AN UPDATE FROM BISHOP AEBISCHER
We recognize that across the South Carolina Synod our congregations have experimented with and participated in a variety of worship gathering practices throughout this pandemic that have been highly contextual. Our main concern and recommendation is that while congregational leaders seek to offer the proclamation of the gospel and the opportunity to worship they also follow best practices for keeping everyone in their communities as safe as possible.
As we come to what we hope will be our homestretch in this pandemic that we pray everyone will remain patient, calm and considerate of one another. We have all come a long way in the last year by simplifying our lifestyles and simply staying home. While the vaccine and the warming weather brings us all hope for gathering in-person once again as soon as possible, we still need to be mindful of the need for truly safe practices. It is important to remember that even if you have been able to get your vaccine, someone in your faith community is still be waiting. Time is still needed for more members of our communities to have access to the vaccines and to let those vaccines take full effect. Please show continued care and respect for all our neighbors and give everyone time to allow this to work.
With the recent record rapid increase of cases in South Carolina and across the United States, the U.S. CDC has set up stronger guidance about wearing masks and other recommendations.
The CDC published a report with updated guidelines recommending “universal use of face masks” when outside of your own home.
The CDC went on to say “face masks have been scientifically proven to prevent individuals infected with COVID-19 from spreading the virus, whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic.” They continued, “according to new estimates, approximately half of new COVID infections are being transmitted by people who have no symptoms, or are asymptomatic.”
These guidelines cover:
- Universal use of face masks.
- Physical distancing and limiting contacts.
- Avoiding nonessential indoor spaces and crowded outdoor settings.
- Increased testing, diagnosis, and isolation.
- Prompt case investigation and contact tracing to identify, quarantine, and test close contacts.
- Safeguarding persons most at risk for severe illness or death.
- Protecting essential workers
- Postponing travel.
- Increased room air ventilation, enhanced hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfection.
- Widespread availability and use of effective vaccines.
The latest guidelines
Resuming Care-Filled Worship and Sacramental Life During a Pandemic
A new in-depth resource of safe practices for worship during the pandemic has been created by an ecumenical consultation. In addition to representatives from several denominations in the United States, the consultation team included scientists and medical professionals.
Information from Our Synod
NEW RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE SYNOD OFFICE AS WE MOVE FORWARD.
South Carolina Synod Recommendations and Information
Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith CDC
How To Properly Wash Your Hands
This is a link to proper handwashing for Certified Nurse’s Training from Jenn Loughty.
Stewardship in a time of Social Distancing with Mike Ward
For those of you who have questions about how to approach stewardship during this time of social distancing and not worshipping together, the synod is brining you an opportunity to hear from and interact with Rev. Mike Ward, CFRE. Mike leads the Stewardship for All Seasons program in our synod and is the author of Abundance: Creating a Culture of Generosity published by Fortress Press.
During the webinar Mike presented his ideas for how to keep generosity strong during turbulent times and took time to answer your questions.
Visit https://gsbfundraising.com/category/news/ to view a short video about stewardship during the coronavirus and to read blogs on this topic as well.
Fundraising in Uncertain Times
Moving Mission Forward During the Coronavirus
Sample outcomes letter—mail with envelope for return gifts
Electronic Giving Options to help your Congregation with Andrew Dalamba from Tithe.ly
Does your church need digital giving set-up — now?
At ELCA Preferred Partner Tithe.ly, we’re passionate about making Church giving meaningful, simple, and FAST!
During the webinar Andrew Dalamba shared how you can get your congregation to go digital, fast.
He covered how to use Tithe.ly’s resources to better serve your congregation during this outbreak, and stay ahead of COVID-19.
Learn More about ELCA Preferred Provider Tithely
Information from Churchwide
NEW RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE CHURCHWIDE EXPRESSION AS WE MOVE FORWARD.
Considerations for Returning to In-person Worship
Messages from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton concerning the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic.
ELCA presiding bishop issues pastoral message on COVID-19 racism and white supremacy
Response to COVID-19 from ELCA presiding bishop - 3/27/2020
Respuesta a COVID-19 del obispo presidente de la ELCA - 3/27/2020
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton has issued a statement in response to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
Resources from our Churchwide Expression concerning the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic.
FAQ on Paycheck Protection Program Loans
Payroll Protection Program Application Form
CORONAVIRUS EMERGENCY LOANS Guide and Checklist for Small Businesses and Nonprofits
Considerations for Remote Council and Congregation Meetings During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Update and Resources on COVID-19-related Benefits for ELCA Congregations, Synods, Other Ministries and their Employees
Noticias y recursos sobre beneficios relacionados con el COVID-19 para las congregaciones de la ELCA, los sínodos y otros ministerios y sus empleados
Families First Coronavirus Response Act - UCC Update
Summary of Cares Act Provisions
Congregational Planning Checklist for Public Health Concerns from Lutheran Disaster Response
Planificación congregacional para problemas de salud pública: Lista de control de Lutheran Disaster Response
Lutheran Disaster Response, Our Impact on the Coronavirus.
Mission Investment Fund and ELCA Federal Credit Union are offering special assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic
ELCA World Hunger's Daily Bread Matching Grants
As part of the ELCA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, these grants are available to eligible ministries on a first-come, first-served basis. Between April 3 and April 19, approved congregations will be able to invite their members, networks and friends to donate. To help drive their campaigns, the funds they raise will be matched my ELCA World Hunger with a grant of $500.
In response to high demand, the total number of grants awarded has been expanded to 200. The current round of grants has reached capacity, but you are encouraged to submit an application to be notified when future opportunities become available.
ELCA World Hunger's Daily Bread Matching Grants
Stewardship of Gifts
Many members may be concerned about how to support the work of their congregations, synods and churchwide ministries if they are ill or choosing to stay home to reduce the risk of getting or spreading the virus. A majority of ELCA congregations currently offer online giving as an option for both one-time and recurring gifts, and all still accept checks. For congregations looking for online giving, the ELCA has negotiated with preferred vendors who can quickly respond with options.
Currently, the South Carolina Synod uses one of the preferred providers, Tithe.ly.
Tracking Online Worship Attendance
Resources for Worship in the Home
The Use of the Means of Grace
A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament
Adopted for Guidance and Practice
Worship Resources: Worship in Times of Public Health Concerns
Adoración en tiempo de problemas de salud pública: COVID19/Coronavirus
Prayers for Times of Public Health Concern: COVID-19/Coronavirus
Oraciones para tiempos de problemas de salud pública: COVID19/Coronavirus
How to stream your worship service — A starter guide
Intercessory Prayer in the midst of the spread of COVID-19 from the Lutheran World Federation
Cómo transmitir por Internet su servicio de adoración — Guía del principiante
Streaming License Information
Most licenses do not include streaming unless the congregation pays an extra fee to include online streaming in the scope of the license.
Augsburg Fortress has extended its licenses to include online streaming through May 31 for free for the copyrights it owns (as opposed to those it administers). Details here: https://go.augsburgfortress.org/temporary-expanded-licensing-for-streaming-worship-services
One License granted a temporary free extension for online streaming until April 15. Information on the streaming license after April 15 is here: https://news.onelicense.net/2020/04/13/looking-ahead-licensing-options-for-gratis-accounts-after-april-15/
Information (including pricing <$100/year for the vast majority of our congregations) on CCLI’s streaming license is here: https://us.ccli.com/streaming/
Guidance for Funeral Practices: Ministering to the Bereaved During a Public Health Crisis
Holy Communion under Quarantine by Timothy J. Wengert
Unless one is over 100 years old, none of us has lived through such a serious world-wide pandemic. While we can stream our worship service on-line, the Lord’s Supper poses a particular problem for Lutherans, who in the last fifty years have gone from quarterly to monthly to weekly communion in our congregations (especially on the East Coast). What should we do?
The first thing to say is that, outside of following the guidance of medical professionals, there is no one “right answer” to this problem, and we must be very careful not to project our anxiety upon others who may find other solutions to this practical problem. The frequency of the Lord’s Supper is not fixed in the New Testament and is not part of the Ten Commandments, so we must not assume that what we do is the only right way. It is adiaphora, a word that does not mean that it is not important but rather means that we cannot clearly tell what is the right or wrong practice. Thus, we should not judge one another. In the Formula of Concord’s article on adiaphora (art. 10), the concordists remind us:
We also believe, teach, and confess that no church should condemn another because the one has fewer or more external ceremonies not commanded by God than the other has, when otherwise there is unity with the other in teaching and all the articles of faith and in the proper use of the holy sacraments, according to the well known saying, “Dissonantia ieiunii non dissolvit consonantiam fidei,” “Dissimilarity in fasting is not to disrupt unity in faith.”
Franklin Drews Fry, a long-time pastor in New Jersey, taught me an important method for approaching such matters: “Give it your ‘reverent, best guess!’” It is reverent, in that we must study Scripture, pray, and beg God for guidance. It is best, in that we use our heads to figure out the best thing to do. But it remains a guess, because we are ignorant, sinful mortals, not God. This means that once we make a decision, we should always be open to suggestions about what may be better.
Now, when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, as I said, there is no magic number of times to celebrate. The fact that Roman Catholic priests were required to celebrate the Mass daily in Luther’s day led the reformers to emphasize a comment from the ancient church, which described how the church in Alexandria, Egypt did not do this. The fact that most of us celebrate weekly does not necessarily mean that this is the only practice. Indeed, not receiving the Lord’s Supper during Lent this year would remind us that we are in solidarity with those who were preparing for Baptism in the ancient church, who would first receive the Supper after Baptism on Easter Day. Perhaps this virus is forcing on us a better Lenten discipline to impress upon us once more just how precious the Meal is and how we are all in need of the waters of baptism.
In 1523, followers of John Hus in Bohemia posed a question to Luther about the sacraments, given that many of them were bereft of pastors as a result of their struggle with the church of Rome. Luther, giving it his “reverent best guess,” responded with Concerning the Ministry (Luther’s Works [LW] 40:7-44). There he reminded his correspondents that in each household the head of that household could preach and, in this emergency situation, baptize. But, for Luther, the Lord’s Supper was somewhat different and was intended to take place in the Sunday gathering and not privately. He also had high respect for the public office of ministry, so he did not think that the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated without a properly called minister. Given that the church in Bohemia could not receive such pastors, Luther advised them to do without pastors in the emergency. He wrote (LW 40:9): “For it would be safer and more wholesome for the father of the household to read the gospel and, since the universal custom and use allows it to the laity, to baptize those born in his home, and so to govern himself and his according to the doctrine of Christ, even if throughout life they did not dare or could not receive the Eucharist. For the Eucharist is not so necessary that salvation depends on it. The gospel and baptism are sufficient since faith alone justifies and love alone lives rightly.”
Moreover, in the same letter, Luther points out that the Supper is itself a proclamation of the gospel, given that Christ commands it be done “in remembrance of me” and Paul states that “as often as we eat … and drink … we proclaim the Lord’s death.” Thus, the Supper is not some sort of separate, required spiritual magic but it is another form of the Word, what St. Augustine called a “visible word.” Thus, we must not confuse our desire to receive the Lord’s Supper with a kind of necessity that leads us away from faith and trust in God’s promises and toward a belief that worship is not really worship without the “mere performance of the work” of the liturgy. What matters is faith in the Word of God, who comes down from heaven and in aural and visible Word whispers, “You are mine,” to which faith answers: “I’m yours.”
Once we are freed of some sort of spiritual necessity for celebrating the Supper, we are much better prepared to discuss with one another how best to behave in this situation. But here, rather than doing theology “by fiat” (“the Bible, Luther, the Bishop or I say it; you better believe it; that settles it”), we need to practice Christian conversation about these matters, remembering that line from Proverbs: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Or, as Philip Melanchthon once put it: “Wir sind zum wechselseitigen Gespräch geboren” (We are born to back-and-forth conversation). In part this means admitting to the weaknesses in all of our practical solutions. So, what are our options?
First, some congregations and their ministers may decide not to celebrate the Lord’s Supper until the threat of this virus is over. The danger here, of course, is that people suddenly get the idea that the Lord’s Supper is optional even on days when we are healthy—even pointing to Luther for support, when in fact he was speaking especially to the emergency in the Bohemian Church.
Second, one could (like St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the famous African American Episcopal Church in Philadelphia) find a way to distribute the Lord’s Supper as people drive up in their cars. Here we are in danger of turning the Sacrament into a bit of magic. Faith and proclamation would disappear as if the Sacrament were effective by the mere performance of the work. The church is not a drive-through restaurant but a Christian assembly, gathered around Word and Sacrament.
One could also, I suppose, send out bread and wine that would be “live streamed” consecrated by the pastor somewhere else. Here, too, the danger revolves around trying to create a virtual community and, again, turning the Supper into a bit of magic.
Another possibility might be to consecrate the elements and leave them on the altar for people to commune themselves as they come in individually to pray during the week. Here, too, the very communal nature of Holy Communion is in danger of being lost, and the meal becomes simply a support for individual piety rather than what it is: “Given and shed for you” [always plural in the Greek New Testament text].
Perhaps one of the ways to sort out our approaches is to ask, “Why do you” or “Why do I want to do this?” What’s the point? I regularly warned my students that when it comes to the sacramental practices, the reformers saw two dangers. Either we make the sacrament into something effective by virtue of some work we do or virtue we possess (“Only if you’re a believer is the sacrament effective”) or we make the sacrament into something effective “by the mere performance of the rite.” Even in an emergency such as what we face today, these dangers are lurking, and such practices threaten to undermine the actual heart of the sacraments—and the proclamation of the gospel. At the heart of all these things is truly God’s undeserved mercy and love, on the one hand, and faith which is engendered and strengthened by them.
Timothy J. Wengert
16 March 2020
From Portico Benefit Services
The CARES Act - What Recent Legislation Means for You
Portico Benefit Services offers the following summary to help guide you through, based on our current reading of the statute.
Federal Student Loan Borrowers Get Some Relief Due to COVID-19
Portico Benefit Services offers the following summary about Federal Student Load Debt.
People of God, these are interesting times to be in ministry. As you master many new skills and carry concerns about your people, your church’s finances, and your own family, please know that Portico is here to walk with you. Portico plan members, sign in to myPortico for these timely resources:
A new hub on myPortico (https://myportico.porticobenefits.org/TimelyMemberResources) details financial and health resources specifically related to COVID-19, including:
- updates on how the CARES Act can provide financial relief for congregations
- telemedicine and emotional health support options for ELCA-Primary and ELCA Medicare-Primary plan members
- answers about managing or adjusting flexible spending accounts
- financial resources from the ELCA Retirement Plan Recordkeeping Services Provider, Fidelity
The 16-minute video, Walking Together in Uncertain Times: A message for ELCA Retirement Plan Members, (filmed March 26) offers:
- perspective on the investment markets and how we navigate volatility
- ways to remain emotionally grounded as retirement account balances fluctuate
- resources Portico offers to help you through these uncertain times
Portico and COVID-19
As we feel the evolving impact of COVID-19 on our lives and communities, Portico is here to support you. The health and well-being of our members is paramount. We encourage you to use your ELCA-Primary health benefits to help you and your covered family members stay well — physically as well as emotionally. Please refer to the March 16 email to members from myPortico with links for options for care, testing costs, emotional support, and CDC guidelines. For congregations, this is the link to the ELCA Resource for guidance to our faith community: https://www.elca.org/publichealth.
You can always reach out to the Portico Customer Care Center, (800) 352-2876.
ELCA advocacy in time of COVID-19 pandemic
With daily developments in the spread and scope of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), our anxiety and uncertainty tempt us to curve inward and fixate on self-preservation. Appropriately, ELCA congregations and ministries are responding to the outbreak in their communities to ensure the health and safety of worshipers, staff and neighbors by adopting practices to slow transmission of COVID-19. Resources and links on ELCA.org/publichealth offer guidance to inform and prepare our worshiping communities. But as church in this pandemic, we can also shine a light on impacts for our most vulnerable neighbors. God calls us to stand by them in advocacy for dignity, equity and justice.
Tips for Responding to Hunger in a Pandemic
As communities across the United States and around the world take steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, the routine daily movements of individuals, faith communities, businesses, and more have ground to a halt – or taken new shapes few anticipated. With closed signs hanging outside many restaurants and shelves standing empty inside many stores, it’s no surprise that many people are worried about having enough to get through the current crisis. And yet, in the midst of it, we need to remember that the fear of scarcity or vulnerability did not start with the novel coronavirus; it merely widened in scope. For many of our neighbors, the vulnerability of economic uncertainty and the concern of not having enough food or supplies to last the week or month was and remains a daily reality, exacerbated by the shutdown of daily life and the new significant threats posed by the virus.
The emergency food system – pantries, community meals, soup kitchens and more – is designed to provide for neighbors in need. But it also functions in many ways contrary to the best advice we are receiving about managing the COVID-19 crisis. We are being told not to congregate in large groups; community meals are often designed to bring together a large, diverse crowd for fellowship. We are being told to practice social distancing; many pantries are set up to foster close communication and contact between participants and volunteers. We are being told to stock enough food and household necessities to last 2-4 weeks; many emergency feeding programs rely on neighbors giving freely of their resources.
Hunger is still a challenge, even as our attention is focused on the health crisis at hand, and in many ways, it may get worse. What can we do to ensure that the virus that has brought so much of daily life to a grinding halt does not do the same to our work to end hunger? Below are some tips to support neighbors facing food insecurity during these challenging times. For more suggestions, you can visit the California Association of Food Banks or the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), both of which have pages listing suggestions for adapting hunger programs to meet the current reality.
If you work at or run a pantry, consider alternatives to your current model. This might mean providing a drive-through service, instead of indoor pick-up. Some food pantries have moved from a client-choice model to preparing bags, so that clients are not moving through the pantry or congregating together in lines or waiting areas. Be sure to have adequate signage and other communications if you make this shift. Also, remember to consider clients who do not have cars. One way to maintain client choice may be to offer 2 or more different types of bags, with different items in them. As a volunteer greets each guest, offer them the option of which bag they would prefer. This allows them the choice, while still maintaining the social distance needed with the new distribution. With stores running low on disinfectant supplies and paper goods, consider adding these to your distribution, if you don’t already.
Knowing your neighbors is a key part of participating in any successful feeding ministry. So, too, is knowing as much as possible about COVID-19, including who is most vulnerable, what the symptoms are and where testing might be available. We know that some neighbors will be more vulnerable to COVID-19, depending on age. Consider increasing the distribution amounts for them, so that they don’t have to leave the house as often. If your ministry has clients with other underlying conditions, try reaching out to them to make sure they are healthy. If possible, prepare separate bags for special diets, including for people with conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.
Also, help clients and volunteers learn more about COVID-19 by sharing information about the virus and about testing options. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have print resources available online at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/factsheets.html. Consider posting these or including them in bags of food for guests. Your local county health department may be able to share with you information about testing sites, including restrictions. Remember, some testing sites, including drive-through testing sites, are only open to people with a physician’s order for testing. You can also visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html to learn more.
The ELCA is also providing information and resources via its website at https://elca.org/publichealth. There, you can find guidelines from the CDC, important links and other useful information.
Reduce the number of people gathering at the pantry at one time. If possible, consider providing appointment times for clients, to reduce the number of people gathering at the space at a single time. If you already use an appointment system, reduce the number of people allowed at each appointment and consider expanding hours or availability to help diffuse the flow of people. The California Association of Food Banks also suggests cross-training volunteers to do multiple jobs and evaluating how many volunteers or staff are essential to help reduce the number of workers at each shift.
It is not known how long COVID-19 can live on surfaces. As you receive donations, talk with your suppliers about the steps they have taken to reduce the spread of the virus. Be sure anyone working in your facility or handling donations is not sick and is practicing good hygiene – washing hands frequently, avoiding touching their face, and avoiding contact with others to the extent possible. As you stock up on cleaning supplies for clients, be sure that your pantry has enough soap, sanitizer, disinfectant supplies, etc. for frequent cleaning and disinfecting for volunteers and the pantry, too. When packing bags of food for clients, reduce the number of people who are touching food or other donations as much as possible, and ensure that everyone who packs bags, stocks shelves or otherwise works with donations washes their hands. If you use clipboards for intake forms, sanitize them often.
DMARC has postponed or cancelled all large volunteer events and hunger education and outreach events within their network, and the same stance should be adopted for other feeding programs. Any gatherings of large groups, including for service or education, should be postponed or cancelled. Unfortunately, this includes community meals, whenever possible.
6) Donate (But Ask First!)
Now is a critical time to accompany local feeding programs and ministries. As more folks hoard supplies and food, ensuring that our neighbors have enough is more important than ever. If you are able to support a local pantry or feeding ministry, please do so. But before you drop off a large donation, call them first! Managing donations takes a lot of volunteer time, which many ministries and programs may not have right now. Others may have specific needs, depending on their community. Try to reach out first, before choosing how to provide the best support.
These are going to be trying times for anti-hunger work for a very long time. If you have the means, prayerfully consider supporting local hunger ministries by donating online, if the option is available. You can also continue to support the work of domestic and international ministries through ELCA World Hunger by visiting https://community.elca.org/elcaworldhunger. With churches closed and offering plates not being passed, it can be easy to forget how much our local, national and international ministries depend on the regular support received from gifts.
Hunger is never just about food. Hunger is often a symptom of deeper vulnerabilities. Some of these economic vulnerabilities are being disclosed in rapid and jarring fashion now. The immediate impact of the widespread shutdown is being felt by service and hospitality industry workers in restaurants, bars, coffeeshops, hotels, etc., especially. Many workers in these industries work for hourly wages without paid sick leave. Servers and others depend primarily on tips, which won’t come when the business is closed. The long-term impact of the pandemic on the service industry and small businesses may be significant. Even as we follow the advice to stay home, consider purchasing a gift card from a local business, like a restaurant, coffeeshop or retail store, to use after the current crisis ends. These businesses provide the jobs that are needed to help people feed themselves and their families in the long-term. Many restaurants are also offering take-out options. If you are healthy and can do carry-out or curbside service, remember to tip the workers well. If possible, try to make the tip for carry-out at the same level as the tip you might leave for a sit-down meal.
ELCA Advocacy has been actively providing alerts about legislation related to COVID-19. You can read the recent ELCA Advocacy blog here. Right now, legislators are preparing to vote on H.R. 6201 – the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This major legislation will be a major step in providing support to people in need across the country, both in the immediate and in the long-term. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to get in touch with your members of Congress. H.R. 6201 takes major steps in ensuring that our neighbors in need will have access to nutritious food during the crisis by:
Increasing funding for TEFAP, the federal program that allows pantries and food banks to purchase food at low prices;
Expanding funding for low-income pregnant women and mothers whose jobs are impacted by COVID-19; and
Providing additional meals for elderly Americans who rely on the Senior Nutrition
In addition, the Act would prevent changes to the SNAP program that are slated to go into effect on April 1. These changes would remove the ability of states to make exceptions to the work requirements of SNAP during economic downturns, like the kind we are seeing now. This would mean that some SNAP recipients who work in businesses currently closed due to COVID-19 would be at risk of losing their benefits. H.R. 6201 as it is currently worded would prevent this from happening.
Stay up-to-date on the latest legislative information related to COVID-19 by following ELCA Advocacy on Facebook and by signing up for ELCA Advocacy e-Alerts here.
The church is and always has been caught in the tension of the already-but-not-yet Reign of God. We know by faith that God, even now, is moving the world toward wholeness and healing that surpasses even our deepest hopes during a pandemic. The church is called to bear witness to that hope to one another and to our neighbors. To be church means to be a sign of the bright future God has in store for all creation. But to be church also means to take seriously the threats to our health and wholeness now. As Lutherans, we affirm that both the complete healing to come and the healing we can experience now are gifts from God. The wisdom of public health officials, the empathy of neighbors sacrificing together to stem the spread of disease, and the tireless efforts of community leaders are gifts from God.
Maintaining social distancing, practicing good hygiene, and even changing the way we worship together may seem like mere practical steps. But they reflect some of our core beliefs as people of faith: that human wisdom is a gift of God to give effective shape to our love for one another; that protecting our most vulnerable neighbors is part of our vocation as the people of God; and that authentic worship can take many forms. Our faith also calls us to accompany our neighbors facing heightened anxiety because of both health- and economic-related uncertainties. To witness to hope means to be part of practical solutions, to show empathy and to respect the dignity of all our neighbors, especially in challenging times. It is to remember that even as we maintain social distance, we do so out of love and concern and not out of fear.
To be the witness God calls the church to be means being both wise and “foolish” at the same time – wise, in that our actions are driven by the best information we have available, and “foolish,” in that we bear witness to hope, even in the midst of crisis. At work in this tension is where we are called to be and who we are called to be, during a pandemic – and long after.
To learn more about the church’s “caring response in times of public health concerns,” visit the ELCA’s website at https://elca.org/publichealth. There are links on that page to resources for your congregation to pray for healing and health during this time.
Information from the Larger Church
Lutheran World Federation - Coronavirus: Love and self-discipline needed to protect the vulnerable
LWF leaders send letter to member churches offering prayers, support, and encouragement
(LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa and General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge have written to all member churches offering prayers, support and encouragement as they face up to the challenges presented by the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.
“This is a time to continue trusting in God’s compassionate presence among humankind,” the Lutheran leaders say.
Drawing on the biblical text from 2 Timothy 1:7, chosen as the ‘Daily Watchword’ for 10 March in the Moravian tradition, Junge and Musa urge all church members to reflect on the words: ‘For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.’
Change practices to contain virus
The call for self-discipline, they note, is paired with the call to love our neighbor. “Love and self-discipline belong together, even more these days,” they say. By keeping social distance and “holding back from unnecessary contact, we are able to show our love and concern for those who are most vulnerable,” they add.
As restrictive measures continue to be imposed in some countries, the Lutheran leaders say, this may call for assessing practices regarding gatherings and worship. They commend the Asian member churches for the example they have given and urge all other churches to take necessary steps to contain the virus and protect the vulnerable.
Remember other health challenges
In the 11 March letter, the Lutheran leaders say: “We take courage in the knowledge that God never abandons us, even if it means going through the experience of the cross. We see the cross of Christ as the sign of our strength and hope.”
Junge and Musa advise all member churches to follow instructions from the public health structures of their countries, as well as the World Health Organization and other official sources, so as to stop the spread of false information.
They also invite members of all churches to pray for each other, especially for those at the epicenter of the virus. Finally, as we relate to this new challenge, they say, let us also remember those who are daily exposed to other health challenges such as Dengue fever, Malaria, HIV & AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses.
“Understanding anew the vulnerability of human life,” the letter concludes, “may this be a moment to recommit to prayer for and loving service of our neighbor.”
Lutheran World Federation - COVID-19: LWF joins global UN appeal to help the most vulnerable
Joint action to respond to “unprecedented threat” of coronavirus pandemic
(LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) together with other organizations is joining the global appeal of the United Nations (UN) for donations to respond to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The UN is calling for 2 billion USD to support the most vulnerable countries in their fight against the virus.
This is the first time that the United Nations has issued a global appeal, as it normally focuses on countries or regions. LWF has been involved in developing the global appeal through the Standing Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR).
“COVID-19 poses an unprecedented threat which the whole of humanity must fight,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Leaving vulnerable countries to deal with the virus alone, he warned, might give the disease a “foothold” in marginalized regions, from where it could mutate and continue to affect the world for years to come.
Concern about refugee camps
The United Nations is concerned about populations is countries with fragile health care systems and densely populated refugee camps, where protection measures like physical distancing and hand washing with soap and clean water are difficult or even impossible to implement. The response will be coordinated through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) which is the UN coordination mechanism for all UN agencies. INGOs are represented there through their coordination bodies. LWF participates through the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR).
“The world is facing such an enormous challenge that none of us can address it alone. Collaboration is crucial if we are to reach those most at risk and in need of help,”said Maria Immonen, director of the LWF’s humanitarian arm World Service, and vice-chair of SCHR.
“As a key partner to the UN in its humanitarian action worldwide, the LWF is currently involved at many levels. As co-chair of the SCHR, I am participating in global coordination planning meetings with other principals of the major INGO families and the heads of all UN agencies, to make sure that the entire sector’s response is planned and carried out in ways which increase the impact of joint action.”
Strengthen LWF hygiene and protection work
As a major UN implementing partner, LWF already issued a call for donations. All LWF World Service work on COVID-19 will be coordinated with the UN system. LWF plans to increase activities which are particularly relevant for COVID-19 response: water and sanitation, education and awareness raising, psychosocial support and child protection. Even though the virus affects children less than elderly adults, the circumstances and measures taken to contain the pandemic put them at risk.
“Children without parents or with parents who are sick, are at serious risk of abuse and neglect. We also need to ensure that work against violence in families and communities continues, as this pandemic adds even more stress and fear to many, whose situations are already very, very fragile,” Immonen explains. LWF staff also need support and protective measures to be able to continue their work.
A call to prayer for staff on the front lines
LWF also asks churches worldwide for spiritual support and prayer. “Pray for those who cannot make noise for themselves, for those who are vulnerable at a degree, that we in the North find difficult to imagine, for those whose lives are still impacted by impending hunger from the locusts, from drought, and from war,” Immonen says.
“We also ask you to pray for our staff, that they remain strong, hopeful and compassionate, even as their own situations become difficult.”
Letter to Lutheran World Federation Member Churches
Read the letter
Oración de Intercesión en medio de la propagación del COVID-19 de la Federación Luterana Mundial
Lutheran World Federation - Digital Worship and Sacramental Life in a Time of Pandemic
By Prof. Dr. Dirk G. Lange
A liturgical criterion
As we consider how best to organize and structure worship in a time of pandemic, a guiding question is one that applies to every situation: does the liturgy translate the Gospel for this moment, in this context? This question (and its answer) is the criterion for our worship and the liturgical order that gives shape to worship. The criterion can also be stated as Martin Luther did when commenting on novel and contemporary worship practices in his own day (1526): “Some have the best intentions, but others have no more than an itch to produce something novel so that they might shine before people as leading lights, rather than being ordinary teachers.”*
We are called, not to be “bright lights” but to be ordinary teachers and, I’ll add, practitioners who ask a deeply liturgical question, a gospel question: What is gospel in this moment? And how is it expressed liturgically? Does the liturgical enactment (or innovation) draw attention to “me” as presider / planner or does it point to the gospel, to Jesus in our midst?
Sacraments and the body: Two texts
This brief reflection will not be on “best practices” for online worship. There are many good websites and blogs already covering those topics. Rather, this reflection considers some of core choices that need to made, especially for pastors as stewards of Word and sacrament.
A continually posed question today is about the possibility of virtual communion or online Eucharist (Holy Communion / Lord’s Supper). Let’s consider two texts.
The first text is not about the sacrament of Holy Communion itself but about baptism as a sacrament. We will think about what a sacrament means. In Luther’s “Large Catechism,” we read that some people want to separate faith from the object to which faith is attached. Yes, faith is attached to an object because human beings are bodies. We are not pure “spirit.” Faith needs to cling to something and so it clings to baptism, to the Word and the water. Luther rejects the dismissal by some of the “external” sign. The external (the body) belongs to faith because it is part of life.
“Yes, it must be external so that it can be perceived and grasped by the senses and thus brought into the heart, just as the entire gospel is an external, oral proclamation.”**
The water and the action, being immersed under the water and pulled up out of it, the bread and the wine, eaten and drunk, are external forms of proclamation. In baptism, the symbol (water and the action of immersion) should be fully enacted so that our bodies understand what is happening. We are not simply rational, cognitive, minds, we are also bodies. Body and soul are one. Just as the ear hears the words so the heart (body) also receives it. Both the word and the rite (bodily enactment / sacrament) have the same effect.*** Therefore, in baptism, water is essential. Immersion is important. Bodies are important. We might rephrase “word and sacrament” as proclamation in Word and body or Word and rite. In terms of the Eucharist, a fully participatory meal is important. Real bread and wine and people eating and drinking together. A community is formed around this proclamation of God’s immeasurable goodness and this formation, even within a small faith community, can in turn shape society.
“The body is the locus: how we treat needy bodies gives the clue to how a society is organized.”**** The needy body today is every body. Every body is susceptible to COVID-19. The faith community, with its careful and deeply respectful attention to the body (and especially the body of the most vulnerable) can help all of society organize towards decreasing the spread of the coronavirus and towards healing.
Sacraments and community
The second text comes from the “Solid Declaration” in the Book of Concord. The Solid Declaration is a valuable piece of our ecumenical and reconciling history and part of the Lutheran confessional heritage. Even though not all Lutheran churches subscribe to the complete Book of Concord, “Solid Declaration,” Article 7, the Holy Supper, can help us today:
“But this “blessing” or the recitation of the Words of Institution of Christ by itself does not make a valid sacrament if the entire action of the Supper, as Christ administered it, is not observed (…). On the contrary, Christ’s command, “Do this,” must be observed without division or confusion. For it includes the entire action or administration of this sacrament: that in a Christian assembly bread and wine are taken, consecrated, distributed, received, eaten, and drunk, and that thereby the Lord’s death is proclaimed, as St. Paul presents the entire action of the breaking of the bread or its distribution and reception in 1 Corinthians 10[:16].”*****
The aptly named “entire action rule” lays special emphasis on the complete liturgical celebration of the Eucharist or Holy Communion. The paragraph’s opening sentence is striking especially in light of many practices in Lutheran parishes through the ages and still today. The “Words of Institution of Christ by itself does not make a valid sacrament”. The Words of Institution are not magical words. They do not point to a special moment when “something” happens. Rather, the whole liturgical celebration culminates in this great thanksgiving in the Holy Spirit that evokes God’s radical, self-giving gift, God’s gift of God’s self, Jesus Christ, Mercy, in our midst. Again, there is an insistence on the fullness of the rite and on the people gathered doing something together.
Both texts indicate to us a clear “No” to virtual communion or Eucharistic celebration online. Don’t be alarmed! You don’t need to be worried about this “No” to online sacramental practice. First, the church has in many times and places not been able to celebrate the Eucharist together (times of persecution, times of war, times of famine, times of illness, and more). In Life Together Bonhoeffer writes,
“God’s people remain scattered, held together in Christ Jesus alone, having become one because they remember him in the distant lands (28) The believer need not feel any shame when yearning for the physical presence of other Christians, as if one were still living too much in the flesh.”****** (29)
A different obedience for today
As part of the stewardship of Word and sacrament, our celebration of the Eucharist can wait. We need feel no shame for this waiting is for the good of the neighbor and heightens our own desire to be gathered again as a community, in person, in the flesh.
Secondly, you have faithfully taught your congregation about the practice of baptism, which is nothing else than dying to oneself to be renewed and raised up into the plan God has for us. This action means that even good desires, spiritual desires, at times must wait. (Yes, at times, the Holy Spirit may take away from us even the strongest reference points of faith.) This time of pandemic invites us into the spiritual discipline of trust, waiting, vigilance, hope, and a deep desire to be united in community. In other words, it is not about instant spiritual gratification.
Thirdly, let us consider what makes the celebration of Holy Communion, a “communion”? It is not the pastor’s words but God’s action in the midst of a gathered assembly. Can God work communion in other ways, through other means? Absolutely! In exceptional times, those ways are fervent prayer, meditation on God’s word, preaching, teaching, confession, finding new ways of bearing each other’s burdens, reading, and singing, and enacting God’s word. There are also many ways unknown to us. God’s unconditional promise works through many means within the fabric of history, through the communion of saints, in hidden and surprising ways known only to the Spirit. With my insistence on the necessity of a physical gathering of people for a Eucharistic celebration, I am not ignoring what the digital world offers. It is to be creatively used for worship. However, not every median is appropriate or in tune with all aspects of liturgical and sacramental life.
When the gathering of people is not possible, as is the case today, and therefore a Eucharistic celebration is not possible, God does not condemn the community for that impossibility. I dare say God commends its self-discipline and restraint because such restraint is for the good (the health) of the neighbor, especially the elderly and those most vulnerable, but also for the public health structures, and in the end, for all society that it can return to a good functioning rhythm.
An invitation to wait in trust
Fourthly, the church has had a practice of distributing communion to shut-ins immediately after the Sunday liturgy. There is a brief prayer and sending rite for the eucharistic ministers who take the bread and wine from the assembly to those absent. It is a beautiful connection to the worshiping community and the proclamation of the gospel in the community’s midst. It is not a direct channel back to a person, the ordained pastor. In a COVID-19 world, the action of communion takes on a very different shape. The action is not about receiving bread and wine that have been pre-consecrated, etc. Today, we are invited into something different. God invites us now into the space of our human finitude. God invites us to wait, to wait for God to act. In this waiting, we also enter into another dimension of communion of saints as we join with all those who because of age, debilitating illness, or various mental and physical challenges are not able to regularly partake in the weekly celebration of the Eucharist.
Fifthly, the Gospel for us today is waiting. This is perhaps the quintessential definition of “by faith alone.” When everything is stripped away, we can rely only on God through faith. And God does not disappoint the waiting or searching heart, the waiting and yearning community.
We cannot always have everything we want right away. In times of pandemic, God assures us that we have been given, not a spirit of timidity but rather “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tm 1:7). We are invited into the spiritual disciple of restraint. Our yearning – our communal yearning – marks and nurtures a growing communion within the faith community. This yearning is a new spiritual reality for many of us. It is also an ancient one within the communion of saints.
Finally, for Sunday worship online, the church provides another option: daily prayer. Throughout its history some form of daily prayer was celebrated, a non-eucharistic celebration throughout the week. Its pattern is simple, basically only Psalmody and Prayer though many faith communities have expanded that to include an Opening, Psalmody, Word, and Prayer. Let this simple pattern guide your worship online. In a second post, I will try and parse out this pattern.
Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39. NRSV).
May God bless and keep you in these exceptional times.
* Martin Luther, “The German Mass” trans Dirk G. Lange in “The Annotated Luther: Church and Sacraments”, vol 3 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016).
** Kolb, Robert and Wengert, Timothy. J. “The Book of Concord: the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church” (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 460.
*** Kolb and Wengert, “The Book of Concord”, Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article 13.
**** Sallie McFague, “Life Abundant” (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 174.
***** Kolb and Wengert, “The Book of Concord”, 607
****** Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible”, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 28 and 29.
Additional Information and Reading Links
10 Considerations for Reopening Church: Returning to Worship Cannot Mean Returning to Normal
Rhonda Abbott Blevins, Pinnacle Associate
Masks purchased? Check. Hand sanitizing stations installed? Check. Pew pads removed? Check. Every other pew roped off? Check. Pre-packaged communion elements purchased? Check. Offering box installed in the Narthex? Check.
These are some of the adaptive changes church leaders are making in preparation for reopening day. While some churches were once planning a grand reopening with a (re)Easter theme, it is becoming clear that churches will reopen with a whimper as significant numbers of worshippers will not return until an effective vaccine for COVID-19 is widely available. Nor should they.
Singing, the Church, and COVID-19:
A Caution for Moving Forward in Our Current Pandemic by Heather R. Nelson, Ph.D.
Dr. Nelson’s article includes “a quick primer on the aerodynamics and mechanics of speech and singing,” explains “the difference between aerosol and droplets,” explains a connection between “aerosol and viruses,” and “what we know about singing and disease transmission…and what we don’t know yet.”
There is a ton of information to consider when looking into returning to worship.
There are numerous resources from the South Carolina, Federal government, around the world that may be helpful to you, your family, and community.
CDC – Resources for Community- and Faith-Based Leaders
- Get Your Community- and Faith-Based Organizations Ready for Coronavirus Disease 2019
- Disinfecting Your Facility if Someone is Sick
- Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities
- Checklist for Community and Faith Leaders
- Best Practices – On Stress and Coping
- Best Practices – General Guidance on Daily Life (running errands, FAQs)
- Best Practices – Guidance for People Who Need Extra Precautions
- Best Practices – Guidance for Disinfecting a Facility
- Best Practices – Guidance for Community and Faith Based Organizations
- Best Practices – Guidance to Ensure the safety of your occupants and building water system and devices
White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
The Medical University of South Carolina
- Free Virtual Visit for COVID-19 with payment code COVID19
South Carolina Emergency Management
South Carolina Department of Education
- School Guidelines
- Use of School Buses for Meals and Instructional Packets Delivery
- COVID-19 Guidance from Superintendant Molly Spearman
South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs
Report Scams to DCA
You can report by calling 1 (844) TELL-DCA (835-5322), clicking Report a Scam (PDF) or Tweeting @SCDCA using the hashtag #TellDCA.
Looking for the Identity Theft Unit to come to your community? Request a presentation (PDF).
Why report a scam?
When consumers report scams, it helps stop others from falling victim to the same scams. Education is central to the Department’s mission and as such we are committed to educating consumers about the latest scams. Please take a moment to tell DCA if you’ve gotten a scam call, email, text, etc.– even if you didn’t fall victim to the scam.
Department of Veterans Affairs
U.S. Small Business Administration
Library of Congress
Information from Nona Jones: Facebook's Head of Faith-based Partnerships
Leveraging Facebook for Online Church During COVID-19
Good morning, everyone. For those I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, my name is Nona Jones and I serve as the Head of Global Faith-Based Partnerships at Facebook. I have received a large volume of emails and social DMs from concerned pastors around the country who are scrambling to try and move services online given growing concerns with in-person gatherings due to COVID-19.
I want to first assure you that we have been working earnestly over the last week internally to enhance our products that are most relevant to churches and I will share more about that once they are shipped (within the next two weeks, hopefully sooner). Today I want to offer thoughts on what you can do right now to leverage our tools for online church beginning today. I will do my best to respond to comments and questions on this post as well.
MORE THAN A PROGRAM
Church is more than the weekend gathering and, because of that, while a resource for Facebook Live will be shared below, I encourage you to pay close attention to Facebook Groups. If you think of your Facebook presence like a house, your Page is your front porch, Facebook Live is you opening the front door, and Facebook Groups is you inviting people into your living room for a conversation.
Groups is what will keep your church connected beyond the live stream, so if you haven’t created one yet, do so and link it to your Page. With that framing, please see below.
ONLINE CHURCH STRATEGY
NOTE: Links at the bottom of this post for resources to learn more.
Page: Your Page is the public face of your organization and, as such, is accessible by anyone on our platform. Use your Page to share information about your organization, including upcoming events, messages of encouragement, and general updates that would be of interest to your followers.
Live on Page: When you use the Facebook Live tool from your Page, your followers will have the opportunity to tune in and watch your broadcast while also providing their feedback through questions and likes. They will also be able to share your live stream to their own profile or Page. IMPORTANT: If you link a Group to your Page, you will be able to enable a Join Group button on your Livestream so people can join your online church and connect with others after the livestream ends.
Group: While the Page is where you share information about your organization, your Group is where you build relationships, engage in conversations and grow together. Create a Group and link it to your Page and, when you go live from your Page, you will be able to select a Group for people to join so they can connect with you after the livestream ends.
Live in Group: When you use the Facebook Live tool in your Group, your members will be able to tune in and engage with you through comments and likes. Lives in Groups can’t be shared outside of the Group. Use this feature for bible studies and other online gatherings that you would have with your members during the week.
Learning Units: Use this tool to create sequential, modular learning in your Facebook Group. This is a great tool to help members learn together and you can build units for any topic, including bible studies, sermon series, devotionals and more.
Donations: If you have not already applied to be able to fundraise through Facebook, see below for the link to do it today and to learn more about this feature.
LINKS TO MORE RESOURCES
Linking a Group to Your Page: https://www.facebook.com/help/742706805906818?helpref=uf_permalink
Best practices for going Live from a Page: https://www.facebook.com/help/publisher/626637251511853
Best practices for creating and leading Facebook Groups: https://www.facebook.com/community/getting-started-with-groups/
Leveraging Social Learning Units for teaching: https://www.facebook.com/help/184985882229224?helpref=faq_content
Fundraising on Facebook: https://socialgood.fb.com/charitable-giving/
Faith on Facebook
In 2017 Mark Zuckerberg announced a renewed mission for Facebook, to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Ever since then the social network has paid a lot of attention to churches and the way we build community.
They’ve also launched a number of different tools designed specifically with building community in mind. There’s a huge emphasis on Facebook Groups rather than Pages. Facebook Live was launched. Just to name a few.
Our friend Nona Jones was also hired as the Faith Based Partnerships leader at Facebook. They actually have an entire team on staff to help resource and empower churches to use Facebook’s tools to build community. Isn’t that amazing?
Today that team just launched a free toolkit with churches in mind.
It’s called the Faith on Facebook Toolkit, and you can download it for free.
It walks you through how to best use Facebook Pages, Groups, Live, Learning Units, Watch Parties, and more.
This is Christ’s Church. There is a place for you here.
We are the church that shares a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. Liberated by our faith, we embrace you as a whole person–questions, complexities and all. Join us as we do God’s work in Christ’s name for the life of the world.
ELCA South Carolina Synod
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Columbia, SC 29201