A Pastoral Care letter to Iowa Clergy

A Pastoral Care letter to Iowa Clergy

March 25, 2020

Dear Clergy Colleagues,  

I want to thank you for the outstanding spiritual leadership that you have been providing for your congregations over these last weeks, as we have all learned to live in a new way in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Even though you cannot be physically present with your parishioners on Sunday morning, you are learning new ways to worship, provide spiritual nurture, and proclaim the good news. 

I understand that there has been some chatter on social media among Iowa clergy about whether congregations will be able to physically worship in their local churches on Easter Sunday, April 12. Despite the hope that President Trump shared yesterday that we would all be back in our pews on Easter, it is unlikely that social distance guidelines will be relaxed by that time. In addition, according to the Iowa State of Public Health Disaster Emergency that Governor Reynolds issued on March 22, gatherings of ten or more people are prohibited. The expiration for the State of Public Health Disaster Emergency is April 16, 2020, which is four days after Easter. I would like to offer a few suggestions.
  1. Follow the guidance of our Governor and health professionals that churches do not to gather in groups greater than ten.
  2. Caring for the health and wellbeing of our parishioners and other persons in our communities is a sacred trust and should be our most important concern at this moment. 
  3. Use electronic platforms for virtual worship, either live via Facebook, Zoom, and other streaming platforms, or by using Zoom, Skype, and other platforms to pre-record segments from separate, distanced locations, edit them together, and then distribute on Easter.
  4. Emphasize electronic platforms for financial support (many are listed in the COVID-19 resources section of the website.) It is critical to remind your parishioners that the expenses of the church continue whether worship takes place in the building or not.
  5. Explore ways in which you might have a beautiful, hopeful, and physically-distanced virtual Easter celebration incorporating many elements that are possible by using Zoom and other electronic platforms that can accommodate larger numbers of participants. Can you imagine a parking lot packed with cars, a joyful preacher, and a little ensemble on a flat-bed trailer? 
  6. Consider planning for a triumphant Easter celebration at a future date when it is safe for communities of faith to gather in person. 
Our reality is that we will continue to need to be creative in how we worship for the foreseeable future. In order to provide resources, I encourage you to consider participating in our Good Idea Webinar about online worship tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m., led by Rev. Matt German. This will give you an opportunity to dialogue with Matt and other colleagues around best practices for worship in a coronavirus world. Check social media and the conference website for links.

My friends, we are living in a coronavirus world right now, but that does not define who we are.This morning I took a hymnal from my shelf and turned to my favorite Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” This particular hymnal was left behind by a previous pastor in a church I served, and when I turned to #302, I was reminded that he had written down the dates of every Easter during his ministry at that church and then added these words, “Every Easter!”

“Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies! Alleluia!” 

Every Easter, we proclaim our resurrection faith, especially in a coronavirus world. Every Easter, we rise up to new levels of mission and outreach and care. Every Easter, we declare that the tomb is empty. Every Easter, love wins. Every Easter. Thanks be to God. 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
Because I am so very grateful for each one of you, I urge you to take good care of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. We are all in this together, and we need each other. If you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact your district superintendent.
Bishop Laurie