by: Elizabeth Krolak
August 18, 2020
Dear People of Peace Lutheran Church,
It was exactly five months ago that we had to make the difficult but necessary decision to close our building and suspend in-person worship in the sanctuary. I feel a sense of disbelief at writing those words! Yet the reality is before us: Covid-19 is still a force that has caused us to change how we are church.
We quickly switched to online worship and experimented with new formats as we found better ways to be together, virtually and outdoors. We held outdoor and online worship every week in June and July. We practiced one of our best gifts as a congregation: the ability to “go with the flow”! Youth got together on Zoom for confirmation and had fun home scavenger hunts and Bible studies on making it through anxious times. This is our new reality for a while!
And there’s another reality for which we are truly grateful: you have been faithful in your continued worship…in supporting worship innovation...and in the financial support and the caring you have shown for one another and for those in need. You took this change in stride and your congregational leaders have been clearheaded, hope-filled and grounded in faith.
LOVE GOD, LOVE NEIGHBOR
It’s clear by now that church gatherings, as practiced before the pandemic, are prone to being “superspreading” events for the novel coronavirus. With this knowledge we have a special responsibility, as houses of worship, to safeguard our congregants and our communities. So first, a few words about how we make our decisions on worship in the midst of a pandemic.
All our decisions are rooted in our love for God and compassionate love for one another and our neighbor. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God…No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:7, 12)
Rooted in love, it’s also important not to compare our decisions with other congregations. Every church community, building, volunteer and leader has their own set of challenges; opinions and decisions on resuming in-person worship will vary widely. This doesn’t mean ours is wrong; it means all leaders are wisely considering their own setting as they make those decisions. The one thing all congregations have in common is that they love God, each other, and their neighbors.
At Peace Lutheran, we have a task force that meets regularly to go over government and ELCA guidelines as we decide how to proceed. We, the Gathering Together Task Force, are eagerly awaiting the time when we can gather again for worship. And yet all the information we have is telling us, "Not yet".
We have been holding to our original plan (based on Minnesota Department of Health and CDC guidance) of waiting until we have two weeks of declining cases in our county before we consider gathering for worship indoors. As more is learned about the transmission of the virus, we may be able to use other measures to decide when it is safe to resume Sunday worship indoors.
SOME ASPECTS OF GATHERING THAT WE ARE WORKING ON ARE:
How to sanitize chairs (ours are fabric so we may use alternate furniture), tables, floors, restrooms and high-touch surfaces; Communion practices and offering collection, singing and unison speaking, baptisms, confirmations, weddings & funerals; maintaining a safe distance between households in the sanctuary and as people enter and exit; technology needs since we will continue providing online worship; ordering supplies for cleaning and hand hygiene; scheduling events so there is time for sanitizing and air exchange between gatherings; how to accommodate households with children; possibilities for small group activities and meetings; and creating a plan that can be communicated and posted (required by MN Dept of Health).
THAT’S A LOT! WHAT’S THE GOOD NEWS?
We have some great advantages in our building, despite the relatively small footprint of the sanctuary, that make small gatherings possible soon. We have an air exchanger along with our HVAC system. Our furniture is completely portable, including the altar area. And we can open windows for good airflow when the weather is nice.
So we will be scheduling baptisms and confirmations starting in September.
These will be held in the sanctuary or outdoors with one family at a time, with less than 10 people present and with physical distancing and face coverings for everyone present, including the pastor. Families of confirmands and those who await baptism will be contacted by office administrator Mike Thilges to schedule their event starting August 17. If families prefer to postpone their event, that is fine. Videos of baptisms and confirmations will be put together into a worship video so the whole congregation may participate.
Lisa Lindemann will resume piano lessons with one student at a time (families to wait in their cars) at the church after Labor Day.
HOW ABOUT SUNDAY WORSHIP?
We will be making a decision on indoor worship (with more than 10 people) in November. Until then, we will continue to hold any church gatherings outdoors, weather permitting, or in smaller groups (less than 10) in the sanctuary only, with face coverings and 6’ distancing required. Bible studies and prayer gatherings may be possible before that; please contact Pastor Beth if you would like to organize one.
WILL THESE CHANGES BE FOREVER?
No. Some of the changes will be long-lasting, because we find them to be positive additions—like offering online worship and encouraging online giving! Others may come and go as the pandemic ebbs and flows. But eventually we will be in “the new normal”—and we will have Peace Lutheran stories to tell!
WHAT CAN WE DO NOW?
We have studied and researched the ever-changing guidance available to us and prayed fervently for your wellbeing, our community's wellbeing, and our creativity as a congregation so that we may worship God in a manner that benefits all. We’ll continue that! Here’s what you can do:
- Pray for Bishop Hassanally, Pastor Beth, our task force, our council & our congregation.
- Stay connected! Be in touch with your church family; check in with each other.
- Continue to watch your email and our website (peaceeyota.org) for updates and a survey.
- Please consider how you can be involved in church life and outreach, whether in person or online!
- Kids: Pre-K through 6th grade, click here to see what we’re doing this year and sign up for Faith Foundations! For other ages, watch your e news!
- Find ways to strengthen your faith life through prayer, devotions, journaling, being outdoors or music. Worship is not limited to the sanctuary, and now is a great time to explore what feeds your soul. How does God speak to you? Who can you share this with?
- Continue to support the ministry of the church financially, as you are able.
- Extend grace, not just to the church but to the community: schools, businesses and government are all learning along the way. None of us are experienced in navigating a pandemic caused by a new virus and everyone’s doing the best they can!
With gratitude and hope,
Pastor Beth Krolak and
The Gathering Together Task Force (Carla Brunsvold, Laurie Mickow and Jamie Olson)