The Bulletin for

  • Sunday, May 17th, can be found HERE
  • Sunday, May 24th, can be found HERE
  • Sunday, May 31st, can be found HERE

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He calls himself the Good Shepherd because he laid down his life for his sheep and he took it back up in the resurrection. Jesus conveys his care for the sheep and that is what he does for them in love. As Jesus’ undershepherd, it is my sincere desire and my calling to care for and love you, following the model and example of our Savior.

 

To that end, I would like to share with you some of the plans that the Elders and I are putting together. As you are aware, Governor Abbott announced his plan to gradually reopen businesses over the coming weeks and months. Additionally there are guidelines given from the Attorney General of Texas for churches, and Federal Guidelines for communities as they look to return to conducting worship and offering services on site.

 

Especially clear in these guidelines is that we should all continue to be on guard against taking any steps that might worsen the COVID-19 pandemic. In every one of the guidelines there is specific urging of those over 65 years of age and those with underlying medical conditions to be very cautious in choosing any increase in social interaction.  (These are referred to as ‘Vulnerable Individuals’ – and they are defined as 1) Elderly/older than 65 years old and 2) Individuals with serious underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and those whose immune system is compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy.)   While we have the advantage of being more spread out and rural than the larger cities, we still need to be cautious for the sake of the health and well-being of you and our neighbors.

 

The elders and I have begun meeting and planning for reopening St. John’s facilities for worship, bible study and other activities. Our planning process is guided by a number of considerations which I’d like to share with you.

 

1) The health of our congregation, servants, staff and community remain a top priority. We are keeping a close watch on statistical trends, but also recognize that there are still significant risks, especially for those over 65 and/or have pre-existing health conditions that make the virus even more dangerous. Like many congregations, this ‘at-risk’ community includes a significant number of our disciples. Additionally, local health leaders, both private and public have urged churches to be patient in reopening facilities and to allow more time for the trends to diminish.

 

This leads to a number of questions for us to answer as we make those plans. These questions include items like: how do we handle the limited numbers based on social distancing? How do we handle guests within those limits? Do we screen people as they come in? How will we serve communion? How do we handle hygiene and sanitizing needs to keep people safe?

 

2) We rejoice that our radio broadcast continues to reach our members and community

 

Many churches scrambled to set up livestreaming and video feeds for their Sunday services. We have been truly blessed to already have an established radio broadcast through KULP.  Feedback from various families and community members gives us comfort that the Gospel is being proclaimed and received!  Maintaining the sense of being a community of faith that has developed among members is very important to us, and we are seeking ways to build upon and increase that.

 

3) We’ve been working closely with our sister LCMS churches

 

The COVID-19 restrictions have given us a real opportunity to work closely and cooperatively with our fellow LCMS church in our circuit. The pastors of our churches have been communicating and consulting with each other, offering help and resources freely and encouraging each other in the ministries of the various churches.

 

So what are St. John’s current re-opening plans?

 

Based on the current status of the virus in Wharton and the surrounding areas, concerns from local health officials, and the questions we still need to answer, our current target is to look at reopening the facilities of St. John’s Lutheran church in Wharton for worship in mid-June/early July, understanding that plans can still change.   

 

This is based on two important items:

    • The Federal guidelines available to us have a criteria regarding the number of known cases of COVID-19. The guidelines that before reopening we should see:  a downward trajectory of documented cased within a 14 day period OR a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14 day period (with flat or increasing volume of tests).

 

Quite honestly, we do not at this time have information about the number of tests being conducted in Wharton County, and some of our neighboring counties are showing rising numbers.  At a minimum, we decided to observe for the next two weeks and reevaluate the timeline and plans in early June.

 

    • Even more importantly, we can make this decision because we are able to continue to boldly and effectively proclaim the Gospel while still caring for the health and well-being of our families, friends, and neighbors.

 

This will allow us time to devise effective social distancing methods and increase the number of worshipers allowed in any single worship service. This target date is consistent with what many of our sister LCMS churches are aiming at. Churches in other denominations have drawn the same conclusion; over 80 large Methodist, Presbyterian Episcopal and Southern Baptist congregations in the Houston area have already publicly announced they will not begin meeting for worship until June. Any of the churches that I have talked to who are already meeting are significantly smaller than us in terms of attendance.

 

Please be assured that we will keep you well-informed as to our plans and actions. Looking ahead, there will be further decisions to make about Bible studies, children’s activities, and other ministry and mission activities. Once again, we will seek to be very discerning in all of our decisions, and will lean upon our gracious God to give us wisdom. Personally, be assured that I will seek to be Jesus’ faithful undershepherd and love and care for you as best as a sinner like me can.

 

Your prayers are appreciated, not only for me, but for all of our congregation, community, state, and national leadership. They are also certainly needed for our health professionals and others who serve us in these circumstances. Please pray for all who are sick, for all who grieve, and for all who face financial uncertainty. And as you pray, remember that the Lord is our Shepherd, and surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord – forever.

 

I continue to ask, if there are any needs, – spiritual, physical, financial – please do not hesitate to contact me directly. 979-488-4560 is my direct cell number, and you are all welcome to contact me at any time.

 

I remain your servant in Christ,

 

Pastor R.W. Lutjens

St. John’s Lutheran Church,

Wharton, TX