Most of my local church doesn’t wear masks at Sunday services. This bugs me. A lot. I understand that for some individuals, wearing a mask is truly a burden, and I don’t want to impose on them. However, I don’t think that’s the case for the majority of the congregation. Not particularly in order of importance, here are ten reasons it bugs me that my church doesn’t mask up.
- I perceive a lack of physical safety
I have a few factors that put me at higher risk of serious illness should I catch Covid. Further, my personal history of trauma includes a long physical recovery, so long Covid is a nightmare to me. Even without a (known) case of Covid, in the last year, much of my live revolved around dealing with complicated chronic headaches, and I would really prefer to avoid throwing Covid into that mix. Attending church seems by far the most dangerous thing I’m doing most weeks. I have my booster and use a KN-95 at church, but it would be safer if people wore masks. I’m not the only person at risk at church. Covid is bad for everyone, but our church is attended by others with high risk factors (like age) and children too young for vaccines.
- I don’t understand
The case for wearing masks is incredibly obvious to me. While I understand there are some exceptions, I have yet to hear a reasonable argument for most people not defaulting to wearing masks indoors in public areas. That seems even more true when activities include singing and the people around obviously include children too young for vaccines and people with higher risk factors. I find it uncomfortable when things don’t make sense, and the lack of masks at church makes no sense to me. I can’t wrap my mind around it. Do people really not know that they should be wearing masks at church? (If so, what culpability do they have for their ignorance? How can educated, English-speaking adults be unaware of basic public-health measures in a pandemic?) Do they not care that our community just spent two devastating months in crisis standards of care (and while that is over for our part of the state, the healthcare system hasn’t completely recovered, while a new variant is on the way)? Did they miss that breakthrough cases are a thing? Are they all just entirely lacking in love? (If so, why bother with a religion that emphasizes “love your neighbor as yourself?”) I want to be charitable about this, but I don’t see any particularly charitable explanations. It is as if we’re living in different realities. How do you have a relationship with such a different epistemology that you don’t know how to find a common frame of reference?
- I feel othered
We’re leftists in a red state. We don’t have a car. We’re childless, pescetarianish, and neurodivergent. In one model, we’re post-evangelicals in a type B church. While we’ve been happy to find online community of others who share some of these experiences, feeling like we belong in local communities can be precarious. Conforming to expectations isn’t a priority for us, but we still desire a sense of belonging. The masks are a visible indicator of one more way we’re different, one more prompt of “do we really belong here?”
- It has undermined my sense of trust in the community
It’s a bit risky to mention the enneagram, but some people may understand me better if I say I’m a 6. If that doesn’t make sense (or makes you roll your eyes), it is probably sufficient to say that I have trust issues and fear not having sufficient support (again) when stuff happens. Wearing a mask is a basic public health measure that for most people involves the slightest inconvenience–if a community is unwilling to endure such a slight inconvenience for the common good and their own self-interest, I don’t trust them to inconvenience themselves in any way for me. Asking for help is hard for me, why would I risk the rejection by asking it of this group?
- It’s hard for me to treat concern for the unborn with good faith from people who don’t wear masks
Politically, I am pro-choice on the matter of abortion. The reasons for my strongly-held beliefs in this area are beyond the scope here, but it puts me at odds with many in the church. Recently, the difference of opinions has been felt more acutely in light of Texas and Dobbs (and other circumstances). Despite my qualms with many anti-abortion advocates, I try to treat those around me with whom I disagree in a charitable manner, giving them the benefit of the doubt where possible. I try to avoid entangling what I see as hypocrisy regarding other “life” issues like excessive militarization, the death penalty, gun control, etc. Even limiting it to issues directly related to reproductive concerns, I struggle with the apparent hypocrisy of people who claim to have a deep concern for the unborn but don’t show evidence of concern for things like maternal mortality, universal healthcare, or paid parental leave. Covid is specifically bad for pregnant women and increases risk of bad perinatal outcomes. As just one example, a recent study found “COVID-19 documented at delivery was associated with increased risk for stillbirth, with a stronger association during the period of Delta variant predominance.” It angers me that blathering voices up north who think women should be charged with murder for abortions are among the loud opposition to public health measures here in Idaho, and I’ve seen indications of a pattern of anti-abortion views combined with opposition of efforts to reduce the spread of Covid. If someone claims to be motivated by concern for the unborn while acting in ways that increase the spread of a virus which harms pregnant women, it makes it harder for me to take their supposed concern for the unborn seriously. At a time where peace already feels strained over differences of opinion, I’m not a fan of this extra stumbling block to charity.
- It grates when we pray for government while resisting their guidance without good reason
Ada County is an area of “High Transmission” where CDC guidance is that everyone, including those who are fully-vaccinated, should wear masks indoors in public spaces. Wearing masks is neither immoral nor particularly burdensome for most, and the government has asked it for the benefit of the common good. I certainly don’t think the government has been above criticism during the pandemic, but without a compelling reason, why are we resisting the government rather than cooperating? Why limit our cooperation to compliance with the minimum mandated by a local government facing significant pressure from truculent people when going the extra mile is such a light burden? During the service, we regularly pray for people in government, and I feel the weight of cognitive dissonance when as a group we pray for people in government to have wisdom while ignoring the wisdom God has presumably given to the experts in government.
- It feels like people who aren’t done with the pandemic are being left behind
The lack of masks in person might feel different if the church hadn’t moved on in other ways. While last year there were zoom vespers, there are no more interactive online gatherings. The livestream on Sunday mornings has been decreasing in quality with lower audio signal and frequent glitches. It is harder to stay connected to the church without showing up in person now than it was a year ago; there aren’t options for people who aren’t comfortable in crowds of unmasked people. Neutrality on masks has really meant siding with those who don’t want them.
- The stress may contribute to my migraines
Since switching locations, attending services has consistently triggered migraines, even after starting a prescription to prevent migraines (which has almost entirely eliminated the migraines I was getting elsewhere). Churches are frequently full of migraine triggers, and it is probably a combination of factors, not merely a single trigger causing my migraines on Sundays. I can’t say with certainty that people electing not to wear masks is causing my migraines. However, I experience stress over the issue, and stress certainly doesn’t help the situation.
- I worry about resentment
Right now, my feelings towards HTC are complicated. I’m uncomfortable with the increasing attention to abortion politics. I’m troubled by the lack of masks. I’m a bit weary from being a 4 in a type B church. I cringe at a lot of things in the ACNA beyond our parish. And yet, I have a great fondness for HTC. When we arrived in Boise, in the fall of 2016, in the midst of national political turmoil and deep personal wounds, it was a safe place we could receive communion, worship, and recover. I am confident that we share a common faith. We have formed relationships. We have come to love many parts of the Anglican tradition.
Our future at HTC is uncertain. This summer my migraines were intolerable. We visited a few other churches this fall, and while we obviously haven’t left HTC yet, if my migraines increase in severity again (and there seems to be a seasonal element, so there’s a good chance they will in the spring), it seems unlikely that we can stay. If we had left this fall, the leaving would have been a complex combination of grief and relief. Given that HTC is by far my largest risk of Covid exposure, I worry that if I catch Covid, my feelings will cease to be complicated and will instead be dominated by hurt and resentment, that looking back, HTC will seem less like a haven and instead be just another church that hurt me in a long line of churches where I’ve been hurt. Right now, it feels like HTC is willing to increase the danger in an abstract, statistical way. While that isn’t good, I expect it would be far worse and more personal if I were to become sick while the church is refusing such a simple means of reducing risk.
- I don’t see good options for moving forward
Despite the occasional impulse, I don’t see myself fighting the entire congregation, especially since staying is already uncertain due to the migraine situation. If the disagreement were with a few individuals, sitting down to discuss our differences would make sense, but that’s not the case here. If there are options besides getting over it or leaving, I don’t see what they are. The current level of tension we feel isn’t sustainable, and I don’t expect Boise to be done with the pandemic anytime soon (in part because the area is full of people who refuse to get vaccinated and wear masks). I don’t like conflict even when the process of resolution is obvious, but here it feels extra messy. I am angry about the lack of masks, but I’m not even sure where to direct my anger: Every individual who chooses not to wear a mask without a good reason not to? Jake? The Parish Council?