You can follow along with the service Sunday Morning (April 5th) with this printout: CLICK HERE.

 

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

The days of isolation and restriction may be getting long for some. I urge you to be attentive to signs of sadness, anger, anxiety and depression.  Self-care is essential in this growing time of sheltering in homes.  The book of Hebrews exhorts us as we face adversity not to throw away our confidence (Heb 10:35) but to persevere and endure (Heb 10:36). We are not ones who ‘shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.’ (Heb 10:39)

 

When we look back on this time, let us, as Christ’s Church, look back and see ourselves as compassionate, loving, confident and faithful servants who make up God’s flock and shine His light into our communities.  I remind all of us that our God is a God of Grace, and He is walking with us, even in the midst of what can be a frightful time.

 

If you have not heard, Sunday night the White House extended their recommendations that people not gather in groups of 10 or more throughout the duration of April. Yesterday (March 31st), Governor Abbott issued a statewide executive order that addressed actions being taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.  Of note is that while religious services are considered essential services, there are still restrictions in place, especially in the paragraph at the bottom of page 2 and the top of page 3.

 

Even in providing essential services, businesses are directed to follow the guidelines from the president which includes a restriction on the limitation of gatherings of more than 10 people. Furthermore, all services should be provided through remote telework, unless such services cannot be provided through telework.

 

As your pastor, I have been in consultation with other Pastors, our District leaders, and the District attorney. Our District attorney indicated that

“continuing to hold services (in person) would not meet a strict interpretation of the law, let alone the spirit of the law.  Some commentators have raised constitutional issues relating to peaceable assembly and the freedom of religion, but temporary and reasonable suspensions of constitutional rights during national emergencies have been recognized by the courts. 

 

In addition to the purely legal arguments, there are the practical concerns relating to the effect of someone contracting the coronavirus as a result of attending a service and the general appearance of flaunting the recommended avoidance practices. 

 

The only possible use of the Executive Order that I see relates to special religious ceremonies, including baptisms, communion, weddings and funerals. The maximum 10-person rule, though, would still apply, so any of these would need to be restricted family-only or even participant-only events. Also, social distancing and hygiene guidelines would need to be followed. However, even with the foregoing special services, there may be ways to provide the services remotely. For example, an electronic memorial service could be substituted for an in-person funeral service or the memorial service could be delayed to a later time.”

 

I share this with you to let you know that we will continue to NOT hold services or gatherings at the church campus for at least the duration of April.  However, I do want to make available to you as many resources as I can offer for both your spiritual, physical, and mental well-being.

 

Please allow me to use this letter to share with you some of these resources.

 

First: I remind you that Lenten services, sermons, and devotions are still being posted to the church website. All of the sermons can be found here. Next week is Holy Week: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services will be published in the mornings as well.

 

A copy of this letter, and all up to date announcements are posted here.

 

As we face a continued period of staying at home, some of us are struggling to pass the time. I spoke with an old friend of mine who served aboard submarines for weeks and months at a time. He shared a few coping strategies for us who are now facing a COVID-19 ‘patrol’.

 

ROUTINE: Life at sea is dictated by shifts and routines. You can tell what day it was by what was for dinner. Make a routine now, test it, then write it down and stick to it. Divide your day up into work (if home working), rest, exercise, meals, hobbies, etc. Do the same for kids.

 

PRIVACY: The only place private at sea was your bunk. Make a dedicated private time / place in the routine. Even if you timeshare the front room, get everyone a couple of hours alone. Do whatever you want: watch bad movies, pray, yoga, read, argue with the wall: whatever gets you through.

 

EAT: Food breaks up the monotony of patrols. Take time to prepare meals. A good mix of ‘feast and famine’ will stop the pounds piling on. One boat did Steak Saturdays, Fish Friday, Curry and Pizza nights. On other days soup and bread was enough.  Plan a couple nights a week of a good meal, and make something simple the rest of the time. 

 

EXERCISE: you have the advantage of not having to use a spinning bike in a small room. 20-30 min a day of whatever you can do at a minimum. Fitness Blender on YouTube has workouts for all. It’s a natural antidepressant, it breaks up the day, and keeps you healthy. Get outside when able.

 

CLEAN: That house is going to get grungy now that you’re spending a lot more time in int. Put time in your daily routine to clean and stick to it.

 

CONNECT: even during radio silence we still got a weekly telegram from loved ones back home. This was a weekly highlight. Keep in touch with your people. My current work has agreed to a daily ‘coffee’ catch up online even if there’s no work to discuss.

 

PERSPECTIVE: like all other patrols, this one will end. It can be miserable, but it is better than having to avoid live fire. Don’t obsess over the news or Twitter. Bring your world closer, focus on little things that you enjoy and make plans for the future. At least you should have a window! (Something not available on the subs!)

 

Longer term plans:

 

Bible studies:  There is still an opportunity for us to gather together to study God’s Word.  I am working on setting up online Bible studies using zoom.us Zoom is a video hosting site that would allow us to see and speak to each other in real time using our computers and internet access. I am waiting for a delivery of some equipment to be able to host this and will send out emails with information for Bible studies as soon as it is available.

 

To join these online Bible studies, you will need some equipment of your own.

  • A webcam (built into most cell phones, tablets, and laptops, but not desktops). If you do not have a webcam, that is ok. You will still be able to see the meeting and hear, you just won’t be seen yourself.
  • A microphone (built into most cell phones and tablets, but not laptops or desktops). The best option would be to have a ‘USB headset’ – a microphone that plugs in using a USB port on your electronic device. These are available for $20.00-$40.00 on Amazon. I can help make some recommendations if you don’t know what to get.  This option along with the use of your computer will allow you to see me and any items that I share online and allow to you chat and send messages to other attendees.
  • If you don’t have a webcam OR a microphone, you will still be able to use a regular phone and dial a number and code I will provide to you. That will enable you to listen and participate in the study, even if we cannot see each other. However, this option is the most prone to technical problems, and it is highly recommended by Zoom that a USB headset is used if possible.

 

I am sure there will be some tech issues and learning curves as we work this out. We can help each other through this. Again, as soon as the equipment I am waiting for arrives I will set this up for whoever wants to join in.  If you have a smartphone or tablet that you would like to use, feel free to look for and download the app ‘zoom’ from the Apple store or Google Play in preparation.

 

Communion:  I have been in communication with other pastors in our state and around the country. Currently, we have not been offering communion. I hesitate to put a time frame on when we will start this again. However, I am working with some health care professionals to set up ‘drive through’ communion. Our current model would be for members to make an appointment with me and come to the church using the all-weather entrance by the office. I would come out and distribute communion to the family in the car.  The current delay is in making sure that we have the correct supplies to ensure a hygienic station and distribution.  It is my hope that we can begin this service by the week after Easter – but that will be subject to current health restrictions AND frankly, my own health.  I am anticipating that there are times that I will minister to people who are ill and I will be exposed to the coronavirus. When that happens, current guidelines call for self-isolation for 2 weeks – and obviously that would prevent me from distributing communion.

 

This is only the current model, and things may change. While I wish I could give definite answers, I want you to be aware that I take very seriously our mutual task of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

 

Immerse: I would like to seriously consider starting Immerse Reading groups again. I would offer two choices – our next volume would be the ‘Prophets’ which would include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets.  Or we could re-read ‘Messiah’ – the New Testament.  If we read through Prophets, we continue with our plan on reading through the Bible in three years as a church, but it will involve purchasing the new volume. I do not want a financial burden for anyone during these times.  If we re-read Messiah, many will already have a copy, and I have a number in my office that I can donate to whoever needs one.

 

I welcome feedback on which direction you would like to go.

 

If you need resources for daily devotional readings, I recommend  the Lutheran Church Calendar.

 

Concordia Publishing House (CPH) has put together a page of resources for your own studies at home here  

 

Finally, allow me to share with you the YouTube channel of Concordia Publishing House Music   – they have put together a playlist of Lent and Easter Music you may enjoy in your own personal devotions.

 

And finally, if you need help shopping, if you are under self-isolation, if there is something you need…please do contact the church and let us know. We will do our best to find you the help you need. If you need comfort, care, forgiveness, please do not hesitate to contact me by email (‘pastor’ at ‘stjohns-wharton.org’) or my cell phone (979-488-4560) via text or voice.

 

I know there is a lot in this letter.  I don’t want to overwhelm you. What I can tell you is that as a church we will pivot to use this situation to reach out to each other and share God’s love and comfort. With God’s blessings, we will also use this situation to reach out to those who do not normally come to church, but who will find that they have a community of faith who share the love of Jesus with them. In the Gospel reading just a few Sundays ago, the question was raised of the man born blind, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ answer was instructive to us all. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  May the works of God be displayed in our lives, our actions, and our love for neighbor in this time.

 

Go, display the works of God. Take time and listen to how God works through many people, even a Samaritan.  Love God, love others.

 

Your Servant in Christ,

 

Rev. R.W. Lutjens

Pastor, St. John’s Lutheran Church,

Wharton TX