From a Bishop's Desk

A series of opinion articles and essays from bishop's of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and ecumenical partners.



Jul 30, 2020
“Finally, dear siblings,
pray for us,
so that the word of the Lord
may spread rapidly
and be glorified
just as it is among you.”
(2 Thessalonians 3:1)

Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, in the power of the Spirit. Amen 

Reading the news headlines during the mornings of July, my original hope back in March for returning to in-person worship by Easter seems naïve at best. 

Remember way back then? 

It can certainly seem like we were living in a different world and, in many ways, we were. In the space of four months we have been through dramatic changes in our society and in our communities. Concerns that were almost non-existent (COVID-19), or unjustly relegated to the background (racism), have emerged front and center. And despite the sense of powerlessness in the face of the pandemic or hope in response to a renewed determination to eradicate racism (a goal that deserves the full commitment of God’s people, as it is a matter of justice and our integrity as people of faith), we may feel numb or inadequate to the magnitude of these challenges. That is, if we look only to ourselves. 

Unfortunately, one of the most meaningful ways we look
 to and wait upon God and find strength collectively for our mission as disciples of Christ, is not now available to us: in-person worship in a way that was habitual and formative. There is a longing in our hearts to gather, to sing, to share
 the peace, to receive Holy Communion, to interact with the preacher and to pray. It feels like, when we need to worship most, to pour out our hearts and fears and hopes to God in community, we cannot. (Thankfully, many of you are finding creative ways to gather within the limits of safety and care.) 

Given these urgent challenges in society and these severe limitations in our communities of faith, what can we do? You already know! And you, dear people of God, have been doing it! We can and must worship! And just because we cannot do so in the same way does not mean it isn’t worship. (I will express a little exasperation here with the term “virtual worship.” Worship, even when shared over the internet, is still worship, real worship. I prefer the term “remote worship.”) Ask your living ancestors in the faith what worship was like when they were kids. I remember the pastor (always a man) facing the altar to consecrate the elements for Holy Communion. 

Worship always evolves. And as I worship with many of you on the weekends, I see how you have evolved, too. Such a beautiful and uplifting variety of services and ways of encouraging God’s people to be together, to turn their hearts to God, one another and the world. Music and musical gifts shared in so many creative and inspiring ways. Art and images such as might not be used in in-person worship. Still central is the Word, preached and prayed and sung and heard. And Jesus is present! Not virtually. Not remotely. Truly present, beyond and through the limitations of our current reality. The Resurrected Christ breaks down barriers, be they locked doors or the space between physically distanced disciples. 

Many of you have shared with me that worship attendance has actually gone up in this time of closed buildings, as people tune in from all over. It reminds me of Paul’s words in Second Thessalonians, “Finally, dear siblings, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you.” This desire is being fulfilled in our day because of YOU. We are equipped for spreading the Word in a way that continues to transform lives and, through our deeply rooted faith, in the world in which we live. We have found a way to worship in Spirit and in truth, and we will not, must not abandon it, even when we can be physically together again. 

I am so proud of and thankful for you, for your commitment, creativity and flexibility. I am thankful that I get to be your bishop through these transformative times. You, dear people of God, are a gift, testifying to the unlimited power of God’s Spirit. Keep the faith. Share the Word. 

And carry this truth in your heart and into the world: 
God loves you. 
And so, do I.

Yours in Christ, 
Bishop Egensteiner