Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Respecting Caesar. . . Obeying God. . .
I realize that we are not in the same circumstance as the early Church when Christianity was illegal and persecuted or in other eras when the government was trying to control the faith in order to weaken the faith and shut it down. However, we are not being disobedient nor are we being careless with respect to our people when we work to make it possible to keep the doors open and worship services continue in a time of fear, panic, and threat. We are not being indifferent to the very real threat of this virus pandemic when we owe our allegiance to the higher calling of making sure that God's people are not without the comfort of His Word, of absolution, and of the body and blood of Christ in His Holy Sacrament.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic is serious, deadly so, and our CDC and political leaders are certainly right and well within their authority to act for the safety of us all in slowing the spread of this threat. At the same time, we have seen ample evidence that many of the things said have not calmed any fears but perhaps added to the hysteria so evident in grocery stores.
Those who lead the Church are not required to imitate our political leaders or to take recommendations as rules that may not be violated. Our concern is the spiritual health and well being of the people of God. Finally, we must use social media carefully and make sure that we do not succumb to the temptation to contribute to the panic. In the end, we do not have a sure idea of where or how this will unfold but we can and should work to maintain as much as possible a sense of normalcy within the parameters of adequate precaution and prevention. We should expect our people to wash hands for at least 20 seconds, to use hand sanitizer as a backup, and to stay home when they exhibit any symptoms of the coronavirus, flu, or cold. This we do out of love for our neighbor more than because we are told to do so by medical or political authorities.
It my contention that closing churches, cancelling services, and turning to social media instead of providing Word and Sacrament is a betrayal of our solemn duty to provide faithful spiritual care to God's people. I am shocked by those who have made the arbitrary decision to close churches and even cancel Easter. I am surprised that many of our district officials have so quickly rushed to encourage churches to refrain from the use of the chalice if open or to close entirely. We are doing the exact opposite in Clarksville, Tennessee. Below is our plan to address the life of the Church within the threat of the coronavirus.
TO THE PEOPLE OF GRACE LUTHERAN CHURCH, CLARKSVILLE, TN:
In an effort to serve God’s people faithfully with the Word preached, with absolution of their sins, and with the food of Christ’s body and blood in the Divine Service, we will expand the number of services. With all due respect to the CDC and political leaders, the Church is not a social club and the Divine Service is not a social gathering. If it is safe to go to the grocery store, it is safe to go to Church. We will, however, cancel non-essential programs, eliminate all food events, and adapt our Divine Service to honor both the Lord and the guidelines of the medical community.
Starting March 18, the 5 pm Vespers will become a 5 pm shortened form of the Divine Service. Soup and Bread will be cancelled. The 7 pm Evening Prayer will also become a shortened form of the Divine Service. The format will be similar to the Thursday services we have been observing for many years.
Starting March 18, we will also add daily Divine Services. Mondays at 6 pm, Tuesdays at 11 am, Wednesdays at 5 & 7 pm, Thursdays at 11 am, and Saturdays at 6 pm. The Sunday Schedule will also change with service times of 8:15, 9:30, and 10:45 am for the Divine Service. All Sunday school classes, catechism classes, and Bible studies will be cancelled until further notice. We are not turning off the coffee pot but no coffee hour will be observed or food served.
We will continue with the changes already announced on March 15: No shaking of hands or passing of the peace, individual cups handed to each communicant, offering plates will not be passed but will be placed near the front for people to place their tithes and offerings, and we will not shake hands at the door. Pastors will handle the distribution. The CDC has never found any credible evidence of the chalice transmitting disease so we will continue the chalice without fear.
Choir and other musical groups will meet as directed by the Cantor but the planned music will be adapted because of the other changes in the schedule.
Easter will continue with services at 7, 9 & 10:45 am but we will not serve an Easter Breakfast. The Easter Egg hunt will be cancelled but baskets of Easter eggs will be given to the children on Easter Sunday.
All services will take place in the main Sanctuary so that the distances suggested by the CDC can be observed. If it becomes necessary, we will use a sign up sheet to schedule which service people wish to attend so that we can honor the spirit of the CDC recommendations. Note that at this point, the recommendation of the CDC is groups of 50 or less and the State of Tennessee has not put in place rules that supersede this.
Finally, we strongly encourage you not to panic but to act as the people of faith and hope we are in Christ. We have this moment to demonstrate before the world the power of the hope that lives in us and the opportunity to show the love for neighbor that we have received from Christ, our Good Samaritan and Savior. Grace Lutheran Church will not close our doors. We will work within the parameters we have to fulfill God’s purpose and provide the comfort of His Word and the grace of His sacraments to His people. Your pastors and the staff of Grace Lutheran Church are committed to whatever we can do to be there for YOU and we ask YOU to be there for the Church by faithfully praying for your servants in Christ, your neighbors in need, and providing the tithes and offerings necessary to support this essential work.