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March 27, 2020
To the Saints of the Nebraska Synod
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” –Psalm 46
Dear Friends in Christ:
In a time such as this, in which threats with names like virus and recession are piled on top of countless other less-specific uncertainties, I call you to remember the promise of the Word in texts like that above. Beneath everything that feels unsure, we stand on the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and the assurance of his constant presence.
I’m writing to remind you of that truth, and because some have asked for clear guidance for a variety of matters. Please understand that what I share here isn’t put forward as “commandments from the bishop,” but as counsel from the synod’s pastor. Every congregation, leader, and member will need to make thoughtful decisions appropriate to their situation. In the acknowledgement that I may be wrong, I offer the following counsel:
Not gathering for worship: while the information is not always clear or consistent and the temptation is strong to gather in person—we miss each other!—we have an obligation of love to our neighbor not to endanger her or him by violating guidelines put in place for the sake of the community’s health. My desire to be with others does not trump the reality that I may be the source of another’s infection. I urge congregations to follow community directives on avoiding or limiting gatherings until those directives are lifted.
Holy Communion practices: the Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament of the Table is that it is a bread-and-cup experience of Christ’s presence in a flesh-and-blood gathering of his people. While deeply important to believers, it is not essential to salvation, and there are times when we may, voluntarily or otherwise, fast from receiving it. My counsel, affirming the guiding principles of the ELCA, would be simply not to celebrate the sacrament in any form until we are able to gather in person again. This is a truly exceptional time, and I recognize that congregations, in consultation with their pastors, may choose another practice for the duration of the current situation. Our pastoral leaders are well-trained theologians sensitive to ministry in their context. Trust them. And know that when “normal” returns, exceptional practices will no longer be necessary.
Offerings and finances: your congregation is even more reliant on your support when you can’t gather in person. Now is the perfect time for your congregation to set up online options for receiving offerings—and of course one can always send a check in the mail. I urge congregations to prioritize staff salaries and benefits should decisions about expenses need to be made. Our office is working to stay abreast of help available for congregations through the Mission Investment Fund, the ELCA Credit Union, and other sources, as well as understanding what federal stimulus-related resources, if any, congregations might access. In this uncertain time, those of us with the means to do so need to step up our generosity, recognizing that there are those whose means have changed drastically. We are all in this together, and we share our burdens and our blessings.
Holy Week and Easter: the holiest time of our year is approaching, and we almost certainly will not yet be able to gather in person. Most of our congregations are finding ways to share worship online, by phone, or by mailing in-home worship resources to members. I’m certain this will be true for all of Holy Week and Easter. While we can’t change the date of Easter, every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection, so if your congregation chooses to make the first Sunday you’re able to gather again in person your celebration of Easter, with all the music, decoration, and festive elements of Easter Sunday, do so with joy.
Care for others: I am humbled and awed by the creativity and energy I see as members and congregations of this church invest themselves in innovative ways of staying connected with those most isolated and alone, providing food and more for those most negatively impacted, partnering with neighboring congregations to provide inspiration, encouragement, and worship, and so much more. Such faithfulness. Thank you, church—for being church!
Care for self: the radical shift in daily life is draining on all of us, and this new reality is going to stretch on for some time. Please, pace yourself. Limit your exposure to news, to social media, to anything that compounds uncertainty or distress. Breathe deeply. Take the time to pray. Be patient with yourself (and with those who live with you). Remember that you are God’s beloved creation. Care for yourself as such.
We are all in this together—with one another and with the God we know most fully through the life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Be encouraged. Have hope. Know you are prayed for, cared about, and much appreciated.
The Nebraska Synod staff are here to serve and support to the best of our ability. We are committed to keeping you informed—while being sensitive to the vast amount of information being shared these days. Thank you for your prayers. Please know you are in ours.
Yours in Christ,
Brian D Maas,
Friends, I have created two videos. They are not the best, but a first try. They will get better. Please share, and subscribe to our YouTube channel so that you can get notices when a new video is posted. Invite other members and friends to do the same. Please continue to support the ministry of Grace Lutheran.
Fourth Sunday of Lent Reflection, March 22
Midweek Lent, March 18
May God bless you in this time of social distancing!
Friends in Christ, March 17, 2020
I write this note as we take this adventure into the unknown. In 41 years of ministry leadership, nothing has happened like this. Life is changing rapidly due to the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. In order to comply with the Centers for Disease Control recommendations and the recommendations from Douglas County Health Department calling on us to limit our gatherings in order to slow the spread of the virus, we are taking the following actions.
Bishop Brian Maas sent this recommendation to all congregations yesterday: “I’m writing to urge you to suspend your in-person gatherings for public worship and other events for the weeks ahead. Knowing that policy advisors may change the timeframes again, I would encourage you to suspend in-person worship and events at least through Easter, and be prepared to extend that suspension as needed.”
Therefore, we will be suspending worship and all other activities at Grace and St. Luke’s for the next four weeks.
Remember: not gathering in a building does not mean we cease being Church! We are still part of the one Body of Christ, and we still connect with one another in prayer, worship, learning, and service. Regardless of our congregation’s size, we can be church together, even have a sense of worshiping together, without actually gathering face-to-face.
I would ask that we make every effort to support the ministry of Christ through the church. Please mail your regular giving to the office. If you would like to set up electronic giving, we can do that. Please call the office and we can answer any questions regarding this process.
I am exploring options for sharing the Sunday morning message. Please connect to our Facebook pages so that we can share ongoing updates easily. If you don’t have a computer connection and would like a copy of the Sunday message, we can arrange to mail one to you.
We are exploring options so that the ministry of sharing food with those in need continues. At this time, we are limiting people’s entry into the building for this ministry. We may stop entry and instead hand bags of food out through the door. We will need lots of bags to do this so your donations would be welcome. The office will remain open each week day morning.
I would like to request that we each commit to supporting one another during this time. I regularly pray in the morning. I would invite you to pray then or at a time that works best for you. Let us pray for one another, the body of Christ, for those directly affected by the virus, for our leaders and for the wellbeing of all of God’s creation. Don’t hesitate to call one another, encouragement and conversation bring blessings.
On Sunday, as I ended my message, I quoted Joshua 1:9. God spoke to Joshua with these words: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord Your God is with you wherever you go.”
May the powerful presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit attend to our lives.
Pastor Damon Laaker
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (2020) to one and all. 🎁
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins: To find the lost; To heal the broken; To feed the hungry; To free the prisoner; To rebuild the nations; To bring peace among brothers and sisters; and To make music in the heart. ~ shared from Howard Thurman, Asbury News, Minneapolis, MN, JoyfulNoiseletter.com
The January Messenger can be located here: January 2019 Messenger
The Grace Calendar for January 2019 is located here: January 2019 Calendar