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Highland Lakes churches consider changes based on rise in COVID-19 cases

First United Methodist Church of Marble Falls

First United Methodist Church of Marble Falls closed on Wednesday, July 28, after several congregants contracted COVID-19. In-person worshipers are being asked to again wear masks when in the building. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

First United Methodist Church of Marble Falls is encouraging in-person worshipers to wear face coverings during Sunday services and activities after several people at the church, including staff, recently tested positive for COVID-19. The church is only requiring masks for staff in its church office, not the congregation, but will have a mask-only section during Sunday services.

The news was posted on the church’s social media pages Wednesday, July 28. The church also closed its office on Wednesday afternoon but has since reopened it.

Other area churches are assessing the situation, and, in one case, a pastor emailed a letter to the Highland Lakes Ministerial Alliance with his thoughts on requiring face coverings. Concerns are based on recent increases in COVID-19 cases in the Highland Lakes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put Burnet and Llano counties in the “high” category of coronavirus transmission, the top of its four categories, which are low, moderate, substantial, and high.

The CDC recently updated its COVID-19 recommendations, including that vaccinated people should return to wearing masks while indoors in counties with substantial or high transmission rates. The organization continues to recommend all unvaccinated people wear face coverings indoors no matter the transmission rate in their county. The CDC’s updates come as the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads across the country. 

While several churches are recommending parishioners don face coverings when attending in-person services or indoor activities, most aren’t ready to require it. 

The Rev. David Sugeno of Trinity Episcopal Church in Marble Falls said the church only requires unvaccinated children over the age of 2 to wear face coverings. Church leaders do recommend others wear one.

“We are back to recommending but not requiring masks,” Sugeno said.

However, the clergy and most Eucharist ministers have returned to wearing face coverings during services. Church officials also open the side doors to the nave during services to increase air flow.

Sugeno said he and the Trinity leadership continue to assess the ever-changing situation.

“I don’t want to make any rush decisions that prove unnecessary, but I would also rather err on the side of caution,” he added.

At First Baptist Church of Marble Falls, Jonathan Sultemeier said no changes have been made but leaders are keeping tabs on the situation.

Officials with St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Marble Falls and First Baptist Church of Burnet said they also haven’t made any changes due to COVID-19. At this time, First Baptist-Burnet is still looking forward to a regular fall and winter, including the return of Main Street Bethlehem in December.

The Rev. Harold Vanicek of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Marble Falls is concerned about the uptick in COVID-19 cases, particularly with the aggressive nature of the Delta variant, but he’s aware that people are weary of COVID-19 and the precautions surrounding it.

Even those who are vaccinated, he pointed out, might feel they’ve done their part.

Still, Vanicek is considering recommending congregants wear face coverings when indoors, though he anticipates pushback. He has consulted with doctors and nurses in the congregation and community. Those conversations support the CDC’s findings of the area having a high transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

In an email to the Highland Lakes Ministerial Alliance, Vanicek shared his thoughts on whether to require face coverings in church settings. Requiring face coverings, he pointed out, really is about protecting those with compromised immune systems, children who aren’t eligible for vaccines, and the elderly. 

He also shared an email he received from a local emergency room physician who reported seeing five to 10 new COVID-19 patients an ER shift, something the doctor experienced during the peak of the pandemic. Most, but not all, of the new cases, according to the ER physician, are younger adults who are unvaccinated. 

The physician went on to describe the Delta variant as “much more contagious.” While fully vaccinated people can contract the virus, the doctor said they are much less likely to be hospitalized from it, though that does happen.

Vanicek added in the email to the alliance that he realizes if it comes down to requiring face coverings once again in church, some might choose to leave the congregation. 

“The question is a bit corny, but, as followers of Jesus, we can ask the simple question, ‘What would Jesus do in this moment?’” Vanicek wrote. “I imagine him getting a vaccine and wearing a mask. Would we all do this if we saw Jesus doing it?”

daniel@thepicayune.com

4 thoughts on “Highland Lakes churches consider changes based on rise in COVID-19 cases

  1. Wow. Making up stuff about Jesus in outlandish ways to get people to do what you want is awful leadership.
    Hope their congregations are reading the Gospel, doing what Jesus did (not what I say He ought to do), and being led by the Spirit of the Living God – as opposed to manipulative phrases.

    1. Hi Scott, just wanted to offer a reflection on your post. I imagine Jesus would wear mask and get a vaccine, as that is the Jesus I have encountered both in scripture and in the world. I envision him doing more than just those two things in response to a pandemic, but those two things would be in there. I only share out of my own experience of God. I think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy. I hear people trying to pin Jesus down on the greatest commandment and Jesus offering up to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. I see Jesus bearing a cross out of love for others. Jesus in John invites us to see ourselves as branches rooted in him. In Jesus, I see a God desperate for us to see how connected to the life of our neighbor, and in so seeing we also see how connected we are to God. I would be curious to hear your reflections on what Jesus would do if here today in the midst of a pandemic? God brings healing in so many ways. I would value hearing more of what you see God up too. Thank you!

    2. Jesus served those in the greatest need from a position of humility, not arrogance. Jesus did mourn with those who mourned, healed the sick, gave much of himself for the good of others, and encouraged others to do the same.

  2. Prayers for all the local religious leaders having to make difficult decisions.

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