Based on the recommendation of the CDC and the President of the US, as well as the consistent though not unanimous actions of our Christian peers, the pastor and council have determined that we will suspend all worship and activities through the end of March, to be reevaluated at that time.
I know this is a difficult and unprecedented situation for us all. Please know that while we do not fear (1 John 4:18) the coronavirus or the COVID-19 disease that it causes, we must exercise caution and take reasonable measures to help ensure the health of our members, friends, families and neighbors.
This is a challenge to us and siblings in faith. Bishop Jeffrey Clements addressed rostered leaders in the Northern Illinois Synod by email on the afternoon of March 16 advising that congregations suspend worship services. We as a church council were already moving forward with this process though I am glad that we are in line with the recommendation of the synod office and with the best practices that are being established as we respond to this crisis.
Bishop Clements sent a letter the next afternoon, March 17, intended to be shared with congregation members. His words are included at the end of this message.
In lieu of gathering for worship, I will provide a reflection for you each Wednesday and Sunday on the First Evangelical Lutheran Facebook page. Perhaps more often than that even. We will look at how we can make that available to a wider audience.
Through these next weeks of us not gathering, I need to communicate that your offerings are still important. Please, if you normally bring your offering on Sunday Morning, mail it to the office. Therese and I will continue to hold regular office hours, check mail, monitor email, etc. Your gifts are vital to our ongoing ministry. I suspect they become even more necessary as we determine how we as a faith community can respond to the current health crisis in the US and around the world.
Since Ash Wednesday, my practice has been to pray for everyone in my directory by name. Though I may not know what you are facing in your life at this time, know that I plea with God to love you, reassure you, assuage your fears, and make you brave in the face of trials. God continues to be with us and sustain us, even beyond this crisis, wherever that may be.
Peace to you and those you love.
Pastor Chris Lee
March 17, 2020
Dear siblings in Christ:
Hear the words of the Psalmist:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Psalm 46:1-3 (NRSV)
There is something about these days that is simply disorienting. The world we know has been upended and is not feeling very comfortable. In fact, it is just kind of scary. As we face the COVID-19 virus, allow me to remind you that God is with us. Everywhere and always. God is our refuge and strength. So, this is a time when we must intentionally stay connected to God.
It is difficult to stay connected to God while we are distancing ourselves from each other. We depend so much on our corporate worship for both connecting to God and to each other. If your congregation has not yet done so, I am recommending that all congregations of the Northern Illinois Synod suspend worship for the remainder of March. Our local, state and federal officials have asked for our cooperation. Now is not the time to think that you are the exception. “Social distancing” is meant to protect all of us.
In recent days, I have also suggested to your pastor, interim pastor, vicar or Synodically Authorized Minister, to prepare for the possibility of not being together for Holy Week or Easter worship. I am not sure that you can understand how hard it is for me to even imagine that. I am, however, asking congregations to remain nimble enough to resume worship quickly when it becomes safer.
I am encouraging congregations to find ways to stay connected, using technology when it is possible. I have asked pastors to stay in communication with you and tend to your spiritual needs. The Internet has made many options available to us that we have not had in the past.
Here are three things we can do to keep the church strong in these difficult days:
- JOIN TOGETHER IN PRAYER. I am calling this synod to pray together at noon each day. Please stop and take a moment to pray for your congregation, the Northern Illinois Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Pray for your members. Pray for yourself. Pray for the ill, the frightened, the vulnerable, and the poor. Pray for the dying. Pray for world leaders and our own elected leaders. Pray for our healthcare workers. Pray for researchers. Pray for the unemployed, underemployed and laid off. Pray for all students from college to kindergarten who have been forced away from school. Pray for your pastor or whomever leads your congregation
Will you join me in prayer at noon beginning tomorrow and continuing through May 13?
- PRACTICE SOUND FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP. Your congregation is probably not prepared for a financial crisis. The church’s ability to do ministry is dependent upon your regular gifts. The synod and churchwide expressions of the church are dependent upon the generosity of congregations. We will remain strong only if we continue to practice first fruits, proportionate giving. While we are away from corporate worship, please give electronically or mail a check to your congregation. Your pastor and the staff of your congregation is still working hard. Let’s not make them worry about their paychecks. Let’s maintain our gifts to food pantries, Lutheran Social Services, Grace Place, Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center and the many other ministries we support.
Will you join me in supporting the work of your congregation on a weekly basis?
- DON’T LET SOCIAL DISTANCING BECOME SOCIAL ISOLATION. My heart has been broken by some of the stories that I have heard. Continue to extend the ministries of the church to the homebound. Take all the precautions to prevent the spread of illness, but check on your neighbors. If you head to the grocery store, shop for someone who cannot. A crisis such as this quickly exposes those who are the most vulnerable. That is who the church is called to serve. Be a source of encouragement.
Will you join me in loving our neighbors and encouraging others?
It feels like the ground is shaking beneath us. These days are disorienting. But, we are in this together. We are church together. We are stronger together. Even when we cannot be together physically.
Thank you for your faithfulness. God bless and keep you.
Walking with you,
Bishop Jeff Clements