A letter from our pastors

Sisters and brothers,
 
Like you, we’ve been following the news and concern over the COVID-19 (coronavirus), and like you it often feels overwhelming.  At moments like this, it’s important to stop and take a deep breath: we hold a promise that God is with us no matter what, and God doesn’t break promises.  Confident in that promise, we can practice an abundance of caution even as we remain centered and calm, seeking accurate information and refusing to stigmatize and blame.  This is our particular spiritual gift at Christ Lutheran, and it is needed in our corner of the world now more than ever.
 
The ongoing outbreak invites us to be intentional stewards of our neighbor’s health and well-being, attending to both our congregational neighbors and our physical neighbors as well.  As we consider our ministries and also our lives embedded in our communities and neighborhoods, how do we both protect and stand with the most vulnerable among us? How do we attend to both our responsibility to control or slow the spread of COVID-19 and our call to gather for worship and care for one another?  Together we seek to discern calmly, thoughtfully, prayerfully, and collaboratively.
 
In order to keep our community healthy, we have developed a Health Plan in collaboration with Little Lamb Preschool to guide us during this outbreak:
 
Stage
Indicator
Action Item
Stage 1 
(Warning)
Confirmed Cases in Indiana
  • All worship, ministry, and small groups are optionally active
  • Extra sanitation and cleaning around the building
  • Those who are in vulnerable categories are encouraged to stay home
  • Ask those who don’t feel well to stay home
  • Encourage hand washing and disinfectant
  • Extra cleaning and sanitation before and after worship
  • Changes in worship practices (see below)
Stage 2
(Alert)
Confirmed case within Porter County
  • Provide online/recorded worship for those who choose to stay home
  • No Sunday morning food or drinks
  • No Lenten Supper gatherings
  • Follow local school districts: If Valparaiso Community Schools does not have school, LLP is closed as well.  
  • All Children and Youth Programs will also be suspended.
  • Most outside groups are asked to cancel, excepting Men’s Shelter.
Stage 3 
(Critical)
Confirmed case in church or school
  • All Worship/School/Meetings suspended, excepting Men’s Shelter
  • No meetings held in church facilities
  • All congregation invited to participate in online worship opportunities
  • Church and LLP staff will be in contact with health authorities on steps moving forward.
 
At this time, according to the latest data available, we are at a Stage 1 level (Alert).  Please note that Gov. Holcomb’s directive today is aimed at larger gatherings than we have on a weekly average; we are thinking ahead about our Easter plans.  We appreciate your understanding as we prayerfully, and carefully, consider and reconsider how best to steward our congregational health.  
 
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and have been present in the CLC building, please notify CLC staff so that we can respond accordingly in caring for you and in following our Health Plan.
 
Worship practices during the COVID-19 outbreak
In order to care for and stand with our most vulnerable, we are making a number of changes in our worship practices during this time:
  • Hand sanitizer is available at the back of the worship space, and we will verbally remind people of its location.  Everyone is asked to wash their hands with soap and water on the way into the building, and as we leave.
  • Those who are vulnerable are invited, even encouraged, to stay at home, taking advantage of resources available for connecting with our ministries at a distance (see below).
  • Peace: we are discontinuing shaking hands at the sharing of the Peace; instead we  recommend placing a hand on the heart and a bow with the head as we say, “Peace be with you.”
  • Offering: we are discontinuing passing our offering plates; instead, offerings will be received in baskets placed at the front of the worship space.
  • Communion: Although our regular distribution practices are both comfortable and relatively hygienic, in this time of increased concern we will be particularly conscious of serving in a way that limits the number of people who come in contact with the elements.
    • Although pastors and communion assistants regularly use hand sanitizer, during this time they will all wash thoroughly with soap and water prior to Communion.
    • We will not be gathering at the altar rail, instead we will receive Communion in the central aisle.  
    • We are discontinuing the Common Cup for now.  Individual cups will be served by a communion assistant wearing gloves.
    • Rather than using bread which the pastors will break, we are switching to wafers which the pastors can more easily “drop” into our hands.
    • The Pastors will be appropriately adjusting how they bless our youngest ones.
  • Hymnals: at this time we are continuing the use of our hymnals, although we encourage everyone to remember they are a common surface, and to wash their hands after using them.  Beginning 3/22, we will be sending a PDF of the bulletin, including music, in advance of worship services for those who would prefer to use an electronic device.
  • Greeting line: The Pastors will not be shaking hands in the “greeting line” on the way out of church; we will instruct our youngest ones who gather with us to say hello rather than shake hands.  Feel free to acknowledge them verbally, ask about their day, etc.
Prevention and precaution 
In addition to our worship practices, we are taking behind-the-scenes steps as well:
Resources available from Christ Lutheran
If you need to stay away from our worship services, please take advantage of:
How you can help protect our community
  • Pray!  Pray for each other, pray for those who are sick, pray for those affected, pray for safety and protection, pray for everything and anything you can think of.  We have this gift, this power of the Spirit, and we are called to use it, especially in times like these. Pray!
  • Please continue supporting our ministries with your prayers, your time, and your offerings; during anxious times such as these, our ministries of mercy, reassurance, and compassion are more needed than ever!  You can conveniently support our ministries electronically at https://clcvalpo.org/give.
  • Along with the prevention practices above (hand-washing in particular!), if you are feeling sick, please stay home and take advantage of the resources above; we are instructing our staff to do the same.  
  • If you do need to stay home, and/or know of someone in our community who is not feeling well, please let us know.  We do not recommend visiting the sick person yourself at this time.  
  • Please consider ways you can connect with, and support, your neighbors at home (i.e. living next door to you).  Talk together about ways you can aid, help, and check in on each other; if someone were to go into a time of “social distancing” (i.e. quarantine), how could you and your neighbors assist them safely and effectively?
Next steps and updates
We will continue monitoring recommendations by the CDC, ELCA, Indiana Department of Health, and others.  Any changes to schedules or practices will be communicated by email, our website (https://clcvalpo.org), our church phone message, and our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/CLCvalpo/).
 
Do not be afraid
Over and over we hear in Scripture the words, “Do not be afraid.”  While we need to be attentive, smart and careful, we do not need to be fearful.  Keep up with the news and and advice from medical authorities, especially the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/) and the Indiana Department of Health ( https://secure.in.gov/isdh/28470.htm), but please take care not to become obsessed with news about the outbreak.  God is with us, and we trust God will give us wisdom, strength, and discernment.  We have a calling as followers of Jesus to care for our neighbors and to watch out for the vulnerable.  Let us, together, continue to look for ways to care for one another and steward our community health.
 
In God’s amazing grace,
 
Pastor Tim & Pastor Erica