January 2, 2021

OCBC Body,

As your elders, we are responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy environment, both physically and spiritually, for all members of our congregation. 

The following are excerpts from the CDC website (Commentary is in bold)

Considerations for Communities of Faith – Updated on Dec. 30, 2020 CDC offers the following general considerations to help communities of faith discern how best to practice their beliefs while keeping their staff and congregations safe. Millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life. For many faith traditions, gathering together for worship is at the heart of what it means to be a community of faith. But as Americans are now aware, gatherings present a risk for increasing spread of COVID-19 during this Public Health Emergency. CDC offers these suggestions for faith communities to consider and accept, reject, or modify, consistent with their own faith traditions, in the course of preparing to reconvene for in-person gatherings while still working to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

This guidance is not intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or any other federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). In addition, we note that while many types of gatherings are important for civic and economic well-being, religious worship has particularly profound significance to communities and individuals, including as a right protected by the First Amendment. State and local authorities are reminded to take this vital right into account when establishing their own re-opening plans. 

The CDC has provided us with recommendations to help maintain that healthy environment. We have reviewed and done some research and have tried to maintain the best environment here at OCBC during this past year for the health and wellbeing of our people. We are ecstatic that religious rights have been taken into consideration by the Supreme Court. However, their decision does not lead us to the conclusion that we should ignore the health needs of our congregation. With that in mind here are some of the recommendations we agree with and adopt.

Scaling Up Operations: 

Maintain communication with local and State authorities to determine current mitigation levels in your community. (We will continue to monitor state guidelines and recommendations.)

Offer options for staff and congregants at higher risk for severe illness (including older adults and people of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions) that limit their exposure risk. (Zoom, social distance spacing, masks, alternative seating areas, hand washing – etc.)

Promote health hygiene practices:

Encourage staff and congregants to maintain good hand hygiene, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 

Encourage staff and congregants to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of their elbow. Used tissues should be thrown in the trash and hands washed. 

Whenever soap and water are not readily available, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used. (Hand sanitizer available in the foyer and at the back of the sanctuary) 

Regarding masks – We, as your elders, asked ourselves this question, “Would we want our surgeon to show up without gloves or a mask?” The overwhelming answer was “NO”. We would want all the potential safety aids the hospital could provide us. So even though masks are uncomfortable to wear, not 100% effective and possibly a sticking point for some people, we as elders have agreed on the following CDC and OHA suggestions:

Masks – Encourage use of masks among staff and congregants. Masks are most essential when social distancing is difficult. Masks offer SOME protection to the wearer and are also meant to protect those around the wearer, in case they are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Avoid use of items that are not easily cleaned, sanitized, or disinfected.

Take steps to limit the size of gatherings – Promote social distancing at services and other gatherings, ensuring that clergy, staff, choir, volunteers and attendees at the services follow social distancing, as circumstances and faith traditions allow, to lessen their risk. Consider holding services and gatherings in a large, well-ventilated area or outdoors, as circumstances and faith traditions allow. (We moved meetings outside as was possible and have provided a second gathering area downstairs to provide for social distancing needs. We also rearranged sanctuary seating and are trying to accommodate and encourage social distancing.)

Take steps to minimize community sharing of worship materials and other items.

(We have made changes and recommendations that promote safer physical hygiene conditions such as Breaking of Bread elements, bathroom capacity restrictions, etc. We have been encouraging better hygiene practices for some time following an incident where several people got sick following a Sunday potluck. It became clear that hand washing was essential to help prevent the spread of illness. We have been truly thankful for God’s grace and protection.)

Information from local news outlets:

There have been recent Supreme Court decisions concerning policies around religious gatherings. As a result, originally imposed restrictions surrounding religious gatherings by the State of Oregon have been lifted and changed to be guidelines. Before the recent decision from the Supreme Court, Governor Brown had a limit on how many people could attend an indoor religious event. For counties considered to be high risk, which most of Oregon currently is, religious gatherings had to be limited to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever was fewer.

“The government has a lot of flexibility in regards to battling the pandemic, but it has to do it in a manner that’s equal in terms to how it treats religion. You go into Costco and there’s hundreds and hundreds of people there. It’s not limited to an arbitrary number of 100, whereas churches had that arbitrary limit. What the Supreme Court said is you can’t have that sort of unequal treatment towards religion.”

This change was made to prevent people’s constitutional rights from being violated. Now, it’s up to faith leaders to determine what’s right for their followers. “It gives them the flexibility to determine for themselves how they want to hold gatherings in regards to capacity levels,” 

Thank you for being willing to accommodate the needs and concerns of your fellow believers. We look forward to worshipping together with you. If you wish to discuss this further, please seek out one of the elders. 

OCBC Elders