Dear Colleagues in Christ,
I am writing this in response to inquiries of how to proceed in the coming weeks given the reality of the COVID-19 and its impact on our life together. As your bishop, my staff and I are actively monitoring the situation and encourage you to remain hope-filled as you determine the best course of action in each of your faith communities. We encourage you to use good judgment and employ wise counsel in your decision-making. We will keep you updated on any developments through Facebook, regular emails, and the synod website.
What we know thus far is that those over 60 years of age and those who are immunocompromised are at the greatest risk. If your church community is comprised of these populations, please take the utmost precautions in caring for your congregation and yourself.
According to our Lutheran polity, as the bishop of this synod, I cannot make decisions for congregations or for pastors. The decision to cancel worship is made by pastor and council together. I encourage you to be mindful of the people of God that have been entrusted to you for care in all seasons of life.
Should you choose to gather for worship, please consider:
- Offering only bread during communion. Our theology recognizes that we receive all the benefits of the Eucharist in one element – bread or wine – and even in the words, “The blood of Christ given and shed for you;” therefore, worshipers can receive the bread and hear the words without consuming the wine.
- Taking special precaution, including hand washing and hand sanitizing, before sharing the bread. When distributing the element, the Presider should not make skin-to-skin contact with worshipers.
- An alternative liturgy such as Service of the Word.
- Receiving offerings in an announced and accessible place rather than passing the offering plate.
- Inviting members to give electronically.
- Bowing towards one another or using sign language rather than shaking hands or hugging during the Sharing of the Peace.
- Taking extra care to keep your buildings clean and sanitizing common areas.
- Wiping down pews after each service.
- Emptying your baptismal font to prevent the spread of germs.
- Limiting coffee hour and any food sharing, including potlucks and food preparation.
Rostered Ministers, please engage your leadership (Council Members, Ministry Team Leaders, Committee Chairs, Taskforce Members, etc…) and create a plan to be in contact with your membership during this time. Not only do we have people who are vulnerable to the virus but also those experiencing isolation and fear. I strongly encourage you to think creatively about the use of technology.
- Consider postponing programs, events, and activities (ex. choir practice, meetings, youth events, etc.) and offering a virtual alternative.
- Offer online prayer groups, Bible studies, book clubs, and devotional resources.
- Create accountability partners for daily check-ins.
- Whenever possible, offer live online worship to ensure all can engage the Gospel.
- Record your sermons and share worship resources via email and social media.
As the days go by, follow the guidance of local, state and federal authorities. Many resources are available to support you in your decision making to address concerns in your own community. The CDC has developed a thorough Checklist for Community and Faith-Based Organizations which can be found here. Additional resources have also been reviewed and gathered from the CDC, the World Health Organization, and other sources which can be found on our website.
Communicate with proper authorities, if you or anyone in your community comes in contact and tests positive with the COVID-19 virus. After contacting proper authorities, please contact the synod office. We need to know, we want to walk with you, and we will work with your congregation to provide pastoral care and coverage.
Everyone, those gathered and those at home, need to hear the Gospel, especially during this Lenten Season and in a time of such high anxiety. In the midst of our fears and concerns for ourselves and those we love, we are called to be church, with and for each other. This means we do not pause in sharing or hearing the Gospel. Be bold, courageous, and innovative – make the Gospel available in new and unexpected ways to all those you have been entrusted to serve.
I pray for each of you in this critical time of discernment, preparation, and ministry. Let us lean into the hope promised to us by our friend and Savior, Jesus Christ, and trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the days ahead. Stay updated and in contact with us in the coming days. We are here for and with you. With God’s help and in Jesus’ name.
Rev. Leila M. Ortiz, Bishop