My Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Pacific Southwest District,
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Phil. 1:3-5)
I pray that each of you are doing well, sustained by God’s grace, and empowered by His Spirit for this “long obedience in one direction.” (a favorite Eugene Peterson quote about ministry).
Here are a couple of things I want to share with you:
First, I want to encourage you to remember, on this Memorial Day Weekend, to honor the dedication of the men and women who are active duty and veterans of the Armed Forces and to ask God to comfort the countless families who have made the ultimate sacrifice of their loved one in service to our nation. We are so very blessed!
Everyone is Talking about Reopening
Today (May 22th), President Trump stated, “Today I'm identifying houses of worship - churches, synagogues and mosques - as essential places that provide essential services," Trump said during a hastily arranged press conference Friday. He said if governors don't abide by his request, he will "override" them, though it's unclear what authority he has to do so. https://abc7news.com/politics/trump-calls-on-churches-to-reopen-this-weekend/6204510/
I just completed a LCMS Council of Presidents’ meeting during which we discussed President Trump’s statement. Many District Presidents have recently written to ask governors to identify churches as essential for the well-being of our communities and for permission to reopen as soon as it is safely possible. (President Lange of CNH and I co-wrote and sent letters to the Governors of California and Nevada for that purpose.) Yes, as leaders of the LCMS we are greatly encouraged. But it is also important to remember, “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” This is an issue of Christian Freedom, not unlike what the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, wrote to the Corinthians, Romans, Galatians – and to us. In our freedom, we should never use it to cause our brothers and sisters to stumble. I encourage you to be cautious and not rush to reopen this weekend. Many of our congregations are just not ready to do so. Let’s make sure that we do the hard things right.
As a District that covers parts of three states, there is a great deal of diversity in the what, when, and how congregations can reopen. Arizona is ahead of California and Nevada in the process. I rejoice with those congregations who have be able to reopen! Many of our congregations cannot reopen because they have yet to establish clear reopening protocols. Other congregations are in regions where the number of COVID cases continue to climb and gathering could be unsafe. Still others have yet to communicate to high-risk members that they should not feel guilty about staying away out of concern for their health. It is important that we show charity to one another as our congregations find their way forward. Several of the districts where congregations have already reopened worship report that the number of returning worshipers is much lower than they anticipated; many people are just staying home.
A couple of thoughts on reopening:
Please continue to follow the guidance of local authorities for reopening.
Survey your congregation – ask if, when, what they expect when they return to church, youth group, Sunday School, small groups, and school.
Give permission to your members to stay home if they are uncertain about gathering.
Review the significant resources we’ve accumulated on the PSD site regarding reopening protocols.
Ask your liability insurance carrier what they will and will not cover.
Liability insurance companies state: establish a plan based on local requirements, communicate it to your people, and then follow it. Failure to follow a stated plan could open you up to liability.
Earlier this week I was on a Zoom meeting with Circuit 23 (Yuma and Imperial Valley area) and Pastor Jonathan Sites, Shepherd of the Hills, Yuma shared the “best practice” of creating a virtual video tour of what the congregation can expect when they return to worship. The idea is to show in advance how social distancing, distribution of bulletins, communion practices, etc. will be done once they reopen. I can see that working for all aspects of a congregation and school’s ministry. Great idea!
Gathered and Scattered
Over the last couple of months, we’re all thinking about how ministry will be different going forward. To guide that conversation, we are using the concept that the ministry will be both “Gathered” and “Scattered.” Reminds me of tabernacle and temple concepts of the Old Testament, of the diaspora of the early church in Acts 8, and beyond. Our God shows up in all those places! A book that I’m rereading is, “And – The Gathered and Scattered Church” by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. I hope you find it helpful.
What’s Next in Streaming
A number of you have stated that some form of worship streaming needs to continue even after the all-clear is sounded. In the initial days of COVID, with the scramble to establish online worship, many cobbled together resources and tech from available equipment and expertise. If you’re interested in taking a step into higher quality streaming tech and improving your ability to connect with others, please take a look at the resources Aaron Lucas, our Director of Communications has put together at https://www.psd-lcms.org/online-worship-resources. Scroll down to the Software and Equipment section for package recommendations by the outstanding church tech firm, CCI.
A Free One-Day Conference – Small Church Essentials
On Saturday, June 27, the PSD is excited to provide you with Small Church Essentials, a free on-line conference with Pastor Karl Vaters, author of The Grasshopper Myth and Small Church Essentials. The conference is available to everyone and anywhere there is a computer with internet - your sanctuary, office, or dining room! The conference will be livestreamed to the PSD Website (information is on the registration site). You will have the opportunity to interact with Karl throughout the conference by submitting comments and questions in the chat box. We do ask you to register in advance by going to: https://www.psd-lcms.org/psd-events
Karl will cover the following topics:
Redefining Success In Ministry
Big Church, Small Churches – What’s the Difference?
How To Discover And Use What Your Church Does Well
COVID-19: What’s Working In Churches That Are Thriving
Taking Care of Yourself
As I talk with DCEs, pastors, school administrators, educators, and lay leaders during countless Zoom meetings, it’s quickly apparent that we are all in the same boat. We’re tired of all of this! A number of you have shared with me feelings of weariness, discouragement, and depression. This morning I came across an excellent blog post that speaks to this reality. I hope that you’ll take a few minutes to read it and take it to heart. While the title addresses pastors, it applies to all of us, no matter our role in Kingdom work. https://johndobbs.com/the-coming-pastoral-crash/
Your family, church, and community need you during and after COVID. Please take care of yourselves. You are precious to your Savior, to me, and to your Church!
May God bless, protect, and sustain you.
Yours in Christ,