I've never been a pastor during a pandemic...
Here we are...in the middle of a worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, a new virus that is causing fear and trembling among humanity...bringing out the worst and the best of us. People are ransacking the shelves at stores leaving no sanitizer or toilet paper for others. (I hear there's a run on beer as well!) Here in Ohio, our governor has shut down schools, events, all restaurants and bars (except drive thru and carry out) and, yes, even churches. I have never been a pastor of church that has no worship or activities or meetings scheduled. I feel like a pioneer! I have asthma, so I myself am in a high risk category and must refrain from visits...though nursing homes and hospitals mostly aren't allowing visits anyways.
So I am sitting here writing on this Monday, the day after our last worship service till at least Palm Sunday (if not longer, says the governor), trying to plan for how I will still be able to provide worship/prayer/pastoral care to my congregation. Like many of my colleagues, I was compelled to revisit Martin Luther's article, "Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague," published in 1527. You see, Luther did have the opportunity to be a pastor during a pandemic, so it seemed like a good idea to get his take on all this. One quote jumped out at me:
"Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together."
All right, then, it looks like we are on the right track. Luther was certainly pragmatic. Now I just have to figure out what it means to be "mutually bound together" when we are apart...I mean, obviously we are bound together in the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit...but what does it mean to remain in community when we are physically separated.
Here are my ideas about it, taking into consideration that there are a variety of ways in which those in our congregation may or may not be able to communicate:
*I am available by phone/text to talk/pray/provide comfort
*I am available by email for anyone who communicates best that way
*I am available to do Facetime if someone wants a face to face conversation
*I will be posting, via Facebook live, a weekly mini worship service each Thursday for the coming Sunday...it will include prayers, scriptures and a sermon
*I will be monitoring and providing content on our church app (you can get the app with this link: https://tithely.app.link/christ-lutheran-church-oh ) which includes a prayer wall, bible, a newsfeed including Facebook content and the weekly mini worship, link to this blog and a link to giving to the church (anyone can get it...not just church members!)
*I will try to be more diligent about blogging (still a growing edge for me, I confess)
*I will be trying to keep the church website fresh (link here: https://www.christlutheran-nwohio.com/ )
*I will be setting up a schedule of calls/cards to be in contact with parishoners
*And, last but not least, I will be praying that this virus end and praying for all of you and praying for our congregation...and I encourage each of you to do the same (I will be working on some prayers to post on Facebook and the app!)
All of that said, I ask in advance that you would be patient with me as I try to navigate this bizarre landscape as a pastor, and I ask your forgiveness if I don't get it all right. There's no manual or seminary class for this situation!! Please do not hesitate to reach out to me...I am here for you. Remember, we are mutually bound together as children of God who belong to Jesus Christ. And so I leave you with these words from scripture:
"The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." --Deuteronomy 31:8
We belong to Christ, in this life and the next...may we remain in hope, share love, live in peace, forgive shortcomings, give thanks for God's grace, and press on even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
--Rev. Julie Parsell, Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church