St. John’s Lutheran Church
821 Denver St. • Schuyler, NE 68661
May 30, 2020
My dear siblings in Christ,
Peace be with you in these strange and uncertain times. I miss seeing your faces and gathering together in one place with you all. I am sure you all have been longing for an end to this time of exile, and I am right there with you. However, with our case numbers skyrocketing and the pandemic at our very doorstep, I’m sure you know as well as I do that it will likely be some time before we are safely able to gather physically again.
Although conflicting messages abound and it’s hard to know whom to trust in all the confusion, our highest mandate as Christians is always clear: to love God and to love our neighbor. Council and I are doing our best to make decisions in line with this commandment, and at our May meeting, we decided to join with a group of other congregations in our Fremont area cluster in adopting a set of guidelines that follow the guidance we have received from ELCA Churchwide, the Nebraska Synod, and federal and state health authorities. These guidelines are as follows:
Date to begin in-person worship —no earlier than June 7. However, we expect that any re-start will be data-driven and information-based and will not be an arbitrary point on the calendar. Items impacting this decision will include:
- We will begin on-site worship again when there is a 14-day downward trend in new case numbers in our community/county per federal guidelines. For St. John’s, those numbers will come from the new cases as reported by East Central District Health Department (ECDHD).
- In addition, we will wait for a positivity rate among tested individuals in ECDHD of less than 12%.
- The previous bullets assume that testing is occurring locally at a rate that is sufficient to describe the community infection and recovery rate adequately.
- If or when the daily new cases reported by ECDHD increase consistently over a period of 10 days, we will cease in-person worship until the previous criteria are met again.
Until the above conditions are met, we will continue online/broadcast/mailed service options. We will continue those options after face to face worship resumes in order to include those who continue to worship from home.
For the time being, even once in-person worship resumes, we will encourage those who are sick or at risk to stay home. This includes:
- Those sixty and older.
- People with underlying medical conditions
- Family members who live with elderly people or those who are at risk
- People who have access to those at risk in nursing institutions
- People who have upper respiratory or flu-like symptoms
- People who live with someone with upper respiratory or flu-like symptoms
- People with COVID-19 or live with someone with COVID-19
- People who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19
Additional considerations once in-person worship resumes:
- Singing: There will be no congregational singing because of the higher risk of spread. Singing is capable of aerosolizing virus particles, as well as projecting them much further than six feet; no matter how distantly spaced we may be, extended time together singing in an enclosed space will be dangerous for everyone.
- Masks/sanitizer: The expectation will be that everyone who attends and leads worship will wear a mask that is effective in limiting spread.
- Social distancing: At least six feet of distancing will need to be maintained between worshipers from different households. Measures will be implemented to help worshipers observe spacing.
- Zero contact: Offering plate will not be passed; greetings of peace will be only verbal and visual, no handshakes or physical greetings on entering or leaving.
Given the realities we face, I think it important that we come to terms with the fact that it will likely be longer than we’d like before we are able to resume meeting for some version of worship in person, and longer still before we are able to return to our in person worship life in its fullest expression.
On a personal note, I am thankful for the technology that enables us to continue to keep in touch and to continue worshiping together, even though we are separated. I do not relish the idea of a worship service in which we cannot sing or touch or be near each other, and which so many of our members would be discouraged from attending. So I am grateful that this current setup allows for a slightly fuller worship experience, even if we must experience it in our own separate locations.
And I am thankful for you all. Your genuine care for each other and for your community is a gift and a reflection of Christ’s love for us. I am thankful for the many ways you keep track of each other and help make sure that everyone in our congregation is cared for. And I’m thankful for your willingness to adapt to doing things in new ways, even though I know how awkward and uncomfortable that can be.
In the meanwhile, I would love to find some way to supplement our worship experience by offering other opportunities to engage our faith throughout the week. Perhaps a bible study like we did back in Lent, either online or in person in small groups. Perhaps an online fellowship hour over Zoom or something similar. Perhaps times of prayer or spiritual practice. I have also given a lot of thought to ways we might meet in person for an outdoor service of communion. If you would like some other opportunity to engage – especially if you are not currently connecting with Sunday worship – please, let me know (phone and email below)! You can also let a member of council know. I want to do whatever I can to support you all through these trying times by helping you stay grounded in your faith.
I remain confident and hopeful that God will see us through these times. These difficult days will not last forever. Like Miriam and Moses and the Israelites, we will dance again on the safe side of the sea.
Please take care of yourselves and do not hesitate to reach out if you are struggling or need support.
May the peace of Christ be with you always.
Yours in Christ,
cell (text/call): 402-369-0279