Dear Friends & Fellow Members of God’s Family at The Lutheran Church of St. Andrew,
Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more! So says Hebrews 10:25.
But giving up the habit of meeting together is exactly what most of our church family members have done for the past fourteen months, and our entire congregation did for six of them in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While the unprecedented closing of our church facilities complied with state and local mandates, it also expressed our care for one another just as churches, schools, businesses, and organizations did when they ceased operations in the pandemic of 1918.
Now, by God’s grace, the time has come for more of us to renew our habit of meeting together, as some are already doing! Thanks to those who took precautions and many who serve in the ongoing production and distribution of effective vaccines, we are once again able to gather together as we did prior to March 2020, at least for the most part. To that end, allow me to offer some explanation of where we are, expectations of how we’ll move forward, and gratitude for blessings received.
As of last Sunday, masks for vaccinated worshipers, social distancing, and registration for services at St. Andrew are no longer required. However, those who came to worship last Sunday noticed that some precautions were still being kept. Singing increased, but remained limited. Offerings were received at the door, and Communion was received in the pew. Refreshments were not served in spite of the fellowship our members and guests are experiencing. Though we have not re-introduced our Monday evening service, brief small group communions will continue to be celebrated at 5:30 pm on Mondays in June without pre-registration.
Beginning this Sunday, June 6, we will add more singing and other elements back into our services and will commune continuously at the altar, though a small number of individual communion kits will still be available for those who request them. Childcare will also resume, the coffee will be on, and Andy’s Café will be open! In the coming weeks, Kingdom Kids will begin a summer session, youth meetings and adult Bible studies will resume in-person, and other events, including Vacation Bible School, will be held.
Throughout the pandemic, we have been cautious and conservative in our approach, and have also been guided by medical experts in and beyond our congregation. But with falling COVID numbers and the go-ahead from government officials, we’re also ready to take these steps back to the fullness of our congregational life.
Some among us enthusiastically welcome our complete reopening and believe, as many have said, that “it’s about time!” Many of you, I know, have taken appropriate precautions, but have also traveled, gone to work, attended sporting events, had dinner out, and have already returned to worship. Going forward, children and even some vaccinated adults will still choose to wear masks, which we wholeheartedly accept and welcome. Others are undoubtedly facing the spiritual challenge of returning to “the habit” to which God’s word calls us, having established new ones during the pandemic if not before.
Others, for a variety of reasons, still feel cautious and are thankful for the digital ministry we’ve been able to provide. As your pastor, I pray that the Spirit will work in each of your lives as you make God-pleasing decisions about returning to worship at St. Andrew. If you honestly need a little more time, take it with our blessing and love! Just don’t let the pandemic turn from a reason into an excuse for not resuming “the habit of meeting together” around the Good News of Jesus in obedience to Him and in response to His love for you. In June we’ll transition from pre-recorded online services to edited recordings of our in person worship which will be posted on our website early in each new week as we continue to explore the option of livestreaming in the future.
Pastor González, our spouses, and I are among the dozens of fellow members we know of who have recovered from COVID-19. We are also mindful of those in our church family who received God’s ultimate and eternal healing in Christ. As we return to His house and His family, though perhaps not all at once, let’s give thanks for our life, breath, and hope in Him and for the blessed assurance that neither life nor death can separate us from His love!
Speaking of thanks, I am filled with personal and pastoral gratitude for so many blessings received in the past year and more, and especially during and after my own hospitalization. My colleagues on our church staff, our Board of Directors, and dozens of team leaders went a thousand extra miles in so many creative ways for the sake of ministries that may have changed, but did not stop. In fact, St. Andrew became a vaccination site in service to our community. A group dedicated to faith-based racial justice was born. Several people actually joined our congregation during the pandemic, having met us online or visited when we were gathering in smaller numbers. Our prayer warriors were busier than ever lifting up the people of St. Andrew, our nation, and the whole world. And a large number of you did not give up the habit of honoring God and supporting our ministry with your offerings and gifts. From my heart, I thank you for all of those things and so much more!
This Sunday, I’ll be using my sermon time to share some of the spiritual lessons I’ve learned in the past 14 months, and in the months to come we’ll also be taking time in our worship to give thanks for all that God has provided and for those who served him faithfully. From worship and ministry leaders to first responders and medical personnel to those who kept our care and compassion alive each and every day, there is so much for which to be thankful. And we will pay that debt of gratitude to the One from whom all blessings flow!
With our heartfelt thanks, love, and prayers, Pastor González, our staff, leaders, and I look forward to renewing “the habit of meeting together” and in the words of Hebrews, chapter 10, “encouraging each other all the more” for even greater service in the days ahead.
With love, your servant in the ministry of Christ,
Mark A. Hricko