March 17, 2020
St. Peter’s and St. John’s Cancelling Currently Scheduled Worship Services and Events through March 31
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Forestville, WI and St. John’s Lutheran Church, Algoma, WI, are cancelling our currently scheduled in-person worship services and events through March 31. This includes our Lenten Midweek Services, Lent meals, Sunday School, Catechism Class, and non-essential meetings. These cancellations are effective immediately.
We are making this decision in order to comply with the White Houses’s guidance to avoid groups of larger than ten people and the CDC’s advice that organizations that serve “vulnerable populations” should consider cancelling events of more than ten people. Given the high number of elderly who attend our churches, we believe that on the whole we serve a “vulnerable population.”
Leadership from the two congregations will meet tonight (while practicing appropriate social distancing!) to discuss options going forward to provide in-person Word and Sacrament ministry within the current guidelines and to provide Christian education through various online resources.
We make this decision with a great degree of sadness. Bodily gathering with the body of Christ is a great blessing, a very picture of heaven. Sadly, this fallen world means that we must at times forego various blessings for a time.
We pledge to you, however, that we will continue to serve you, despite the limitations we must observe in the present time.
March 13, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ at St. Peter’s and St. John’s,
I am writing today to address the many cares and concerns that are arising on account of the spread of COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus. I will be addressing both practical and spiritual matters related to this pandemic. I ask your patience and diligence to carefully review this letter.
As we respond to this emerging threat, we are holding two Christian virtues before our eyes. On the one hand, we Christians are “strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:9). We do not respond to challenges with panic or fear, but with strength and resolve, on account of our confidence in God. On the other hand, we Christians are called to be “wise as snakes” (Matthew 10:16) and to “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Matthew 22:39). Wisdom, love, strength, and courage – these are our watchwords as we navigate the troubled waters of this time.
Our Current Threat and Continuity of Service
First, while we need to be cautious and prepared, we do well to recognize that public health officials rate our risk of suffering an outbreak of the Covid-19 in our region as low, and none of our planned activities would have participation above 250, the cut-off number recommended recently by Governor Evers. Thus, we are not currently radically altering our practices but rather making some small adjustments and recommendations to help mitigate risk. We are not currently changing any practices related to our service schedule, catechism class, Sunday School, meals, Lent services, meetings, or fellowship activities, nor are we currently making any changes with regards to celebration of the Lord’s Supper or the mean by which we receive it.
We may alter this approach as the situation emerges. We will respond appropriately according to the direction of public officials and changes in the situation in our region. But, no matter what, we pledge that we will endeavor to continue to provide spiritual care to you despite any challenges that should arise.
While we are continuing with our normal schedule and practices, there are some practices that we are recommending to minimize the spread of infectious disease.
First, if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, and/or you have a fever, please stay home. Doing so is not a violation of the 3rd Commandment to honor the Sabbath Day, as you are not acting in spite of God’s Word but out of love for the neighbor. And, we can’t emphasize this enough, staying home when you are experiencing these symptoms is indeed an act of love for others.
Second, we are discouraging the shaking of hands at this present time. I will be discontinuing my usual practice of shaking everyone’s hand before and after service, though I will still offer a greeting. I encourage you to follow my example and offer a holy elbow bump to one another during greeting times. Related to this, we are not going to observe the Passing of the Peace for the foreseeable future.
Third, we encourage everyone to wash their hands before entering the sanctuary. Both congregations have sinks available near the entrances of the sanctuary. You are encouraged to wash before you enter.
Fourth, we will not be passing offering plates or bags for the foreseeable future. All offerings will be collected at the door prior to service and then brought forward during the offering time.
Fifth, you are encouraged to spread out in the sanctuary. Those front rows that never get used? Now is the time to use them. Put space between yourself and other worshippers.
When discussing infectious disease, many people have concerns regarding receiving Holy Communion, especially from the chalice or “common cup.” First, multiple studies have shown that populations who receive communion, including those who receive from the chalice, are no sicker than those who do not. Because of this, and more importantly because of the miraculous gifts the Lord gives to us through Holy Communion of forgiveness, life, and salvation, we will not be discontinuing the Lord’s Supper, and we will continue to offer the chalice, for the time being. However, if it would be a burden on your conscience to receive Holy Communion at this time, you are by no means compelled to receive it; you are free to remain seated during the distribution, and you should feel no guilt in doing so. And, you should feel no guilt about receiving from the individual cups.
Some Spiritual Considerations
First, remember that our current circumstances are an opportunity to demonstrate Christian love. This will look different for different people in different circumstances. If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms or a fever, it means staying home. If you are a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist, or other health worker, this means remaining steadfast in your duties, even though it may mean risk to you. If you are a parent or a teacher, teaching the young people under your care how to mitigate risk is one way you show love. Statistics show that due to the social nature of their work and their practice of visiting the sick, pastors suffer from infectious diseases (and even death from them!) at higher rates than the general population. While I aim to be wise with such matters, I promise you that I will lead the way in showing Christian love by not abandoning my post, so that I may continue to provide you spiritual care.
Second, this is a good time to reiterate my common theme of the importance of a personal and home devotional life. The time may come that we need to cancel services, and until then you may need to stay home if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms or a fever. Yet, your need for God’s Word will not change. Are you in the habit of reading God’s Word and praying as a household and personally? Now is the time to get into the habit, and it just may sustain you in a time of great spiritual need.
Additionally, please remember that you have multiple opportunities to be spiritually fed by St. John’s and St. Peter’s even when you are not able to attend. St. John’s posts their entire services on YouTube (search for Andrew Engelking), and these are also posted on Facebook. I have not been very faithful as of late of posting recordings of my sermons on the St. Peter’s website, but I will be changing this practice immediately and posting them on Monday mornings. Additionally, the Still Water Sermoncast airs on WDOR every Sunday morning at about 8:05 AM.
Much more could be said, but this letter has already gone on quite long. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org, 920-365-2218.
Yours in Christ,