As we enter this new year 2021, I am writing to extend my strong recommendation that congregations do not offer in-person worship until further notice. My recommendation, made after much prayer and discernment, is based on our core Lutheran conviction of loving our neighbors – whether they be people in our communities, congregation members, or our rostered ministers.
No one, including pastors, deacons, church staff, and members who may be compromised in ways that make them vulnerable to severe cases of coronavirus, should be required to risk infection by participating in worship, education, or meetings that can be offered remotely. The evidence continues to show that extended gathering indoors, even with masking and distancing, is a major way that this virus spreads.
We are blessed to be able to gather over the miles in sacred cyberspace, and I encourage all leaders and congregations to use this time to advance their strategy and skills to leverage the tools our technological age has provided.
When Martin Luther was faced with the plague, he affirmed that Christians should offer aid and comfort to afflicted neighbors but should take steps to avoid spreading the disease. We do this today by wearing masks, keeping social distancing, practicing hygiene and, yes, by abstaining from in-person gatherings.
I know that many of us are tiring of Zoom and Facebook Live. We long to see each other face-to-face, even if our faces are covered. But science tells us that we are not out of the woods just yet.
These are unprecedented times, and we are learning as we go – together. We are blessed that cases are, at the moment, declining across Pennsylvania. We are blessed that vaccines are beginning to be offered in this area.
However, we are likely to see another surge post-Christmas and New Year’s, as we have following holidays in 2020. It is also possible that most people will not be able to receive a vaccine until summer or fall. Pandemic precautions and restrictions will be with us for some time.
So, sisters and brothers, I urge you to hold fast to God’s promise to be with us in trials as well as in good times. We will gather face-to-face again. Until that time, pray! I am convinced that prayer is the thread that holds us together in Christ during this time. Continue to stay connected through online worship, coffee hours, and Bible studies, and through telephone contact with those who do not have internet access.
We are the church together, whether we are inside or outside our buildings.