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HOW TO CLOSE YOUR DOORS AND STILL BE CHURCH: COVID-19 Pastoral Letter

Here is a Pastoral Letter that I shared with my congregation, which you are welcome to adapt and use in your congregation in the face of suspending public gatherings.

Dear friends,

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus who is the Christ.

I am sure you have been listening to and reading the news. Each day brings more restrictions on our daily lives. School classes suspended, more workers working from home, the closing of public places like libraries and recreation centres, and now restaurants and bars in some jurisdictions. 

I am sure you feel anxious and nervous as I do. We don’t know what is coming next for us and we don’t know how long we will be here. 

Here at the church, we are not immune to the changes either. Our leaders have been offering guidance over the past number of days, as the Bishops distributed pastoral letters that encouraged us to change our behaviour and worship to limit the spread of COVID-19, particularly to those who are most vulnerable. 

As this Pandemic situation progresses, we are learning that this is not enough. That the best way to combat the spread of the coronavirus, is to practice social distancing. And the best way to social distance, is to stay home as much as possible.

Following the recommendations of our Bishops, with the care of one another first and foremost in mind,

The time has come for us to enact a suspension of all our public, in-person gatherings. 

Beginning immediately, there will be no public events at the church, no committee meetings, or other types of gatherings with many people in attendance. Our worship services will be moved entirely to an online streaming format. Our meetings as they are needed, will be done over zoom. 

We do not know for how long these measures will be enacted, but at a minimum we will not be worshipping until Holy Week and anticipate the suspension lasting longer. 

It is a hard decision to make. Gathering as a community is so central to our identity as people of faith. I already am missing seeing you and it is only been 48 hours since we last met. And yet, suspending our in person gatherings does not mean we are closed, does not mean we are no longer a community, does not mean that we stop being the church, the body of Christ. 

So what can we do?

Streaming 

Well, as has already begun last week, worship services will be streamed on our Facebook Page. Anyone can access our Facebook Page, even if you don’t have a Facebook account. www.facebook.com/sherparkwpg.

Our Sunday morning, services will continue to begin at 10:30am. 

Mid-week Lenten services will continue on Thursday evenings. 

All streamed services are available afterwards, so if you are late there is no worry, you can still start from the beginning. 

Giving

As I mentioned in my last Pastoral letter, this will be a time when so many will have affected incomes, including the congregation. 

I encourage you to continue to give to support the church. 

I will do my best to maintain a presence in the office, and to make the church available for drop-offs. 

Additionally, the mailbox will be monitored daily. So offering can be mailed or dropped of (Remember no cash, just cheques). 

You can also consider donating through our PayPal account, which is found at www.sherpark.ca/donate

There you can make one-time donations, or set up a recurring donation. 

Finally, many of you already give through Pre-Authorized remittance. Consider increasing if you are able. Get in touch with the church office and our treasurer team if you would like to begin. 

In this weeks and months in particular, those with fixed incomes will be an asset to the congregation,  beyond.  

But giving offering isn’t going to be the only way to give. 

Caring

There are many in our community who will be affected by this time of social distancing and isolation. 

Those who use the services of the food banks and shelters that we support will need extra support. So Consider dropping off extra food a supplies if you are able. Call head or make an appointment to come at a time when someone can be here to receive the items. 

Others will be without transportation, many will be self-isolating because of age or compromised immune systems. Consider helping by picking groceries, perscriptions and supplies. Get in touch with the church if you need help in this way or can help in this way. 

Checking-In

Finally, we are community. We are connected and belong to each other, even if we aren’t gathering. Phone, text, email, Skype, FaceTime, write letters. Being at home doesn’t mean we cannot connect. 

If anyone would like a regular phone call or check-in, let me know and we can make arrangements!

We are living in strange and unprecedented times. No one knows where will be next week, next month, next year. But we do know that this is going to change us. Our part is to let that be a change for the worse or the better. 

Thankfully, we also have a God who has something to say about this time of hardship and suffering. The isolation and distance will not define, we will remain children of God. The possibility of sickness will not change to whom we belong. The One who names we bear will always be the one who brings us from death into life, from seemingly hopeless graves to rolled away stones and upper rooms. 

We are Christ’s. No virus, or enforced time alone will change that. 

And so Almighty God

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Bless, preserve and keep us

This day and forevermore 

Pastor Erik+

A Pastoral Letter During the Days of COVID-19 – How Churches Can Respond

Here is an adapted pastoral letter that I sent to my congregation, which hopefully will give you some ideas of how to respond to the COVID-19 Global Pandemic:

Monday, March 16th, 2020

Dear friends in Christ, 

Grace and Peace to your from our Lord and Saviour

As each day brings us new changes and adaptions to our lives as our community, nation and world attempts to combat the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is very easy to be overwhelmed by it all. 

Everything and everyone feels hysterical. As the world closes down, people also rush to find ways stock up on provisions and supplies, including an abundance of toilet paper!

Let us be mindful of the urging of Public Health Officials and leaders to remain calm. Nearly all changes being made to how we conduct our lives are precautionary and preventative. They are efforts to slow the spread of the virus so as not to overwhelm health care workers and hospital capacities. 

Churches are also adapting and changing as seems prudent. 

Church Services Streaming and Online

On Sunday March 15th, we began live streaming our worship in addition to our in person gathering. Many Churches already live stream, and many began last Sunday too. 

(You can access our live stream from our Facebook Page www.facebook.com/sherparkwpg )

NOTE: You do not need a Facebook account to access a Facebook page, just an Internet capable device. Anyone can watch!

For those who know members who aren’t online, help them to get online as much as possible. Now might be a good time to teach email, basic social media, video calling and more. At the very least, share with them the information that the church is sending out during this time!

Alternate Ways to Give

As is being regularly reported, there are going to be economic effects to the closure and shut down of many places that rely on the public to gather. Many small business will suffer lost income. As we all try to stay home more, consider ordering delivery or take-out, consider calling local stores to see if they will deliver their wares to you, consider supporting businesses in whatever way you can. 

The church will also be affected, as services anticipate smaller numbers for worship, or the likelihood that public gatherings will be suspended (in person). Please consider as you are able, ways that you can continue to give and support the churches during this time. 

And many churches will try to keep their offices open as much as possible: checking phone messages, picking up the mail and being present. Consider dropping off or mailing in offering. Consider sending post-dated cheques if possible. 

Many churches also have ways to give online. A good time to begin using online tools! 

Thank you to those who are already giving through Pre-Authorized remittance, that choice will make a significant difference in the weeks and months to come. 

Changes to services and programs 

Expect that the churches will have changes to programs and worship services. It difficult to imagine, hard to change and anxiety inducing. But it doesn’t mean churches are closing. We still belong to each other and we still belong to God.  

Community Care Plans

In the coming days and weeks, we will have the opportunity to care for one another. Churches are unique communities who already practice communicating and organizing on a large scale. We can work together to help out those in need, delivering supplies, picking up mail or offering etc…

If you need help with getting groceries or other supplies, please email or call the church. If you can deliver or pick up things, let the church know so that you can be connected with those in need. 

As well it will be important for us to remember those in need to continue supporting the food bank programs that the church supports. Many churches will be making plans to collect extra food and supplies to be passed on to food banks.

Finally, I offer this prayer for our use at this time:

We pray to you almighty God, in this time of anxiety and apprehension. You are our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Do not let us fail in the face of these events. Uphold us with your love, and give us the strength we need. Help us in our confusion, and guide our actions. Heal the hurt, console the bereaved and afflicted, protect the innocent and helpless, and deliver any who are still in peril; for the sake of your great mercy in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

From Evangelical Lutheran Worship Pastoral Care

Yours in Christ, 

Pastor Erik +

On Being a Millennial Pastor – Leaders who don’t remember the glory days

“You give us hope for the future.”

The first time I heard those words, I was 23 years old and in seminary. A group of us had travelled 7 hours, from the prairies to the mountains, to attend a study conference for pastors and other church professionals. We were a group of 20 and 30 somethings, all Masters of Divinity students already having bachelor’s degrees and work experience, but compared to the average age of pastors in the mainline, we may as well have been teenagers. So we probably seemed like a group of disruptive students crashing a conference for older folks.

But instead of being grumpy with us or giving us glares (as church folk can sometimes be guilty of doing with young noise makers), we were heartily welcomed by our future colleagues. Our relative energy and enthusiasm seemed to bring them some life and excitement.

And that is when it started happening. Sometimes one or more elder colleagues would sidle up to us and say things like, “You all give me hope for the church’s future” or “You make me feel better about the future.”

“Millennials” weren’t a thing back then, but our age cohort was perhaps the first to be obviously missing from the church. We weren’t the first generation to stop attending, that was the Boomers, our parents, who led the mass exodus. But rather, we were the first to be noticeably absent. The first generation to have mostly never been there at all. And so when a bunch of Gen Xers and Millennials showed up at seminary together around the same time, it was out of the ordinary. We were a cohort of young leaders who had been the kids in our home churches who were leading youth groups, playing in worship bands, serving on church councils, attending campus ministry while at school, working as bible camp counsellors and even camp directors. Our parents had bucked the trend of the Boomer exodus, and brought us to church where we had been encouraged to lead. We had to lead because we were all there was of our age cohort.

The “You give us hope” comment became a pretty regular occurrence in seminary and after… but I always had the sinking suspicion that the church wasn’t quite ready to hand over the reigns to the next generation.

Whether it was the resistance of boomers to converting the seminary newspaper from a paper publication to an online blog format, or later on to a hesitation let young pastors serve in positions of leadership in the church, a constant comment I heard from seminary classmates in their first few years of ministry was,

“We were trained and prepared to serve in this church, but no one got this church ready for us.”

After ordination, when I began serving in my first call, I couldn’t help but notice something that seemed to be below the surface of wherever I went in the church. Not just my congregation, but the ones of neighbouring colleagues, and larger church ministries, and coming from church leadership. It took me a while to put my finger on it.

And then as I had yet another conversation with colleagues or parishioners or other church folk lamenting the absence of young people, the decline of attendance and giving, and the general sad state of the present church… it dawned on me.

These people are grieving. 

As soon as I could see it, it was like puling back the veil and seeing the weight being carried by nearly everyone around me. Everyone of a certain age that is.

The glory days were gone. The days when pews were full, Sunday Schools bursting at the seams, programs well attended, giving was enough to pay the bills and increasing, when every family had 4.2 kids and a housewife who would devote volunteer time to the church, or keep the house in check while her husband did. Those days were over.

But it wasn’t just that those days were over, it was the intense desire to bring them back. Churches, pastors, leaders who could remember those days seemed to be universally bound and determined to somehow bring that glory back. Get the young people back, get the families back, fill the pews, resurrect the Sunday Schools, meet and exceed the budgets.

My problem, as a young pastor was, I wasn’t grieving the glory days with most people around me. I wasn’t grieving them because I don’t remember them.

Even though now I have almost a decade of experience under my belt, I am still a young pastor by mainline standards.

And it has always been tension the church that most people around me are grieving, and the one that I have always known and loved. The church that God called me to seminary and to be a pastor to serve.

The church has always been filled with grey hair in my memory. Sunday School has always been pretty sparsely attended, youth groups have never been more than a handful of kids, budgets have always been hard to meet, and there are rarely times when it is hard to find an entire pew to yourself in worship.

This is only version of the church I know… and it is the one I am called to serve.

I also suspect it is the church God is calling us to be. 

While it is has been difficult for the congregations I serve to have a leader who isn’t longing for the glory days as they are, it has also been good for me and them. It has been hard and taken time, but eventually we have started looking forward rather than looking back. We have begun to listen to where God is calling us now and where God is calling us to go.

God’s mission hasn’t changed, just the vehicle isn’t as fancy as it once was. The Gospel is is still preached, sacraments still administered, the Body of Christ is still present… even in churches whose glory days are over.

And I think that this is the cross roads that many churches and denominations find themselves at these days. Will the memory of the glory days keep us looking backwards? Will we admit that our desire to bring the young people back, might actually be us saying that we want to be young again?

The synod (read: diocese/jurisdiction/area) in which I serve is about to elect a new Bishop. For the past few months we have been asked to discern what kind of Bishop the synod needs, and to do that discernment in congregations and other synod ministries. This discernment process here has got me thinking about leadership, and about what kind of leaders the church will need going forward. What will a declining Christianity need in order to begin moving faithfully into the future?

And the answer I keep coming back to is that the church in North America will need leaders who can let go of the glory days. Maybe even leaders who don’t remember the glory days. Leaders who can see the church as it is now, rather than what it used to be.

As my generation, Gen X and Millennial pastors and clergy, steps into more and more leadership positions in the church, letting go of the glory days becomes inevitable. We simply don’t remember them.

Because we are the ones who showed up to seminary full of energy, called to serve a church in decline.

The church for us has always been full of grey haired faithful and committed people.
The church has always been small close-knit Sunday Schools and youth groups.
The church has always been struggling to meet budgets by searching for creative solutions.
And the church has always had room in the pews for more people to come.

It will not be easy to get over the grief that is lingering below the surface, and it will be easy to see the solutions to what the church is currently lacking by going back to a time when we remember abundance.

But the church cannot go backwards. And God doesn’t call us into the past, God calls us into the future.

So perhaps it is time for the church to let leaders who cannot remember the glory days, but who only know the present, guide the way into the future.

Perhaps “You give us hope for the future” needs to become:

“You give us hope now.”