To all our Streams family:
Below you will see the letter that came from our Grand Canyon Synod Office yesterday (Saturday) morning. It strongly recommends that all the ELCA congregations in our Synod suspend all public gatherings (worship, Bible study, meals, meetings, etc.) immediately until at least April 1. All of Streams council members were polled by the end of the day and the majority agreed to follow the Synod’s recommendation. So, none of those events will take place at Streams again until at least April 1. Most of the rest of the ELCA churches in the Tucson area have also followed suit. Many other denominations are doing so as well.
This was not an easy decision to make. It feels so wrong not to continue to gather to study, worship, and praise God and support one another. But this is what the leaders of our churches have called upon us to do. Our command from God is to love one another, and it’s felt that the best way to do that right now is protect ourselves and our neighbors from this horrible disease by staying away from public gatherings until the worst of the threat is believed to have passed.
So, now in the middle of Lent we are taking on a new Lenten discipline. We are giving up public gatherings for the rest of the season of Lent. It may be hard and sad, but this will end up making the celebration of Easter together just that much more powerful!! It may feel like we are giving up a lot at the moment, but hopefully looking back we will see that it was all worth it for the greater good.
Meanwhile, we are still going to do all that we can to stay connected spiritually though not physically. The office will still be staffed with volunteers during regular office hours so that we can stay connected. We will also try to stay connected through a phone calling ministry. We will send out emails like this with updates when we have them. We urge you to stay in touch with one another through phone calls, emails, texts, etc. We will place Sunday worship material on the church’s website for anyone who wishes to make use of it and will try to send some of those same materials out by email. And if you think someone you know may not have gotten this information, please contact them right away.
Let’s make this a time of personal prayer and devotion as we prepare to come together in the very near future to celebrate our Risen Lord Jesus Christ!!!
Pr Tom and the Streams council
To Pastors, Deacons and Congregational Councils of the Grand Canyon Synod
Having prayerfully considered our current situation with respect to COVID-19, in conversation with bishops from the wider church, and in light of the quickly evolving nature of this pandemic, I am recommending that all ELCA congregations in the Grand Canyon Synod, regardless of location or number of congregants, suspend public worship gatherings, events and meetings beginning immediately until at least April 1, possibly longer.
Our church polity doesn’t permit me to issue a mandate, this recommendation comes at my strongest possible urging in light of all current available information. I trust you as congregational leaders – pastors, staff and Council – to consult with one another as you make decisions and implement plans in your particular context.
You have heard me say that we are better together for the sake of the Gospel, and the way we can be better together with our local communities, our nation and our world is to reduce all possible risk of transmission of this virus about which we still know relatively little and which can be lethal for our most vulnerable citizens. We must act in solidarity for the sake of the neighbor. To think “this doesn’t apply to me and my community” does not take seriously enough our responsibility to the neighbor under these circumstances. I realize that some congregations already have plans to still gather this coming Sunday: if so, please take maximum care to ensure the safety of those most susceptible to this illness.
Let me be clear: this time of social distancing – or better said, physical distancing – does NOT mean we are suspending being the church! On the contrary, this means is that we become church in new ways. It’s ironic but true that the best of who we are as church has always flourished under adversity. How will this moment invite us to reframe who and why and how we are as Christ’s Body for the life of the world?
Here are some steps to take during this period:
- Plan ways to foster spiritual life and a sense of community that don’t involve being in the same physical space. This may be an opportunity to deepen relationships as we reach out to each other more intentionally and as we engage in a pause from our relentless pace to reflect on God’s presence with us in Christ.
- Be creative in planning for virtual/home worship experiences. In lieu of a service of Holy Communion, help reintroduce people to varieties of a Service of the Word. Consider a Lenten focus on prayer, fasting and self-reflection. Start thinking about how to frame a Holy Week experience that people can experience in their homes or what an Easter experience might include if we are not able to gather together.
- Rostered leaders can consider ways to share devotions or sermons online or through enews options.
- Consider how to provide care for vulnerable members and neighbors. What can be done to be sure that we as the church are tending to the needs of those most impacted by this crisis?
- Imagine new ways to be church for the life of the world in your context in this moment. If our times of worship have always been about equipping the saints for their ministry, how do we now unleash that potential?
Here are some ways the Office of the Bishop will support you:
- We will invite the Deans to weekly conference check-in ZOOM meetings both to receive updates from every congregation and to help problem solve. A member of the Office of the Bishop staff will participate in each ZOOM.
- We have a page on our website for resource sharing and idea exchanges, seeking to address particular issues as they arise.
- We may hold webinars to keep folks updated as this situation evolves.
In the midst of it all, we will care for one another, we will pray for one another, and we will be Christ’s Church.
May God grant us wisdom, and grant us courage for the facing of this hour,
The Rev. Deborah K. Hutterer, Bishop
Grand Canyon Synod of the ELCA
1819 E. Morten Ave. Ste 100A
Phoenix, AZ 85020