New Heights Family,
We, the elders of New Heights, grieve the pain and loss that so many in our community and congregation have suffered in the past year from the affects of the COVID pandemic. The illnesses and deaths have caused unmeasurable sorrow and have also taken a heavy physical and mental toll on the medical community, especially our front-line workers.
Until a few weeks ago, it looked like the worst was behind us. Unfortunately, the new more infectious variant is now raging in our area. Local health care resources are stretched to the max. The number of people in the hospitals suffering from COVID has overwhelmed the health care system. The care of people with significant health care issues not related to COVID is also being compromised as resources become unavailable. Health care workers who are putting in long hours are tired and stressed physically and emotionally. They are frustrated and angry about the daily pain and death they see that they believe is preventable.
Fortunately, there is a highly effective and relatively safe vaccine. Almost all the hospitalizations and serious COVID related illnesses are among those who have not yet been vaccinated. While the vaccine isn’t 100% effective at preventing illness, it is nearly 100% effective at preventing severe illness and death. Because of very low infection rates and quicker recovery times, vaccinated patients are much less likely to spread this infection to others. If you are not yet vaccinated, we ask that you prayerfully consider whether getting this vaccine would be an act of mercy and service to those around you. The more people who are vaccinated, the less likely we are to see more illness and death. We believe getting the vaccine, even if you believe that there is some risk involved, is one way to love people tangibly – one of our core values (Mt 22:39).
The new variant has also shown a propensity to affect younger people more adversely than the original COVID strains. Arkansas Children’s Hospital has a significant number of children with COVID, some are on ventilators. A few have died. Fortunately infants and toddlers still are not likely to be affected by COVID but older children are being affected. Children under 12 years of age are not eligible to receive the vaccine. They are dependent on the adult population for their health and safety.
In addition, the CDC provided new guidelines on Tuesday afternoon recommending masks to be worn indoors in parts of the U.S. designated as “high risk”. Unfortunately, this includes all counties in the state of Arkansas.
In light of the new CDC guidelines and out of consideration for the health and well-being of all, we ask that New Heights Sunday morning worshippers prayerfully consider wearing masks until the situation improves dramatically. We will keep the rows of chairs spread out to provide more safety during our Sunday morning services. This is not a mask mandate. If you choose not to wear a mask for whatever reason, you will not be asked to leave or denied entrance. The decision will be up to you. We understand a mask is not nearly as effective in preventing the spread of the virus as is vaccination, but it does reduce the amount of exposure to the virus which has some effect on transmission of the disease.
We also request that you join us in prayer as we seek God’s wisdom and guidance in leading this wonderful congregation during these trying times.
Like you, we are weary of the struggle with COVID 19, but we must continue to pray and find new ways to serve God and others during what appears to be another difficult surge of the virus. We believe the present state of circumstances is an unprecedented opportunity to grow in our faith and be a testimony to our community. In the darkest night, God shines brightest through His people.
Please join us in prayer as we ask God for help to eradicate this disease and that new variants will have mild effects, especially on our children. Pray for those who are currently hospitalized and for their families. Pray for those who have lost loved ones to COVID, that God would cover them with His “peace that transcends all understanding.”
Please know that we covet your prayers and thank you for taking the time to read this communication. Please prayerfully consider what is the best course of action for you and your family. Please also consider the well-being of your fellow worshippers. We love and appreciate all of you and respect your right to choose how you will balance personal freedom with personal responsibility. We are all thankful to live in a country where we have the freedom to make these choices.
– Dr. Ted Fish and Dr. Kevin Pope for all the elders of New Heights.