Pastor Jen Hoffman Phone: 715-581-7378 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Roman 5:1-5
Greetings! Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I pray that this newsletter finds you well. There is no shortage of news and world events to grab our attention these days, and as we engage them I hope that you are also taking time to care for yourselves. Depression, anxiety, fatigue, and stress are real and they require special attention to our self-care. It is important that we are not only taking time to spend with God in scripture and worship and prayer, but also to spend time (as we are able) with one another doing things that bring us joy: moving our bodies, taking care to eat healthy, breathing deeply, practicing the art of “being still”, and communicating with family and friends. Laughter and hugs are two healing activities; if you don’t have someone near to hug, you can call someone up and find something to laugh about. It will do your spirit good.
I know many of you are probably wondering when we will be able to gather together again at St. Stephen Lutheran Church. The answer is: I don’t know and probably not soon. Not the news you were hoping to hear, I’m sure. There are many factors that we are keeping in mind as we work to determine when we will worship in person with one another, but those factors change on an almost daily basis. In this newsletter, you will find the plan that our Shepherds of St. Stephen Team and our Council have put together in preparation for the day when we will finally be together. Stage one will allow for groups of ten or less to be at church. Stage two allows for worship with 50 or less. We are not yet in stage one. I know this is frustrating and I understand your true longing to be together. It’s natural. We are built, as a church, for community. But here are a few things to consider as we wait:
1. When we are together for worship, we will not be singing, communing, hugging, shaking hands, sharing the peace, passing the offering, lingering in the church, having coffee hour, opening parts of the building that aren’t the worship space, or speaking together during the service.
2. We will be requiring masks in the building and physical distancing. Only immediate family that live with each other will be able to sit together.
3. We will open the building right before worship and usher people out right after.
4. The pastor will not be available before or after worship to chat.
5. The fans/air will not be running during services, and you know how hot our building gets.
6. According to every rubric, even the ones being used by people who have already opened their doors, people over the age of 65 (or 60 in some) are advised not to attend. That’s many of us!
These are just some of the pieces that will be different when we gather together again. Right now, we can do so much more electronically than we would be able to do in person. Seeing people face to face IS important, so we are continuing to add opportunities for that for as many people as possible. In June, we started having virtual coffee hour over Zoom and have had good results. I also posted a video asking members to contact me if they desired a “distanced” visit. I am willing to come to your house and sit in a chair in your driveway or yard and talk to you (masked of course) from a safe distance away or via phone while looking at you through your door or window. My calendar is starting to fill up! We are also bringing the services on DVD to those of you who need another option for viewing the services. I’m excited that we have figured this out and are making it happen!
Just remember, God has prepared us for times such as these. We know that the heart of the church is not a building. We know that God is everywhere and with us always, and our call to mission reaches into all places. And we know that even now the Holy Spirit is revealing new ways for us to engage our faith and share our gifts…maybe in ways we never thought possible! God works through all things, and we have a wonderful opportunity to allow God to work through us even now. I look forward to hearing from you about all the things God is doing through you today.
This is a quote from Martin Luther discussing the Bubonic Plague: In a letter to Rev. Dr. John Hess, found in Luther’s Works, Volume 43 p. 132, as “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague,” Luther writes: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Blessings and peace,