October 8, 2020
Season after Pentecost
Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31

Dear Siblings in Christ,

Thank you for your creative and dedicated leadership as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hammer our nation and upend how we minister to God’s people. I am grateful that congregations are taking the threat of the virus seriously and doing all they can to minimize the chances of infection among their leaders and membership. Thank you!

Our work is especially difficult because the pandemic’s course has proven unpredictable. Responding to what’s happening on the ground, public health officials continue to revise their guidelines and restrictions. Staying in compliance with the ever-shifting guidelines challenges the work of congregational COVID-19 Task Forces across the ELCA as we seek to do what’s best to serve and protect God’s people.

Because of an upturn in Pennsylvania COVID-19 cases, Governor Wolf’s office has issued a revised order that limits indoor public gatherings to 20 percent of capacity for buildings the size of all our congregations. The order also continues to require people to wear masks and practice social distancing.

I urge congregations of the Lower Susquehanna Synod to comply with Governor Wolf’s new guidelines and to remain vigilant in maintaining protocols to ensure maximum safety for the people we serve.

Much as we wish it was over and done with, the COVID-19 pandemic will be part of our lives for some time to come. We are not out of the woods yet. As we have learned, no institution and no person is immune from COVID-19’s reach.

Churches remain places where the virus can spread silently and stealthily to the most vulnerable people. Regrettably, even ELCA churches have experienced outbreaks and deaths as a result of unsafe gathering or worship practices.

For Christians, maintaining safe practices is a matter of loving our neighbor as ourselves and practicing the “Golden Rule” expressed in Luke 6:31. Just as we would not want the risky behavior of others to jeopardize our health (or even make us fearful), so we are cautious that we protect and reassure our neighbors.

Some congregations are still concerned about communion practice and singing as they resume in-person worship. My strong recommendation is for congregations to refrain from singing because medical authorities say it is very risky even when the congregation wears masks. As for communion, abstaining from the sacrament is still the safest policy; however, if congregations resume Eucharist, they are wise to take great care in minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Excellent resources concerning singing and communion can be found on our synod Coronavirus Resource Page.

Thank you, again, for your dedicated ministry in these trying times. Though it seems like it will last forever, I am cheered that COVID-19 is a season, not a lifetime.
With God’s help, we will get through this.
†James S. Dunlop, bishop
Lower Susquehanna Synod, ELCA 
900 S. Arlington Ave. Suite 220B
 Harrisburg, PA 17109