These words of St. Paul have been flowing through my ears and a needed meditation for my heart in these days we find ourselves in. I pray they will be a sense of comfort for you too.
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31,34-35,37-39)
What then are we to say about these things? These things concerning COVID-19, a global pandemic. What then are we to say: to anxious and fearful ones among us, the parents learning how to homeschool and the child who struggles with those realities, the graduate who will not have a ceremony, the elder who can’t receive visitors, the now unemployed, the congregation who lives in a new reality of what it means to be church, to you and whatever your questions are?
We proclaim what we know and who we know best. We proclaim the inseparable love of Jesus Christ, and we proclaim that nothing in all of creation, nothing, not even a COVID-19 virus separates us from that love.
What then are we to say about these things, these things of worship? In these days of a global pandemic that seems to be growing ever more wildly daily, we know that there is more about this than what we know. We have been urged by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to continue practicing physical distancing to flatten the curve.
I, along with the Synod Council of this synod, strongly implore and encourage you not to physically gather in worship through Holy Week and Easter and up to April 26, a date that may very well need to be extended into May. As you make this decision, please also continue to consult what the CDC, local and state governments are suggesting; if you choose not to follow that advice. We all grieve this decision, but the health and welfare of all of our members are of the utmost importance.
On the synod website (www.elca-ses.org), we have a host of resources available concerning public health information, worship resources with sermons from staff, lists of food and medical assistance, faith formation resources, and pastoral letters from the bishop.
What then are we to say about these things, these things of gathering for a synod assembly? Many synods have and are in the process of making these same decisions across our church. Yesterday, our synod council voted to cancel the June 5-7, 2020 Southeastern Synod Assembly.
This decision was not made lightly, but was made prayerfully and in mutual conversation with our synod attorney, the ELCA Office of the Secretary, the Presiding Bishop, and others. We considered the restrictions placed by civil authorities; the uncertainty of our times; our deep and abiding care for you and the neighbor; the uncertain and growing health risks that this virus is posing; the most vulnerable of our population that would be the majority of our audience; and a need for making this decision in a timely fashion.
Where we will not meet in assembly, we will be hosting a fall synod day (to be scheduled at a later time). It is my hope we can offer on the same day event places in all four of our states that can be live-streamed together for bible study, worship, keynote, workshops, and more. By doing this, it also allows more people from across our synod to gather in ways that we otherwise would not have been able to do in assembly.
Following the ELCA and synod constitutions, we will hold what business has to wait until the following year’s assembly, and all other matters that can be voted on according to our constitution will be done so by the synod council. The synod staff will cancel all assembly registrations and issue refunds to those who have paid. Please remember to cancel your hotel reservation.
What then are we to say about these things? I want to say thank you! Thank you to each of you who I have seen step up and show the world what it means to love and serve your neighbor during these days of even being physically distant. Thank you for all the ways you continue to be generous in your time, talents, and treasures, even in the midst of these days. Thank you for your work of the kingdom in providing care, nurture, and formation for people in ways you may never imagined you would have to do.
What then are we to say about these things of these days in which we live? We say that nothing in all creation will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing! This is an Easter message that we will need to hear, proclaim, and be reminded of more and more in these days. May it be so. Amen.