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Bishop clarifies face covering statement

Face covering encouraged

Bishop Bard encourages Michigan congregations to wear face coverings for indoor, in-person gatherings and outdoor gatherings where proper social distancing is difficult.


Michigan Area

July 14, 2020 | LANSING, Michigan — I begin with an apology for confusion which has arisen from last week’s e-message regarding Governor Whitmer’s executive order 2020-147 about wearing face coverings. 

While the executive order mandates the wearing of face coverings in any indoor public space, it exempts religious organizations from penalties. It explicitly offers an exception to the wearing of face coverings for those who “are officiating at a religious service, or are giving a speech for broadcast or an audience.”  In trying to communicate both the breadth of the order and my encouragement to congregations to ask people to wear face coverings when you gather for meetings, small groups, or worship, the distinction between mandate and encouragement was unclear.  The poster provided by the conference may have contributed to the confusion.  This was intended as a help to congregations who will require those attending to wear face coverings, something I encourage, but it is not a mandate.  Again, please accept my apologies.  In our haste to get something out promptly, our message lacked needed clarity.
Being clear and succinct, the governor’s executive order to wear face coverings does not mandate them for churches, nor am I “mandating” them for our United Methodist Churches.  Rather, I strongly encourage each church to ask its members to wear face coverings when attending any indoor in-person gatherings, and outdoor gatherings where appropriate social distancing is difficult.  Exceptions need to be made for those whose medical conditions would contra-indicate for wearing a face-covering
I ask this of us out of care and concern for the well-being of our churches and communities.  Face coverings are not perfect and are not entirely effective in preventing the coronavirus from entering one’s body. However, they are efficacious in preventing water droplets, which carry the coronavirus, from leaving your body and affecting another person.  I understand that if you are not carrying the coronavirus, the masks seem superfluous.  The significant problem is that persons can be carriers of the coronavirus and thus infect other persons before they experience any symptoms, and some persons never become symptomatic with COVID.  I also understand the science around this virus continues to develop, but this is the best information we have at this time, and it only seems prudent, in the service of love and care, to wear a face covering. 

I understand that wearing face coverings feels uncomfortable and inconvenient, but I think it remains in the interest of public health, the common good, and the well-being of others.  I understand that this may feel like an infringement of freedom, but the Christian understanding of freedom is that it is freedom for love and service.  “For you were called to freedom, brothers, and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but serve each other through love” (Galatians 5:13).
Thank you for your patience with one another and with me.  Thank you for your love and care for others.  Thank you for witnessing to your faith in Jesus Christ in countless ways, including in caring for public health, the common good and the well-being of others.

“Let all that you do be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14).

Last Updated on July 14, 2020

The Michigan Conference