Pastoral Letter Re: Reopening our Building for Worship

Pastoral Letter on the Path to Reopening our Building for Worship

Dear Friends in Christ,

In the First Letter of Peter, the Apostle addresses his recipients as “the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood” (1 Peter 1:1-2). Centuries later, the church once again finds itself as “exiles of the Dispersion” as for these past three months we have been scattered and separated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time that was
unimaginable at the beginning of the year, we have strived to stay connected with one another through worship materials and announcements on our website, monthly mailings of our newsletter, phone calls to one another, and prayers for the health and safety of each child of God in our congregation. As we have been physically divided, we continue to give thanks for the “ties that bind our hearts in Christian love” as sisters and brothers in Christ.

As our region entered the province of Ontario’s Phase 2 of reopening, it was announced on Monday, June 8 that churches could reopen their buildings for worship at 30% of seating capacity. Unfortunately, this announcement was not accompanied with guidelines that would have provided direction for churches to reopen safely to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. There was a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety as to how we might prepare to reopen our building while maintaining proper social distancing, contact tracing, and other precautions. Our main concern is always the health and safety of every person who
might come into the building where our congregation has gathered for worship for over 110 years.

In a letter to the congregations of the Eastern Synod, Bishop Michael Pryse wrote that “it is my strong recommendation that our synod’s congregations not contemplate initiating in-person worship experiences within our church buildings until the beginning of September at the earliest.” Bishop Pryse goes on to note that “for almost three months now we have been physically distancing from one another for the love of our neighbour. That same motivation needs to be paramount as we plan for the future.” As Christ’s great
commandment is for us to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12), we are compelled to place love and concern for the well-being of one another at the forefront of all decisions and actions we take in this most critical time in the life of our congregation. It is out of this loving concern for one another that our Congregational Council has decided to accept our Bishop’s recommendation that we continue to worship in our homes and remain separated until September. While we are aware that other churches in
our community are reopening, we are choosing to practice an abundance of caution so that we might use the summer months as a time to prepare our building so that we might safely open and gather together as the people of God.

The Eastern Synod has appointed as Task Force on the Resumption of In-Person Worship that will develop guidelines for the congregations of our synod to support both their preparations to re-open for in-person worship to protect the safety and well-being of all those who gather. The task force (which includes Pastor Jason Ashby, who served among us as an intern) will provide a preliminary checklist by July 1, 2020 with a more comprehensive resource available by August 1, 2020. Our Congregational Council, Worship and Music Committee, and worship leaders will be using these guidelines and meeting regularly throughout the summer so that we will be well-prepared to welcome everyone back to worship in as safe a manner as possible. We will continue to keep all of you informed on our progress and will announce the date of our first worship service and the guidelines for that service well in advance.

This has been a most challenging time to be the Church, and certainly one of the most difficult seasons of my ordained ministry. I am thankful for the opportunities we have to share worship materials on our website and for the many ways we seek to stay connected to one another, but I miss the many opportunities that we once enjoyed to be together for worship, classes, meals, and other gatherings. I miss being able to visit our people in their homes, in the hospital, in long-term care facilities, and all the other places where we met. I miss presiding at weddings in our building and gathering to comfort and support families who have lost loved ones. I long for the day when we are together, but at the same time I want to be careful and deliberate in every step we take for the sake of the health and safety of every beloved child of God in our congregation and community.

May we keep each other in our prayers as we begin this careful, deliberate process of preparation for the time when we may once again “gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing”!

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Jeff Laustsen

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