The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
The daily updates about the coronavirus, COVID-19, have us concerned about our own health and the well-being of our neighbors. I am grateful that so many of you are being attentive to the important messages from our public health officials. Those who work to curtail the spread of diseases like COVID-19 have expertise that far exceeds mine as a bishop in these matters. What I want to address are steps we can take as congregations and as individuals:
In the Saint Paul Area Synod we are monitoring all gatherings and planned travel. We will update and communicate decisions about such on a regular basis. Both the Iringa Committee for Tanzania and the Guatemala Committee have created an FAQ sheet about travel and international guests. These and other resources are available on a COVID-19 resource page of our website. Week-by-week we are reviewing synod events to see if any need to be canceled. You will be able to learn about cancellations via emails, our website, our Facebook or Twitter, weekly News & Events newsletter, and/or by messages on our phone system (651-224-4313, option 6).
Our synod has congregations in five different counties so there are multiple public health agencies that may weigh in on whether or not church gatherings should be held or cancelled. Again, listen to the experts. With regard to worship practices, these ELCA guidelines were issued earlier this month and can be found along with other documents and links at https://elca.org/publichealth.
Last week I was with the Conference of Bishops and the ELCA Church Council. In our worship we made some accommodations. We shared the peace by bowing or nodding without shaking hands. Communion was not served by intinction, which gets tricky as fingers accidentally touch the wine while dipping the bread. We were reminded that it is acceptable to receive the sacrament in only one kind (the bread), which is what I chose to do. This is the season where individual cups may be more desirable than drinking from a chalice. Instead of passing offering plates, gifts were received in baskets at the door. Please think through the sacramental practice in your congregation. And the same holds for coffee hour, shared meals, classes or group events where we may unwittingly spread the virus.
None of us know how the impact of COVID-19 will unfold. We do know that this is a global health crisis, designated as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and one in which our own actions can help to slow down the spread of this virus. As people of faith, we also know we are in this together with neighbors near and far. Thank you for your calm, thoughtful, careful response for the good of all.
In Christ’s service,
Bishop Patricia Lull