Bishops’ Joint Letter Against
Re-opening for Public Worship
May 22, 2020

Dear People of God of the congregations of the Sierra Pacific Synod, the Southwest California Synod, and the Pacifica Synod:

Grace and peace to you, in the name of the risen and ascended Christ!

It is with concern that we reach out to you today, on the eve of Memorial Day weekend and the last Sunday of Easter, having just witnessed in a televised message by the President of the United States a statement declaring that the nation’s churches should open for public worship this weekend. We understand the strong desire of our people to worship together, particularly on a meaningful weekend like this one. We wish to state for the sake of our church and its people that we believe the advice to re-open this weekend is at odds with the prevailing medical understanding of the course of this virus and the ways to prevent its spread.

We call on you to continue to listen to those state and local public health experts who, using the best medical and scientific information available, have already given us sensible guidelines to follow in our states and in the counties of our synods. Churches remain places of particularly high risk for contagion, and recent cases in many states have confirmed that opening prematurely can be catastrophic. We cannot ensure, in all our congregations, the sanitation and distancing requirements necessary to be together for worship. Nor has the risk of infection decreased in many parts of our synods-and both a reduction in infections and effective measures to block contagion will be needed before we will be able to gather in person again.

This is not a question of religious liberty. Nothing earthly-no government, indeed no virus-can come between us and the love of God. The decision to quarantine us for a time is a public health decision, and we are obligated, for our own good and the good of our neighbor, to do the right thing-which in this case is to refrain from non-essential gatherings. Our faith is not optional-indeed it is “essential” to us as Christians-but it does not override our higher duty to consider our neighbor’s welfare in a time of medical emergency.

Though in normal times people of faith gather every week for praise and proclamation on the day of Christ’s resurrection, we are not absolutely required to do so in spite of every obstacle. We have alternatives right now; we do not need to be able to gather together physically in order to worship God-for God hears our prayers wherever we are and whenever we are. We may pray, we may hear the proclamation of the Word, and we may read and study the scriptures-we may even assemble in digital communities on Sundays-without endangering ourselves and others by gathering together in our church buildings.

Lutherans, in particular, know that there is nothing sacred about a church building except as our sentiment makes it so, and that God is as accessible to us in personal intercession as in corporate prayer. Again, we say, this time of separation is not a time of separation from God. You may cultivate and even expand and intensify your faith in this time of sheltering at home. God is with us in each of our homes right now as surely as God is with us anywhere. And at the appropriate, safe time, we will gather again for the face-to-face worship we so miss and for which we ardently long. We share a hope that will come soon.

Again, we do not think resuming in-person worship ahead of the public health advisories is a good choice. It would be neither wise nor faithful for us to endanger our elders and those communities of poverty and color who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Nor would it be faithful to expose ourselves and our friends to contagion, or to rush into gatherings that are more likely to harm us than to bring us the peace we desire.

We call on the pastors, deacons, and lay leadership of our synods to comply with the standing public health directives in their localities. We recognize that as these directives continue to change, we will stay in dialogue with you. Our faithfulness to God is shown by our love of our neighbors, and in this situation there is a clear witness to be made-the one that best shows care for others.

May God bless and protect us all.

Bishop Mark W. Holmerud
Bishop R. Guy Erwin
Bishop Andy Taylor

May 22, 2020

Our Mission: To Know Christ † Grow in Christ † Go in Christ

Dear King of Glory friends and family,

 

It is with a saddened heart that I share this latest update with you. Due to the White House’s guidelines on no gatherings of 10 or more people (announced yesterday afternoon) and our two regional Bishops of the Pacifica Synod and Southwestern California Synod also releasing a joint statement yesterday strongly urging all churches to cancel worship services, your Council leaders have voted over the course of yesterday and today, in a near consensus, to cancel both worship services, beginning with THIS SUNDAY, until it is deemed safe to resume gathering in larger groups. Please know that they did not come by this decision lightly, but instead reluctantly did so out of a sense of responsibility to the wider community as well as those who are most vulnerable around us. As Martin Luther said regarding the plague of his time (and as I mentioned in my prior congregational email),

 

I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.”

 

As members of the Body of Christ and part of the world community, it is our responsibility to care for all, and abiding by current regulations in order to not cause suffering for others out of our own potential negligence appears the most faithful action at this time.

 

Council will be meeting remotely on Thursday, March 26, to assess our current approach and any changes that are needed at that time. We continue to make plans to livestream a service this Sunday, with only a few essential participants present, so that we can still gather as a community together, albeit virtually, to worship and praise God. In addition, our staff is working to find creative ways to keep us connected to Christ and one another and to make sure that those brothers and sisters in our community who are in need of assistance, will still receive help.

 

This is a rapidly changing situation, far beyond what any of us expected to face, so we appreciate your patience, faithfulness and understanding as we navigate these uncharted waters together. We will continue to send you updates as they are available and relevant. We ask you to keep one another, the preschool staff, and the church staff and leadership in your prayers. May we all continue to place our trust in a God who walks with us through our deepest valleys and a Savior who is the light that overcomes any darkness. God is present with all of us and perhaps God is even doing a new thing amidst this present challenge. Hold onto hope, stay focused on our mission, and have faith that out of chaos and death, our God brings goodness and life.

 

With you in Christ,
Pastor Kinndlee