A Pastoral Letter to the People of Holy Cross Lutheran Church
July 3, 2020
Dear fellow disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ,
“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” Psalm 122:1
Psalm 122 is one of the “songs of ascent” which were sung by the Israelites as they travelled to Jerusalem for the great festivals like the feast of Tabernacles (Pentecost, by our calendar). These psalms were also chanted as the people ascended the stairs of the temple itself as part of the liturgy at those great festivals. To be able to go to the Lord’s house was a time of great joy. People travelled great distances and endured discomforts all to get to the house of the Lord.
It is my hope for the people of Holy Cross that we share in that joy as we return to our church home and resume in person worship services on a weekly basis. Our COVID-19 Committee has met several times in the last weeks to determine a plan for reopening the church for services. Later in Psalm 122 the people pray for peace and security as they enter the temple (verse 7) and that is our aim as well. We are glad to go to the house of the Lord and we are doing all we can to make this a peaceful, safe gathering for those who attend.
After many meetings, much prayer, studying of guidelines and consultation with people who have expertise in reopening health care facilities and auditorium style buildings, here is the plan:
Weekly services resume on Monday, July 13 at 7:00 pm. However, we are only allowed to have 30% of the sanctuary seating capacity in attendance (about 70 people).
The Service: Because we will be continuing the livestream service on Sunday morning at 11:00 am, we have chosen to begin in person service on Monday evenings to provide the maximum time to prepare to host the service and to make the experience positive for those who attend. In due time, we will add additional services.
Here is what you can expect when you come to service:
There are many other considerations that are important for you to be aware of:
Capacity: One of the harder issues to deal with in reopening is ensuring all members equal access to worship services. Here is how we propose to proceed:
We realize that this approach may not make everyone happy, but your congregational leaders feel that it carefully balances our Lord’s command to worship and His command to not bring harm against our neighbour.
We also anticipate you will have questions:
1. Is this the “new normal” for Holy Cross?
Not at all!! This is but the first step in the reopening and restoration of our programs. As Ontario moves into Stage 3 and beyond, we anticipate restrictions will continue to be relaxed and capacity for worship services will increase. We do not know when that will be, but we pray it will be sooner rather than later. For now, we wear masks and refrain from singing, but this is not permanent.
2. Why just one in person service for a congregation the size of Holy Cross?
The overwhelming sense of our leadership, staff, and others we have consulted is to proceed carefully. There are many changes we will need to adjust to, and we would rather get it right the first time than try to do too much too soon. Please be assured that in time, more services will be added. There are already some tentative plans being made!
3. What if I am not comfortable attending service right now?
We understand that everyone has had different responses to this public health crisis, and everyone has a different comfort level about reopening. Please be assured that if you are not feeling ready to venture out for worship just yet, we understand. It is not a sign of weak faith if you stay home until you are more comfortable. Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:2 to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. We will do all we can to bear the burden with you. As noted above, livestream services will continue and we know, in His time, God will give the strength needed.
4. Why not just stick with the livestream and wait until the pandemic is over before starting service?
We are indeed blessed to live in a time where the internet has made it much easier to remain connected as a congregation. When churches were last closed in our community (100 years ago in the Influenza pandemic) things were much more difficult. However, as convenient as it is to be able to “attend” worship at your leisure, Christianity is a community faith. We are the Body of Christ and just as a dismembered body cannot live, so also the Body of Christ suffers if it does not come together. This pandemic (like all other man-made and natural crises) is a reminder that we live in a world that is passing away and in this environment we need especially heed the encouragement of the writer to the Hebrews: “Do not give up the habit of meeting together … but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:25).
5. What happens if we learn a person who attended service has become COVID-19 positive?
First, we will pray for them and their family! Then we will rely on Public Health to determine what type of contact tracing/follow up is advised at the time. The safety protocols that we have put in place are consistent with Public Health recommendations to minimize any exposure risk to Covid-19 as we gather in this way. For this reason, we ask all worshippers to take these precautions seriously.
6. What if I strongly prefer to receive communion from the common cup?
Speak directly to Pastor Astley.
7.What about other church programs?
As we proceed with reopening, we anticipate more programs will be offered onsite, but we will proceed carefully and in compliance with all health guidelines that may be in effect.
“I rejoiced when I heard them say, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” I do hope that after reading all of this you are still joyful about returning to God’s house and gathering around His Word and at His table. I realize it does seem like a lot of information and a lot of regulations. However, these are really the same guidelines we are learning to follow in every area of life right now. Also, we are greatly blessed to be allowed to reopen our doors before indoor seating is allowed at restaurants and before places like theatres, concert halls, gyms, rinks, soccer fields and other public spaces are reopened. With this blessing comes the responsibility of thinking through all the details and demonstrating to you that we are doing all we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while gathering.
As we continue moving forward, I would ask that you remember and give thanks for your fellow members who have spent extraordinary amounts of time guiding the congregation and to those who have helped with the livestreaming of our services.
Our COVID-19 Committee is made up of the following people: Ross Dolson, Kevin Fergin, Richard Seip, Reiny Schmidt, Brian Webb, Peter Black, John Neustaedter, Guy Chadsey, Lenora Wallden, and me. We have been assisted these past few weeks by Heidi Clay and Christine Seip.
Our Sunday morning technical support has been headed up by Claude Massicotte and assisted by Kristopher Griffin, Ken Griffin and Carl Kuhl.
If you have questions about any of the information in this letter you may contact me. However, in all honesty it may be quicker for you to contact one of our lay-leaders. Attending to pastoral needs is keeping me terribly busy these days and emails languish in my inbox longer than they should. You may also contact the following: Ross Dolson, Reiny Schmidt or Kevin Fergin.
May God bless and guide us all in service to Christ our Lord,