Rejoice always, prayer without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
Dear siblings in Christ, members and friends of the Pacifica Synod,
Tomorrow, Sunday, marks for many of you the first day that you will not be able to physically attend a worship service. This is a difficult time for Christians, as it seems unnatural for church buildings to be closed during a national crisis. But though the buildings are closed, church continues, and will continue. We know this because Jesus Christ is risen and alive and through the power of the Holy Spirit continually calls the church into faithfulness. The way we are church in this time is changing due to a desire to protect the health of our neighbors. But church continues, for it is necessary to proclaim the gospel, the good news that God is with us, we are not alone, and God continues to be at work in this world. The congregations of the Pacifica Synod are devoted to proclaiming this good news, which is the primary and most important work of the church, and for that I give thanks.
Many congregations plan to have a live-stream of a sermon or a form of worship this weekend. The Pacifica Synod has a list of congregations that have alternative worship services. If your congregation does not offer a live-stream service, you may find a congregation to worship with using this list. If your congregation does offer a live stream service but it is not listed, please let us know by sending the link to either your congregation’s YouTube channel or Facebook page to firstname.lastname@example.org and she will ensure your link is added to the list. For those planning these services, the ELCA has answered questions about the types of services and what to do about Holy Communion. That document was updated yesterday, and you can access it here. My thanks to all of our Pacifica congregations who are providing these worship opportunities, so that that gospel may continue to be proclaimed.
California’s governor has requested that all in California stay at home, leaving only for essential purposes. When we do leave, we are requested to keep a physical distance of a minimum of six feet from others. Some of you have taken time to go for walks, deepen conversations with family members, catch up on books and TV, and spend more time in prayer and devotional Bible reading. As you do this, I encourage you to look for the ways God is with you daily. As St Paul wrote in the quote above from 1 Thessalonians, “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Remember, we are staying apart from each other in order that more of us will survive this virus, that our health care workers will not be overwhelmed by the numbers of those needing hospital beds and medical treatment, in order to care appropriately for our neighbor. In doing these things, we are fulfilling Paul’s instructions, “hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” For when we place love of God and love of neighbor above what is convenient for ourselves, we are doing God’s good work and saying “no” to the evil of selfishness that puts others at risk.
I look forward to the day when we will be able to meet again in person as communities of faith and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life God gives us once this physical distancing is no longer necessary. However, I do not believe we will be able to reunite by April 12, the day the church has set aside for the celebration of Easter. Health officials are arguing that social distancing needs to remain for at least a period of weeks. I would encourage you to plan to hold a virtual service on April 12, and to delay a full celebration of Easter until we are able safely to go to our church buildings and worship with one another in full community again. I dislike having to make this recommendation. I have never missed an Easter worship service on the day of Easter itself and I know many congregations rely on Easter for financial and other reasons. But the call of the church is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus, and in this case following Jesus means doing what we can to protect the health of our neighbors. I also recommend that your first Sunday back together with in-person worship be an Easter celebration. As Christians, we believe that every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. I encourage you to see the first Sunday back as a later-in-the-year celebration of Easter. Read the resurrection story, sing the Easter hymns, and rejoice that God who rose from the dead is bringing new life to your congregation and to the world at large.
I know some of our congregations, institutions, and agencies of our synod are facing financial uncertainty. Many have lost jobs due to social distancing. Many others may have to take pay cuts due to the costs associated with our national fight against the virus. For those who are able and who care about the future of your congregation, I would encourage giving even more at this time, where possible, to help your congregation through this period of financial uncertainty. And do not forget the needs of Lutheran, Retreats, Camps and Conferences, and Lutheran Social Services of Southern California, whose income streams are radically affected by this virus. Click on their names in the above sentence and you’ll access their websites where you can make a second mile gift that would be most welcome at this time.
Finally, remember that God is with you. When you stay at home, you are not alone – God is there. When you make a phone call to a member of your church or community to ensure they are not alone – God is there. When you pray for our cities, our states, our country, our world, God is with you, hearing your prayer. Your church will continue to remind you, through emails, live-stream services, phone calls, and Zoom meetings, that God continues to be at work in this world. Look for the ways God is helping your congregation through this time. And be thankful, in all circumstances, that the God who defeated death by dying on the cross, will continue to bring life to the church, and to the world.
God be with you.
Bishop Andy Taylor
March 21, 2020