May 14, 2020
Dear Sisters and Brothers of SOTH,
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and from the Lord, Jesus Christ.
The purpose of this love note to you is to share some of our thoughts about the next stages of our communal life as Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church. We are beginning to receive questions about when we will be able to meet again for in-person worship of any sort. When it comes to a date, the short answer is simply “We don’t know.” In many parts of our country we are beginning to see a widening gulf between political leaders (movements) and medical experts regarding what is a safe and prudent path forward. We understand and sympathize with the frustrations of our business community and those who have lost their jobs or will soon do so. The economic burden of this time of quarantine has not been equally shared. But, of course, neither has the physical suffering of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, both physically (our elders and those with preexisting conditions) and economically (those working low-paying essential jobs which cannot be done remotely), and their families account for the lion’s share of the physical suffering during these trying times. As disciples of Jesus, we continue to wear masks and keep our social distance, because we follow Jesus’ words that say, “What we do for the least of these, we do for Him.” (Matthew 25) The decisions that we make regarding our mission and ministry will be informed by the advice of medical experts. The decisions will also take into account our responsibility towards our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.
The road returning to “normal” in-person weekly worship will be long and has a long list of decisions for us to make. It seems that it will soon be possible for us to meet in groups of up to ten. While this may be of value for such occasions as funerals and weddings, we question its use for weekly worship services. Even if we were to run multiple worship service of up to ten, the worship leader(s) would come into contact with every worship attendee over the course of every weekend. However, meetings of up to ten would allow us to live-stream our worship services online with a worship team instead of our present practice of prerecording our worship services from our homes.
Once we are allowed to resume meeting in groups larger than ten, we will need to have a number of procedures in place to create as safe of a worship experience as possible. The most important will be the required use of facemasks for all worshippers. We will ask that people bring their own facemasks (BYOF?). We will provide facemasks for visitors and those who forget. We have received a generous donation of facemasks sewn with love by one of our members. After each worship service, the public spaces of the church building will be ‘deep cleaned’ and disinfected. This may require creating a greater space of time between our worship services. Hand sanitizer will continue to be available in numerous locations.
There are other concerns that will need to be addressed before we return. The procedures for the following common practices of our ministry need to be thought through for the safety of our most vulnerable:
1. Passing of the peace.
2. Passing of offering plates.
3. Counting of offering.
4. Greeting of worshippers before and after the service.
5. Coffee hour.
6. Children coming forward for the ‘Children’s Chat’.
7. Use of hymnals, pew Bibles, and bulletins.
8. Congregational and choral singing.
9. Communion distribution.
10. Seating and distancing between family groups.
Some of the above practices have relatively easy solutions. Others will be considerably more difficult and require from us a greater sacrifice. Carefully planned and executed outdoor services may be a possibility for part of the year. Whatever is discerned and decided upon by the leadership team of the congregation, we will need your understanding, cooperation, and, most of all, your love to make it work. If you would like to help with the planning of our first in-person worship services, please let us know. We are presently forming a task force with that mandate.
In the meantime, we will continue to create weekly online worship services that will be distributed on Facebook Saturday afternoon of each week. While we will, at some point, return back to physically gathering for worship services, we recognize that it will not be wise for some of our most vulnerable sisters and brothers to meet in large groups. Therefore, we will continue to live-stream at least one of our worship services per weekend. We have received a generous gift for the purchase of the equipment necessary to produce a good worship experience for our homebound.
In the end, we are confident that we will be able to develop a sensible plan to create a safe space so that gathered worship can resume. That plan, however, will depend upon your grace, love, and cooperation as members of SOTH. Thank you for your continued support for the mission and ministry of SOTH.
God’s peace, strength, and health,
Pastor Jon Pedersen and Council President Steve Kirk