March 15, 2020
To the people of God at St. Mark Lutheran Church, my beloved,
I write to you again so soon as the COVID-19 pandemic continues its advance in our nation, our state, and now, in our own county, and I do so with a heart filled with grief and tremendous concern for the most vulnerable among us.
Late this (Sunday) afternoon Bishop S. John Roth issued a pastoral letter strongly recommending that congregations of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod suspend worship for the next two Sundays. This letter was followed a short time later by the announcement from St. Louis regional leaders, including those in St. Clair County, that following CDC recommendations all gatherings of 50 or more people are banned in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Thus, based on the bishop’s encouragement, the regional announcement, and the impossibility of predicting how many people might come to worship if it were held, St. Mark Lutheran Church will not hold Sunday worship, at minimum, on March 22 and 29.
Still more heart-wrenching is that this ban on public gatherings is currently in place for eight weeks. If this holds true, we will experience Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday separated from our church family. I will hold out hope that this ban might be shortened, but this will depend on a great number of factors, not the least of which is the adherence to social distancing to decrease spread of the virus.
My friends, we should see this as a strategic action to care for one another. I believe that, for now, suspending worship-in-person is the best way to be faithful to Jesus and the best way to be faithful to the most vulnerable.
But here’s the thing: we are canceling public, in-person worship. We are NOT canceling the Body of Christ.
First, we will continue to care for one another via telephone and via technology. I will be working with the Health and Wellness ministry in the next few days developing contact network that will assist us in staying connected and enabling us to remind those in self-isolation that they are not alone, and also perhaps to provide for certain supplies they might need. But ALL of us have a role to play in this. Check in on your fellow church members. Send a text. Make a call. Check in on each other. We can actually make these next weeks the time when we are MOST connected.
Second, in place of worship-in-person, we will offer alternative forms of worship. This will be done digitally and posted online via YouTube, Facebook or another platform. More information will be forthcoming as the logistics of all of this are sorted out. As that information does becomes available, I encourage you to think about those in your life who might not have access to technology or the resources to connect digitally, and think about how you could reach out to them. Perhaps we might suggest that members gather around the screen as a family when we worship digitally. Together, we can make this work.
As another colleague said so well: We may do church a little differently the next few weeks, using all of the technology available to us. But limitations breed creativity. This will force us to be more creative – and maybe, at some level, more effective – about how we make efforts to care for each other, engage Scripture with each other, and be community with each other. Without a large-scale Sunday gathering, how can we strengthen other “church muscles?” Could reaching out to each other in different ways ultimately make us stronger when we come back together? Our Lenten fast may prove to be longer than five weeks, but whenever we celebrate Easter – and I promise you, we WILL celebrate Easter – it will be perhaps the most powerful we have personally experienced.
And so, friends, I ask that you help with the following:
+ Pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.
+ Keep an eye out for communications – e-mail, our website, our Facebook page. Pass along news and information.
+ Let me know about members’ needs that you become aware of.
+ Please continue your offerings to the best of your ability. Some of us may need to increase our giving as others lose income due to the effects of this pandemic on us and our community.
- A new tab on our website offers a new and improved form of electronic giving. Downloading and using the Vanco GivePlus app allows users to make automated OR one-time donations. And so for those who prefer the practice of placing an offering into the basket, this app provides the option to make a donation in a similar spirit: an intentional act of offering, rather than an automated one.
- Of course, you may also mail in your offering as you please.
At this time, we anticipate the church office to remain open for its regular hours. Please feel free to reach out to me via cell phone, texting, or email with any questions or concerns.
As Bishop Roth encourages us to remember: God is with us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.