The Lord be with you. The Elders have met, and together we have some finalized details to share with you regarding our life together here at Our Savior over the next few weeks.
First, we begin with prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, we ask for Your continued guidance and care in our pursuit of faithfulness to You. Grant us the wisdom of Your Holy Spirit that we would love as you love and serve as You would serve. Keep us in Your protective care as we go about life in this world, reminding us that You work all things for the good of those who love You, who are called according to Your purpose. Be with the families of our school and community. Protect our state and nation. Give an ear of care to our world. Namely, continue to plant the seeds of Your Gospel through us—by our words and deeds—that hearts would be rendered to You in faith. All of this we pray in Your holy name. Amen.
To begin, you might have noticed by my messages a tone of confidence, both in the people with whom I’m serving in this place, but also in the fact that God is good. I am certain that when it comes to the means by which God gives His goodness to people—Word and Sacrament—there is no need to fear. We can proceed together in worship, and this includes receiving the Lord’s Supper. Entire church bodies throughout our country have stopped gathering altogether. Others are still meeting, but are refraining from distributing the Lord’s Supper. Personally, while I believe the situation to be extremely serious, I do not believe anything justifies the absolute sequestering of God’s people in such ways. God mandates that His people meet together, and so I have to believe that in the divine mind of Jesus, all concerns were taken into account when He instituted the sacrament, and I have to believe the devil would love to see us disband in ways that would cause apathy toward Word and Sacrament ministry to grow.
Nevertheless, it is what it is, and I certainly want all of you to be safe—and I want anyone and everyone within reach of this church to know we are playing our part and taking the spread of the virus very seriously. As I said in the letter that went out on Friday, March 13, we’re not trying to be lone wolves. We’re trying to be faithful.
Next, it’s important to know there’s a psychology to all of this. Changes that are made to practice in the midst of crisis can easily become standardized practices after the crisis has passed. Please know that I do not intend to maintain what is listed below any longer than necessary. We will return to our previous practices as soon as is reasonably possible.
Admittedly, when I began putting my thoughts to paper—the recommendations presented to the Elders—the whole experience felt a little surreal. But again, I’m comfortable reaching to the very extremity of precaution and I’m glad to do it. We are a family, and we want each member of the family to know they’re loved and to actually be loved through action.
In the end, I’ve provided the information below as a list rather than as an eNews narrative. I know you’re most likely being inundated with similar information from a number of other outlets, and with that, I’ll assume the points shared to be fairly self-explanatory. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me.
Also, before reading the list, please know two things. First, the Governor has issued an executive order that public meetings with more than 50 people are prohibited. Part of the concern for this order is the unnecessary gathering of people together in close quarters. As of Friday, March 20, both the Governor and the Legislature have made it clear that churches are indeed exempt from the order. Nevertheless, we will abide by the order. It just makes sense since a lot of what we do—greeting lines, Sunday Bible study, midweek catechesis, food and fellowship, etc. — all of these are done in close quarters. Second, if we are to accomplish the plan iterated below, we will need our members to be mindful of regulalry donating disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer dispensers — but only if you can spare them. If you have extras you are willing to donate, please let me know as soon as possible.
- The school is closed until at least April 6. An effort at coordinating distance learning efforts is currently underway and is working splendidly.
- Implementation for all that follows begins on Monday, March 16.
- Beginning March 16, 2020, the school facility is to be considered off limits to all church and school families. Over the course of the next few weeks, a deep cleaning of the entire facility will be occurring. We don’t want anyone in there until it’s completed and the public mandates are lifted. Extra attention will be given to cleaning the church side of the facility throughout the weeks.
- I’m recommending that Church and School staff make plans to work from home as much as possible. Those staff necessary for material support will coordinate with their supervisor about accomplishing what’s necessary (answering phones, printing, facility maintenance, and the like). The pastor(s) and principal will be serving onsite.
- Beginning Sunday, March 22, and continuing until the Governor’s executive order is lifted, there will be three Divine Services offered—(8:30am, 9:45am, and 11:00am). Again, mindful of the Executive Order, this makes sense. Note that the Lord’s Supper will be served at all three. (Much thought and discussion went into this particular aspect. Know that it was well-considered.)
- One of the Sunday Morning Divine Services will be video-recorded. Instructions on how to view this service on our secure site have been communicated to the membership by way of the eNews.
- No adult or youth Sunday school classes will occur on Sunday mornings until further notice. Understandably, our time together in study is a joyful part of the week for so many. It will hurt many of us not to be able to fellowship together. However, as soon as we can revert back to our regular scheduling, we will! And the coffee and snacks will return, too!
- Two Midweek Lenten Evening Prayer services will on Wednesdays (6:00pm and 7:15pm).
- The acolyte schedule for Sundays and Wednesdays is no longer in effect. The Elders will cover acolyte and altar duties until further notice. duties for the 11:15 AM service.
- Lenten soup suppers are canceled.
- Midweek choir and instrumental/handbell rehearsals are cancelled until further notice.
- Midweek adult Bible study and youth catechesis classes are cancelled until further notice. My intention is to continue with midweek catechesis as soon as the closure is lifted. This means that the Great Confession and Confirmation will most likely occur in June or later. I’ll reach out to the families affected by this very soon.
- The water in the Baptismal Font has been emptied to avoid our members dipping hands in the water until all mandates are lifted.
- Note the following changes in practice during public worship:
- Elders will be available to open exterior doors for all attendees.
- All interior doors will be propped open.
- Pedestals with hand sanitizer dispensers will be located in visible and easily accessible places throughout the facility.
- The communion/visitor booklets in the pews will be removed until further notice.
- In order to avoid any unnecessary surface transmissions, offering plates will be placed at the entrance to the nave.
- With regard to the Lord’s Supper, the purificators (white cloths used to wipe the edge of the chalices) will be pre-soaked in everclear (75.5% ABV).
- The altar guild will prepare the individual cups while wearing nitrile gloves, being sure to take the cups directly from the sterile packaging and putting them into the communion trays before filling. The altar guild will also wear nitrile gloves while filling the ciboriums with hosts (bread wafers).
- The pastors will wear nitrile gloves during the preparation, consecration, and distribution of the Sacrament. They will place the host (bread) into the hands of the recipients and not the mouth.
- After each service, the Elders will wipe down door handles, the tops of pew backs, the staff of the processional crucifix, wall sconce staffs, bathroom doors, toilet seats/levers, and faucets. (The services are now printed in full, and so the hymnals have been removed from the pew racks.)
- The after-service greeting line will not occur.
- Because the situation is a dynamic one, if further precautions beyond what is noted here become necessary, the Elders will meet to make appropriate changes. Those changes will be communicated to you.
Lastly, as it stands, Executive Order 2020-06 states we (pastors) are now prohibited from entering medical facilities unless we are a family member of someone gravely ill or dying, or we are a person deemed necessary for the provision of medical care. The shut-ins among us who are not in a facility are proving to be equally uneasy about visitors. Understandably so. The data shows that the most vulnerable to the virus are the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Nevertheless, we intend to serve accordingly. If we can visit, we will, and we’ll use every reasonable precaution in doing so. Also, keep in mind that if you are in a situation where you need help—supplies or whatever—but you are unable to go out to get them, please let me know. Don’t hesitate to reach to your church family for help.My dear friends in the Lord, God be with you in this time.
Continue to pray. Together, by God’s grace, we’ll weather this storm, and in the end most certainly be blessed.
In Jesus, Pastor Thoma+