On Monday I sent out a letter to all pastoral leaders of our congregations recommending that we pause (not panic, but pause) all of our in-person gatherings, including worship, as a way to care for our neighbors and help slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Read the letter here) Within a few hours, we received word from the CDC recommending that all gatherings of 50 or more be suspended, then from the White House that there be no gatherings of 10 or more, then the news that all schools as well as restaurants, bars, theaters, and gyms were closing. It continues to feel surreal and it is hard not to panic (something we have already witnessed as people empty out grocery stores of things like cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc.)
With so many closures and cancellations, including our church events, what resources do we have to rely on?
God! Not to sound trite or simplistic but we rely on God as Jesus did out in the wilderness and throughout his ministry. We rely on the truth that this is Christ’s church, not ours; that we are the body of Christ, not the buildings our congregations occupy. We rely on one another, knowing that together we can and will help one another to continue to be the church.
We will do this by continuing to worship.
Each Sunday morning a worship service, led by myself and Bishop’s Associate Dave Whetter, will be posted on the synod website. If your congregation is not able to livestream a worship service or provide a video link to a sermon or worship experience by your pastor, simply click on the synod website and worship from your own home. We are also inviting those congregations that are willing to share their livestream with others to provide links that we will post on our website as well. Links to your online services can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. You will have lots of opportunities for worship!
Each Wednesday evening through Lent, I will lead a prayer service at 7:00 p.m. using Zoom. You will find the link to join that worship service on our website as well.
Each day (Monday through Friday) at 1:00 p.m. we will briefly pause (just for five minutes) to pray together (no matter where we are in the synod.) You can do this on your own as an individual or join a staff member on Facebook live.
We will do this by caring for one another and those in need.
We are providing a sample outline of a congregational plan that will help you think through the various aspects of how to be the church together if you cannot physically be in the same space.
During this time of heightened anxiety, when those at risk may feel less comfortable going out, we need to be even more intentional about reaching out and connecting with people in a variety of ways such as phone calls, or helping with errands, sending cards, etc.
Instead of being critical of one another (this is tough stuff to navigate through!) let’s be compassionate, kind, and understanding.
We will do this by continuing to be generous and giving.
Instead of giving into the temptation to pull back our giving, it is important that we continue to support our congregations with our financial gifts and to keep giving beyond our walls to the larger church and larger community. These are uncertain economic times, but disciples of Christ remain generous.
We know that when people don’t come to worship, offerings can go down. But what if that did not happen? If we continue to give and support the ministry of the church, then when we open our physical doors again and gather together, we will be in a stronger position to carry on the important ministry of the church and help the community heal.
Several years ago in a class on the early history of the church, I remember being struck by the fact that many believe the reason the church grew in those early years was because when the plagues swept through the countryside, it was the Christians
who stayed to care for the sick and the dying. It was their courage and care in a time of crisis that attracted people to this faith and way of life. This is NOT a plague (it is a virus with a low mortality rate, but people are at risk) and we are asked to care for others not by coming together but by staying away. Yet, I can’t help but think that the way we deal with this crisis, the courage and care that we show, will be a profound witness to the world of our faith. As we rise to the challenges of this day, what might others see about what it means to be the church? I would ask that you send your stories and experiences of how you are being church so that we can share those with others. Submit those stories to me or to email@example.com.
So once again I say to you as your Bishop -
Do not fear. Care for one another. Continue to be the church.
The Rev. Susan Candea, Bishop