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Pastors are far from perfect. When I received my call from God to be an ordained Elder in The UMC, one of my first thoughts was, "I'm not going to pretend like I am perfect. When I mess up, I will not be afraid to own up to those mistakes." So this is a very public confession of a series of mistakes I have made that I hope will help others.
2020 has been a difficult year for everyone and I must admit I am tired of having to wear masks all the time! It is difficult to have conversations with masks on. It is sometimes difficult to breathe in the heavy, cloth masks. Masks, while a simple thing to wear, are not my favorite accessory! Recently, I have found myself become more "relaxed" when it comes to masks. I would think to myself, "If I stay six feet away, it'll be fine. If I'm in my house and a group of people are there, they've taken the risks and we don't need to wear a mask." It's almost like I had wished away the Coronavirus and just tried to pretend it wasn't happening.
About 10 days ago, I went to church as I always do. When someone would try to speak to me and couldn't hear me through the mask, I'd temporarily take it down so they could hear me. Other than that, I kept the mask on until before service began and put it back on after the service was over. That night, I had the children over at the house for a Halloween party. We didn't wear masks. Again, it was at my house and the kids all went to school together anyway--it can't be that risky, right? Monday, I helped with Children's Choir, even helping in the singing portion. While I wore a mask most of the time, there were times when I was leading singing that I didn't wear a mask. Tuesday morning, I woke up sneezing. I trudged through my strength training workout with a runny nose that wouldn't stop. I took a 4-hour allergy tablet that I hoped would make me feel better and get me through the day. I had Women's Bible Study at 10AM--which I teach without a mask on, but while standing more than 6 feet away. By 11:30AM, I was exhausted, couldn't concentrate, and the runny nose and other symptoms, including some light chills, were back. I went home for the rest of the day to try to sleep off what I assumed was just regular allergies.
That Wednesday morning, just a week ago today, I received a text message informing me that someone I had been around a few days earlier tested positive for COVID. My heart sank. The new list of symptoms for COVID include congestion, runny nose, and fever (which I was lightly running by my standards--I typically sit at about 97 degrees...I was hitting close to 99). I quickly looked up a place I could get a COVID test and made my way to an urgent care in Huntsville. They gave me a rapid flu test and a rapid COVID test. I would have to wait a long 15 minutes to find out my results.
As I awaited my results, I was incredibly nervous. I had been around so many people. I had been too relaxed and I knew it. I couldn't sugar coat this fact. I couldn't rationalize the moments when I had chosen to not wear my mask. I had messed up. And if I tested positive, I had potentially exposed too many individuals and families. It was a huge mistake--I knew better and I shouldn't have made the mistake to begin with.
The doctor came in, we talked about my symptoms, and she delivered the good news--I didn't have COVID and I didn't have the flu! The diagnosis was a sinus infection, but I was still ordered to stay at home for 3-5 days to rest and recover. I remember being relieved, but also feeling incredibly guilty. Too many "what-ifs" were spinning around in my head. I had made a mistake. I could learn from it and move on, or use this as my wake-up call.
On October 23rd, just two days after my urgent care visit, the United States received its highest day of recorded new COVID cases--85,000. It is now clear that the second wave of the virus is here and it's here to stay. It is also, obviously, in Leon County and in Centerville. It has not gone away. As the leader of this church, it is my job to handle crises like these. I could wait until I had to have discussions with leadership regarding the virus, or I could be proactive and push the issue with leaders. I chose to push the issue and meet with leaders at our conveniently, already-planned meeting that Monday, October 26th, to come up with a proactive response to the Coronavirus. Our church's response can be found here.
I know that COVID-19 has now gotten mixed up in discussions involving the elections and which party is doing the right/wrong thing(s). I know that everyone is tired of living this way. I know that masks are uncomfortable. I know we are all tired of staying home and away from others. I know not everyone will be happy with the decisions we have made as church leadership to respond to the pandemic. However, I know God was present in the decision making and I know that God calls us all to care for our neighbor. If caring for our neighbor is doing something as simple as wearing a mask to slow the spread of a virus in the middle of a pandemic, then that is what we will do! I invite you all to join me in practicing showing grace to others, especially in this trying time.
Last but not least, I publicly and sincerely ask for forgiveness for my lapse of judgment and mistakes made in the recent weeks regarding my own actions in not following protocols regarding COVID-19 as well as I should have. It was irresponsible and reckless. There is no excuse. But I will do better from now on and I'm so grateful that luck was on my side and I did not catch the virus and thus expose that virus to so many people.
I will do better and I hope all of you will join me in being better about wearing masks. Wearing masks doesn't prevent us from getting the virus--that risk will always be there. Wearing masks, though, does help slow the spread and prevents the spreading of the virus from person to person. It is the easiest (and probably only) thing we can do in this time to help COVID go away for good. Stay safe, stay well, and keep your masks on!