You can follow along with the service Sunday Morning (March 22nd) with this printout: CLICK HERE.
My dear Brothers and Sister in Christ,
I trust that everyone is safe and at home during this time. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1)
I know that we are in a fluid and changing situation right now. As your pastor, I am working on ways to continue to bring you God’s Word and comfort during this time. At this time, I will continue to direct you to our church’s webpage https://stjohns-wharton.org/corona (the page you are on now) for the most up to date status of the church ministry. We will continue to broadcast Sunday Services over the radio for you and the community at large.
Obviously we will not have Lenten services tonight (Wed, March 18th). I would encourage you to turn to this webpage https://stjohns-wharton.org/sermons and listen to ‘Lent for All Nations: The Centurion and Shang Ik Moon’. I have recorded a short service with Scripture readings, a message, prayers, and even a handout for you to see. I will continue to record services and keep that page updated as the days go by.
I would also like to direct your attention to a message from the LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison regarding the pandemic. You can find that message here: https://blogs.lcms.org/2020/a-message-from-lcms-president-matthew-c-harrison-amid-the-coronavirus-pandemic/ . It is a 6 min video, and the transcript is below the video if you prefer to read it. I do ask you to take those few short minutes to read his message or watch the video.
Finally, I would like to bring a situation to your attention. Currently we are under *two* separate recommendations to reduce the transmission of the Coronavirus. The first was presented to us Monday afternoon, recommending that no gathering of 10+ people happen for the next 15 days. That will be in place until the end of the month, March 31st.
The second recommendation was put in place last Sunday evening. The CDC recommended that no gathering of 50+ people take place for the next 8 weeks. That would be in effect until May 10th. These recommendations are in place so that we slow the spread of this virus by limiting exposure both for ourselves, and for our neighbors – especially those who may have underlying health conditions.
(EDIT on Friday, March 20th: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an executive order for the State of Texas to avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people, effective just before midnight tonight, March 20th to just before midnight on April 3rd, subject to extension as needed. This makes *THREE* separate recommendations and orders to not gather together.)
New cases in Italy continue to rise, with 2,503 people who have died (in Italy) from this since Feb 21st. We have had two positive cases and the first death in Matagorda Medical Center – a man in his late 90’s died Sunday evening.
I cannot speculate what the situation will look like in two weeks time. I do not know if the CDC will keep its recommendation of not gathering for the entire 8 weeks. However I want you to be aware that there is a very real chance we will not be gathering in our sanctuary for Holy Week or Easter Sunday. This has not been decided, and the elders, church council, and I are waiting to assess the situation as the time gets closer.
I am considering a number of ideas of how we might still celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord on Easter Sunday if it is not appropriate for us to gather together. We may simply listen to the service at home as we did last Sunday. I heard a suggestion that we might gather in the parking lot in our cars and have a chance to sing together while following the radio, possibly honking our horns at some parts of the service. These are suggestions, but I welcome hearing your ideas. Again, I emphasize that this is a possibility, but we want to be thinking ahead.
I do have a concern regarding the ongoing spiritual care for our members and community. I keep directing people towards the radio and this website as the best option we have at this time. I have not yet addressed the implications of us being able to receive the Lord’s Supper, or when that will start again. Please hear my assurance that refraining from the Lord’s Supper will not limit God’s grace through His varied means. I very much understand the comfort, blessing, and forgiveness given through the Lord’s Supper. Only the urgent nature of this situation has moved us to implement the exceptional practices of not gathering together. I am in contact with other Pastors and Churches, and we are working to come up with ways to faithfully administer the Supper during this very unusual time.
In the meantime, if you are in doubt of God’s love and forgiveness, if you need to be uplifted, please call or text me on my cell phone (979) 488-4560 for private confession and absolution. You can also communicate with me via email at ‘pastor’ at the church website ‘stjohns-wharton.org’. Take this time of being at home to explore God’s Word and read the Scriptures. Pray. Serve your neighbor by calling and checking on them. In my next letter I hope to have devotional and worship resources for you to explore. Please let me know if there are any particular types of resources that you would find useful.
Please allow me to close with this prayer:
Almighty God, you graciously give your children all that they need to support this body and life. Grant your grace to us in this time. Open your hand and satisfy our needs. Help us keep trust in you and your provisions. Lift our spirits so that we may serve others. Help those who have their income and housing at risk by not being able to work. Lay your hand of protection over us now. Do not let us fall into despair, resentment, or the mire of self-pity. Renew in us hope and faith. Give us the assurance of your presence and the courage to face the trials of the days to come: through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor R.W. Lutjens
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Wharton