A message on COVID-19 and Congregational Life
Dear Friends in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
As the COVID-19 (commonly referred to as “Coronavirus”) receives widespread attention, I would like to take this opportunity to share three learnings with you that I find helpful for our communities of faith as we live together and are engaged in ministry with our neighbors.
My first learning I have to offer comes from Martin Luther and an article from “Christianity Today” by Emmy Yang, for the full article please follow the link here. In 1527, less than 200 years after the Black Death killed about half the population of Europe, the plague re-emerged in Wittenberg, Luther’s hometown. The Reformer wrote a letter titled “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague,” in which he weighs the responsibilities of ordinary citizens during contagion. His advice serves as a practical guide for Christians confronting infectious disease outbreaks today. In short, Luther advocates that anyone serving in a public office that serves the neighbor has a vocational commitment to stay and serve in the midst of peril. At the same time, Luther does not encourage his readers to expose themselves recklessly to danger. Throughout the letter, Luther walks the fine line between respecting one’s own life, and honoring the call of our faith to serve our neighbor above self. In short, no matter what you choose to do, you will most certainly live in the tension of self-protection versus care for the neighbor in need.
With that existential tension in mind I would like to offer my second practical learning. Sandy Frentz, Sioux Falls Public Health Manager, shared some very applicable advice with me concerning pandemic preparedness. She reminded me that we should all keep basic health and non-pharmaceutical interventions in mind:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,
- Sanitizing hands and surfaces with alcohol-based sanitizer,
- Respiratory hygiene such as covering your cough, and staying home when feeling under the weather,
- Practice social distancing, as the virus is droplet spread
- Refrain from using water fountains,
- Re-evaluate your communion practice, especially when using the common cup, intinction, and shared loaf,
- Re-imagine ways of sharing the peace,
- Be diligent in monitoring the current status through the following websites:
Last, but not least, this is an opportunity for growth and learning. Therefore, I offer you resources that will allow and invite conversation on how we are community and can reimagine community in times of crisis. The following links may be helpful as you initiate conversation, lead imagination in your community of faith, and prepare for a possible pandemic:
- PCUSA Disaster Assistance
- CDC Interim Guidance for Faith Based Organizations
- CDC Interim Guidance for Mass Gatherings/Large Community Events
Download the following resources from our partners in ministry at the churchwide office:
- ELCA Worship Resources: Worship in Times of Public Health Concerns
- LDR Congregational Planning Checklist for a Pandemic
In closing, I pray that living amidst the tension of self-care, and care for the neighbor, we hear God’s call for new and reimagined opportunities to be the people of God in times such as these. Thank you for your non-anxious presence in these anxious times.
Grace and Peace,
In Christ’s Service,
Rev. Constanze Hagmaier
Bishop of the South Dakota Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America