TAKING CARE OF EACH OTHER #DeployedChurch
Dear Partners in Ministry,
First of all, please know that we are praying for and grateful for each of you in these challenging times. As we have had interaction with you, individually or in groups, we have been impressed and inspired by your love for your people, your desire to help, and your being centered in God and our calling as pastors, deacons, synod deacons, and servants of Christ and Christ’s people. Keep it up! And in the midst of it, take care of yourselves and your families as a priority so that, when this crisis is over (and it will end!), we can function to the best of our ability to be Church for the new world in which we will find ourselves. Our leadership will be more critical than ever to guiding people once more into what it means to be community and children of God, in ways new and familiar. We will learn from this crisis, and we are in a perfect position to share that learning and to lead with wisdom, love, and faith.
We are reaching out to you, as well, to remind you of some essential practices in these times. Elsewhere in this email you will find a link to “Helpful and Enlightening Resources.” Try not to be overwhelmed! You do not have to read every resource word for word. Allow us to offer a few reminders of our own:
- The most important thing we can do to stem the tide of this virus, especially since we are in New York, the area hardest-hit, is to stay home! We know how difficult that is. We have heard from some of you about parishioners dying in hospitals and how painful it is not to be allowed to be there to provide what we understand to be “essential services.” Take a deep breath. Pray and remember that this is an emergency situation that will pass. Good people understand the limitations imposed on us in these times and should not hold it against you that “you were not there when my mother died.” Even family members are not allowed to be present as they would wish. Self-differentiation—knowing limitations, respecting boundaries, not taking things personally—is so important in times of anxiety, not just for your own emotional and spiritual health but for those you serve. Now more than ever, our non-anxious leadership, grounded in the timeless love of God, matters and serves as example and inspiration for others.
- Encourage others to stay home. We know you want to find creative ways to be Church together. And you are doing that! But anything that encourages people to gather, even in ways that seem safe (in outdoor spaces, in cars, etc.), is counter to the wisdom from medical and government leaders. Don’t get ahead of the scientific knowledge. In our Lutheran understanding, respect the two kin-doms.
- If you are gathering in very small groups (for instance, to record worship), remember to maintain a safe physical distance (six feet, or 1.83 meters), wash your hands after touching surfaces (see the video in this email!), and if you have a cough or otherwise feel unwell, just stay home. Rely on others to provide spiritual encouragement if you are not physically able to do so. For more on this, see the helpful links in our weekly newsletter to churches around our synod that are providing virtual worship (or the services of the word of our synod staff). One of the teachings in this time is that, since we are Church together, we can worship across physical boundaries in new, uplifting, and mutually supportive ways.
- Finally, do not rely on your faith communities to be your support community. These are hard words to write. There is a healthy relationship among pastors, deacons, and synod deacons, and also with the congregation. In times of anxiety and stress, it is more important than ever for you to lead. Ironically, we are not immune to that stress and anxiety. But your support must come from colleagues (including your bishop), your own spiritual and prayer life, family members and friends, and others who are not depending on the faith and wisdom that we are called on to model in these times. Be attentive to your own well-being. Many therapists and other counselors are available remotely. Take advantage of that. You can find spiritual-practice guidance online, including on our ELCA website. Do something fun! Set limits on your work. When working from home, it’s easy just to keep working, because you are not leaving an office and closing a door. An alert sounds that another email or text has come in; you just want to check the news one more time to see if there are any new developments. Don’t do it. Resist the temptation to feel useless and compensate by overworking. Set a limit and, if you have others living with you, ask them to help you. As promised above, this crisis will end and, when it does, our Lord and our world will need the best we have to give and the best we are. We prepare for that future by the way we live today.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel, from the first day until now, being confident of this, that the One who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart" —Philippians 1
Yours in Christ,
+ The Rev. Paul Egensteiner, bishop
Renée Wicklund, vice-president