|Dear family and friends of St. Paul’s,
There have been a number of questions directed my way as to how we would plan to proceed, given the viral outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and the most recent recommendations from the government, which either put a ban on or strongly urge against gatherings of certain sizes. I want to urge all of you to be sure you read this entire letter, because what comes next might be upsetting to some, but could also serve as a relief to others. In the end, I firmly believe this is the wisest course of action for our church for the foreseeable future. After much prayer and research, and with a heavy heart, I have decided to temporarily cancel all public worship services and church-related activities (including any fellowship meal), effective Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Under the most ideal circumstances, we would hope to resume worship “as normal” on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020. Until further notice, the church office will remain open from 8:00-4:00 on weekdays. We will also have Easter cards and devotion books available in our bookstore throughout the coming weeks. You are welcome to come in as an individual or family to meet with pastor or buy materials from the bookstore.
Here are some thoughts that went into these decisions:
- Governor Evers has banned all gatherings of 50 or more. President Trump has recommended no more than 10 people in a public or private gathering. I have heard from health officials that further bans and restrictions could possibly be forthcoming.
- Part of the government’s God-given role is to keep us safe from physical harm (Romans 13:1). The recommendations that have come out are an effort to do just that. Replace the virus with a hurricane and the mass gathering recommendations with an evacuation order, and I don’t think many of us would think twice about following the government’s orders.
- Ultimately, even if we don’t agree with the recommendations or bans, we are to, as Christians, obey our leaders as laid out for us in the Fourth Commandment.
- Perhaps you don’t care if you get sick. But the elderly person next to you will care; and, should they die from this virus, their family will care; and so will their pastor. If you have the attitude of “God will take us to heaven by coronavirus if he wants,” I believe that is inconsistent with God’s command to make wise decisions (Proverbs 4). Yes, God will take us home in his time, but we don’t jump off the bell tower, either, just as Jesus did not put his Father to the test in Matthew 4:7.
- Ultimately, even if we are inconvenienced in how we live our lives, we are to, as Christians, protect the health and welfare of our neighbors, in accordance with the Fifth Commandment. This includes making wise decisions that keep our own bodies free from sickness and disease.
- Some have expressed the desire to uphold the Third Commandment by coming together for public worship, where we might be comforted in faith and fellowship. This is, indeed, a noble and Christian desire. I share this desire; I became a pastor so that I could lead and feed a group of God’s children through the public use of the means of grace. Under normal conditions, we will always encourage and strive toward gathering together, as we are encouraged to do in Hebrews 10:25. However, it have become obvious that these are not normal circumstances. Plus, the means of grace are powerful outside of our gathering in public worship. Romans 10:17 says that faith comes from hearing the message, regardless of where you are or how that message gets to you (smartphone, TV, laptop, etc.). For years, we have been blessed to share God’s Word with others across the country and world through our social media pages and our livestreaming ministry.
- Ultimately, I believe that we can still uphold the Third Commandment by offering worship services through the gift of technology. Our goal is not to “despise preaching and God’s Word.” In fact, I am trying to do just the opposite, while still upholding the other principles that are at play in the Fourth and Fifth Commandments.
- We will gather “essential personnel” (pastor, organist, technology crew) to put forward a service that feels and sounds as normal as possible.
- For Wednesday devotions, we will livestream and record at 4:00; on Sundays, we will livestream and record at 8:00.
- I sincerely pray that you will apply the recommendations and principles that God has put before our eyes by staying home and remaining safe.
- Offering our worship through these unique means still gets you in contact with the Word of God and his promises. You will be able to join in through Facebook or our website.
- For those without internet access, we will send DVDs to your home; just contact the church office to request one. We will also continue to put our Sunday services on public access TV.
- I will have time available to privately offer the Lord’s Supper, prayers, and devotions. Please contact me to schedule a time before stopping in.
- This decision was not made on my own. I consulted with synod, district, and circuit officials, as well as the leadership of St. Paul’s. Many other WELS churches, including many in our circuit, are doing the same as what we are doing.
- Some have suggested that we add more services each day. Again, a noble and Christian desire. What happens when we have to continually turn people away because we’ve reached capacity? What happens if someone who is asymptomatic (carrying the virus, but not showing any symptoms) comes into the building? Have you considered the extra time and effort that would be needed from our volunteers and musicians? Would it really be in line with the Fourth Commandment to “toe the line” with 49 people in worship? The CDC or government might not be able to police their bans, but that doesn’t mean we would be wise to test them, either.
- As far as other events, such as the ordination and installation service for Pastor Plagenz, we will delay that celebration until a time that is more preferable for public gatherings. The District President assured me that Pastor Plagenz is able to start his ministry among us since the divine call has been extended and accepted; the call is not contingent on a document or a worship service.
What am I asking you to do?
- First, pray. Romans 12:12 encourages Christians to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” What a fitting verse for a time such as this! Pray for God’s will to be done; pray for our government to make wise decisions; pray for healthcare workers and other workers in essential industries; pray for all our called workers and staff, here and around world, so that the good news of the gospel reaches more hearts and lives through this unique opportunity we have before us.
- Second, consider how you will continue to support the ministries of St. Paul’s with your first-fruit, sacrificial offerings. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says that “God loves a cheerful giver.” Offerings are a necessary part of a Christian’s life. They are also what keep our facility open and help in our ability to share the gospel with others. From a completely practical standpoint, they also provide the salaries of our called workers, as well as the wages for our office staff, and other monthly expenses. Please utilize all the options provided for supporting the ministries of St. Paul’s through our online giving option, Facebook donations, mailing your offerings to the church office, or dropping them off during the business hours listed above.
- Third, let me know how I might continue to serve you in this time of trial. I will be looking for ways to offer Bible studies and extra devotional material through the blessing of technology. I don’t want to spread the virus, but I do also want to be here for you—phone calls, texts, and emails are certainly ways in which I hope to encourage you through these difficult times.
I realize that this might take away the last semblance of control some of you wanted to have in your life; but I also acknowledge that some will be relieved that we are taking such precautions. Regardless of our feelings, we know this to be true, beyond a shadow of a doubt—God works all things, including circumstances such as these, for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). And his goodness brings us peace which surpasses all understanding. That peace will guard and keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.
In His service to you,
Pastor Lucas Proeber