September 9, 2020
Dear Christ on Capitol Hill,
It’s been six months since the Church Council made the difficult yet necessary decision to pause our in-person gatherings and move worship and other community activities online. Looking back, it was a faithful decision—one that centered on the medically vulnerable, which, in the time of pandemic, is one way to live into the call to love God and love the neighbor.
The past months in congregational life have been surprisingly full. We have continued to worship online and we have provided physically distanced, outdoor meet up times several times throughout the summer. We have two coffee breaks planned for Fall, too (September 13 and October 4). Since the kitchen construction was completed, the kitchen has been in use (by Shobi’s) with very strict health and safety practices. We welcomed our new pastoral intern, Vicar Anne Wickland! So many of you have put extra effort into Zoom meetings for worship, for Council and other meetings, and this Fall, we begin again with Bible study, small group gatherings including Men’s group, Women’s group and Book group. Even as we begin again (and again), we know how different things are this autumn.
No one is left unaffected by COVID-19. To the parents struggling to balance responsibilities as school begins again (online or hybrid), to the retirees thoughtfully using their time, to the elders in assisted living facilities who live with restricted access, to the students who weren’t ready for school to begin again, to returning college students, to the workers whose lives are still upended, to the newly unemployed and underemployed—we say, “We see you.” Your struggles do not go unnoticed. We are praying for you.
Pastors and Church Councils don’t plan for this—at least, we didn’t. Pandemic was not on our radar six months ago. We have been navigating this one day, one step at a time, leaning heavily on the knowledge of others, including the CDC, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Saint Paul Area Synod, and other faith leaders in the metro area. Their collective wisdom has allowed us to make faithful decisions related to health and safety, budgeting and generosity, worship and care.
Recently, Pastor Joy, Erik Wohlrabe (Congregational President) and Deacon Kari met with the Bishop and many leaders from the Saint Paul Area Synod. We were asked to create a COVID-19 Response Team and follow values that do not get ahead of where the CDC, Governor, etc. are advising us to be—for the love of our neighbors. They asked us to be certain that we are fully prepared before we resume in-person gathering. If we gather, we must follow very strict protocols so that we do not put our staff and the most vulnerable in our midst in danger. The Property Team at Christ has already raised the questions about what kind of air exchange and new technologies will be needed to keep people safe in our worship space when we return and provide worship and connections for those who don’t return. We will name these needs as we are able in the Share Life Stewardship campaign this fall.
Because no health statistics have improved but appear to be worse as we enter autumn, we do not plan to host any in-person large group gatherings within Christ’s building through the end of 2020. There is one exception – we are hosting a very brief wedding in our sanctuary on September 18. In the new year, we will reassess the situation and make a new recommendation at that time, using all of the
aforementioned counsel. We grieve this reality of not being able to come together in person as we’d like, and yet believe that this is the call of the church in this time and place. The Spirit is speaking through science and medicine and communal wisdom, inviting us to change our practices for the sake of the world God so loves. This operating plan allows us to make decisions related to worship, care, programming, learning, and communications that will best serve the community in the months to come. We will dive even more deeply into strengthening the online vitality of this community of faith.
We do hope to be able to have several smaller outside gathering times throughout the fall (as we have done this summer) for those who are most needing to see others – watch for details about those opportunities if that is you. We will begin Second Saturday events creatively with meals in your own homes and storytelling by Zoom. We will begin Godly Play/Sunday School on Saturdays at 11 am, Four12 Youth on Sundays at 4:12 pm and adult healing prayer and learning opportunities on Wednesday evenings (and sometimes, Tuesdays) – all by Zoom.
Over and over during this season we have reminded one another of God’s promise, “You are not alone.” Those words remain true. We are grateful for the commitment you have shown to this community and to yourneighbors. May the irony of this moment be that our physical distance means that we find ourselves being drawn even more closely to God and to one another.
Pastor Joy, Deacon Kari, Erik Wohlrabe (President), and the Christ Council