Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In his pastoral letter this past Friday, Bishop Selbo enjoined us to pay attention to the advice of medical professionals concerning this health emergency. With that in mind in this developing situation, our council at St. Martin’s convened on Sunday and asked for guidance from two of our parishioners with medical callings. Each of them – a pediatrician and an ER nurse practitioner – voiced the concern that our medical system may become so overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases of varying severity in the coming days that some with life-threatening conditions will fall through the cracks. They also reiterated that our many elderly members are particularly vulnerable to this illness. Every little bit helps when it comes to slowing down the spread of infection; therefore, they recommended that we put all services, classes, and fellowship events on hiatus for at least the next two weeks. Our council complied. Shortly thereafter, the Center for Disease Control intensified their guidelines for large groups along the same lines: from gatherings of 100 people or more to 50, then on Monday to 10. [Although our council made allowance for the church doors to be open on Sunday with the pastor present to offer prayer, we may need to revisit that provision, as well.]
Recognizing the contextual variances among our congregations, I humbly encourage your respective councils to consider similar preventive measures this week if they haven’t already done so. To be clear, this is not a directive, and to say that I do not ask this lightly is an understatement. The gathering of the faithful around the Word in proclamation and the sacraments is the heart of what it means to be Christ-centered. I – we – made the promise at our ordinations “to be diligent in [our] study of Holy Scripture and [our] use of the means of grace.” Conventional, biblical wisdom frames this diligence to include regular worship, especially the weekly feast of the Resurrection on the Lord’s Day in keeping with the Third Commandment.
In that same ordination liturgy, however, we pray for “all members of the church, that they may serve you in true and godly lives,” as well as for “… the sick, the lonely, the forgotten, and all who suffer… that they may be relieved and protected.” These prayers reflect both the confessional doctrine of vocation and Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. While the gathering of the faithful together in the Word is at the “heart” of discipleship – where the branches meet the vine, if you will (John 15:5) – the holy calling of the Body within their “varieties of service” is the circulation of Christ’s abundant life pumped into the world: Mission-Driven works of “daily bread” offered in the name and through the love of the Bread of Life, that our branches might bear fruit for Him.
Given these extraordinary times, I believe the emergency measures described above are consistent with our task “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12) by assisting our healers in facing the challenge ahead. Such steps on our part will likewise help those in authority carry out their God-given responsibility to protect the weak and uphold the common good.
By all accounts, we’re only in the initial stages of this crisis, and new developments will doubtlessly necessitate new decisions. Two weeks isn’t a lot of time. Holy Week is on the horizon – then the high feasts of the church year, followed by Convocation(s) soon after. We may need to incorporate a great deal of flexibility into our planning. If this crisis becomes drawn out, we will have to be creative in our ministry and administration by looking both forward and backward – continuing to take advantage of new technologies while at the same time reviewing the various ways the historic church dealt with the recurring challenge of sickness over the centuries. All the while, we must remember that these measures are emergency exceptions. The Traditionally-Grounded practice of meeting for worship is the God-given rule for our life together (Hebrews 10:25) – a norm we should resume as soon as reasonably possible.
I’m heartened to see a significant amount of communication going on between our pastors as we share thoughts, ideas, and concerns for the good of the church. In this spirit, please share with me if your congregation has plans to livestream services so that we can compile a list of online options for our parishioners. [Special thanks to Pr. Jason Dampier for this idea.] I have reached out to Augsburg Fortress to request that they extend their temporary permission (March 15-May 31) to include their liturgical texts and music copyrights in podcasts or livestream services to Carolinas NALC congregations. I will notify you as soon as I receive confirmation from them.
Another outstanding resource for our congregations, especially our families with school-age children, is the NALC’s “Holy Families: A Discipleship Resource for the Home”: https://www.
Please note the following calendar changes:
- The Congregational Safety and Disaster Response Seminars originally scheduled for March 20-21 has been postponed until Fall 2020.
- The Lenten Bible Study at New Jerusalem, Hickory, has been cancelled for the March 19th and 26th; Vicar Taylor Rister is looking into the possibility of streaming those events instead.
- The Service of Installation for Pr. Heidi Punt at Union, Salisbury, originally scheduled for April 5th, has been postponed; alternate date to be determined.
At this time, all other events remain as previously scheduled. I will notify you of changes or recommendations as they arise.
This “strategic retreat” we’re facing is not the most important way we can help the sick or those who work for their healing. One of the greatest responsibilities Christ has given us is to pray: to lift up every need to our Heavenly Father. These days will afford both the time and the context for practicing and teaching this holy discipline as the Body of Christ, together. I therefore leave you with the prayer for Monday of Lent 3 in ALPB’s “For All the Saints” lectionary devotional:
Almighty God, who didst send thy Son into the world to heal our hurts of body, mind, and soul: We pray thee to bless the work of all hospitals, especially those now caring for thy people. Give to all workers therein patience and skill, faithfully to fulfill their calling. We commend to thee all sufferers committed to their care: praying thee to still their pain, to relieve their anxiety, to companion their loneliness, and bid them cast their cares upon thee, since underneath are thy everlasting arms. Amen. – From a London hospital, ca. 1940.
The peace of Christ be with you all.
Rev. Dr. Nathan Yoder
Dean, Carolinas Mission District, NALC