March 23, 2020
Dear Pastors and Deacons of the Pacifica Synod,
But God said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Thank you for your hard work this last week. Thank you for reaching out to your people, helping them stay connected, communicating Christ's care. Thank you for providing, where possible, faith formation activities, confirmation classes, and youth group check-ins online. Thank you to the many of you who held online worship services. I was able to attend some and hope to view others throughout the week. If your congregation cannot put together an online worship opportunity, I encourage you to guide them to a neighboring ELCA congregation's online worship. People need an opportunity to hear the gospel, particularly at this time. Thank you, pastors and deacons, for providing Christian care to your people and the surrounding community. Please share my thanks with your lay leaders, church musicians, youth workers and all those who work with you to connect those who are physically distanced.
I used our synod's "Alternative worship services" platform on our synod web page (
) to access your worship services. Thank you for sending in your Facebook and YouTube links. For most congregations, it was easy to find your services, though in some cases it was a bit more of a challenge. The most frequent hindrance, especially in live-streaming, was in not seeing on your Facebook page the time of your service. Some congregations solve this by putting their service time in the cover photo, others had as the first or second post the service time so all I had to do was scroll down to find it. I am letting you know this not to scold you - you are doing a great job and deserve only commendation. I am letting you know this so that you can check your site, see if you can make it easier for people to connect with you. Remember, folks outside your congregation may be looking for worship opportunities and may come to your website or Pacifica's to find out how to connect. Please do what you can to make it easy for them.
Some of you have asked why I am not giving permission for virtual communion. Bishop Eaton has written a letter (found
), and Dr. Timothy Wengert has shared some thoughts (found
) on this subject. But there is another reason I am hesitant to grant official permission to virtual communion.
Article VII of the Augsburg Confession states that Christ's church is found where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. The right administration of the sacraments is a sign of the whole church and is not a matter of congregational or even synodical preference. Communion is a gift of God not only to remind people of Jesus's presence and forgiveness, but also as a visible sign of our invisible unity in Christ. Throughout history, the church writ large has not allowed for virtual practice of communion, not even in places where there were not enough pastors to meet weekly with Christian communities, where radio transmissions were available, pastors were willing to say the words of institution, and communities were willing to receive. Maybe we have been wrong not to allow it, but this is the practice not only in the ELCA but by the Lutheran Communions represented in the Lutheran World Federation. I think it unwise to quickly dispense with this way of communing without discussion not only among our ELCA siblings, but also among our world-wide partners. Most of us have only gone two weeks, at most, without the opportunity to receive the sacrament. Let's take some time to pray, talk to our ELCA and global siblings, and seek God's will in this matter. Things change quickly in this world, and I may have another and different word on this as conversations continue. But for now, I would encourage us to fast from the sacrament of Holy Communion.
In place of the bread and the wine of Eucharist, I would encourage congregations to remind people of their baptisms. Pastor Terry Tuvey Allen told the staff this morning that when she worked as a chaplain in the hospital, she served many people who, for medical reasons, could not take communion. In place of communion, she would make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the patient, reminding them of their baptism and their oneness with Christ. And while we are requested to avoid touching our own faces, much less the faces of others, we could take time to make the sign of the cross in front of each other, while facing each other, as Pastors often do during the Benediction. Or, for those who are single and worship alone, we could encourage making the sign of the cross in front of themselves.
Finally, remember to preach the gospel. Remind people that God is with them, that they are blessed when they take up their cross to follow Jesus and do what seems difficult in order to serve the neighbor, that God's promise is that God is most powerfully at work in and through us when we feel most helpless (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 for St. Paul's experience of this promise). I hear on TV a longing for when our lives will go back to normal. I would encourage us to look for ways God is using this time to make lasting changes in us, giving us the ability at other times to say "no" to what we would want for ourselves in order to help God's "yes" to our neighbor and world be heard clearly through our words and actions.
God be with you as you share the gospel. Feel free to reach out with any need.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Bishop Andy Taylor