Dear friends in Christ,
I’m writing to let you all know that as your pastor, I am closely monitoring the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The only change currently planned to church activities is that the meal at St. Paul’s on Wednesday, March 18th, will be cancelled. We will still gather for worship that evening at 7:00 p.m. During this time we will be following the latest advice from the Iowa Department of Public Health regarding best practices for health and safety at worship services and other gatherings. While some may feel that these measures are extreme or unnecessary, it is important to keep in mind that our congregations include many older members who are more vulnerable to infectious disease, as well as those whose immune systems are compromised due to things like cancer treatments. I encourage those of you who are not especially concerned for your personal well-being to still take steps to ensure the health and safety of your fellow church members who might be at greater risk.
As a congregation, we will be encouraging the following practices, as advised by the Iowa Department of Public health:
Wash your hands frequently: It is recommended that you wash your hands frequently with soap and water, being sure to lather your hands for at least 20 seconds (about how long it takes to say the Lord’s Prayer). Those preparing or serving communion are asked to wash their hands before handling the communion ware, bread, and wine. Communion servers can do so in the sacristy at St. John’s or the restroom at St. Paul’s during the offering.
Stay home if you need to: If you are not feeling well, have a compromised immune system, or have recently been around someone known to be infected, please stay home. This is hard for a lot of you, I know, but again, it’s not just about your own health. Be assured that you are still a part of our community even if you aren’t able to physically gather with us for a time. Our prayers during worship for the duration of this pandemic will include a petition for those unable to be present with us.
I am working on figuring out a way to share our worship services with those at home via technology, but until that is in place, there are several opportunities to hear God’s Word on TV or the radio. Dubuque Mediacom Cable customers unable to be present in worship are encouraged to watch worship from St. Peter Lutheran Church on Public Access Channel 81, Sundays at 8:30 a.m. & 7:15p.m., Mondays at 10 a.m., Tuesdays at 6 p.m., Wednesdays at 8 a.m., Thursdays at 4 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 5 p.m. Bellevue cable customers can watch the service from St John, Bellevue Sundays at 10 a.m. and during the week at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 7 p.m. First Lutheran in Maquoketa broadcasts worship services on KMAQ Sundays at 9 a.m. Salem Lutheran Church in Andrew broadcasts worship services on KMAQ Sundays at 5 p.m.
Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow.
Greeting and Passing the Peace: The IDPH recommends discontinuing handshakes or hugs. Greet each other verbally and/or in another manner, such as a bow or fist bump. Pastor Will will continue to greet worshippers in the back of church following the service, but will discontinue shaking hands for the time being.
Offering:Ushers will carry the offering plate down the aisles for worshippers to contribute their offerings, but will not be passing the offering plates down the pews. If the COVID-19 virus is confirmed within our community the offering plates will be placed in a stationary location rather than being gathered by the ushers.
Holy Communion: For the immediate future only, on the advice of church members who are medical professionals, we will distribute only the bread during communion services. This allows only one person to handle the communion elements, helping to prevent spread of disease via contact with potentially contaminated surfaces. For Lutherans, being able to receive the body and blood of Christ in both kinds was an extremely important point in the Reformation. While for health and safety of church members, we are distributing only the bread during the service itself, for those who feel it is important for your spiritual life to receive both the bread and the wine, please see me following the worship service, when wine may be distributed individually.
Be kind to one another: Social distancing does not need to mean social isolation. Call fellow church members, friends, and neighbors, especially those who are elderly or who have health concerns. Let them know that you care about them, and that you are praying for them.
Pray: Pray for all those suffering the effects of infectious diseases, for the medical professionals, healthcare workers, and family members caring for them, for scientists and researchers seeking vaccines and cures, for public health officials and elected leaders, for those unable to attend worship due to the disease, for those whose employment is threatened by the ongoing crisis, and for all those mourning the loss of loved ones.
As we receive more guidance from the IDPH or the office of the Bishop, especially if it affects worship services, that information will be shared on the church website and Facebook page.
Although these are anxious times, we remember that God is faithful, and now as much as ever we need to support one another, hear God’s Word of grace, and be strengthened in faith at the Lord’s table. I pray that during this time we all will continue to do what the church does best: share the love and hope of Jesus with a world in need.
In Christ’s service,
Pastor Will Layton