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 past week has been filled with cautionary warnings and careful decisions about church life and in-person gatherings. I am grateful and proud of the work council leaders and church staff, pastors and deacons have done to change plans and make decisions about whether to worship by gathering in person or by social media. I know that the admonition of Governor Tim Walz and the wisdom of many public health officials and medical experts has been listened to with care. Thank you. Thank you for making tough and timely decisions that fit in your context.
I am also grateful for the tenderness with which communication has gone out to congregations, as well as from the synod office. As timely decisions were made many of you have used a pastoral, caring and kind voice to acknowledge the disappointment that comes when anticipated events are cancelled, while stressing the importance of doing so for the common good in our communities.
Pastor Andy Smith, senior pastor at St. John’s in Lakeville, quoted Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, in his letter to the congregation. “Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.”
I want to underscore what every pastor’s letter has said about sustaining the financial well-being of your congregation. Bills and obligations do not cease when we are asked to curtail in-person gatherings. For congregations that can, please remember your nearby congregations – ELCA or otherwise – for which a decrease in weekly offerings can quickly create a financial crisis. This might be another community of faith that gathers in your building or a synod mission-start or smaller congregation. We are church together as we face the coming weeks. And certainly, the same is true for neighbors whose employment income is reduced during these weeks.
At the personal level, travel plans and vacations have been put on hold. I am the first to admit that many of us are not accustomed to the gift of time without the frenzy of places to go or people to meet. I pray we will help one another experience the many gifts and new opportunities woven into this season in fresh and hopeful ways.
When I served a congregation in the Appalachian foothills in Ohio, Psalm 121 became a favorite text to lean on in all kinds of times. It ends – “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore” (v.8) At this time of “staying in” may we trust the truth of that promise.
Bishop Patricia Lull