I’ve been a pastor for thirty years now, but I’ve never had to deal with something like this. Nor have you.
During both 9/11 and the 2008 financial recession, we were able to easily identify the enemy: terrorists and bad banking practices, respectively. And the church’s response was simple and clear. Draw together. Worship together. Pray together. We are in this together, we can get through it.
One of our members said something to me to the effect of: “We got through the flood; we can get through this.” And they are correct. Rushford-Peterson is a strong community, built up through the years by trial and tribulation. But the path through – whatever this is – is not real clear. Yes, we will get through it together, but how?
And I think part of the problem is that the real problem here is hard to identify. Yes, we all know it is a horrible, life-threatening virus. And the simple medical path is avoidance. Thus, we are learning new terms like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” and “self-quarantine.” And in our efforts to abide by national and state guidelines, as well as to maintain the health and safety of you – our members – we, like a vast majority of churches, have mostly shut down.
But my pastoral instinct is telling me that the solution here may have a much greater cost than it first appears. We are social animals, and even though we sometimes get really annoyed with the people around us, we still need people around us. (Genesis 2, “It is not good for the man to be alone.) Even before the pandemic, loneliness and social isolation were huge societal problems, if not the root of most of our problems. And the church, for better or worse, was at least able to offer a haven and a home for some.
So, my encouragement to you is to continue to be the church: God’s people living in the world. Get on the phone, use social media (in appropriate ways), text and e-mail. A lot. Including making sure that Jean has your e-mail address. So that we can keep you informed as quickly as possible. And although we cannot meet together for worship, I will keep writing and preaching a Sunday sermon. (Posted on our church website by 11:00 a.m. on Sundays). Also, in this newsletter is some information about “The Family Altar.” Meaning, how to have church at home with your family. As well as some great helps from Christine, our Education Director. Kristin, Cherub and Praise Team Director, has also been busy setting up a Facebook page for RLC Youth. And we continue to look at ways to “resource” our families.
Unfortunately, as of Governor Walz’s edict on March 25th, the church building will be closed between March 27th and April 10th. (If you absolutely need access please contact Pastor Steve). The suspension of public gatherings has also been extended to May 1st. Which is going to make for a very strange Holy Week and Easter for all of us. But along with continuing a modified Sunday Service posted on our website, it is my plan to also have services posted for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Walking through our empty sanctuary, getting ready to practice a sermon that will be preached only to be recorded, I was reminded of what God’s people have endured in the past. The book of Lamentations, which is the story of the exile of God’s people to a foreign land, begins with these words: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations…” And then the book goes on to outline how difficult life can be when times are as strange and difficult as they are, yes, even for Gods’ people. It, the entire book of Lamentations, might be worth a read through.
So yes, my friends, the way through this crisis is becoming clear. It is the same path as we, the church has always taken. Prayer. Scripture. Hearing God’s Word preached. And drawing together, by phone, and Facebook, and six-feet apart, but still, drawing together.
Drawing together in Jesus. Jesus, who is still the lamb slain for you and me. Jesus, the resurrected one who has conquered sin and death, and in the end, will conquer this too.
In Christ’s Loving Service, Pastor Steve Chellew
In Christ’s Loving Service,
Time to Return to “The Family Altar”
Luther originally wrote the Small Catechism for “the head of the household.” That is, for parents to use at home with their family. Since we are not able to worship together, here are a few suggestions for establishing a family devotion time at home.
Lutheran Web Resources
Sponsored by Sola Publishing (Go to the “How To” link first).
Great short videos on the catechism/church life.
Search for “Family Devotions.” Devotional books to purchase.
See below for what we will be providing.
General Christian Web Resources
Search for devotionals.
Short videos to understand how to read the Bible.
One format for the “Family Altar” could be what your church is providing each week. We will be posting the Sunday sermon, along with the Sunday scriptures readings and a short worship format, each Sunday by 11:00 a.m. (Hopefully without any technical glitches). While this will be helpful for many of our families, it may not be as helpful for our families with younger children. (There is a huge difference for a child sitting in a sanctuary surrounded by others and sitting at home watching a video). So feel free to adapt what we post on our website for what might work best for your family. Including using Bible story books, the Small Catechism, or some of the video links above in place of the “sermon.”
So how do we get going on this whole “Family Altar” thing? Pick a time and a place for this to become your routine. Sunday mornings at 11:00 would work, but so would Sunday nights or whatever time works best for you and your family. The principle here is to have a plan and stick to it. And a place. You may need a TV with web connection or laptop to utilize some of the links above. But all other distractions should be set aside during “Family Altar” time. Including cell phones, texting, email, all the rest. It’s going to feel a bit odd and uncomfortable at first, but I guarantee it will be worth it. Indeed, after a few sessions your older kids can probably start leading the family altar, with a little guidance. And keep it light and fun. It the devotion ends up going down a rabbit trail of “why does the Bible say this?” then so much the better!
Another option for either “Family Altar” or personal devotions is a simple Bible reading list coupled with a copy of the Small Catechism. Simply read a chapter of the Bible, followed by reading a short section of the catechism (for example, one of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer), followed by Luther’s morning or evening prayer (also in the catechism).
Here is a suggested Bible reading list for April, starting midway through the Gospel of Matthew to correspond with Holy Week and Easter.
April 1 Matthew 17 (Transfiguration)
2 Matthew 18
3 Matthew 19
4 Matthew 20
5 Matthew 21
Palm Sunday – The Triumphal Entry
6 Matthew 22
7 Matthew 23
8 Matthew 24
9 Matthew 25
10 Matthew 26
11 Matthew 27
12 Matthew 28
Easter Sunday – The Resurrection
Starting the Monday after Easter, start reading through the Book of Acts. Keep it simple. One chapter a day, followed by a section of the Small Catechism and either Luther’s prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, or a prayer of your own. If you need a Small Catechism, stop by the church office.