Sunday mornings and the new City Mask Ordinance

Greetings in Christ, Stonebrook members and regular attenders!

We are writing to make you aware that on September 1, 2020, the Ames City Council adopted a city ordinance requiring face coverings. The ordinance is in effect as of Friday, September 4, 2020. (Click here to read Ordinance No. 4420 Face Covering Requirement.)

Please familiarize yourself with the ordinance. (The City of Ames provided a Frequently Asked Questions page here.)

The Stonebrook pastors have counseled together with multiple other pastors from a variety of churches around Ames, and prayed with them through these things. In addition, the elders, deacons, and staff of Stonebrook met together on Wednesday night to talk through these issues.  The elders of Grand Avenue Baptist Church drafted a letter to their congregation that captures our response very well. The following is largely copied and adapted from their response, after examination by the Stonebrook elders and deacons.

We appreciate you taking the time to read our response:

The Calling of Elders

Our primary calling as elders is to teach and persuade you of what the Word of God contains. Our calling is not to serve as authorities on extra-biblical matters, such as public health and safety matters. For those matters, God has provided us the common grace gift of government, including public health and safety officials. Therefore, for issues such as building codes or pandemic responses, we look first to state and local guidance.

How does this apply to Stonebrook?

The ordinance states that “every person in the City of Ames three years of age or older must wear a face covering that completely covers the person’s nose…inside any indoor setting or establishment where the public is invited in.”

Since the public is invited to join us, this applies to our Sunday morning corporate worship gatherings.

Since God commands believers to “submit to the governing authorities” and “to every human authority because of the Lord,” non-exempt attendees are asked to wear masks in compliance with the ordinance for the sake of our Lord (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Titus 3).

What if I am Exempt?

If you are exempt, you are not asked to wear a mask.

How will Stonebrook enforce the ordinance?

The city seeks compliance through education and encouragement only.

We are providing education and encouragement through this email, as well a post on our website and social media.

We grant all attendees the privilege of personal responsibility. We trust that those not wearing masks are exempt from the ordinance.

Will those without a face covering be asked about their exemption?

No. The exemptions most likely to apply to adults in attendance involve medical conditions or the advice of a medical or behavioral health professional. Attendees should not be required to disclose private medical or behavioral health conditions.

What if I see someone not wearing a mask?

Scripture calls us to love one another, which includes believing the best about one another (1 Corinthians 13:7). Therefore, we encourage you to believe the best of those not wearing masks.

Will the service leaders be masked?

The service leaders will be masked while sitting in the auditorium, but will be able to unmask once on stage. Mark Lambert, the Ames City Attorney, has responded to our inquiry with the following: “…the City does not consider it a violation of the ordinance to have the speakers or song leaders in his church, with adequate social distancing, remove their masks at the podium.”

Will we still celebrate the Lord’s Supper and have baptisms?

Face coverings are not required “when seated inside or outside at a food establishment in the process of eating or drinking.” However, a house of worship is not a food establishment.

Likewise, an exemption is made for a person having a medical procedure performed but not for baptism by immersion (during which a mask could be dangerous).

As written, the ordinance does not allow for the removal of face coverings during a religious practice such as communion or baptism.

An appeal has been made to the Mayor and City Council for an exemption. We received a response today from the City Attorney that these were indeed acceptable exceptions to the face covering rule. 

But even if it weren’t, The Lord commands us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and to baptize. This ordinance (as written) would have prevented us from obeying our Lord. As a momentary removal of face coverings for communion or baptism is less dangerous than an unmasked meal in a food establishment (which is allowed by the ordinance), we believe the ordinance, strictly intepreted would have infringed upon our religious liberties (regarding communion and baptism). “We must obey God rather than people” (Acts 5:29). Thankfully, the City Attorney has stated that this will not be an issue. We will be celebrating The Lord’s supper starting this Sunday, and on the first Sunday of each month hereafter. There is a baptism service planned for October 18, which we are looking forward to!

Isn’t this ordinance illegal?

You may be aware that the City Council initially went against the City Attorney’s counsel in pursuing this ordinance. The City Attorney advised that such an ordinance (with a penalty or fine) conflicted with the Governor’s authority in violation of the State of Iowa’s Constitution. He since clarified that removing the fine resolved the conflict, though some Council members expressed this concern.

Our function as elders and deacons is not to determine or comment on the legality of ordinances (unless they command us to disobey God).

As we understand it, it is the Supreme Court of Iowa’s responsibility to rule on the legality of a local ordinance. Until then, we encourage obedience to the law so long as it does not violate our faith and practice.

What if I object to this ordinance?

Please do not contact church leadership to express your opinion on this ordinance. You are encouraged to contact the Mayor and City Council to express your views, questions, and concerns respectfully (MayorCouncil@cityofames.org). As you do so—or as you discuss it in private or in church gatherings—we encourage you to remember Peter’s instruction (1 Peter 2:13-17):

Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

If you’d like any clarification regarding Stonebrook’s current policy or our understanding of these issues, feel free to email elders@stonebrook.org and one of us will reply as we are able.

Thanks for understanding and cooperating as we seek to follow and honor our Servant King, obey our leaders, love our neighbors, and love the City of Ames.

Yours in Christ,

Matt Heerema on behalf of the Elders and Deacons