A Message from Bishop Mark W. Holmerud

A Message from Bishop Mark W. Holmerud

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that
God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16

Last week I received my first dose of the Coronavirus vaccine. My health care provider contacted me and told me I was in a group of people who should be vaccinated. Across the country, more and more people have received either one or both doses of the vaccine, or soon will. By the end of May, President Biden has said that vaccinations will be made available for all people in this country over the age of 18. Additionally, this week we have learned that more counties in California are being moved to less severe restrictions on social gatherings. It seems clear that we are moving forward to a time when “broad immunity” will be reached, and the question of how and where we can gather with family, friends, and for worship will be before us.

As we make plans for returning to in-person, indoor worship, I’d like to offer the following thoughts on how we will gather. My prayer is that:

+       we will think of moving back to in-person, indoor worship not as “reclaiming our sanctuaries” as much as our being “reclaimed” by these sacred spaces to enable us for service and witness in Christ’s name.

+       we will be diligent in maintaining safeguards and recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, state and local authorities as it pertains to the number of people who can gather, physical distancing, mask-wearing, and advice on singing and chanting.

+       our goal will not be to “get back to normal” as we plan for worshiping in our sanctuaries – “normal” wasn’t necessarily our best as a reflection of who Christ calls us to be. We must ask: how have we been less than welcoming to siblings of color as part of our worshiping communities? Why do our congregations not represent the diversity of the communities we serve?  How can we acknowledge the fact that COVID-19 has had far more harmful effects on people of color?

+       we would take time to empathize with African American communities which have lost their churches to arson – how has our being prevented from worshiping in our sanctuaries helped us to understand the losses of worship spaces experienced in these communities?  How will we address systems of racism and white supremacy that have led to such acts of terror?

+       we would also recognize the meaning of the word “sanctuary” as it pertains to those who are seeking sanctuary in this country; people who have been waiting at our borders for freedom from the violence and oppression that has driven them to seek a new life in this country.  How does their suffering influence our understanding of the need to offer safe and sacred space for all?

+       we will continue to offer online worship for those who have recently found their way to worshiping with us – let us not leave them behind in our exuberance at being able to worship in person.  I don’t make this suggestion lightly – I know this will take more time and energy.  I feel may this be a greater part of our future as a church which truly seeks to connect with our wider communities.

I know Easter will soon be upon us, and we may have hopes that April 4th will be a time when we will be able to gather in person for indoor worship. Realistically, I would encourage us to think about Rally Day, early September, as a more realistic and advisable goal. In the meantime, the warming weather should allow for outdoor worship that has proven to be far less risky in terms of spreading Coronavirus. Could we take advantage of this as a step towards eventually moving towards indoor worship?

The coming months will likely be time to prepare for the joyous celebrations of being able to return to worship in our sanctuaries. To quote Ezra 6:16 — “The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.”  A litany to celebrate this return is being prepared by our ministry partners at the Churchwide Offices of the ELCA. We will share it with you as soon as it is available.

Even as we celebrate the advances being made in fighting this pandemic, we are being cautioned not to move to quickly. Consider the advice of Dr. Fauci – “Let’s not spike the ball on the five yard line!”

Blessings and peace as you prayerfully consider the above for your worship, your witness, and your service.

Peace, Bp. Mark

PS – An online worship service for the Second Sunday of Easter – April 11th – is being prepared by the five synods of Region 2 for use in your congregations. Please look for more information about this service in the newsletter. It is being offered in recognition of the faithful and tireless efforts of the pastors, musicians, and worship leaders who have been providing online worship through the season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter Sunday. We hope this will provide a much needed respite for these leaders. Pr. Shauna Hannon of PLTS will serve as the Preacher for this service.

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