May 2, 2020
Dear Sisters and Brothers of St. Jacob’s Lutheran Church,
Happy Easter! Yes, it is Easter still and what a powerful thing to remember in these days of pandemic when it feels like we have lost so much. We can still rejoice that our Lord has conquered the grave, sin does not have the last word, and death is defeated. We are indeed an Easter people!
I pray this finds you well and holding fast despite the circumstances we find ourselves in still. As with many of you, I had hoped that we could have resumed life together in person by now. While some things are slowly opening back up according to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s “reopening plan” involving three phases, it will not be prudent for us as church to do so anytime soon. Not only are a majority of our congregation part the most vulnerable category, but we also have a responsibility as a community leader to make sure
that when we do open, it is done in a way that considers the health and safety of all persons with whom we are connected.
As a pastor, I am concerned not only about your spiritual, physical, and emotional health, but also the long-term vitality of this congregation. To that end, we have some work to do in the days ahead before we can consider re-opening the doors for public worship or even smaller group gatherings. Council and myself have agreed that we will not set a date to
re-open until we have a clear, decisive, actionable, and comprehensive plan for opening the church safely, and we are confident in our ability to maintain standards that exceed the guidelines from health and government officials.
In a recent letter from Bishop Abraham Allende to rostered ministers and congregations of the Northeastern Ohio Synod ELCA, he urged congregations to continue the suspension of public worship throughout the month of May, and to err on the side of caution rather than risk the safety of our faithful by being too hurried in our return.
We shall follow this wisdom as we are called to imagine what all of this will look like in our congregation in the days ahead. Council has charged the Safe Sanctuary Task Team with the responsibility of presenting a comprehensive re-opening plan for consideration at our May Council meeting. This plan is to include recommendations for how St. Jacob’s can open safely, what guidelines are needed, any new policies or procedures to be adopted, address changes to certain rituals, aesthetics, and functionality of spaces. Only after
considering these recommendations and more will we be able to begin discussing the date which we are able to return. This is likely not to be all at once, and possibly not even in June. We just don’t know yet. I know this seems arduous and extreme, but without such a plan and in-depth discussion, we would still be putting people in a situation of unnecessary risk.
As you can imagine, this is an enormous task and responsibility for the Safe Sanctuary Team, and surely, they do not do it alone. I have asked that committees consider their functional ministry areas and to submit to Safe Sanctuary their ideas and plans that can be incorporated into the master plan. Please understand that what committees submit regarding plans and ideas, may have to be amended as we consider all the moving parts in the bigger picture. We are committed to ongoing discussion and communicating
things clearly along the way as they develop.
The Safe Sanctuary Team has been given authority to add additional members from the church and others in advisory capacity as they deem necessary. Together we will be looking at recommendations from government, Synod, other churches, other synods and denominations, and advice from health officials and other professionals. Members of the team have already been attending webinars, meetings with community leaders, and doing our own research. Our aim is to have a solid plan in place that will serve St. Jacob’ both
in the present circumstance and well into the future.
In all honesty, this is not going to be easy. It is going to require significant changes to how things are done. Some of these changes are going to be difficult because they mean not ever going back to the way things were done in the past. The “new norm” will feel awkward and take time to get used to and may never be what we prefer. But perhaps this is a time to reflect on what is most important, what is essential, and what things maybe are not.
While it is appropriate to mourn such loss, it will not be helpful to dwell in that space for too long. Our grief and mourning shall turn to joy and dancing as we create new ways to move forward ensuring that there is a vibrant future for all. For this to happen most effectively and efficiently, there must be unity in the body of Christ. We may have different opinions or ideas, and those need to be heard, but we should not let this “thing” divide us. As a congregation, I am appealing to you not only for continued prayers and support of our wonderful ministries, but for your continued grace and patience as well. Moreover, let there be an openness of heart and mind born out of a prevailing spirit of love and charity
in all things.
We need not despair. Remember, we are an Easter people! Scripture is replete with stories of God’s intention to bring forth light from darkness, to bring life from dead places, to bring hope from despair. In Bishop Allende’s letter he quotes Isaiah 43:18-19 as a call for us to consider God’s creative power and eternal promise:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Let us trust these words as we begin to re-imagine our future together. And as surely as we trust in the God who speaks them, let us also speak of such things as we continue to pray for one another, care for one another, and offer the very best of ourselves to one another that all may flourish in the abundance of life that God offers each and every one of us.
With you on the journey,