Updated: Mar 20
These times challenge us as we adapt to social distancing and the fears permeating our daily lives. In my work with churches, where regular gathering for worship is both ritualized and representative of who we are, the pandemic threatens to damage and possibly destroy congregations. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the church.
It is hard to be innovative, creative, and wise when your life is being threatened. However, I have faith that we will be able to get through the difficult time ahead. I am confident we can survive to be the church in 2021.
My confidence come through experiencing the Holy Spirit work through conversation. I have seen this when people gather in the name of the Lord to consider what might be done or what direction to take. Together, enlivened by the Spirit, a path forward emerges. Evidence of this came to me this week in an email.
The Leadership Team of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Eau Claire WI (www.goodshepherd-ec.org) published their response to these challenging times. I am moved to share this because their approach is commendable, and it shows how people working together are innovative, creative, and wise.
Before I share their plans, consider where the church is most stressed. The stressors impact the church’s most significant ministries:
· Worship – word and sacrament
· Faith formation
· Church family - connections
· How we love our neighbors – community connections
What follows is how Good Shepherd is adapting in each of these five areas of ministry.
Worship (see note at the end of the post)
On Sunday morning, about five minutes before the service start time, an email will go out all members. It will have a link to a YouTube worship video for the week. It will also be posted on Facebook. At the end of the video will be the Words of Institution.
30 minutes after the regular start time, communion will be served at the church via a drive thru. Along with communion, a paper copy of what was said in the video will be offered. It will comprised of the Prayer of the Day, Psalm, Gospel, Sermon, and the Prayer list for the week.
As people come for drive thru communion, an offering will be collected. A time for individual prayer will be offered for those who ask. Precautions will be taken to limit contact in these moments.
Wednesday is Faith Formation day at this church. Families will be emailed a one-page resource with a monthly theme, Bible verse, activities, prayer, and family challenge. Parents will use these as they walk alongside children on their faith journey.
They encourage families to download and use the Parent Cue App https://theparentcue.org/app/ This is a resource for information, videos, and activities to do with children. For those who do not want to download the app, they can receive the same information in a paper copy.
Finally, those who come to drive-thru communion can pick up a Family Bag with random activities and items for the children to enjoy at home.
These times challenge the financial viability of congregations. It has been my experience that clear financial information is critical when you ask for additional gifts. Good Shepherd encourages members to continue making their regular offerings. They provide an easy-to-understand overview of their current financial situation and ongoing needs. Assurances are made that steps are being taken to reduce spending. Plus, they have established a special “We’ll get through this together” fund. Members who have the means are asked to consider making additional contributions to this fund during this difficult time.
Church family – connections
Members of Good Shepherd were given a popsicle stick with a card with their logo attached to it. They are asked to snap photos of their family with the church logo and submit them to the church. These will be share on their social media site with the caption “This is our neighborhood church.” If someone struggles with taking or sharing photos, there will be someone at drive-thru communion who will snap a picture.
Good Shepherd is a neighborhood church. Their mission is “Where each is known – seen – loved.” If someone in the demographic who should not leave home and is concerned about getting groceries and other essential items, they are asked to let the church know. Or, if a member knows someone in the neighborhood in this situation should contact the church. There are members who are able, eager and organized to help. “There is no better time to be the church in the world!”
Now is the time for the church to come together in the name of the Lord, have conversation, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, act in ways which are innovative, creative, and wise.
After sharing this post, I received negative feedback about their plan to implement drive-thru communion. I thought it best to respond to the feedback which I shared with friends and colleagues.
I should include that the Leadership Team clearly indicated that the drive-thru plan might change in response to new discoveries and CDC recommendations. At the time they made plans for the drive-thru option (with proper precautions) it was okay and made sense. But as new information comes in and understanding changes, plans need to be modified. After the recent announcement that Californians have been told to stay home, the drive-thru looks less attractive. It should be re-evaluated, and different approach chosen.
The main purpose of this post is to commend innovative, creative, and wise conversation about the path forward. The Spirit works in and through these conversations. I pray we stay in conversation, engage each other in responding to the challenges we are facing. With God’s help, we will make it through this together.