A message to the pastors and deacons of the Southwest California Synod, 
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
April 3, 2020
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 

Beloved in Christ Jesus, I know we are all facing Holy Week with a mixture of feelings. Some of you have come up with remarkable, creative worship and learning opportunities for the week ahead, and may even be excited about them. Others have much less “bandwidth” literal or figurative, and are just muddling through—you may be apprehensive. But  whatever you are doing, you have my deep gratitude , and I believe your people will hear the message of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ somehow—and perhaps in these hard days in a new and especially powerful way.

Though I had originally resolved not to make any more synod worship videos beyond last Sunday, several of you have reached out to me to say that they are useful in your contexts, and so we have made further ones Services of the Word for Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, and the Second Sunday of Easter have already been taped . We are also thinking of ways to cover Maundy Thursday and Good Friday also, in less formal ways.

One special offer: I will also make my sermon for Easter 2 available as a stand-alone video clip . I invite everyone to use it that Sunday and spare yourselves one week’s preaching.  I will see to it that it has Spanish subtitles. I anticipate it will be available on the Tuesday after Easter. Again, I am trying to find ways to give you some relief in what I know is a time of stress and overwork—this is not an expectation, only an offer. I worry about all of you overextending yourselves.

I’m also trying not to overwhelm you with messages, and I think one per week from me (on Friday) is about the right rhythm.   Anything you need to know urgently will come to you, labeled as such, in e-mail from the synod communicator.  In that vein, you have received a number of messages in these last days about the programs set up by the Federal government for the relief of small businesses , which seem  (mirabile dictu!)  to be open to churches and congregations as well. We don’t mean to pressure you, but to give you access. 

We will continue to make available the best information we have as quickly as possible. But like you,  we are not lawyers or bankers or tax accountants, and we can only point one another to those who are . And we tell you all this, pastors and deacons, not because I expect you to manage these things personally, but because you are the most reliable point of contact to your congregational leaders, who I hope are stepping up to the challenges of the moment. But I know that is not always the case, and some of you are doing this alone.

In addition to learning which of our people and our congregations have access to digital communications for the purpose of worship, Bible study, and meetings,   we are learning in this crisis which of our congregations do not have effective financial and administrative leadership  among their laypeople. I’m very sorry that some of you don’t have such help, or that in this moment they are not as helpful to you as you need them to be. Share with each other the challenges you face—this is a time for solidarity and not isolation. My staff are continuing to call each of you to get local updates; please stay in touch with your deans as well, and know that we are all in this together.

The Synod Treasurer, Michael Metzger, can also be a helpful resource on congregational finance—he tries to keep abreast of what is happening in other synods as well. You can reach him by e-mailing my chief of staff, Sheri Dillon ( sdillon@socalsynod.org ), and she will forward your message. If you have a school or preschool, the Evangelical Lutheran Education Association ( eleanational.org ) has a wealth of practical information. If you are not a member of ELEA, consider joining. I monitor their listserv, and it is full of HR and employment information. (You can also join as an individual if you don’t have a school—the information might still be useful.)  This is also a good time to reach out to your congregation’s insurance agent, bank, and any creditors you have . Again, I hope you as clergy don’t have to do much of this, but I know that some of you do.

Crises such as this tend to open up the cracks in any organization, and as much as we would like to think emergencies would pull us together, you may be finding old fault lines in your communities coming back (or showing themselves more intensely than before). I don’t know what to do about that, except to counsel patience and watchfulness. There will be at least four more weeks of this, and maybe more.   When we are all back together face-to-face, none of our congregations will be in the same place they were before it began.  There are ways in which what you and your people learn from this will be important in assessing the future of your mission as congregations and your callings as their pastors and deacons.

We will have time to deal with that when it comes. For right now, I want to tell you that I think your efforts to keep your people connected to each other and to you have been heroic.  I hear good things from congregations that have been able to “go deep” with their people in this time.  Not all are like that, but even what they are doing is a sign of the life they have within them. This is not a time to judge, but a time to link arms—and a time to pray for each other. I am seeing the communion of saints in new ways in the midst of all this, and I hope you are too.

You’ll hear more from me next week: a big thing on my mind is how to support you in the grief work you will need to do with your people as the pandemic intensifies, and  how to help you with the grief you yourselves will experience . I may be calling on a few of you with special training in that area to make yourselves available to assist. Zoom calls (especially topical ones) are proving a really rich resource, and I expect there will be more of them to come. If you have topics you’d like to have discussed, let me or Pr. Brenda Bos know ( bbos@socalsynod.org ). 

On top of your work in your congregations,   I know you all have households in which you are sheltering . Those have their own challenges: children at home all the time and school to make up; unaccustomed closeness (or loneliness), and cabin fever. We’re all in that right now in differing degrees. Even I (who love quiet time) am finding all this a bit much. But I am feeling more connected to nature as going for walks in the neighborhood becomes a treat. Using up long-stored food in the pantry instead of buying new has been an adventure. My desk has never been cleaner in recent years. If this goes on long enough I may even clean the garage.

And, of course, it is   in the next weeks that we will see most clearly who has been exposed to the coronavirus and who will become sick . There are cases now in six or seven of our congregations, and I am sure I do not know yet how many there really are. Some have been put on ventilators. Members of our congregations also continue to die of other causes, as in any season. We simply have to do what we can, within the framework of the public health regulations and what hospitals, funeral homes, and cemeteries will allow. We’ll talk more about this in the future, too.

So maybe it has a deeper sense that we should be in an epidemic right when we hear the story of Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection again: our faith is a story of life and death and new life. Embody that faith as you always do:   keep Jesus in your heart and in your words; lift up the presence of God among us  in spite of separation. We will kneel together before the cross, and we will stand together before the empty tomb.

God be with you. Stay well.

Bishop Guy Erwin
April 3, 2020

Southwest California Synod of the ELCA| (818) 507-9591| news@socalsynod.org| www.socalsynod.org