Vaccination Status of Church Volunteers?

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As our church thinks about reopening this fall, we are wondering what we are allowed to do in terms of asking people about vaccination status. And if we don't ask, how do we make people feel comfortable and confident (e.g. dropping children off at a nursery if they don't know if the volunteers have been vaccinated). Any ideas? 

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Participant

Do it. It is a matter of public health. The CRCNA has kept a distressingly low profile on this one.

The church does not have the right to ask about vaccination status. That is a privacy issue.  If the government is not making it mandatory, then we cannot either.  You cannot ask about any other health-related things. Just my opinion. 

Community Builder

A privacy issue. Taken to the extreme, does an elder have the right to ask a parishioner about their spiritual life, their devotional life? Its clearly a privacy issue.

When looking for officebearers, do we probe into their lifestyle and the way they provide leadership within the family??

"Privacy issue" is a secular term. The church focuses on pastoral care, discipline and the overall safety of congregational members.

Can you imagine any church family telling the church leaders that their personal lives are a "privacy issue"?

I forgot to mention we are in Ontario Canada

While I agree fundamentally with Drayton's post, the reality is it depends on the state you live in.  The State of Washington for instance, where I am located, has made it a law that Covid vaccination status can be requested by employers and is not covered by typical HIPPA stuff.  But other states haven't done that.  So legally check with your local laws.  But practically, I think you tell your church and make it public.  So with our Friendship Program we are informing people that there may be unvaccinated people present both as students and mentors and that if that is a concern, then please take the appropriate precautions you need to take.

This is a delicate topic that has respectable concerns on both sides.  In the film industry, where I work dealing with health and safety issues, they have decided it is okay to ask for vaccination status.  Since this falls into my realm of responsibilities, I have found that it is important to respect the concerns of everyone involved.  Since the health of crew members on set has a direct impact on not only their personal well-being, it also has an enormous impact on the fiscal well-being of the project at hand.  To deal with this, all crew members are asked their vaccination status.  If they are willing to share their status and provide proof, they are allowed to follow lighter protocols related to Covid compliance.  If they choose not to share their vaccination status or are not vaccinated (for whatever reason), they are asked to follow a slightly more stringent protocol.

With that being said, I like what Scott Roberts said about their Friendship Program, where everyone is informed that their may be individuals who are not vaccinated.  If this concerns them, they should take the necessary precautions.

The item I take away from all of this, is that we must always remember that this is a community matter and as a community (especially as a community of Christians), we must continually work together for the good of all.

Community Builder

I think that it depends on the nature of the volunteer position. We currently do police checks on those working with children ministries. Its a safety issue.  I'd insist on fully vaccinated volunteers involved in nursery or children's ministry.

Manning the sound board? Not necessary.

Elders have an obligation to protect their flock.

Personally, I don't think it's a good idea to place more conditions on church attendance, or leadership. I was denied becoming an Elder because I refused to get a police check, despite historically having had many, and serving as a police officer for29 years, and as a deacon and elder for probably five or six terms. I am not willing to be dictated to by someone because it's in vogue to do certain things. So, conditional membership doesn't work for me. Yes, I can be counselled, but will not act against my conscious. People may have various reasons for not being vaccinated (I have been, incidentally) but it should never be a condition to membership nor voluntary service. I think we should all be cognizant the there may be non vaccinated people around, just like we should always be cognizant that there may be sexual predators or other nefarious individuals we worship with. Just be vigilant.

This is a matter of conscience. 

As an immunocompromised person it helps me to know people's vaccination status.  The vulnerable (children and immunocompromised people) need to protect themselves because those who aren't vaccinated and wearing a mask are not protecting them. 

Of course you should ask and, if they are not vaccinated, their services are not needed at this time.  The numbers of children hospitalized with Covid in the US is growing daily. Protect these children and their health.  

There's been a dangerous and embarrassing lack of leadership in the denomination for the past year and a half.  Pastors, their families, and church staff have been left to the abuse of their congregations, with lasting damage.  If our leaders had taken a stand at the outset consistent with what we've been taught for generations about loving our neighbors, and reminded our members that there is a huge difference between the Constitution and its "rights" and "freedoms," and the Bible and our obligations, perhaps much of the pain experienced by so many could have been avoided.

 

 

I believe that this disease and the resulting isolation and then division in our churches, as well as our schools, communities, and even families, has been one the the devil's greatest tools of all time.   The frenzy about vaccinations and distancing and masking etc has driven people to act in a way that is unreasonable and certainly not loving.  We are not just responsible adults, but we are Christians.  If I am sick, I am not coming to church.  If I am not sick, I am not going to give anyone covid.  I trust the others in my church to do the same.  At that point the masks and vaccines become moot.  This whole thing has gotten out of hand, driven by a very secular government, and it seems the entire nation has come under its spell.   Its makes me so sad for the church.  As a side note, it is important also to realize that being vaccinated does not mean that you will not get or give covid.  So we are back to square one it seems based on the latest CDC guidance.  Are we ready to close our church doors again?  I hope not.  I pray not.

The problem is that you can be asymptomatic and then come to church and give the virus to a child or immunocompromised person.  And yes, you can get and give covid if you're vaccinated but you are less likely to do so. (That is why masks are highly recommended or even required even for vaccinated people in our area.)  At least if you're vaccinated and wear a mask you know that you did what you could to protect others.  And yes, we are unfortunately back to square one in large part because of vaccine resistance.   So until we get the virus under control we need to lovingly protect each other.  

Community Builder

You raise a good point, Drayton CRC.

We are a binational denomination, with two very different cultures when it comes to dealing with COVID and vaccinations and all that.

The question at the beginning of this thread focuses on whether or not vaccinations should be mandatory for volunteers in church.

We're not debating COVID or the merits of masks.  The CRC has a denominational Safe Church Office. How do we make our church experience safe as we deal with COVID and vaccinations?

But, Keith, can't you agree that all are sinners including the propensity to lie. To cover mistakes, making wrong choices, in short to do all kinds of evil. The way I see it to have a truly safe church, you should be alone. So maybe a truly safe church manifests itself by staying home, and watching live stream on TV. The alternative is to put up with, or tolerate what other people think or do. Including their sinful nature 

Participant

It is clear from the discussion here that whatever you do or don't do, you are likely to raise a firestorm. This needs to come from the Council and be well thought out in advance. Try to steer clear of the political ranting, plot your course, and go for it. Be prepared for the flack.

I believe that the regulation is that if you aren't vaccinated you are supposed to be wearing a mask in public. What is find disheartening is the untruthfulness that Christians are willing to live with. If they aren't vaccinated they should have a mask on.

Churches go to great lengths to keep their nurseries and church education classes safe. We have teams to come in a clean the toys and disinfect surfaces. During cold/flu season we may refrain from passing the peace because of potential germ transmission. I feel the church has be a safe place for anyone to come and know that we are doing everything to assure their flourishing in body and soul. Christ laid down his spiritual power and physical life for the flourishing of us all. Yet the church, those who are ambassadors for Christ, struggle to temporarily lay down rights and power for the good of our communities and the world.

Edward, I think it is also very important to have understanding and love for those that have received the vaccination if the latest CDC guidance (masking/distancing required with vax or without) and evidence (vaccinated people show a similar viral load as unvaccinated people) prove true and the vaccine is not the solution we were all hoping for.  I think we all knew there were some risks in getting this vaccine and we did it for the health and well-being of our families, churches, etc.  Regardless of personal beliefs about the pandemic and mitigation methods, we need to strive to produce the fruits of the spirit here, thinking especially of love, peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.  I do 100% agree that churches should be open and that we should rely on our fellow members to not come if they are sick (symptomatic).

There is no legal restriction keeping a church from asking - HIPPA doesn't apply here (only to doctors and insurance companies). With that said, it is a matter of conscience. Which do you value more highly - individual/personal privacy or communal health and well-being? 

While I understand both sides of the argument, I believe the church is to be inclusive and welcoming and we cannot be that if the church is not a safe place to be. I don't know where I stand on the vaccination issue for church (though we should own up to the fact that vaccination records are required for most schools as is - why is this different?).

At the very least, we should be mandating masks while indoors. 

Community Builder

You pose an interesting question, Matthew: "Which do you value more highly -- individual/personal privacy or communal health and well-being?"

And to digress from the topic at hand, it speaks to the difference in CRC church culture between Canada and the US. American CRCs were born out of a pietistic theological mindset (ie individual/personal privacy .. Me and My God). Canadian CRCs were born out of the Kuyperian (after Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper) mindset; the church as community (We and our God)

When it comes to COVID, vaccinations and all that, Canadian CRC folks tend to look at communal health and well-being while American CRC folks look at individual rights to get vaccinated or not.

 

 

Keith, thanks for this post.  It really helps me to understand why such differences within our denomination.  Although I'm American I am also strongly Kuyperian (a Dordt grad :). I've been struggling to understand the individual rights side.  This is so helpful.  We have to find a way to love each other through our differences.  

Thank you, Matthew. I agree that making the church as safe as possible should be a high priority. Of course we can't eliminate all risk...wherever 2 or 3 are gathered they will share germs. 

Community Builder

Why would we deny the science, and only look at the lower functioning vaccine immunity, versus considering the broader immunity from natural infection and recovery?

Science has shown that people's immunity after having covid and recovering is all over the board from great protection to almost none.  They have studies that show that the vaccine doubles your protection. So health professionals are recommending that everyone get the vaccine because most people don't know how protected they are unless they regularly have their antibodies tested.  

Great question, Randy.  Just a couple of additional considerations to add to this already robust conversation.  

 

While every state and province has different regulations, a general consensus is emerging that private businesses and organizations can require employees, volunteers, and even clients or participants to be vaccinated.  Furthermore, if a business or an organization has a policy specifying that employees or volunteers (or even participants) need to be vaccinated, they can require proof of vaccination without violating privacy laws or human rights legislation - as long as the business or organization makes every effort to protect confidential information, the policy of requiring vaccination is clearly stated and consistently applied, and accommodations are made for those who cannot receive the vaccine for reasons of physiological limitations or disability (as per the ADA or the CDA).  A strong policy will include identification of who needs to be vaccinated, rationale for why vaccination is required, reasons for collecting proof of vaccination, and privacy measures that will be taken to store and destroy sensitive and confidential information.  

 

There are good reasons why churches should require at least staff and volunteers to be vaccinated.  For many people, the church is a symbol of God’s love and presence in the world.  Because of this, people assume that the church is a safe place, a place that loves and cares for them and will protect their well-being.  In other words, people extend a tremendous amount of trust to the church and its staff/volunteers and will assume that they are taking the proper precautions to protect and safe-guard their physical, spiritual, and emotional health.  Because churches are granted this kind of trust by those who participate in their ministries, it's really important that churches do everything they can to honor that trust (or divest themselves of that responsibility by making clear that they cannot ensure a person’s safety).

 

Because children below the age of 12 cannot get vaccinated and thus, cannot take all the precautions available to mitigate the impact of Covid for themselves, it is the responsibility of those who work with children to ensure their safety.  Thus, it seems especially prudent that the church require vaccination of staff and volunteers who work with children.  This is not a matter of personal rights and freedoms.  It is a matter of being faithful to our calling as the church to represent God’s love and care for people in this world well.

 

In Canada, doctors and nurses aren't required to be vaccinated, but churches should require it for Sunday school teachers? The article at this link is pushing for the mandating of it, but at the moment it's not. https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/canada-mandatory-vaccines-covid-19-healthcare-workers-1.6111486

Consider the following graph which shows how dangerous Covid is (isn't) for children (at least in Alberta, from the government's website). https://www.alberta.ca/stats/covid-19-alberta-statistics.htm#severe-outcomes

 

 

 

A curious phenomenon is occurring in the CRC and more broadly in the N.A. church.  Namely, we see simultaneously the relativizing of moral commands in the Bible and absolutizing of man-made commands.  More and more we hear calls for "unity amidst diversity" on how to read and apply specific moral prohibitions in scripture.  Yet, the generalized command to "love neighbor" is made to be specific and absolute to the ways in which certain people choose to love.  So we see here (and loads of other places) that people are told that if they do not love in the way that certain people (or classes/groups of people) love, then they are not showing love.  "If you chose not to get a vaccine, you are not showing love". Yet, of course, the Bible makes no such specific claim.  What happened to unity amidst diversity? Unity is not encouraged by the pharisaical approach of layering man-made laws upon God's moral laws and demanding adherence, lest one be shunned.  We see the same in other areas, particularly of progressive fascination.  If you don't advocate for certain immigration policies that I prefer, you are not welcoming and loving.  If you don't advocate for certain environmental policies that I have baptized, you are not loving your neighbor.  If you do not make certain lifestyle choices as I do, you are not loving your neighbor.  If you don't support this certain advocacy group, cultural slogan, or academic fad, you are not loving your neighbor. The list can be multiplied.  It is particularly hard medicine to take such moral pronouncements from those who cast doubt upon numerous of God's moral commands that are out of vogue in modern culture.   Again, I struggle to see how such moral judgments will promote unity in the church.  

I've comfortably received my vaccine at the earliest opportunity.  I hate needles (at least the ones aimed at me) and my body reacts such that I faint when getting shots, but I was happy to receive protection and at peace that I would be less likely to sicken someone else.  When asked, I have counseled others in the wisdom of receiving a vaccination.  But may God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I stand at the door of the church as an elder and bar God's people from worship or service in the church based upon their unwillingness to make all the same judgments and balance factors just as I have on matters never dictated in God's word in any direct or necessary way.  If we can and should make such extra-biblical demands in the name of absolute physical safety, then I would posit that there is no level of control that we cannot justify under that rubric. 

I believe it is OK to ask for vaccination status. Vaccination is to protect others, not only oneself. If someone comes to Church who is not vaccinated, the person may be a threat to others! If the church does not want to ask for vaccination then other members may not want to come to church!

The fear expressed in this thread, coupled to blind faith in man's efforts and decrees is breathtaking.

 

I believe asking is fine since it is done in love.  Vaccination is done also to protect others, not just onesself.

Ok, a final word (from me anyway): we know fully vaccinated people can be carriers of Covid19 or it's variants, so let's not put all our trust in whether we're vaccinated or not. Who's most at risk? The unvaccinated, right? That may include children and those unable,for various reasons to get the inoculation. Let's just live our lives the best we can, without harassing others. Don't trust it, don't attend church, or other activities. Think for yourself.

Children are not a risk group. But, if parents are worried, parents can keep their children at home. If you're immunocompromised, get vaccinated AND stay home. The world is not safe for you right now. Our churches and communities need to provide you support -- in your home. We are failing at this in most communities, I believe.

No, your church shouldn't require volunteers be vaccinated or reveal their vaccination status. If they choose to live by God's will, the church should support them in that choice. Sadly, it appears most church leaders are remaining silent instead of providing spiritual support and reasoned guidance.

Educate yourselves. The vaccinated can spread the virus. Those who pay attention have known this since Fauci announced it in Spring 2021. Back then, they thought the vaccinated were at low risk of virus spread. Now, we know that that's not the case. After 4 months, the efficacy of the vaccination wanes by as much as 84%, according to the Mayo Clinic. Time to do your homework, folks.

In the meantime, I recommend being kind to your volunteers and grateful for their generous and courageous support during these difficult times.