The following letter, dated 3/13/20, regarding COVID-19 is from Pastor Hopkins and the church leadership. An audio form of the letter, read by Pastor Hopkins, is available on the FLC soundcloud site by clicking here. A PDF of the letter may be downloaded here: Pastoral Letter on COVID-19. For information on online content, including sermon texts, readings, bulletins, and service audio, please see the FLC website.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:1-4
Beloved in the Lord,
Our Lord Jesus Christ founded His Church so that His salvation might reach to the ends of the earth. In the Church we receive the love of God and His gracious mercy for Christ’s sake through the Word and Sacraments. This love and mercy transforms us into people who wish to reflect God’s mercy to others. We serve one another in love: in our own families, in the church, and in society at large.
The most recent guidelines from the civil authorities at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in response to COVID-19 provide us the opportunity to serve one another in very concrete ways. The recommendations say that all older people (60+), those with chronic health conditions, and those who have compromised immune systems are at higher risk to their health. The CDC instructs all such people as follows:
“Stay at home as much as possible. Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time. When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often. Avoid crowds. Stay up to date on CDC Travel Health Notices.”
Active Measures at FLC
What does this mean for us as Christians? Firstly, all measures at FLC should be implemented in the way of love, and not from fear. For there is no fear in love, and perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18a). What we do we do for the sake of our neighbors – young and old, big and small, strong and weak, sick and well. We are one Body, and we are to care for one another as the Church, whose vital ministry is even more clearly necessary in times of stress, fear, and uncertainty. We need to hear the Word, repent, be absolved, receive the Sacrament, and be strengthened in our faith by our common confession and worship. The following guidelines should be kept in mind concerning worship during this time of heightened health vigilance.
Virtual attendance is an encouraged option for the hearing of God’s Word. We will be communicating more on this before Sunday. For now, if you are ill, experiencing a fever, a cough, or other signs of a respiratory illness, stay at home, take your rest, and seek any treatment necessary for your recovery. If your communities (professional, educational, etc.) are experiencing transmission or if you have any reason to suspect you may be a carrier, please stay home, especially since we have already had some in attendance who are presently displaying symptoms. Whether you keep away due to sickness, caution, or simply care for yourself and others, please avail yourself of the robust media options to receive God’s Word at flc-boston.org.
Regarding the Holy Communion
Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us His Body and Blood for us Christians to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. This Sacrament is a great blessing which we all need. The Pastor and all assisting in any way with the preparation and distribution will redouble the sanitary procedures we already follow: meticulous washing of hands, meticulous washing of all sacred vessels, and clean and sterilized purificators (cloth napkins) used with the chalice. Gloves will be worn by those preparing and cleaning individual cups.
Regarding personal contact
We will refrain from shaking hands in and out of church, including during the Passing of peace. Hand sanitizer will be in the narthex for our use. Please use it for the sake of your neighbor and yourself. Please also use the available space to give space to others. Various authorities are recommending up to six feet. For this same reason, we will continue to refrain from passing offering plates. We will simply have door offerings. You may present your offering either before worship or after.
Let your conscience be at peace. Under these circumstances many pious Christians will be conflicted, since they sincerely desire to keep the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” Luther explains to us in the Small Catechism what this means: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” (Small Catechism)
It is not a despising of God’s Word to take cautions for the sake of your neighbor and your family. It is not a despising of God’s Word, in the time of a pandemic, for you to teach the faith in a simple way to your family, to listen or read the Word online, thus discouraging outbreaks and overloaded hospitals. The fifth commandment, “You shall not murder,” means that “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” (Small Catechism) What, then, does this mean in your precise situation? Trust your sanctified reason and conscience and let no one bind your decisions apart from the clear Word of God.
Activities outside of worship
The Seminary Choir, Laudamus, has had to cancel its tour. Similarly, we have had to cancel the Bach Birthday Festival. Having already lost performers, we chose to act early instead of waiting to the very last minute. Furthermore, out of an abundance of caution, and in recognition of the disease-transmission environment that is Sunday School, Bible Study, and Coffee Hour, we will refrain from meeting between Services until this situation stabilizes.
We are having to respond to these things week by week. By order of the Governor no assembly greater than 250 people may gather. Future restrictions may come. This is not unprecedented in the history of the Church in general or the history of Lutherans in America specifically. In 1918, the doors of many Lutheran churches were closed from Reformation Day until Christmas Eve as the Spanish Flu swept the nation. Even Pastor Luther, as he dealt with the Bubonic Plague, did not condemn Christians from exercising their God-given reason to care for themselves and prevent spread.
But above all, let us all be fervent in prayer to our loving Father for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He would use this time in the world to be a call to repentance, that the preaching of the Gospel would not only continue, but flourish. Commit to praying the Psalms, perhaps especially Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning is now, and will be forever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Rev. James P. Hopkins – Pastor
Lisa Stiller – President
David Lakeman – Vice President
Steve Perko – Head Elder