“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:28
Dear Church, Siblings in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in the name of the risen Christ! We have all heard the words that life is a journey, not a destination. It certainly has been quite the journey since COVID-19 arrived at the scene, a journey we go on together. Because of it, our lives have been impacted and changed. I would like to thank our rostered and lay leaders who continue to speak hope in the midst of uncertainty. You remain calm and provide thoughtful leadership in these turbulent times trusting the words of the Apostle Paul: “(W)e know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Take time to rest
Leadership in challenging times is exhausting. Please, allow yourself to rest. It has been a long-standing tradition of the South Dakota Synod that the rostered ministers gather for a Spring Theological Conference the week after Easter. These three days of collegiality, relaxation and worship are a gift to your leaders. These days provide strength and renewal for ministry after the season of Lent and the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Due to COVID-19 and the implementation of CDC guidelines, our leaders were not able to gather this spring. I ask your congregation’s leadership to consider encouraging your rostered ministers or synod authorized ministers to take these three days they would have spent away from parish life very soon, for sabbath and physical and spiritual renewal. Their well-being is essential to congregational life and health.
South Dakota’s “Back to Normal Plan”
It is essential because we are encouraged to implement Governor Noem’s South Dakota’s Back To Normal Plan (download at covid.sd.gov) as “South Dakotans are asked to consider … steps as we look to get back to normal.” One of the proposed steps is that “as they (churches) resume services, they are encouraged to consider the guidelines for ‘public gatherings’ and to consider steps to maintain reasonable physical distancing.” Your rostered minister/SAM must take a central role in guiding these conversations and in laying out the path forward. While your worshipers have a choice in determining if it is safe to attend in-person worship, your leaders and staff do not have that same choice. In the words of the Apostle Paul: “What, then, shall we say in response to this?” (Romans 8:31)
God created us for community. We are relational beings. I understand that we want to be able to gather, but we must be careful to consider whether we are ready to return to “normal”. Congregations across South Dakota have responded faithfully and adaptively to the challenge of COVID-19. While church doors were locked, ministry in Christ’s name continued– it even expanded. We need to continue to be flexible and sensible. “Haste makes waste” has been my mantra throughout most of my life unless life was threatened. COVID-19 is still real. No cure or vaccine has yet been found. We can’t tell you what to do, but we recommend not meeting in person yet. Undoubtedly, the measures taken to reduce the spread of the virus have been challenging and caused significant loss and grief; however, they have been effective in preventing our medical systems from being overwhelmed. As we begin to plan for the upcoming months, we encourage communities to be wise and flexible, putting first the needs of the most vulnerable, your staff and volunteers and to not rush into anything.
Coming Back Together
Please take time to review Coming Back Together for Worship Resources. As we come together, it will be important to celebrate, but also recognize the losses and griefs experienced in this time. This document offers helpful ideas for grief work and supporting our neighbors, as well as worship resources to aid our communities in centering this experience in service, worship, and prayer.
May God bless you in your work. I am grateful for your faithful leadership and service to our communities and to the Gospel we proclaim.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Constanze Hagmaier
South Dakota Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America