Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
Grace and peace to you! I’m writing to share some significant updates with you regarding our plans to reopen for corporate worship and other public activities and gatherings at Palm. This will be a lengthy message, but please do read it all, and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have.
First, some joyful words of thanks. Since the middle of March, we have been through perhaps the most unique chapter of our congregation’s history, but we have made it through together. By making phone calls and sending letters, continuing to love and pray for each other, assisting with and attending electronic worship services and virtual committee meetings, and continuing to give to Palm, we have been able to provide a considerable gift to our congregation and our community - stability. We are still Palm Lutheran Church, and we will always be the body of Christ, even when we can’t physically gather together. We’ve kept hope alive, and the torch of fellowship burning. For that, and for all the ways we have been able to commit to being church together, thanks be to God! Even better is the news that no one from our congregation (to my knowledge) has contracted the virus. This is amazing, and it could not have happened had we not all been faithful in staying home, washing our hands, wearing masks, and keeping social distance. This has been an intense, disorienting spring, but we’ve gotten through it all together by the grace of God. Summer is now here, and the long, bright days are a reminder of hope for us all. This hope will stick with us, and will keep us going as we live into the new normal that we face as our state and world reopen.
After the happy news comes the more serious news. We’re not out of the woods yet in terms of coronavirus. Three months ago, we knew that the virus was dangerous to our elders, and to those with serious health concerns, but we’ve seen it since infecting many younger, healthier people, showing us that there is far more to learn about this disease. Moreover, it’s becoming apparent that some of our most important, treasured practices at Palm would be among the most volatile ways to spread germs. Singing, even with a mask on, could infect someone standing twenty-six feet away from you. Speaking together, hugging and shaking hands while sharing Christ’s peace, and so many other things that are central to Christian worship are just as dangerous. Even if we dispense with those things, during the yellow phase, we are strictly limited to gatherings of twenty-five people or less at any one time, and in between, the church needs to be thoroughly disinfected. Doing this will be paramount to keeping everyone safe.
In the middle of wrestling with these questions alongside our leadership, I’ve had a personal development that muddies the water even more. Not long ago, I learned that I need cataract surgery, thanks to first developing them when I was about twenty years old. The surgery itself will be a quick fix (I’m having both eyes done, one week apart), but for three weeks afterward, I won’t be allowed to drive. As such, I’m planning to return home to Minnesota to recover under my family’s care. I will head out there on June 29th, and I anticipate returning around August 10th, after I’ve had both eyes treated and received my new glasses.
Balancing the safety of our parishioners and my need to have surgery, our council has made the decision to continue our electronic worship during the months of June and July, and at least the first two Sundays in August. We will try to resume worship in person on August 16, 2020. By that time, we hope, not only will we be allowed to gather in larger groups, but we’ll know more about how to worship together in a way that protects everyone’s safety. Between now and the end of June, our team will be recording in advance the services for the weeks I’ll be gone, and you’ll be able to watch them just as you always have done. Our council members will also, periodically, record other announcements and news that will be shared in video form. Please keep watching, also, as August approaches, when we will share an update about the plans to return to worship.
Between now and the end of the summer, a lot of things will look different, but even more will remain the same. Our electronic worship will continue, as it has the past few months, and we will continue mailing bulletins and copies of the sermon to those who don’t have Internet access. The rest of our staff will be here, and Ruth will be monitoring the office phone like always. Cory Bender and Harry Fox will ensure that any further needed communications from the parish get out to you. Our Stephen Ministers and prayer chain members continue watching over our parishioners, as do I. While I’m gone, another ELCA pastor will be available for emergencies.
Keep an eye on Palm’s website, as there will soon be new information posted about in-home Communion visits for those who miss receiving the sacrament (and knowing us at Palm, that’s all of us!). Unfortunately, our visits to senior communities and hospitals remain very limited right now, and we’ll be bound by the rules of those facilities. If you live in one of those communities, please know that we’ve been praying for you all this time, and continue to do so, eagerly looking forward to when we’ll get to see you again!
No matter what happens this summer, please know that we of Palm Lutheran Church are all here for each other. We’ve proven that countless times over the past three months. If you need a friendly voice during the next few weeks, or if you have any further questions or concerns about what I’ve shared here, please talk to me. As the pastor you called, I want to be here for you, even if I have to do it from a distance just now. We’ve made it this far by the grace of God. Two months from now, things will likely look very different, and we’ll have a much better idea of how to worship together safely. Personally, I know I will have a much clearer view of the world by then, and I’m looking forward to being back with you cataract-free.
The body of Christ has been through plagues and pandemics before, and we will again. We’re learning things during this season that will carry the Church through future outbreaks. Most important of all, we’ve learned that Christ will not abandon us as we make it through this season, nor will the Church. Eventually, these days of coronavirus, to say nothing of the violence and outrage that has spread from Minneapolis to the rest of the world, will be no more than a bad memory for the body of Christ. But even stronger will be the memory of how we stuck together, and got through it together, held up by the grace and love of God, with the way ahead lit by the fire of the Holy Spirit. We have two interesting months ahead of us, but we will make it through, and there will be hope and joy waiting for us in the warm days of mid-August. Until then, we’ll get through it together. See you on the other side!
Grace and peace,