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                                                                                JUNE, 2020
 
      
                         The Virginia 
                      LUTHERAN 
~Bringing you news of the Virginia Synod since 1921~

 
George Kegley Retires


     

     Editor
     The Virginia Lutheran

             1960 - 2020




Almost Sixty Years Ago...
by George Kegley

            Almost 60 years ago (August 1960), Dr. Charlie Tusing, longtime synod secretary, called to offer me a job as editor of The Virginia Lutheran. I had  helped him promote the Massanetta Summer Assembly. Although I knew little about the monthly publication, I accepted, started in September and 60 years of work flew by quickly. This is my last issue as editor but Bishop Bob Humphrey said the publication will continue in some form.
            Following in the footsteps of five pastors, I soon learned that the job involved many phone calls and a lot of begging in the search for news of the Synod, its pastors, lay members, organizations and institutions. The Virginia Lutheran has had many contributors, several printers and a variety of formats through the years. My first issue in September 1960 had 16 pages and it was hard copy for much of its life until electronic printing became more economical.
            Conference deans once were enlisted to report on their areas. For several years, a four-page insert was included in The Lutheran magazine.
            Through six decades of tremendous change in every form of human activity, I have tried to report what was happening in the church, how our members and pastors have worshiped in many ways. Since I come from an historical background-my grandfather was a horseback pastor in Wythe County in the 1800s-I have been interested in the life of the Virginia Synod and its family members.
            The trends reported here often echo changes in the secular world. After World War II, a number of new missions were formed; some congregations constructed new buildings, sanctuaries, fellowship halls or administrative wings; men and women turned from business and industry to a second career in the pulpit, and the Synod's leadership structure evolved from superintendent to president to bishop. Restructuring after two national mergers changed the territory alignment of the Synod as the former Knoxville Conference was shifted from Virginia to a new Southeast Synod and Northern Virginia congregations were placed in a Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod. Small congregations, especially in the Shenandoah Valley, have faced declining support, causing major concern, while ministries are healthy in the urban areas of eastern Virginia. In 2009, the national human sexuality issue caused several congregations to leave the Synod.
            Two major trends in recent years and the subjects of many articles have been the steady growth of women pastors and the retirement of many pastors leading to a surge of newcomers from other areas of the church to fill Virginia vacancies. Once, the Synod raised its own pastors. Many families produced more than one pastor but now they are coming from diverse backgrounds. The number of women serving Synod parishes reached an amazing 44 percent earlier this year-quite a change since Pastor Jean Bozeman was the first woman ordained 44 years ago.
             Probably the leading program of the Synod has been the creative youth ministry of Pastor Dave Delaney, drawing hundreds of young people to such popular events as Winter Celebration, Lost and Found, Kairos and the annual Youth Assembly. This youth work has been held up as a model for the ELCA.
            The Virginia Lutheran has reported on the old Marion College, the steady growth of Roanoke College, the work of Virginia women's organization and a smaller group of Virginia men, as well as Caroline Furnace and Hungry Mother Camp.
            Many people have been important sources of information, President J. Luther Mauney and Bishops V. A. "Buck" Moyer, Richard Bansemer, Jim Mauney and Bob Humphrey have been generous and helpful. Working with their staffs has been essential. Foremost has been retired Pastor Dwayne Westermann, who has played a key role in makeup for this publication. I am grateful for his work. Also, Dr. Charley Tusing, Pastors George Handley, Chip Gunsten and John Byerly, Charley Shenberger, Skip Zubrod and more recently, Pastor John Wertz Jr., Kelly Derrick, Becky Walls and Emily Pilat have been friends and supporters.
            I gained an appreciation for the work of the wider church when I was a delegate for four churchwide assemblies. Also, the old Lutheran Church in America
Department of Press, Radio and Television held workshops in the assembly cities. We learned the latest in church communications and saw some local sights, such as the Southern Baptist radio-TV studios in Dallas and the Boeing plant in Seattle.
            A compliment once came from Pastor Philip Bouknight of Trinity Ecumenical Parish, who said, "George can squeeze news out of a  turnip"                                           
             The 99-year history of the Virginia Lutheran is simple. Pastor Eli C. Cronk started the newsletter while he was Synod superintendent in 1921, followed by Pastors Charles M, Teufel and R. Homer Anderson, also Synod superintendents. Anderson is remembered today for a folksy Siftings column that he wrote during his 30 years as the administrative officer for a Synod territory stretching from Norfolk to Chattanooga. Next editors were Pastors Frank K. Efird and Marshall Mauney, Bishop Jim Mauney's father. I was the first lay editor. But when you reach 92 as I did on May 15, it's time to stop.
 

George Kegley-Virginia Synod Newsman
     by Pastor James Utt, D.D., Pastor Emeritus, Grace, Winchester
           
              For the past sixty years, since 1960, The Virginia Lutheran has been under the competent care and editorship of layman George Kegley, professional newspaperman. "The synod established its voice among its constituency by means of The Virginia Lutheran." (Eisenberg, W.E., The Lutheran Church in Virginia 1717-1962, p.289.)
            To these words from Eisenberg should be added "faithful" and "enduring".

A Brief History
            The Virginia Lutheran  was authorized for publication in 1921 by the "old Synod" of Virginia.  Published in the prominent mass communication format of the day - the newspaper, it proved to be a popular instrument of the synod giving congregations and their members a sense of identity and common mission beyond their local congregations.  It became known as "the voice" of a new Virginia Synod in the newly formed national expression - the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA), 1922-1962.  Pastor Eli Calvin Cronk of the Southwest Virginia Synod and Secretary of the Lutheran Laymen's Movement was its first editor and principal reporter.  
            In its first forty years, The Virginia Lutheran was guided by six editors and principal writers. Three Virginia Synod Superintendents followed Cronk - The Reverends George Heilig Rhodes, Charles Milton Teufel, and Robert Homer Anderson.  In addition, two parish pastors stepped forward - Frank KimbalI Efird, Pastor, Christ, Roanoke, editor from 1948 to 1952, followed by Marshall Frantz Mauney, Pastor, Holy Trinity, Lynchburg, editor from 1953 to 1960.  With all of the these new beginnings of synods in Virginia, The Virginia Lutheran emerged as a popular means of keeping Lutherans connected from the mountains of Southwest Virginia and parts of West Virginia to the Shenandoah Valley, to the Tidewater of Virginia and everywhere in between. 
            In the first forty years there were six ordained editors and principal writers.  In the past sixty years there has been one layman - George Kegley!  In these years he faithfully chronicled for the members in the pews and the pastors in the pulpits of the congregations of the Virginia Synod the significant mission and ministry accomplished throughout our synod and its related institutions, auxiliaries and camps. He has also kept a clear eye on the various accomplishments and changes of national expressions of the Lutheran Church in North America, especially the formations of the LCA (1962-1987) and the ELCA (1988-).
            Most of his writing and editing has been about significant Virginia Synod moments - synod conventions and assemblies, election of leaders, important decisions, changes in pastoral leadership and events in every congregation, work of our auxiliaries, and the development and accomplishments of synodical related institutions, agencies, social ministry organizations, and camps.
            As printing and mailing costs of printed copies of The Virginia Lutheran increased so did the availability of email communication.  These and other developments in electronic communications led to the decision to make The Virginia Lutheran a digital publication in the early 2000's. For several years, both the newspaper and digital formats were sent to subscribers to give everyone time to transition to the digital format.

Good and Faithful Servant
           George would be the first to tell you that of most importance to him were the stories written by Pastors and members about the local mission and ministries of their congregations in their communities of the synod - their joys and struggles, times of growths and losses, and through them all their continued strong support of an historic synod of Lutherans in Virginia. 
            In an interview in preparation for this article, George said, "These were the real editors and writers of the synod's stories." With this edition, George retires as editor of The Virginia Lutheran.
            Throughout these sixty years, the members and the pastors of the congregations of the Virginia Synod in its various expressions have been blessed to have had George Kegley as the editor of our synodical voice and source of information of the life of the synod.  Well done, good and faithful servant!            
 
A tribute and thank you to George Kegley
     by Bishop Bob Humphrey
           
T he whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. 
(Acts 15: 11-12 NRSV)

            Well, I cannot confirm "the whole assembly kept silence," - I wish I could! But, I am completely confident - had we been able to meet this year in-person - that when George Kegley finished speaking we would have leapt to our feet and thunderously applauded and shouted our affirmation and appreciation for six decades (Yes, 60 years!) of editorial oversight for our "flagship" 20th Century Virginia Synod publication, The Virginia Lutheran. It still enriches us monthly - well into the 21st Century!
            It is with deep affection and admiration that I write this brief article of appreciation for the truly remarkable work George has maintained month after month (@720 months, to be clear!) in faithfully reporting "all the signs and wonders that God has done" through the saints of our synod. 
           He personally sought out and reviewed every congregation's newsletter and annual report, scouring them for news in which the whole synod would take interest, learn and possibly be inspired. 
            When the internet age dawned George was undaunted. He not only still found and filtered the news, he also helped shepherd The Virginia Lutheran into a new format and distribution system. In this effort he has had a wonderful and capable partner in Pastor Dwayne Westermann, to whom we also owe a huge debt of thanksgiving! Their partnership has left us richer in our ministry and historical data for the ages.
            So, as we say thank you, we also make a promise - to continue the tradition and treasure of sharing the stories of ministry and mission from every corner of George and Dwayne's beloved Virginia Synod. "Thank you" seems not nearly enough... Thanks be to God! Amen.
 
Lutherans in the news
           
              Pastor Anders Nilsen from Southeastern Minnesota Synod has accepted a call to serve at Emmanuel, Virginia Beach. Interim Pastor Patsy Koeneke has been serving since Pastor Aaron DeBenedetto moved away. Nilsen, son of Pastor Kai Nilsen, is a native of Madison, WI and he grew up in Columbus, OH, graduated from Luther College and Trinity Seminary. He has been serving at Our Saviour, Faribault, MN. His wife, Nichole Nilsen, is an Air Force ob-gyn doctor.
            Pastor Ryan Radtke is coming from Hope Lutheran, Atascadero, CA, to answer a call to Messiah, Mechanicsville, where Pastor Richard Carbaugh has been interim pastor.
            Pastor Robert Wise has resigned from serving Prince of Peace, Basye. He said that he has decided it is in the best interests of the church and himself that he resign, according to the congregation's weekly update. He began serving a year ago. A native of Shenandoah County, he is a son of Pastor Gerald Wise.
         Muhlenberg, Harrisonburg, will be employing a minister of communication. Mycah McNett served in this position until she entered seminary.
            Pastor Leslie and Jacob Weber, Grace, Chesapeake, are the parents of newborn Caleb Weber.
            The council of Our Saviour, Richmond, has established a Covid-19 Relief Fund to help congregation members, staff and pre-school teachers who are experiencing hardship in the pandemic. Those needing help may contact Pastor Katie Pocalyko.
            Luther Memorial, Blacksburg, is collecting diapers for the New River Diaper Pantry. As of mid-May, the pantry had distributed 7.000 more diapers than in all of last year. A typical infant uses more than 50 diapers a week
            Our Saviour, Norge, received an Award of Excellence from the Williamsburg Area Council of Garden Clubs for planting trees and flowers and maintenance at its parish house. The congregation was commended for its "contribution to the quality of environment."
           Epiphany, Richmond, has a community garden producing vegetables to be shared with food pantries. The congregation is seeking a director of faith formation.
           Christ the King, Richmond, is one of many congregations whose members are making face masks for use in the pandemic. They have made over 200 which were donated to hospitals, nursing homes and medical practices.
           At St. Peter, Stafford, a Boy Scout troop collected food and left it at the church to help stock a food pantry.

Church history, problems, discussed 50 years ago

         (Here are excerpts from a Virginia Lutheran article in June, 1970)
 
            Concern for youth in its "frustrations" over current events, a question and answer session with Lutheran Church in America President Robert J. Marshall, election of four executive board members and approval of a budget increase of 5.4 percent were Highlights of the Virginia Synod business session May 12.
            A century and a half of history and the church's contemporary problems were the themes of the Virginia and Maryland synods' joint contemporary 150th anniversary convention at Winchester May 10-12. Outstanding speakers stressed the historical occasion as well as a variety of such modern concerns as welfare reform and student unrest.
            All of the sessions except one separate business meeting for each synod were joint gatherings at Handley High School, Shenandoah College, the host Grace Lutheran and other Winchester churches.
            "The church of Jesus Christ will not fulfill the call of the Lord by sitting on its hands, by seeking its own comfort or by putting the blame on others..It must reach out toward the needs of others. God gives himself to us. The only question is how much we give to others," said Dr. Robert J. Marshall, LCA president, in a report on the work of the church.
            In a ceremony at an old wall in Mt. Hebron Cemetery where the two synods were formed on Oct. 11, 1820, Dr. Marshall said, "These walls speak to us of the continuity and discontinuity of organization." There will be new kinds and forms of institutions, he said, and "there must be room in our life for newness...yet try as we might, we will never break completely with our past." At an anniversary banquet attended by over 800, Dr. Marshall said, "We can turn over the world to secularism if we wish. We can refuse to grow and make today the end of the past...Or we can make today the beginning of tomorrow for the church."
            Dr. Edmund A. Steimle of Union Seminary in New York said in a communion sermon that Lutherans "ought to understand" the recent events in Cambodia and on college campuses "better than any other..It is no more and no less than a willingness to say, 'Here I stand.'...We have allowed the church to become little more than a cultural echo of middle-class America."
            Dr. Frederick K. Wentz, president of Hamma School of Theology, said that in the 20th century, this is the "time of testing for Christians. We are a little group among the hostile indifferent...(but) we can contribute something helpful and hopeful..we can seek secular relevance for the Gospel."
            More than 100 articles such as the communion set from Hebron congregation in Virginia, dating from 1717, and many heirlooms from old churches in Virginia and Maryland displayed at the host Grace Lutheran church Also, eight scenes from the 150 years of the two synods were enacted in a "Hallway of History" program.    
                                                                                                                  -George Kegley

Roanoke woman said,  "Here I am. Send me."
     by Margaret Stowasser

A little background about me. I grew up in Roanoke, attending St. Mark's Lutheran Church. After completing my training to become a physician assistant at EVMS in Norfolk, I moved to Raleigh, NC. Over the past four years as a PA I have worked as a surgical first assist specialist. (Margaret at right in uniform.)
  With surgical cases stalled due to this pandemic I started to feel unfulfilled as a health care provider.  I felt the need to help the current situation as much as possible.  Looking for ways to use my skills, I stumbled upon a fellow PA who was doing contracting work for understaffed hospitals.
 Around the end of March I started preparing my life and prayerfully deciding whether this was the right move for me and my family. One song that kept playing in my head was " Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?, "When I decided to discuss this option with my fiance, Franklin, the first thing he said was "It's like Isaiah 6:8, Whom shall I send and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here I am. Send me." We both fell into a puddle of tears and hugs in the kitchen. The decision was presented to us and God was showing us our path forward.  
   I landed at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, NY, maybe the hardest hit hospital in the nation. I found a hospital that was breaking at the seams, a staff so overworked that you could see the fear and trauma in their eyes. A hospital filled with patients with COVID-19, all extremely ill.
  I was assigned to a unit of 25 patients all on ventilators. Initially the mortality rate was 100%. In the first week I was there, the hospital had 100 patients die in one day. The only people allowed in my unit were fully PPE outfitted hospital staff.
Margaret with statue in NYC.
   
One day I was asked by a resident to help facilitate a video chat between a family and their dying loved one. There were no visitors allowed into Elmhurst so this was our way of communicating with the families toward the end of life. The family and I started to discuss their loved one and they shared fond memories of him with me. Toward the end of the conversation they asked if we could pray, the wife proceeded to say a prayer over the video image she was holding in her hand. I placed my hand on his head and delivered the sign of the cross, we all began to cry. We ended the video and she thanked me for what I had done. 
      Knowing that I would need to have a "last rites'' prayer at my disposal I messaged my Pastor, James Armentrout, for one I could keep on hand. The prayer he sent was used several times during the course of my stay at Elmhurst. It was in those moments that I would hold a patient's hand and deliver a bit of peace and prayer towards the end of their lives. 
      My experience in New York was earth shattering but I was lucky enough to receive constant reminders of love and encouragement from my family and friends.  My relationship with God blossomed and took on a whole new meaning in my life. Every morning as our bus ride took us from our Hotel in Times Square to Elmhurst in Queens I would replay the lyrics "you lift me up when I am weak, you wrap your arms around me" in my head.
As we crossed the East River and the New York City skyline diminished behind us we steeled for another tough day of doing our best in a seemingly hopeless fight.  We would call on our faith many times throughout the day and lean on each other in fellowship.  When the 7 p.m. shift change came around we would emerge to a cacophony of cheers and horns from firefighters  and citizens.  They were there to thank us but more to remind us that this was temporary, that this was America, and that God was on our side. 

Many families produce pastors

For many generations, the Virginia Synod raised many of its own pastors. They grew up here and they served here. For example, at least a dozen families are remembered for producing more than one pastor.  
The four generations of the Shumate family lead with five pastors. Twin brothers Alfred Shumate served in Wytheville and Albert Shumate at Rural Retreat (at right with Joe Shumate). Joe Shumate in Wythe County is Alfred's son; Karen Van Stee in the Shenandoah Valley is Alfred's granddaughter and her daughter, Kristen Van Stee, serves two churches in Nebraska.
  Next are the four Mauneys-Dr. J. Luther Mauney, longtime Synod president; his son, Luther Mauney Jr., former chaplain in Richmond; Marshall Mauney, First Lutheran, Norfolk, and his son, Bishop Jim Mauney. Other Mauneys served in North Carolina.
   Other pastor families: Dr. Charles J. Smith, Roanoke College president, his father, Luther L. Smith, and several nephews and cousins; Bishop Bob Humphrey and his father-in-law, Bernard Troutman; Luther Strickler, First Lutheran, Norfolk, and son, Warren Strickler; Lester Link and son Bill Link; Dr. M.L. Minnick and son, M. L. Minnick Jr.; Elmer Bosserman and son, Tom Bosserman; Ken Carbaugh and nephew, Richard Carbaugh; Paul Schulz and his son, Ted Schulz; Rudy Schulz and his sons, Steve and Phil Schulz; John Derrick, son of a pastor, his son, David Derrick, and daughter-in-law, Kelly Derrick, and Jeff May and his daughter, Melissa May.
                In Southwest Virginia, several Scherers, Greevers and Repasses served the church.  Outstanding were Dr. J. J. Scherer, Marion College president, and his son, Dr.  J. J. Scherer Jr., longtime Synod president and pastor of First English, Richmond, as well as Stephen A. Repass, president of Southern Seminary, and Dr. W.H. Greever, secretary of the ULCA.  In the Shenandoah Valley, the Henkels, Stirewalts, Huddles and later the Hoffmeyers sent many into the ministry.

Silent heroes of Lakeside "hands of Christ"
      by Scott Miller

We have been praying for doctors, nurses and others with essential jobs in our congregation and our community. Many of you have seen the Worship Room via Facebook and Zoom bringing the weekly message. What most of you do not see is the Food Bank team.
 They are your unseen silent heroes. These men and women are out there seven days a week doing what they can to feed the growing numbers of needy in our community. This is truly a community effort as we bring together four area churches to feed the needy.  
Thirty-two Lakeside members serve in this ministry. They are Nancy and Bob Foegner, Steve Green, Diane and John Colin, Holly and Mike Holman, Selene Gwaltneym, Tricia Getzewick, Gregg Flick, Kathy and Bruce Bredland, Pauline and Gary Gilbertson, Vonnie and Glen Rasnick, Bev and Jim Nolan, Margaret and Gus Bestm, Kathy and Joel Everhart, Peggy and George Kimble, Barbie and Joe Armstrong, Leeann and Ed Sever, Jean and Dave Varney and Jane and Scott Miller. Next time you see or talk to one of them thank them for their service. In the meantime, please pray for each one of them. They are hands of Christ.
            Right now, the volunteers are doing all they can to help but it is hard when donations drop from 6,000 pounds a month to under 3,000 pounds and the donations of meat drop from an average of 11,450 pounds a month to just over 200 pounds. Combined, the area churches normally help almost 700 people a month. As you can see, 200 pounds of meat does not go far. There is a bright spot. Our God does provide. The bright spot is the support we are receiving from the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. Lakeside Lutheran is a partner agency of the Food Bank. In the past two months, they have provided over 2,500 pounds of free food. While it does not replace what we no longer receive daily, it goes a long way to bridge the gap. We have been driving to Raleigh every two weeks to restock and will continue to do so for the near future.
            Several people have contacted me with offers to help financially. The Food Bank Ministry at  Lakeside is well funded but you can make a contribution by writing Food Bank on your check. However, I would recommend you donate directly to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina so they can continue to provide Lakeside and other groups free or reduced cost food. Money donated to the Food Bank will be used to support food programs in the 34 counties that they service.

                (From the newsletter of Lakeside Lutheran, Littleton, NC)

St Mark, Yorktown has 
"fantastic outreach" in Ecuador

Support of a Ecuador refuge for children by St Mark, Yorktown, led by  Suzette Goff, was described as "fantastic outreach" by the Yorktown Independent.   (Suzette and her young friends at right)
The newspaper printed this report:
" In trying and uncertain times like these, it is always great to hear about people who are doing amazing things.  Local resident Suzette Goff, as well as others who have become involved in  the effort through Yorktown Rotary Club and St Mark Lutheran Church, are heavily involved in the Refugio de los Suenos near Quito, Ecuador. Its name is translated to  "A Place Where Dreams Come True."
  As a Spanish teacher, Goff took a course in Ecuador. Someone took her to the  place that eventually became the Refugio and she has visited about twice a year for the past 20 years. Two years ago, she took over management of the facility.
  The facility has been a great blessing to children who are less fortunate in  Ecuador. There, children can take refuge from bad family situations or other misfortunes. They learn life skills---for some even sleeping in a bed is a foreign concept and they must  learn how-and vocational skills like baking and carpentry. The children have a place to  play and to get basic health care.
   "The Refugio truly is that for the children," Goff says."When you see them come through the gates; it's an unbelievable transformation, they're so happy there."
    So many in the York County community have thrown their support behind the  Refugio and many have even made the journey to Ecuador to see it for themselves. Nobody leaves the country unchanged, Goff said. "The many, many people I have taken  down there all said it was a life-altering experience."                
      In addition, Goff gave this report to St Mark's newsletter, The Lion's Roar:
       Ecuador is struggling very much like we are through this Covid-19 Crisis.  Their medical care and hospital capacities are stretched to capacity. The government has  a curfew in place from 2 in the afternoon until 8 the following morning. Ecuadorians have ID cards and you are allowed to go out from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. once a week for groceries or medical care.
There was a great concern for food for the children but God once again has not  forsaken his children at the Refugio. The police gave permission to deliver food once  a week to the children. They delivered food to 132 homes. Wiring money to Ecuador  is a tremendous problem due to the circumstances but again God has taken care of his children's needs when a local grocer agreed to run an open account for the food until  money could arrive. The staff continues to work by calling both children and families  on a daily basis.

We're all in the same boat
     by Pastor Anne Jones Martin
Jones

A friend of mine likes to tell people who are feeling overwhelmed, "You aren't in the boat alone." It is her way of telling others that she is there for them. You recall that one traditional symbol of the church is the boat. The Latin word for boat is navicular and so we call the place where all the pews are, where you sit for worship, the nave.
 From the nave, we acknowledge that we are all in this life, this journey of faith, together. We find comfort as we look around at our pew neighbors that we are not in the boat alone. Friends, it is hard to believe that it has been six Sundays since we worshiped from the nave of Christ Lutheran together. I miss being in the boat at 1300 Augustine Avenue with you. But there has been a gift from this time of social distancing, because during this time we have discovered that we are together, we are church together, in places that extend well beyond the four walls of the sanctuary.
Through the gift of technology, the nave extends to the comfort of our living rooms, where families worship together while eating breakfast, little ones sprawl out on the floor to watch the children's message, surrounded by their favorite toys, even our four-legged friends are welcome and neighbors near and far away who have never been inside the sanctuary are invited.
The nave extends into our local hospitals where health care workers have hand-made masks crafted by CLC Quilters, to Micah's  Hospitality Center where CLC members volunteer in new ways and to many other places and organizations who through our phone calls,  emails and prayers know that CLC is with them. 
We have discovered that while we are not in the same physical nave together, we are  indeed still very much in this together.

             (This article is from the newsletter of Christ, Fredericksburg.)

What will the future church look like?
by Pastor Andy Ballentine

(Editor's note: We asked retired Pastor Andy Ballentine (right) to survey rostered ministers on  their view of what the post-Covid-19 church will look like. He edited their comments.)
 
We are into the third month of "Covidtide." What are we learning from this disruption from "the way we've always done it before" among our congregations? What might turn out to be permanent improvements to incorporate when we're able to safely gather together again, physically?
   For many rostered minstries , it's too soon to spend much time thinking about these questions. Many are working harder than they were before physical distancing began. Nothing is routine. There were no courses in seminary on YouTube editing or lighting tips for optimal Facebook Live presentations.
As Pastor Anne Martin, Christ, Fredericksburg, asks, "How do I as the pastor embody the love of Christ to someone viewing a pre-recorded sermon done with my iPhone that is carefully positioned on a stack of cardboard boxes to avoid the dreaded nostril view?"
 Experimenting to find the best ways to engage congregation members is energy-draining work! (Just google "zoom exhaustion" or "zoom fatigue.") Pastor Joseph Bolick, Epiphany, Richmond, writes, "During this strange time, I think many are just trying to keep our heads above water." For that reason, Bishop Robert Humphrey recently wrote to rostered ministers: "Be kind to yourself if you're not an expert at Zoom or interpreting the latest CDC report." Retired Pastor Mark Radecke, Waynesboro, asks: "Who are the compassionate, wise and patient guides who are accompanying you through this wilderness of disorientation?"
   It's a time of many questions. Pastor Martin cites John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," and asks: "How do we, people saved by the One who came to earth in the flesh - true God and true human - gather when we can't do so in the flesh? How do we lead incarnationally in a physically-distanced, disembodied time?" Pastor Radecke writes that "...the term 'disorienting dilemmas' is used to describe situations in which a person's habitual ways of thinking, being, and behaving no longer work. They do not help the person make sense of situations giving rise to the disorientation. The discomfort can become a catalyst for questioning one's assumptions, renegotiating deeply held beliefs, and ultimately transforming one's perspective."
    Disruption. Disorientation. Discomfort. None of this is easy for congregation members and leaders! At the same time, over the past few months, as congregations are discovering new ways of doing church, leaders are beginning to ask: Which experiments might be continued in future mission outreach? For instance, more people are participating in faith practices between Sunday mornings because their leaders are offering them online: such as morning prayer, noon prayer, and night prayer, devotions and study sessions, and virtual fellowship gatherings with each participant brewing their own tea and coffee.
Pastor Tim Crummitt, St. Paul's, Hampton, writes: "I think there is definitely something new and powerful in the additional services most of us are offering online during the week. I have been told numerous times by several people that it's helped them to take their faith 'outside' of the church." Pastor Alex Witt, Our Saviour, Norge, had actually started hosting her Tuesday night Bible study on Zoom before "Covidtide" began, because folks can participate who can't drive at night. And, she's looked for new ways to reach out during the week. For instance, she says, "We've had so much fun with the online story time with the kids."
  Rostered ministers are using various media platforms that offer different advantages. Zoom and Facebook Live offer opportunities for more interaction among worshipers and study participants. Some worship leaders are finding YouTube to be the best choice, because the worship presentation can be recorded at any convenient time. Worship and study leaders have discovered that these technologies enable more people to gather than before.
Pastor Witt, says, "We've had a few folks who are primarily homebound able to join us by calling in or logging on - some for the first time in years." Worshipers are able to gather virtually with more than one congregation on Sunday mornings, hearing different preachers get into the morning's passages from different perspectives.
My wife and I have been worshiping at 9:30 each Sunday morning with the congregation in Pennsylvania where our daughter is the director of music. Then, at 10:30, we Zoom back to Our Saviour's in Norge where we are members (and where a worshiper is regularly joining us from her home in Germany!). On one recent Sunday morning, I was actually able to be supply preacher for two congregations, in two cities, of two denominations, because they produced their worship experiences at different times.
  Of course, this technology has drawbacks, such as the Zoom fail on a recent Sunday morning. And, there are many without Internet access or access to social media platforms. Pastor Crummit wonders if those without Internet access are feeling estranged from their congregations. Pastor John Wertz, director of evangelical mission for our Synod, said that "accessibility is definitely an issue. I've heard one non-Lutheran congregation talk about buying chromebooks for members so they could connect." Could we come out of this period emphasizing increased Internet accessibility as mission outreach?
   These months are forcing us to re-examine "the way we've always done it before." Pastor Martin cites the hymn, "Gather Us In," and writes, "I like the image of the Spirit freeing us from our church buildings and proclaiming that Christ is at work in the church today. We don't get to take a break during the pandemic." Pastor Suzanne Czernik Stierwalt, St. Andrew, Portsmouith, is "praying that folks finally realize that the Church is NOT the building in which we worship and that we can be CHURCH anywhere." Pastor Bryan Penman.St. Mark, Conshohocken, PA,, is using the phrase, "The church is not closed. The church is deployed!"
    Certainly, we will rejoice when we can return safely to flesh and blood gatherings! But, as Pastor Witt writes, "We'll never 'go back to normal' - at least what 'normal' was. And I honestly hope we don't try (though it is tempting!). But instead, we'll move forward to a new normal. And hopefully that new normal will take the best of what we've learned from "Covidtide" to reshape and reimagine what it means to be church together."
     Pastor Wertz wonders if it's time to begin having a general conversation among congregation leaders. What is your experience? What are you learning about being church during these months? Is there gift in the disruption and disorientation? Where might the Spirit be leading us? What God might be creating that is new? When we begin gathering again, physically, what might be better about us as church, more effectively engaged in mission?
     Bishop Humphrey puts it this way: " I feel confident this experience will help us focus more clearly on the things that are most important in proclaiming the Gospel, loving God and loving our neighbor. I think our future planning and ministry will also be guided by what we are learning and the resources and people we are gaining. It is both an important and pivotal moment in our church and society. If we stay centered on celebrating and sharing God's love and caring for the needs of others versus meeting our own desires, the future will offer time for authentic grief and genuine renewal and reformation. God remains faithful and is truly in our midst!"

Roanoke College is "resilient"

Although Roanoke College probably faces its most difficult year financially, it is resilient and it will come through as it has in the past, President Mike Maxey said in a Zoom report to faculty and alumni on May 19.
 Job 1 is to keep the students safe through the pandemic and to open on time in the fall, he said. The number of registrations is about the same as a year ago. The college may open 10 days earlier and continue without a break until Thanksgiving, he said.
            Maxey described the problems of the decision to close classes three days after the students returned from a spring break in March, He heard a complaint from only one student. The president spoke of the "herculean task" of the faculty who prepared online courses in four days for the students to work from home.  A fund was established to help the 50 students, mostly international, who couldn't go home.

College poll: state virus response appropriate

Virginians say the response from state government to COVID-19 has  been appropriate but they are split on how the federal government has responded  to the virus, according to a Roanoke College poll by the Institute for Policy and  Opinion Research.
Nearly two-thirds, 62%, of those interviewed said the state's response  was appropriate; 17 percent said it went too far and 16 percent said it did not  go far enough. A plurality, 46%, think the federal response did not go far enough;  43% said it was appropriate and only 8% said it went too far.
Respondents are concerned that both state and federal governments will  move too fast in reopening; 60% for the federal government and 48% for state government, at the expense of citizen health. About one-third of each segment  are more concerned that governments will reopen too slowly at the cost of  additional economic damage.

What can we do in isolation?

"For the newsletter of Grace, Winchester, Brooks Nanna, Council president,
had suggestions for members who "may feel trapped in your isolation and worry.")

God provides us with a path that will keep us mentally healthy: SERVICE.  You can pray for others, call, email and write someone in the church, share  jokes, sew masks, don one yourself and cook a meal for someone in need or shop  for someone who cannot take the risk. Spread joy and thankfulness to everyone who  serves you throughout the year but goes unnoticed..the mailperson, the grocery store  clerk, the garbageman.
Give them cards of thanks, call them up and tell them how grateful you are for their work. If you are working, help a neighbor who has lost his job. Buy them groceries or help them pay a bill. Make their day and I guarantee that God will fill you with hope and peace. Your worries may not disappear but your perspective will be altered forever. Service is an act of love, an act of connection, the work of the Holy Spirit.
It is transformative. It is hopeful. It is good.
 

THE VIRGINIA LUTHERAN

A MONTHLY NEWS PUBLICATION OF THE VIRGINIA SYNOD, ELCA

 

Editor:  George Kegley     
Voice: 540-366-4607;  Email: georgekegley@verizon.net
Post:  301 Tinker Creek Lane, NE, Roanoke, VA  24019


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