A PASTORAL LETTER FROM BISHOP WILLIAM O. GAFKJEN REGARDING COVID-19 (MARCH 26, 2020)
A Pastoral Letter from Bishop William O. Gafkjen
To the People and Communities of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod
Regarding Extended Life Together at a Distance
I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them. (Isa. 42:16)
My previous pastoral letter to the synod as a whole was written on March 6. Twenty days seems like a lifetime ago. Of course, I have communicated via email, Zoom, and phone with scores and scores of individuals and groups and I sent a pastoral letter to our rostered ministers (pastors and deacons) during these last 20 days. It is clear that the world has changed in this short time and it keeps changing as we wander together through this coronavirus wilderness toward God’s unfolding future. These are fear-filled, anxiety-provoking, tragic, and confusing times, dear people of God.
Nevertheless, God is with us. God is guiding us. God promises to stay with us and to lead us by paths we have not known. “These are the things I will do,” says the Lord, “and I will not forsake them.”
Entrusting ourselves to that promise, we are finding ways to walk together on this new path, even at a physical distance from one another. We pray with and for one another, for those who are most vulnerable and marginalized during this time, and for all whose lives are touched directly by COVID-19. Even at a distance, we encourage one another, we remind one another of the powerful presence of the crucified and risen Jesus with us and in the world, and we entrust ourselves and our world to the promises of new, abundant, and lasting life that are as true now as they were a month ago. Together, we turn our attention to serving the neighbor, every neighbor, especially those who may be overlooked or set aside by others, with the cross-formed love we see and know in Jesus.
Thank you, people of God, for your willingness to put your trust in God and to walk together through this wilderness. Thank you for your openness to trying new things, for embracing new-to-you technologies and ways of being together. Thank you for being willing to experiment and fail, and for your grace with and support of one another and of those who seek to lead us forward.
And thank you, deacons, pastors, and other ministers and leaders who serve across this Indiana-Kentucky Synod and on synod staff. Every one of you stands in a long line of leaders who have accompanied and guided God’s people through intense, confusing, threatening wilderness wanderings through the centuries, reaching all the way back to Genesis. You are leading us through this particular coronavirus-induced wilderness with grit and grace, commitment and creativity, and deep, abiding trust in God’s presence in the midst of it and God’s promise to get us through it, the promise embodied in and now walking the wilderness with us in the crucified and risen Christ. Thank you. Please make sure to take care of yourselves and those who are close to you along the way.
Here are some things that are important for you to know and tend to as we continue this wilderness journey together:
• Given the CDC’s continuing recommendation that meetings of more than ten people be suspended through at least May 10th in order to continue slowing and staving the spread of the coronavirus, the Synod Executive Committee and I strongly recommend that all in-person worship and other congregational or ministry activities be suspended through the middle of May. I am aware, of course, that this pushes us through Easter Sunday toward the 6th Sunday of Easter (May 17th). The weekend of March 28, I will send a communication to our pastors and deacons (through our conference deans) offering some guidance for making decisions about worship, including Holy Communion, during this extended time of physical distancing. That letter will also be made available more generally through the synod’s website (www.iksynod.org) and social media. Should you decide to have an in-person gathering of ten or less people, it is crucial for the sake of the participants and for the common good that all appropriate COVID-19 protocols be observed, such as no touching, maintaining 6’ distance, use of sanitizing methods for hands and surfaces, etc.
• Please continue to share your offerings with your congregation and your congregational mission support with the synod in any way that you can. Gospel ministry continues during this time. In fact, local and synodical ministries have intensified and many of us are actually growing ministries in service to our neighbors. If your congregation has not yet set up electronic giving, check out this website for a couple of “preferred vendors” which offer discounts for congregations of the ELCA: https://elca.org/preferredvendors. The synod uses Tithe.ly.
• In alignment with Indiana Governor Holcomb’s “stay at home” order, the synod office will remain closed at least through April 7, and possibly longer. All staff are working from home. We gather for prayer via Zoom on Wednesdays. Essential staff go into the office on Wednesday just long enough to take care of paying bills, making deposits, and other essential tasks. We have also suspended staff travel and canceled or postponed synod events/gatherings through the month of April. The best way to contact staff, including me, is via email.
• The 2020 Synod Assembly has been canceled. Per the synod’s governing documents, the Synod Council will do the business work that would have come to the Assembly (including synod council membership and budget, for example). We will also work toward planning three regional one-day worship/fellowship/information sharing events in the fall, or whenever we are able to host large meetings again.
• Synod staff members are providing video sermons for Sundays through mid-May. The sermons are available for download via the synod’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCE5dD18sLTN2rJ2a5Za7h2w), Vimeo, and other sources each week. Deacon Cory Driver is also offering a short video lectionary reflection each Thursday, also accessible through the YouTube channel.
• If you do not follow synod ministry on social media, now would be a good time to do so. By way of these media we offer links to resources for congregations and their leaders, prayers, and accompaniment and support for the people of this synod. Search for Indiana-Kentucky Synod and Bishop Bill Gafkjen on social media platforms and you should find us. Many of these resources can also be found on the synod’s website (www.iksynod.org/covid-19-resources/). Also, if you do not receive the weekly eNews, please email Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Dan Fugate (email@example.com) to be added to the mailing list.
It is clear that we’ve still got some distance to go through this wilderness, dear people of God. It is also clear that we, the church, and the world will all be different on the other side of this. It is so important that we go the way together, that we be gracious and gentle with one another as we each deal with the situation differently, and that we do all that we can to keep the common good and love for and service to our neighbor near the center of our commitments, right alongside our trust in the steadfast love, presence, and promise of God that we see and know in Jesus. For thus says the Lord, “By paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.”
Peace be with you,
The Rev. Dr. William O. Gafkjen, Bishop