covid regulations, and fluctuating financial markets, let’s run to humility. Let’s entrust ourselves and each other and our whole life to Christ our God. There really is no other way to be saved.