Dear Partners in ministry, I find myself in an uncomfortable position because, in 44 years of pastoral ministry, I do not think that I recommended we cancel on-site services; or for that matter, even personally not attended on-site Sunday worship, more than a handful of times. And, now, it has gone on for 9 weeks, during which time we have had to learn a myriad of new skill sets that have taken us all outside of our comfort zones. Listening to the news media, regardless of which view you turn on and where you stand on the issues, is almost nauseating; not to mention how many times have you heard me say, to reopen you need to put together a plan where you are socially distant, socially isolating, physically separated, “spread out and sit as far apart from each other as you can?” It is a confusing time to say the least.
So, where do we go from here, when everything is changing so rapidly? It seems the “old norms” and realities, as individuals, families, communities and even in the Church, are being shifted and everything is up for grabs. Or is it? In the mantra words of my mother’s favorite TV. program of the late 1960s, Star Trek, “We Boldly Go Where No One* Has Gone Before.”
How apt it is that we are in the 10th week of this Coronavirus pandemic. For us, in our PLUM churches, it all began at the beginning of our 2020 Lenten journey when we cancelled all on-site worship services for the sake and safety of our communities on the 3rd Sunday in Lent, the 15th of March. As is true with everything we have done within our 11 congregations strong, 15-year-old cooperative ministry, we (as able), have found new ways to support each other in worship, meetings, and carrying on our ministries. But, this is nothing new. Imagine those early disciples and their first Lenten, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost journey (13 weeks). We, like the early disciples, can come out of this in a better place if we remember the lessons we have experienced, because we know the end of the story. We know that, for Christ, it was not just suffering and death. It was defeating death and instituting “new life.” It was the tearing down of the curtain in the temple and opening the church to a new day.
For the disciples, then, and us, today, the first forty days of Easter was a time to get their/our bearings as they/we walked with Christ into the new reality. Then Ascension happened and “POOF”, Christ was gone. Oh, to be sure, the disciples (and we) tried to go back to life/church as usual and 10 days later, 50 days after his resurrection, (on Easter, CHRIST IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN INDEED, ALLELUIA!)
PENTECOST - The Coming of the Holy Spirit
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Acts 2:1-4
The “church” then, and now, is changed forever. Through the touching of God’s Spirit, the people of God became Christ’s presence for the world. And, no matter how hard they/we try to go back to business as usual, there will always be new avenues that push us ahead. May we never forget those many millions and their families who served us on the front lines; the clerks, cleaners, first responders, food workers, sanitation workers, medical personnel, etc. to get us through this pandemic that, in the 10 weeks, over 100,000 Americans lost their lives (for perspective, 58,220 soldiers died over 9 years in the Vietnam war). Biblically, once we are touched by God’s Spirit, life ceases to be about me. Jesus’ words resonate this fact; “For God so loved the world that he gave...”; “given and shed for you...;” “I’ve come that you might have life…”
As we reopen our churches - and reopen them we will - may we be ever mindful that it is not about us. As Bishop Kusserow clarified and pointed out to our synod pastors on Monday, “this is not a sprint, nor a marathon, because there are no markers as to how far we must go or where the finish line is.” This is life and, as Jesus states: “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40. May this be what drives us as: “We Boldly Go Where No One* Has Gone Before”.
God’s Blessings on all you do as together we celebrate Christ’s presence in our midst.
Pastor John J. Gropp
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773