Dear Church Family,
As all of you are aware, the current restrictions have created difficult dilemmas for churches all over the country and indeed all around the world. Though we have not said much about it publicly up to this point, the pastors of Westside have invested many many hours in prayer and vigorous discussion about how to respond to each new challenge in ways that would please our Lord, maintain the unity and holiness of our congregation, and honor our biblical obligations to the authorities that God has placed over us. While there are many aspects of the current regulations that we find deeply troubling and to which it may become necessary to respond in the future, it seemed best to focus our efforts on one point of particularly striking inconsistency. We have sent the following letter to the governor’s office, as well as to each of our state legislators. By God’s grace, I will be addressing the broader issue of our relationship as believers to governmental authority at our drive-in service this Sunday.
Pastor Peter
To __________,
We are seeking your support in amending the guidelines for drive-in services for religious organizations.
In his recent proclamation (20–25.3), Governor Inslee correctly noted that “[Religious] services are a vital part of the spiritual and mental health of our community, and some of these services can be conducted in a manner similar to comparable secular activities …”
Despite this clear statement, the criteria for drive-in services released on May 6 require that “no food, beverages, or other materials (whether for religious or secular purpose) may be distributed before, after, or as part of the service.” Given that a wide variety of secular businesses (restaurants, coffeeshops, etc.) have been able to distribute food, beverages, and other materials during the entirety of this pandemic, this specific requirement seems to us to be inconsistent with the principles put forth in the proclamation itself, as well as the principles spelled out in a number of recent and relevant Federal Court decisions (e.g., Roberts v. Neace, May 9).
Our church has a plan for masked and gloved servers to distribute factory sealed elements (see below for a link to the supplies we had already obtained previous to the release of the Governor’s criteria) to the driver of each vehicle who will then distribute to the household members in his/her vehicle. This is clearly comparable to permitted secular activities which meet community needs, such as food banks, take-out restaurants, coffee shops and grocery delivery services, among others. We have within our congregation both licensed medical practitioners and licensed food handlers, with whom we have carefully gone over every step of our plan.
Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, it would seem difficult to consistently maintain that Starbucks is more “essential” than Holy Communion, or to insist that factory sealed elements pose a greater risk than lattes made to order. As expressed in the previously cited court decision, governors do not have the legal right to “assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work or go about the rest of their daily lives in permitted social settings.”
This requirement is therefore clearly inconsistent with both the proclamation itself and with relevant legal precedent. As a church, we have complied with all of the proclamations and guidelines issued by Governor Inslee. Our faith teaches us to have a default position of respect and honor towards the authorities that God has placed over us. Yet that same faith also teaches us that we have a religious obligation to obey His command to partake of Holy Communion together (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:24–25).
This requirement is therefore causing an entirely unnecessary conflict of conscience for churches that are doing everything within their power to assist in protecting our community and congregations from the continued spread of Covid-19. Rather than unnecessarily forcing us to pursue other remedies, we respectfully request your support in immediately amending the guidelines for drive-in services to allow for the safe distribution of pre-sealed communion elements in keeping with what has been allowed for comparable secular purposes.
The Pastors of Westside Baptist Church
Peter Montoro
John Moss
Scott Hamilton
Dave Harper
Westside Baptist Church
5501 W. Werner Rd.
Bremerton, WA  98312
(Kitsap County)