30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” -Mark 12:30-31
Dear friends, last month I shared my promise with you that your congregational council would do everything possible to tend the safety and wellness of all of our people as we evaluate a return to in-person worship services. As I write this it is less than a day since the executive team met and ultimately pushed back our return to in-person services. I long to be together with all of you, to sing together, to share in the Sacraments, but that is not how God is calling us into community at this time. I believe God is calling us to love our neighbor. Here's what I mean.
The verses from Mark that I began with come from the larger context of Jesus' response to one of the teachers of Israel who asked Jesus which of the commandments is greatest (v. 28). Jesus doesn't hesitate, love God, love your neighbor... as yourself.
So loving our neighbor, Luther would argue, means wanting the best for them (hmm.. don't we want the best for ourselves and our loved ones as well?). So where am I going with this? Well, what does it look like to live out our lives in a time of a global pandemic and to model loving our neighbor?
Are you wearing a mask in public? To me it is easy to see that wearing a mask in public to protect my neighbor from being exposed to a lethal virus looks a LOT like loving my neighbor. Limiting gathering for worship looks like loving our neighbor (you and your friends at church!) by not exposing each other in a confined space for an extended time. Loving our neighbor looks like feeding the hungry (see article below) and checking in with each other. It looks like praying for our world, for scientists and healthcare workers, those who work and those who are out of work, for your church and for each other.
We say that we want to care for our congregation (each other), for our community, and for our world. I believe that making choices like the ones I shared, and especially right now, continuing worship online, touches on all of these. I miss being together in person, but I have also seen our reach expand to other states in our own country, and even as far away as Guyana! God is doing something as we model love for our neighbor and care for each other. God is doing something through each of us, the Holy Spirit is inviting us into new ways of understanding what it means to be the church and to participate in a life of faith.
If you are reading this and you haven't joined us for worship or the virtual coffee hour that follows, I want to encourage you to do so. Worship and these informal gatherings are the place from which we are sent out into our world to love our neighbor. They are also the places where we are reminded of what it looks like to be loved by God. May the peace of Christ enfold your lives and when the time is right, gather us in person once more.
Lord of Life member Rog Klosterman is coordinating an effort to fill an apartment for a person in need of assistance. She and her children will be reunited and have their own apartment, but do not have the ability to fill it with basic items for running a household. Here's a list of what we are looking for:
"34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food
Wise words for the space in between what was and what will be." Matthew 25:34-35
Perhaps you saw the great news that the ELCA congregations of Greater Dubuque received a hunger grant in the amount of $7200 from the Dubuque Community Foundation to offset the cost of delivering food to hungry people through mobile food pantries. It was included in the June newsletter. That is exciting news because it ensures our ability to provide mobile food pantries all through our community.
I'm excited to tell you that we have also received another grant in the amount of $3600, specifically for Lord of Life's hunger ministries including our Little Food Pantry. I am so grateful to Lord of Life member, Pastor Karla Wildberger, for seeing the grant process to fruition on our behalf.
Ministry and mission at Lord of Life continue, even if we are social distanced (for now!). Your prayers and financial support are making a difference, friends. The Spirit is moving all around and through us to provide care for our community and love for neighbor.
In peace and hope,
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Wise words for the space in between what was and what will be.
When will we reopen for worship in person? That's the question of the day for many of us. One of the most challenging pieces of social distancing and quarantining has bee the loss of in-person gatherings, especially for worship. I feel it everyday at the church. I long for the vibrancy and community that comes with a people gathered in Christ's name. I'm sure you miss hugging friends, getting updates on life from others, and sharing Holy Communion in worship. We all do.
So when will we reopen? Our siblings in Christ of the Archdiocese of Dubuque have developed their own criteria for opening. Does that mean we will reopen, too? Not exactly. Here's what I need you to understand in order to fully appreciate our timing and plan. The council presidents and pastors of the ELCA congregations of Greater Dubuque met recently to have an open and honest conversation about reopening our buildings. As you might imagine, there were differing opinions ranging from folks wanting to open as soon as possible (defining "possible" is the key) to others convinced that only time will allow for a safe return to gathering in our buildings. Some suggestions included holding services outdoors to minimize the impact. All of our congregations are developing a formal policy for what it will take in order for us to worship in person. Things like cleaning and sanitizing between services and following, who can enter the building and who will be encouraged to continue worshiping online, and where can folks sit in worship to maintain safe distancing, etc. I think you can see the challenge.
So here's what I promise you. We will do our best to make sure that we have thought through all of the necessary details in order to ensure the safest possible environment for our people. We will pray together and talk together, as leaders in this congregation, to make decisions based on the well-being of our people and not rush into the process. We will work hard to tend the awesome responsibility of providing worship for our people. And even when we do reopen, we will continue to offer worship online so that everyone, ALL OF US, are able to participate in the life of our church, together.
Stay tuned. Pray. Reach out to your friends and fellow church members. Pray some more. And soon, sooner than later, we will be together again when it is safe. In the meantime, let us embrace the kind of love the Apostle Paul encourages.
In peace and hope,
Loved by God, Sent to Serve
Grace and peace to you, friends.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change... The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge."
~Psalm 46:1-2, 7
First and foremost, we continue our Lenten journey in a truly wilderness way moving forward. Let us not lose site of God's faithfulness in the wilderness for the Israelites (on multiple occasions) and God's faithfulness with Jesus in his wilderness after baptism, and through the cross for us. We are persons of faith and that is important. The people you interact with each day will be looking for hope and comfort. Respond in the confidence that God is faithful and goes with you, with all of us, in the corona virus wilderness.
Things will look different, faith will be lived out differently, but faith abides and God is good.
Your congregational council has determined that the best path forward will be to enact our Phase III plan in order to support the wellness of all in our community. Our three part plan was distributed to your mailboxes at church, via email, social media, and resides on our website here.
What does this mean? Well, as the early church adapted to its ability to gather, we, too, have been thinking about the best ways to gather virtually. I have met with the pastors of the Water of Life Conference and chapel leadership for Wartburg Theological Seminary. In what I can only call the Holy Spirit at work for a time such as this, the seminary has received a grant for the study of and development of digital worship. We could not have hoped for a better outcome for our time in the wilderness! We will have a full and robust worship service each week until we are able to gather together again.
We have developed a plan for online worship using The Service of the Word. You will be able to click this link on Sunday morning and join the service OR call 646-558-8656 and enter these numbers [887 508 411#] to join the service and listen via telephone. The service will begin 9:00 a.m. For those watching via Zoom online, the words and liturgy will appear for you. We will also have music and a cantor.
What about Lenten Midweek services? I will host evening prayer in its spoken form. We will provide the words on screen for your participation. We still plan to have sermons provided by seminary students and based on the Psalms. We will forego the midday prayer service in the hopes that everyone can join in for the evening option at 7:00p.m. Please visit the website for a link to join evening prayer.
Social isolation does not mean a lack of community and belonging. Our community will look differently for a time, but it will not be our forever story. Join us online or by phone and let's explore how the Holy Spirit will work through this wilderness time.
And one final word. Lord of Life is dependent upon the tithes and offerings of its people. There is perhaps no more important time than this to ensure continuity in our giving. Will you join me in committing to giving as usual during these days? If you currently give online or by auto-deduction, you will not need to do anything different than usual. If you give by check, feel free to mail a check to the church, or consider giving online via our website.
The primary communication portal will be our website. Links and updates will be posted there. Confirmation youth and families will need to check there as well. We are looking at doing some creative things with Zoom online.
This is a time to embrace hope and not fear. It is God who saves us, who is present with us, and who will guide us through to the other side of this current challenge. I continue to pray for you all.
In peace and hope,
We are all well aware of the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The leadership team at Lord of Life has been paying close attention to what is going on, and we have information from medical experts and the county health workers and the State of Iowa. We have developed a congregational response plan with three stages.
In the first stage, which we are currently in, we will continue all of our ministry programs. In addition, we will take the following steps:
In the second stage, if a case of the COVID-19 virus is confirmed within our community, our response will increase:
And in the third stage, if there is a confirmed case here at church we will:
Uncertainty creates anxiety. And while we want to be careful to not overreact to what is going on, we also want to be responsible in how we handle this very fluid situation.
In the short term, I have two requests for you:
In peace and hope,
Pastor Paul Jon Dienst, Council President
PS – Now go wash your hands.
Ash Wednesday is the Wednesday of the seventh week before Easter and the first day of Lent. The day is named for the practice of imposing ashes, a practice that many Lutheran congregations have found to be a very meaningful part of the Ash Wednesday liturgy.
Using ashes as a sign of repentance is an ancient practice, often mentioned in the Bible (e.g., Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Jeremiah 6:26; Matthew 11:21). The early Christians adopted the use of ashes from Jewish practice as an external mark of penitence.
Ashes symbolize several aspects of our human existence:
So I invite you to join us this week, this Ash Wednesday, to remember, reflect, and look ahead to what God is up to.