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On Saturday, May 23, Governor Walz announced new rules for the gathering of communities of faith in outdoor and indoor setting. These rules go into effect on May 27. View "Industry Guidance for Safely Reopening: Faith-based communities, places of worship, weddings, and funerals."
You are likely aware of recent actions by leaders of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, new directives from the CDC for religious gatherings, as well as a statement by President Trump about re-opening churches. What you may not know is that the governor and his staff have been in conversation with a much broader inter-faith coalition of religious leaders. That group will continue to confer with the governor and his staff as we move through the many phases that will define the full arc of this pandemic.
In a Zoom conversation with many of you last Tuesday (view recording), I underscored values that guide our decisions as Lutherans. One is respect for the wisdom and guidance of our public leaders, especially Governor Tim Walz. We also value actions that insure our own safety and the safety of others. We are committed to the needs of the many generations that belong to our churches, who carry different levels of risk in any exposure to the COVID-19 virus. We are equally committed to the needs of our neighbors, especially those with daily needs for housing, food and health care. We cling to the assurance that God is guiding and leading us throughout this pandemic and we value decisions made in local contexts by those who are called to lead in each congregation. Those values have not changed this past week.
Lutherans often refer to one of Luther’s teachings on justification, which addresses freedom from and freedom for.1 I urge you to keep that in mind as you continue to follow the plan your congregational leaders have created (or are creating) for re-opening your church building. While we have a greater measure of freedom from a size limit of 10 or fewer for gatherings, we are also called to consider how our actions reflect our freedom for attending to the needs of our neighbors and their safety, including those most vulnerable to infection in our own communities. I am not urging any congregation to speed up their plan for larger in-person gatherings.
While Governor Walz has announced a relaxing of some restrictions on the size of outdoor religious gatherings and indoor services, he has clearly stated that all recommended public health practices need to be in place and followed. We will share new protocols from the Minnesota Department of Health once they are available. Note that a safety plan needs to be developed and posted for each congregation that plans to re-open its building or host an outdoor service. Governor Walz is a realist about the dangers of spreading this coronavirus in religious gatherings and I continue to be grateful for his wise leadership in a very complex time.
Friends, we remain in a dangerous time for the spread of COVID-19. I have no desire to put others at risk and trust that you don’t either. Pay attention to your values as you craft your plan as a congregation. Continue to use all the creative ways you have developed for online worship, parking lot worship, outreach to your congregation and care for your most vulnerable neighbors. We have a long way still to go. Let’s get there together.
Bishop Patricia Lull
1 Martin Luther, Freedom of the Christian (1520)