Stonebrook’s Response to the Coronavirus

Summary

  • We value meeting in person as a church more than ever during these “Days of COVID,” so we have resolved to find creative, faith-filled ways to continue to meet while caring for both our spiritual and physical health.
  • During our public worship services we have resolved to gather wisely and follow state and local health guidelines.  To make our gatherings low risk to the individual and to reduce spread to our community, we stay six feet apart, limit our service length, and wear masks while indoors. 
  • We presently offer childcare and Sunday School only for four year olds and younger.  

FAQ

Why are we taking health precautions as we meet to worship?

Our primary motivations for modifying our Sunday morning service are two-fold:  first, submission to governing authorities, and second, love for our neighbor. 

As the coronavirus pandemic has spread in our city and beyond, public health officials have encouraged measures to slow the spread of the disease. These include the practice of physical distancing and mask wearing.  Our governor has strongly encouraged all Iowans to wear masks when gathered in groups, and our city council has passed an ordinance requiring this.  So, to honor our governing officials (per Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17), we follow their guidelines.  

Love has also been a primary motivation for our church as we gather.  We love the people in our city and campus and want to bring good, not harm.  In particular, we understand that the risk of widespread community transmission of this disease is increased when large groups of people gather.  So by following public health guidelines, we can lower the risk of infection for our city, church members, and visitors.  

With all this in mind, we are glad to voluntarily modify our worship services to express submission and love in this time of global pandemic. 

Has Stonebrook considered offering “no-mask” venues? 

We have given this much thought and discussion.  At this time, our elders and deacons have decided to encourage the use of masks in our Sunday worship service and in all gatherings in our building where physical distancing cannot be maintained. 

We recognize there is controversy about some of the health guidelines, and the science is still developing on how the disease is spread.  Yet we have to chart a course now on how to function as a church, so we have resolved to practice current public health guidelines.  As those guidelines change, we will adapt.  

In addition, in Ames masking is required or strongly encouraged in almost all major businesses and institutions.  Ames public schools require masks.  Iowa State University students, faculty, and staff are presently required to wear masks, enforceable by professional and academic disciplinary measures.  The Ames City Council has an ordinance requiring masks.  And our governor has repeatedly urged Iowans to use masks when gathered in public.  We want to be part of limiting the spread of Covid-19 so we can keep as much of “normal life” in our community open as possible. 

Isn’t the government restricting churches too much and taking away our religious liberties?

We recognize from both biblical history and from recent history that governments around the world often do restrict religious liberty.  We are sympathetic to the concern of that happening here, for we cherish the freedoms we have in this country.  

However, our elders and deacons have decided that we can still gather freely even while following public health guidelines as long as those guidelines are temporary, reasonable, neutral, and generally applicable.  Theologian Al Mohler’s recent comment reflects our position:  “If the regulation or the policy is neutral and generally applicable, then it probably is justified, at least in some sense for some time… A church or a religious camp or a Christian school would follow the same health regulations as any other enterprise of similar size and operation in this society.” 

We believe that Scripture clearly commands obedience to governing authorities (see Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17), unless the authorities are commanding us to or preventing us from obeying God’s clear commands (Acts 5:28-29). We do not believe that these health regulations prevent us from obeying God or doing His work. Therefore, we obey governing restrictions even as we gather to worship weekly, motivated by honor of God, not by fear of man.

How should I respond personally to this crisis?

Concerning personal physical health, we would urge you to follow the recommended health precautions:  to wash hands frequently, maintain social distancing, follow the Ames Face Covering Ordinance, and stay home if you are feeling ill.  In particular, we recommend you strictly follow these guidelines if you are part of an at-risk group such as those who are over 65 or immuno-compromised.

Concerning spiritual health, we encourage those who are particularly at risk and not comfortable joining us on Sunday morning to join us virtually via our live stream and our 9:30-10:00 pre-service video gathering. And we encourage those who have a conviction against wearing masks because of a belief that they are ineffective or harmful to also join us virtually. We support people with such conviction gathering in homes for fellowship and encouragement as they watch the service together.

In these stressful times, we need to lean on God’s strength and truth to settle our hearts and guide us.  Several truths can be a helpful reminder. 

First, Romans 8:18-23 tells us that, because of our hostility and indifference to our creator, all creation has fallen from its original state of perfection and sickness and death are constantly with us. We should pray for the day when Christ will return and all of creation will return to perfection. 

Second, in John 11:25, Jesus declares that He is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in him, though he die, yet shall he live. COVID has not and will not increase the death rate—it will remain at 100%. We must put our hope, not in escaping death, but in future resurrection. As we hope in the resurrection and immortality, we can live prudently in this pandemic yet not be terrified and immobilized by the fear of death.

Third, Isaiah 30:15 says that we will be delivered through repentance and rest. We should examine ourselves and turn from whatever beliefs, attitudes, and actions are unloving and displeasing to God. Blessing comes when we yield and give up our fight against God and turn from our own ways and find joy and peace in His ways. 

Fourth, 1 Timothy 2:1-4 reminds us to pray for all people.  We should pray for the sick and for wisdom and endurance for researchers and medical professionals.  We should pray for wisdom for government officials.  We should pray for one another in the body of Christ.  We should pray that God would use this crisis to call people to himself, for the Lord is powerfully able to bring good out of tragedy.  

Fifth, Ephesians 4:1-6 tells us to diligently maintain the unity we have in Christ by being humble, gentle, patient and loving.  COVID and other trials can tear people apart in painful disagreement.  But our heavenly Father calls his children into one family to live harmoniously and so testify to the world about the glory of God and his Son, Jesus.  There are many issues about which we will disagree, but let’s commit ourselves, as the people of Christ, to respect, appreciate, and be kind to one another at all times, even when we do differ. 

In all these things, let us remember that God is at work!  He is the Lord!  And the good news of Jesus is powerful!

Where can I get information about the Coronavirus?

The following websites publish information on public health and the spread of the Coronavirus: 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Coronavirus Page

Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Map

Iowa’s Coronavirus website