On Epidemic and Disease…a letter to RELC

Dear Saints gathered at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Hilliard,

Grace and peace to you from God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I constantly give thanks for what God has formed this community into: a community that is confident in their identity as baptized Christians proclaiming the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through many difficult times you continue to be God’s people that confidently believe God’s grace is real in this world.

At the moment we seem on the cusp of one of those difficult times. Due to disease, public events are being cancelled, universities are stopping classes for extended periods, and schools have also now been closed. The governor yesterday ordered that public gatherings larger than 100 are to be cancelled. This edict, however does not apply to religious communities and worship activities. This, then, leaves us with a decision.

Through all of this, no group of people larger than three is completely united in opinion on these matters. Some of you may think the response to these events unreasoning panic. Others of you may think we are sleepwalking into disaster. No matter what camp you fall into I believe that clear communication is best in these moments. Therefore, in communication with council and other church leaders, I and church council have reached the following conclusions:

  1. Public worship will continue: Worship is at the heart of what we do as a community. It is important that worship be both embodied and local because it affirms the truth of the gospel – that God works through the particular and local. To put this another way, physicality is important to worship because Jesus Christ comes to us through physical means. Therefore, baring some huge change in public policy that forbids all religious gatherings public worship will not stop. This includes Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. We are blessed that our worship space is adjustable. We will be moving chairs so that there is more space between seats. Jesus has promised his presence wherever two or three are gathered in his name. Two or three is a low bar to clear.
  2. Stay home if you are at risk: Please hear this as having equal weight as point number 1. Also please note that I did not say “if you feel sick.” If you are of an age that makes you vulnerable to this disease, please consider staying home. If you have underlying conditions that put you at risk to this disease, please consider staying home. If you feel sick, are afraid of getting sick, are high risk, and/or just want to be safe then you have your pastor’s permission to remain at home. Self quarantining and self distancing are important steps that should be taken for the care and safety of our neighbor. Physical presence is important to worship, however scripture warns us not to put the Lord to the test. Basically, that is a warning to not be foolish. Our church is blessed to have people who understand how to run a YouTube channel (our congregation’s is found here) and the capacity the put some of our service on DVD. We are investigating ways of broadcasting worship on Facebook live, so please pay attention for more updates. Both DVD and/or the YouTube channel can be made available to you during this time. To put all this another way: worship will continue if there are two or three gathered. However, there does not have to be more than two or three.
  3. With two exceptions (listed below) all other activities at church are cancelled: This includes Sunday school (both adult and children), Youth group, choir, this Saturday’s clean up event, men’s breakfast and other such activities. Various organizations that use our buildings (like the Scouts) are also cancelling their activities. Council encourages ministries to find ways to stay in touch through virtual means. GIFT is working on ways to stay in touch with students remotely.
  4. BOLD and Thursday Night Dinner at First English will continue, with adjustments: While all other activities are cancelled, these two ministries will continue. The leaders of these ministries are working on how to adjust these ministries in a way that increases safety. However, there is no denying that our state government feels all such gatherings are a risk. Council and I feel this risk is worth it because these ministries feed people who are hungry. A crisis does not absolve us of our responsibility to our neighbor. Quite the opposite. In such times our duty to our neighbor becomes more important.
  5. Please respect your neighbor’s boundaries: I have already said this before, but it bears repeating. If your neighbor does not want to be touched, do not insist on a hand shake. Please respect your neighbors wishes.
  6. Pastoral care will continue: Please call my cell phone or the church office and we will discuss pastoral care and visits.
    Confident in Christ’s presence in and among us through word and sacrament we can then turn to that most Lutheran of questions: what does this mean? It would be pastoral malpractice if I did not end this on some note about how we are supposed to follow Christ in these days. Specifically, what does all this mean for us as disciples in this moment?

Fortunately, our own Lutheran history offers some help on this matter. In 1527 a case of the plague was discovered in Wittenberg. Martin Luther was asked what the response should be as Christians and so he wrote a letter entitled “Whether one may flee from a deadly plague.” In this work Luther lays out two ethical principles that are helpful for us today

  1. “One cannot place the same burden upon everyone.” What Luther means here is that no all Christians have the same expectation during times of crisis. In the case of disease, Luther says that pastors, healthcare workers, and government officials are under special obligation to continue to do their duty. This is still true for us today.
  2. “We are bound to each other in such a way that no one may forsake the other in their distress.” This is to say that our ethical concern is always with our neighbor first and not ourselves. Times of crisis will inevitably tempt us to put ourselves first. Our call is to not abandon one another. This principle of putting our neighbor first is to be lived out in all aspects of our lives, whether it be in caring for a sick loved one or when we stock up on supplies at the grocery store. We are obliged to help our neighbor as our neighbor would wish to be helped.
    With these guides from our history I offer this final reminder: the days may seem crazy, but the two greatest commandments have not changed. We are to love the Lord our God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

As a final matter I ask that you please keep in touch as these decisions will be reevaluated constantly. Please keep reading our congregation’s Facebook page and check your email for updates from church.

As always, scripture should have the last word. Jesus says in the book of Revelation “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:17-18).” Do not be afraid, and be confident that we worship a living God.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace,
Pastor David Kamphuis