by: Todd Stevens
Re-opening Immanuel Lutheran Church
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:24
These words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, come from a chapter with an English title, Great is your faithfulness. The “your” in the title is God. Great is God’s faithfulness. He is our portion, He fills us with what we need for the day, the month, the pandemic. Because God provides for us, we can hope in Him. There are many businesses, employers, employees, students, parents, teachers, pastors, to name a few, who have lost hope. Their hope, maybe even our hope, was placed on the wrong things. This new time has made it very clear to us that when you can’t get toilet paper or you can’t get out of your house, the LORD must be your portion. When He is, you can then have hope.
What the church offers is hope. We, as Christians, are in the business of hope. We live in hope, and we share that hope. It is for this reason, being closed for business is very difficult. It seems counterintuitive to what we are about. A church should have open doors; however, our civic duty has led us to make other decisions; closing our doors.
It is my HOPE that we can soon be back together as a church. The first step for us was this past Sunday, May 3rd as we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. It was a chance for members to break the fast and be fed a portion of Christ’s body and blood. This meal will go a long way in helping things feel more normal by making Sunday feel more like Sunday. This meal will also sustain us as we continue to navigate these uncharted waters.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, I have been in constant conversation with our District President, other leaders in our Oklahoma District and circuit, as well as pastors from other states. It has been my desire to walk alongside the churches of our region, not being ahead and not being behind. It was my wish to provide a unified vision for all our churches.
To that end, we ceased live services Wednesday, March 18th. From that day, we have been worshipping as an online community. The staff has made attempts to provide some content for our members to keep them connected to the church and to one another. I have had a great deal of positive feedback. I have also heard the strain in the voices as people long to be together. The church may not be a building, but it is a place where the community comes together to worship, celebrate, feast, and rejoice in the LORD’s portion. It is the center of our hope, the charge for our faith, and the place where Christ is revealed to us in body and blood.
Knowing this and feeling others' pains of isolation is what makes it difficult for me to be measured in our return to public worship. I would gladly throw caution aside and run straight back into “normal” life. But this isn’t about what I want or what anyone else wants, this is about what is prudent and wise, beneficial and safe for God’s children here at Immanuel. To better assist me, I have turned to our elder board, the church staff, and the medical professionals of our congregation. I have taken the conversations, the emails, the facts and thoughts of each and put them together to create what will be our plan back into worship and regular church activities. Nothing laid out here is written in stone, rather pencil, in case there is a need to change based on what is going on in our local community. You will find below our dates for moving forward with worship at Immanuel.
May 10th – recorded service online followed by a communion service live streaming at 10 am
May 17th – recorded service online followed by a communion service live streaming at 10 am
May 24th – recorded service online followed by a communion service live streaming at 10 am
May 31st – re-opening worship to celebrate the Day of Pentecost – the birth of the church followed by our rebirth (practicing CDC guidelines over two services)
June 7th and following – see May 31st (worship under CDC guidelines)
July 27th – VBS (will depend on how things are progressing)
For now, our plan stops at the end of July. At that time, we will re-evaluate based on the information at that time. It would be my hope that we could fully re-open in August (maybe even sooner if numbers dictate that).
Our new normal for church (at least moving forward immediately) looks like this:
No handshakes from greeters
Practice social distancing in the pews
No sharing the peace
No hymn books or pew bibles
No offering plates passed
No common cup for communion
No coffee or donut hour
Online Sunday school (we are working on that now)
Strong encouragement for individuals to wear masks and vulnerable members to stay home
We will disinfect between services
What is outlined above is open to change as CDC guidelines and members’ comfortability allows. Please continue to pray for our world, our country, our state, and our church. We are walking a road that most of us have never traveled. My goal is to arrive safely on the other side.
I thank you all for your wonderful support during this time and please know you have been in my prayers daily. The Lord is our portion; therefore, we have hope!
With much love and great hope,