Minnesota Bishops: Chaplains Provide Critical Care
Written by the six Minnesota bishops of the Evangelical Church in America. Published in the Opinion Ex[...]
Bishop Patricia Lull wrote this message to the rostered ministers in our congregations on April 24.
As we move through these rich weeks of the Easter season, we recognize that the disruption of our old patterns for gathering as a community of faith will continue for a while. How long will that be in Minnesota? I sure wish I knew and I bet you do, too.
What we do know is that there will continue to be a time of living through this coronavirus pandemic and there will be a time beyond this pandemic season. Alleluia! Even as we wait for the next phases to become clear in Minnesota, I want to invite you, as rostered ministers, to join me in a thought project. As in so many aspects of life, the real time for planning and wondering is in the time period before one can act in a new way.
Last October, while we were gathered for the Bishop’s Theological Conference at Cragun's, I was also finishing an article for Word and World, the journal published by Luther Seminary. It was for the winter issue under the theme “Why Church?” With great timing, that issue came out in March just as all of us retreated to our homes.
Click here to read "Church at Its Best." It was written in a pre-pandemic world. I want you to know that I still hold to this theological construct about the marks of the church and where we find “Church at Its Best.” But I welcome your thoughts on how this same framework could be re-written in the midst of the current pandemic. Will you send me your illustrations of church at its best these days? And if you choose to challenge this framework from Luther’s writings, I’d welcome reading your essay on why the church is still relevant in 2020. You can send those responses to me at email@example.com.
I also have a second thought project for you. Paying attention to the experience of opening up social contact in other parts of the world and outlines for “next phases” in responding to this pandemic, it seems to me to be likely that we will be able to gather in small-size groups long before we are able to host 100+ gatherings for worship within a single space even with proper distancing and mask wearing and lots of hand washing. What might that mean for a congregation?
What are you thinking about this next step in the context where you serve? And if you serve in specialized ministry, especially in a hospital or congregate living arrangement, what are you thinking might be the next, safe step for how we gather for worship, learning or community life? If there is a robust response to this inquiry, I will think how we can share those ideas in a more communal way, perhaps in a focused zoom conversation.
Now, a few other thoughts. I have not changed my pastoral or theological convictions about waiting to have Holy Communion until we can gather in person. I acknowledge that the weeks are growing in number. If you have forgotten what I wrote back in March, here is that pastoral letter.
Please know that I take the theological conversation about how to use online connections to foster the sharing of the sacrament of Holy Communion to be one that deserves serious consideration and exploration as a fresh question in the 21st century. However, my commitment remains to allow that to happen across a broader Lutheran, global and ecumenical conversation before reaching a new conclusion as a bishop in a synod with many digital privileges. Bishop Gaville of the Iringa Diocese in Tanzania has asked all our sibling congregations there to refrain from both communion and baptisms until this pandemic has passed. With them and with many in our own congregations and neighborhoods, we wait. But as we wait we know that the power of God’s good news – so needed amid this pandemic – comes to us through the Word made real in preaching, scripture readings, prayer and loving concern for one another.
As the days warm up in Minnesota many of you are planning for outdoor services. Several of the congregations in this synod have done summer drive-in services for many years. If this is in your plans, please note these directions from the Minnesota Department of Public Health.
In Minnesota it is now allowable for 10 persons to gather for a wedding, as it is for a funeral. Read the Department of Health guidelines dated April 14. All of this takes thoughtful planning to insure that even a modest-size event does not unintentionally quicken the spread of this vicious virus. If you are leading a funeral or a wedding, please insure that you follow all the recommended protocols for social distancing, too. Neither pastors nor deacons are granted special immunity just because of our vocation. The same is true, of course, for those of you recording or broadcasting worship services from the church building.
I am learning so much these days, as I bet you are, too. Thanks for facing each day with a fresh dose of hope and confidence that God is at-work in our midst. Thank you for caring about the communities in which you live and serve. Many of our neighbors are unemployed, worn down, hungry or discouraged. The gospel message of the church – love for God and love for neighbors – is beautiful, surprising and life-giving when it is conveyed in action and in words. Thank you for looking out for one another and lifting others up when emotional and spiritual reserves are low. I am grateful to serve with you and eager to hear your thoughts on the matters I have outlined.
In Christ – the Living and Risen Christ,
Bishop Patricia Lull