[UPDATE] COVID-19 and Congregational Life
Siblings in Christ,
“Peace be with you!” These words from Jesus to his, rightly so, fearful disciples in the upper room three days after his crucifixion echo in my heart and mind as I hold you in my prayers during these anxious times. “Peace be with you.” In times such as these, where life’s uncertainty is so very evident in everything we say, do and are, I would like to affirm you in your leadership and call as beloved children of God.
First and foremost, I give thanks for your non-anxious leadership! Your fearless way of showing up calmly in your neighbor’s life in any creative but safe way you choose speaks volumes. It boldly states that we do not let fear win over the hope we have been given through Christ. “Peace be with you! And do not be afraid!”
Dear rostered ministers, please remember that we are called to serve in the shadow of the cross. Anxious times such as these are an opportunity to live into this call to love God, be faithful, and love our neighbor. I commend you to be present for the people God has entrusted into your care. Show up in their world! They need you to calmly lead them through this with a non-anxious presence, a deep love for God and a convicted commitment to serve and care for them. But at the same time use common sense and best practices as outlined through CDC and the SD Department of Health. I also commend you to one another for networking and resource sharing.
Practices surrounding worship and congregational life are the responsibility of each and every local community of faith. While our governor has the authority to close public facilities, our polity does not ascribe such an authority to the Office of Bishop. In other words, “I can’t tell you what to do.” But if you would like me to accompany your congregation in discerning best practices, next steps, or just need a sounding board on how to best maneuver through these next few weeks and months, feel free to reach out to me. My staff and I would be honored to accompany you to find creative opportunities to be the people of God.
Looking into the future, I would like you to know that we are working with conference leaders to determine best practices as far as conference assemblies are concerned. We are also awaiting directive from churchwide in regards to the SD Synod Assembly in June. The SD Synod Council will still be meeting next week, but will give members a choice to attend in person or via Zoom. We are also currently working on recommended practices surrounding virtual business meetings. Please keep watch for these recommendations in the near future.
I thank you for your adaptability as the situation evolves. Please know that I hold you in my prayers, that I am only an email or phone call away, and that my staff and I are standing by ready to accompany you in ways that you need us to journey alongside of you. Please feel empowered to discern what God is calling you to live out in your particular context so that the Gospel of life in the midst of death is heard loud and clear. Please remember that our sacraments, Holy Communion and Baptism, are visuals for the love and grace God holds for us, but at the same time God’s love and grace remains real even if we abstain from celebrating the sacraments for a few weeks. The sacraments are not a place for innovation and creativity, but a place to uphold our Lutheran tradition surrounding these sacred practices. If in doubt, please feel free to reach out to me, Pastor Renee or Pastor Jonathan.
Let us pray: “Eternal God, amid all the turmoil and changes of the world your love is steadfast and your strength never fails. In this time of danger and trouble, be to us a sure guardian and rock of defense. Guide the leaders of our nation with your wisdom, comfort those in distress, and grant us courage and hope to face the future; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.”
Last but not least, I continue to point you to the trusted resources listed below.
- Be diligent in monitoring the current status through the following websites:
- ELCA Public Health – Resources in times of Public Health Crises
- A Guide to Livestreaming Worship
- ONE LICENSE Offers Gratis Licenses to Congregations
- CDC Interim Guidance for Faith Based Organizations
- CDC Interim Guidance for Mass Gatherings/Large Community Events
- ELCA Worship Resources: Worship in Times of Public Health Concerns
- LDR Congregational Planning Checklist for a Pandemic
- 211 Helpline Center – Report Cancelations
- 211 Helpline Center – Report Restrictions
Peace be with you. And do not be afraid!
Rev. Constanze Hagmaier
Bishop of the South Dakota Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America