July 13, 2020
Reflections from Bishop Humphrey
Should We? Or, Shouldn’t We? Returning to In-person, Inside Worship
You all have seen the headlines. The one today that caught my attention is: “Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are a Major Source of Coronavirus Cases.” The subtext reads, “The virus has infiltrated Sunday services, church meetings, and youth camps. More than 650 cases have been linked to reopened religious facilities.” ( NY Times online 7.8.20)
 
Well, on the one hand, 650 cases are not many out of all recently confirmed in our country. And, how confident can we be these cases were not due to some other circumstance than a church meeting? On the other hand, this is just the number we know from careful contact tracing. There could be far more transmissions we don’t know about? I get dizzy trying to follow these circular arguments that seem to lead us into conflict without any convincing conclusions for some.
 
I remember standing at the entrance to our worship space on a snowy Sunday morning in January. I knew I could get to church, so I figured, “Who knows, maybe someone really needs to be in church this morning.” The parking lot had been cleared, sort of… So, we declared we would be open for worship at 11:00 a.m., as usual! I stood there along with a couple of other hearty members.
 
The car approached slowly and then slid sidewise on the slick surface to a stop. The door opened and the 87-year-old matriarch slowly emerged from her car. As she started across the snow and ice with her cane and two ushers rushed to assist her, I thought, “This was a really bad call.” Would a church service for the few who ventured out be worth it if Mrs. Johnson had fallen and broken her hip? No.
 
Dear siblings, I know these are stressful times. Faced with months more of “creative” worship options while we await an effective treatment and vaccine, it is tempting to just roll the dice, hoping we can avoid any serious problems. But as we ponder our options, we must ask ourselves “How many people getting sick, (let alone dying), is an acceptable price to try and get our lives ‘back to normal?’”
Worship and Community
Return to In-Person Worship Communication Examples
As congregations consider returning to in-person worship during Virginia Forward Phase 3, they are developing ways to share the necessary changes to worship with those who might decide to attend. Below are two examples showing how congregations are communicating the changes.

Trinity, Stephens City and Pastor JMe Lowden have produced a video for their congregation to explain the requirements and safeguards that the congregation is putting in place as they prepare to gather again in-person. For congregations returning to in-person worship, a video or a set of written instructions may help to eliminate confusion, temper expectations, and increase safety. You can take a look at the video using the button below.

First English, Richmond produced a document that outlines the process and changes necessary for those returning to in-person worship. The document walks through the cautions for attending, social distance requirements, and changes to elements of the worship service. It is available for download using the button below.
Virginia Synod Office of the Bishop Providing Summer Sermon Series
The Virginia Synod Office of the Bishop has started providing sermons for each Sunday lasting   through  August 30, 2020  for use in congregations. These sermons will be presented by Bishop Bob Humphrey, The Rev. Kelly Bayer Derrick, The Rev. John Wertz Jr., and The Rev. Dave Delaney on a rotating basis.

The sermons will be shared on the Synod's website at  vasynod.org/resources/pulpit-supply , as well as on Facebook Page each Sunday.
Virginia Synod Rostered Minister Prayer Service Gathering July 15, 2020
The Virginia Synod Ministerium will gather by Zoom for a Service of Word and Prayer on  Wednesday, July 15th at 1 PM  and following that a time of conversation with the Synod staff at  1:30 PM . In this time of physical distancing, we look forward to gathering rostered ministers together to hear God's Word and join in prayer for one another and for the world.

The link below will work for Wednesday's service as well as  all future Wednesday prayer services and gatherings .

  • Join Zoom Meeting
  • Meeting ID: 541 796 597
  • Password: 719750
  • Dial in by location:
  • +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
  • +1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
Organ Accompaniments for Hymns for Upcoming Sundays
Below are links to downloadable mp3 audio files providing organ accompaniments for hymns for upcoming Sundays. All tunes are either in the public domain or copyrighted by Augsburg-Fortress, so there are no restrictions on playing the mp3 for your streaming worship or posting the words on your video feed or an accompanying bulletin. (Thanks to Nancy Delaney and Christ Lutheran Church in Roanoke for providing these.)

Hymns for July 2020- 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 16A)
Payroll Protection Loan Resources
Simplified PPP Loan Forgiveness Application
As a part of the continuing evolution of the Payroll Protection Program, the government has released a simplified forgiveness form to make it easier for loan recipients to apply for forgiveness.

Applications for forgiveness will take place through your bank and it appears that you will still be required to submit paperwork to substantiate that the loan was used appropriately, but application and the calculations involved are streamlined. Talk to your lender for more information.

Use the links below to see June 16, 2020 revision of the application and the instructions. Please note that an earlier version of the application was released, but it appears to have been replaced by this version which provides more clarity.
PPP Loan Forgiveness Updates
Horizon Stewardship and CapinCrouse have provided a summary of the recent changes in the PPP Loan Forgiveness program and how those changes impact congregations. Use the link below to access the article and short webinar.
Government Communications
The Path to Zero Dashboard
Harvard Global Health Institute, Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Rockefeller Foundation, CovidActNow, Covid-Local, CIDRAP and many others joined forces, launch new COVID Risk Level map and COVID suppression guidance for policy makers and the public. The map provides statistics by state and by county.
Governor Northam Issues Phase 3 Guidance
Wednesday, July 1 began Phase 3 of Virginia Forward, the Governor's office has released their Safer at Home guidelines for stage three. The section on Religious Services begins on page 32.
Leadership in Uncertain Times
6 Helpful Ideas from Leadership Blogs and Emails
Each week, we receive a flurry of "Leading in the Midst of Change" emails flooding our inboxes. Here are 6 helpful articles gleaned from those emails and blog posts over the last two weeks. Articles in this edition focus digital worship.
Will Our Church Get Sued for Reopening?
Church Law and Tax published an article entitled "Will our Church Get Sued for Reopening?" talking about the legal issues around gathering again in-person.

The article is behind a paywall, but Church Law and Tax will grant permission for a limited number of printed copies of the article to be shared. If you are interested in reading the article, email Pastor John Wertz, Jr. at: wertz@vasynod.org and he can send you a copy of the article.
ELCA Coaching Weekly Zoom Conversations
On July 15, we are honored to have Rev. Dr. Lawrence J. Clark, II and Rev. Dr. Richard N. Stewart present with us to share The Untold Story of Black Lutheran History.

You are invited to join this weekly online gathering designed to provide encouragement and support for ELCA leaders across the church. Participants will hear topical presentations related to how we are called to be Church in times of crisis, as well as an opportunity to be in small group discussions with an ELCA group coach facilitating the conversation. All of this is designed to help us process our feelings in this strange and fearful time and to create a space where we can each name our next most faithful step forward in our unique context. You are welcome to share this invitation with any other ELCA leader, rostered or lay.

Meeting ID: 180 439 412
Password: 648160

Dial by your location
    +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
    +1 646 876 9923 US (New York)
We Are Church Together for the Sake of the World
Currently Available: Lutheran Disaster Response Grants Through the Virginia Synod
Lutheran Disaster Response has provided funding to the Virginia Synod to assist congregations as they respond to COVID-19. The first grants will be going out this week, but there are still funds available to fund ministries in the following areas:

  • Ministry with those Experiencing Homelessness
  • Direct Support for Feeding Ministries (pantry or hot meal programs)
  • New Ministries that meet a Need that has Emerged because of COVID-19

If you are responding to a ministry in a way that fits into one of the categories above, please email Pastor John Wertz: wertz@vasynod.org for more information on the grant.
Synod Office Contact Information
A reminder that the Virginia Synod Office of the Bishop has asked its staff to work remotely from their homes in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. We ask at this time should you need to contact our staff to do so directly via email (you can find all staff persons email contacts on our website ).

Should you need to phone either our offices, please know the Eastern Office of the Bishop plans to have phone calls received during office hours (8:00 AM- 4:30 PM) forwarded directly to Lenae Osmondson.

The Salem Office of the Bishop phone will have a voicemail message recorded directing callers to leave a message, or to call a separate phone number during office hours (8:00 AM- 4:30 PM). The number is 540-855-7455 and will be answered by Tammy Kasper. Messages left on the Salem Office of the Bishop phone will be checked as we are able to do so.

In addition, please do not plan to visit either the Salem or Eastern offices in person. Messages and mail will be checked regularly, but please be patient during this time.
We continues to update the Virginia Synod COVID-19 web page with information from the ELCA, CDC, and covering a number of  prepardness and response resources, as well as  liturgical resources.

If you have suggestions for needed resources, please contact Pastor John Wertz at wertz@vasynod.org.