This holiday season, there’s a gift you can give that won’t add anything to your credit card balance or require an ATM withdrawal – yet the cost of not giving it is astronomical. By refusing to give others this gift, you could cost them their health or even their very life.

What is this gift? Staying safe faithfully. By wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing when in public, avoiding indoor holiday parties and gatherings and choosing options other than in-person worship services to celebrate the spirituality of the season, you can do your part to reduce transmission of the coronavirus.

As people of faith, we at the Maine Council of Churches take seriously the commandments to love our neighbors as ourselves, to protect the most vulnerable and to exercise our God-given freedom to serve others, not to harm them.  So we are calling on Maine’s congregations and people of faith to do the right, just and compassionate thing by staying safe faithfully.

This requires sacrifice. Face masks can be uncomfortable, not being able to hug friends can make us feel lonely and isolated and worshiping outside of our sanctuaries – especially at holiday time – just isn’t the same. But this is a time of year when Christians celebrate the birth of one who called his followers to make sacrifices by laying down their lives for others, one who made the ultimate sacrifice himself. What better tribute to him than to make small sacrifices out of love for our neighbors?

We are aware that some in the faith community contend that following state safety mandates infringes on “religious liberty.” Some assert that the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning limits on in-person religious gatherings in New York should apply in Maine. We believe that they are misguided; unlike the New York guidelines, Maine’s mandates don’t specifically single out religious gatherings, so the ruling does not apply here. Others argue that because we can go into a Walmart or liquor store, we should be free to gather indoors for worship without limits. But a 15-minute shopping trip and a one-hour worship gathering are fundamentally different activities with significantly different risks. All in all, we are skeptical about claims that First Amendment rights to religious liberty entitle faith communities to gather without adhering to science-based safety guidelines. In our opinion, these assertions reflect problematic interpretations of the biblical concepts of freedom and liberty. Ultimately, God frees us to love – not harm – others.

We applaud the hundreds of congregations in Maine who, as part of their commitment to staying safe faithfully, have made the transition to online worship space. Their courage, creativity and sacrificial spirit are inspiring. Because of their hard work, you won’t have any trouble finding a local holiday worship service to attend – on Zoom (where you can call in by phone if internet isn’t an option), Facebook, YouTube and church websites.

So this holiday season and into the coming New Year, we are calling on all Mainers to stay safe faithfully – to wear face masks and practice social distancing when in public, to shy away from indoor holiday gatherings with folks not in your immediate household and to avoid gathering for indoor, in-person services.

Faith leaders from around the state have joined us in this call.  To see a short inspirational video spotlighting their public statements of hope, compassion and courage, go to our Facebook page or website.

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