Moving Forward in These Difficult Times
Siblings in Christ –
It would be impossible, I imagine, to have lived through the last couple of weeks and not had the spread of COVID-19 somewhere on your mind or in your conversation. This now-pandemic is the 24-7 reality of the entire world. And as of a couple of days ago, it is officially part of our lives here in Portland, Maine.
It has been on my mind as well, as I shift through the various reports; check the CDC and WHO websites multiple times a day, and consult with colleagues in various parts of the country to see what is happening and what the newly-developed best practices are. 

For us at St. Ansgar, we implemented some changes last Sunday to the ways in which we have Communion, and for the most part everyone shared words of Peace instead of handshakes and hugs. We discovered, very quickly, that we can do church in different ways and still be sharing in community and proclaiming the Gospel

My experience of the congregation last week was heartening! Everyone seemed to be focused on caution and not fear, trusting science and the recommendations of health-care professionals to ensure everyone is safe and that the virus does not spread.
Now that there are known cases of COVID-19 here in Portland, a second wave of precaution is sweeping the city. As has been the case in other, larger, metropolitan areas, colleges are shifting to online classes and large-scale events are being cancelled or postponed. 
In the last 24 hours, several faith communities have taken the lead to model behavior that seeks to slow the spread of the virus and cancel meetings and in-person worship services through to the end of the month. After consulting with the Council, we too have decided to suspend all worship services and meetings at least until March 30 .
For this Sunday, March 15, we will offer something along the lines of the recordings of the sermons that have been offered weekly. You will receive a separate email later today with that information. 

You are encouraged to continue to offer your pledged support to St. Ansgar , by either mailing in your checks to the church (515 Woodford Street, Portland, ME 04103) or making an electronic donation through the website: . Click the “Give Online” button, and you can make a one time or recurring donation to the congregation and its ministries.
Two virtual worship options are offered as well. 

  • St. Paul Lutheran in Arlington, Massachusetts (one of several congregations in the Boston area that has suspended services) is also offering a streaming worship experience. You can access that service at 10:30am using this link:  The worship bulletin and hymns are available for download on their website:
Over the course of the week, I will be working with members of the worship community at St. Ansgar to see what more we can do to not only ensure that you will have as full a worship experience as we can deliver, but also that you will have opportunity for fellowship through phone conversations throughout the week.
Not having worship in person can stir a myriad of feelings; it certainly has for me. In the depths of my discernment, I was heartened by a message I read from the Bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, where I was a candidate before coming to St. Paul. Bishop William Gafkjen writes:
Not gathering in person for worship could be a way of loving our neighbor, both those who are vulnerable as well as the wider community. I can’t help but think about Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Fasting from communal worship for a time can also be a faithful aspect of loving our neighbors, seeking the welfare of the “city” where God has sent us.
I am grateful for the support and leadership of the Congregation Council during this difficult and unprecedented time in our life together as a faith community, and am equally thankful for you – the people of God in this place – for what I know will be your commitment to be creative as we continue to do the hard work of being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
I offer a poem, in prayer. Thanks to Tom Chittick for sharing.
Pandemic, March 2020
by Lynn Ungar, composed on 3/11/20
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now, 
on trying to make the world
different than it is. 
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
Be well and may peace be in your heart,
Pr. Christephor
PS – I’m available to check in with anyone if you have questions or concerns. Feel free to reply to this email or call my cell phone: 207-310-8028.