Pandemic Plan of Hope

Dear sisters and brothers,

The past couple weeks as restrictions have eased statewide, I’ve started fielding a few questions about when Hope might be resuming ministry inside our building for the first time. The truth is ministry has never stopped outside or inside our building as our staff and leadership have been busy ensuring our collective mission continues. The people of Hope have continued to serve faithfully in the various vocations God has called us to. I understand the question though. Each congregation in Walker has begun their own conversations and process to open their buildings for varying activities, including Hope, though it seems what most are interested in knowing is when in-person worship may begin again.

There are varying factors our leadership has considered when it comes to worshiping in person inside our building. Our most important focus is the health (Physical, Spiritual, Mental, etc.) of our whole community. Though Governor Walz has announced church communities can have 50% of capacity in their buildings, additional safety protocols around physical distancing would allow for around 50 people to gather in Hope’s sanctuary. Further safety guidelines for most congregations request congregants to refrain from singing, praying out loud, sharing the peace, moving around the sanctuary while worshiping, and more. Wearing masks is strongly recommended. When those who have asked if they’d still worship in person even with these restrictions, some have said, “Yes, absolutely,” while others have responded, “Maybe the couch and coffee in my living room sounds better.” (Please note that if you are still having trouble connecting to our Sunday morning worship broadcasts, please contact the church office and we’ll help you get connected.)

     To aid us in communicating our plans for reopening our building, Hope’s council and staff have spent a tremendous amount of time and effort preparing our “Re-Entry Plan for Hope Lutheran Church.” In this edition of the Herald of Hope you will find a chart that summarizes our plan for different areas of ministry through three phases using the colors of a stoplight to emphasize where we are. Level 3 is Red meaning Stop. This is the level we are currently in as of my writing this on June 24. Level 2 is Yellow meaning Caution, and Level 1 is Green meaning Go. You will notice there is flexibility in all three levels that will allow leadership to adjust to the changing dynamics of our community. Please note there is a more detailed explanation of this plan on Hope’s website.

Connection:

Physical Distancing, NOT Social Distancing

One of the reasons people have been motivated to ask questions about reopening Hope’s building is their yearning for fellowship, for being with their people. Trust me, I’d much rather lead worship in a sanctuary full of people instead of preaching to a camera. I’d much rather lead study groups and enjoy conversation with a cup of coffee with people, instead of over the phone or internet. For now, however, we’ve decided gathering in person with larger groups is not the best decision for our collective health and life. This does not mean we cannot continue to be connected in other ways.

Four months ago, if someone asked us what Social Distancing was, we’d all shrug our shoulders and offer a guess. These days we could each write a page or two about it. When this phrase was first introduced Bishop Ann Svennungsen of the Minneapolis Area Synod, quickly rebranded the concept by suggesting we use “Physical Distancing” instead. Her main argument was that we engage socially with our family, friends, and neighbors in all kids of ways that don’t require us to be within 6 feet of each other. We connect with each other all the time through the phone, internet, mail, and in distanced conversation. We’ve all probably solved many of the world’s problems through conversations across a fence or distanced from a neighbor or two! 

Dr. Michael Osterholm, member of the ELCA, but more importantly director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) was recently interviewed and shared that he wished he had been using the phrase Physical Distancing in his recommendations early during this pandemic. He argued this is a time to be as connected as we can because of the tendency toward isolation during times when being in large groups puts people at risk. This is why our phone calling ministry will continue, why we will continue to host outdoor communion services for groups of 10+, and why we encourage everyone at Hope to connect with neighbors, friends, and family on a regular basis. (Check out the article “Ideas for Connecting” for concrete examples to combat isolation)

Most importantly God continues to be at work in, for, and amongst you. Our God is a God of relationship and connection, and COVID-19 is powerless to stop the God who has chosen, called, and claimed you.

“Do not fear, for I am with you,

do not be afraid, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”  (Isaiah 41:10)

 

Pastor Matt