February 1, 2021
Congregations of the New England Synod,
Our pandemic winter continues. I, like you, feel the fatigue that is circling about our lives. The good news of vaccine distribution beginning is offset by concerns about variants of Covid19. While I remain hopeful for the longer term (next six to nine months), I remain vigilant and cautious in the near term.
We may be getting closer to gathering in-person, but we are not there yet. Some of our states are beginning to relax their rules around some in-person gatherings, and this may, in some places such as Connecticut, include relaxation around gatherings for worship.
I would exercise extreme caution in moving too soon toward this practice!
Much of the reasoning behind state governments taking more relaxed positions in relation to houses of worship, versus other public spaces, is related to concerns around first amendment considerations. Earlier last year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a synagogue that believed it had the legal standing to hold worship services, even when the Governor stated, out of health and safety concerns, that they should not meet. Since that ruling, most states have adopted a “request approach” toward houses of worship. For instance, in Rhode Island, the governor asked churches to not hold in-person worship during a recent outbreak.
My point in this letter is this:
Just because a state government may grant permission or shift its language around holding in-person worship does not mean your congregation should. As my grandmother used to say, “just because you can….doesn’t mean you should.”
This letter serves as encouragement to be thoughtful, careful and mindful of our role as servants.
The ELCA has released “Considerations for Returning to In-Person Worship.” You may view the full document here. Last year, I provided you with a letter offering suggestions on how to approach re-opening, part of that is copied below.
“As I review those documents, along with several news stories of churches that attempted to meet for worship and then had spread of this disease, I want to offer my own personal reflections. If I were serving as a pastor in a congregation, I would say the following to my church council:
“I see no upside to gathering in person for worship for the foreseeable future, and I think we should begin now to plan for many months without it…“
I still believe that is the best path forward.
It seems likely (though who can predict the future these days?) that we will be able to gather for in-person worship in 2021, certainly outdoors in warmer months. Therefore, let’s be mindful of that coming opportunity and not rush too hastily into indoor worship.
I have great confidence in the patience and wise leadership so many of you are exercising. We are moving forward into a new day. I know it is hard, and I know the loss many have experienced during this pandemic is painful. Let us continue to exercise patience and wisdom!
Bishop James Hazelwood
What’s on your mind, what’s on your heart, what can you do about it? We live in difficult times. Let’s talk! Join in with other members of OSLC in a Zoom based “Listening Session.”
More than ten years ago, members of OSLC met to talk about and plan for what would become the United Valley Interfaith Project, a nonprofit organization composed of multiple local faith-based organizations. One of our first tasks was to hold “Listening Sessions” with our OSLC congregation members and hear what was on their hearts relating to their personal needs and the needs of our Upper Valley communities. Then we went to work with UVIP to develop teams to address the needs that were identified such as affordable housing, reliable transportation, affordable healthcare, a moral economy with living wages, employment, mental health services and many others.
After years of faith-based community organizing, UVIP is changing. As of June 30, 2021, it will no longer exist as weknow it. Over the past year its faith-based members have worked to consider and discern joining forces with UVIP’s sister organizations, the Granite State Organizing Project in NH or Vermont Interfaith Action, to continue our work.
In anticipation of this change, we once again look to the members of our congregation for guidance by sharing the important issues that are on your minds and on your hearts by participating in a Listening Session. Please join in. A session will range from 60 to 90 minutes. A Zoom meeting link is provided below for each Listening Session. Choose which date you prefer.
The dates and times are:
Wednesday, March 3rd at 7:00 pm – https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82221244899
Friday, March 5th at 10:00 am – https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89220251367
Sunday, March 7th at 11:30 am – https://us02web.zoom.us/j/540787538?pwd=Tjlqc0pHQ0NobEdyQ2hsWlhoT0VCZz09
For questions and additional information please contact Gisela Jones or Rosemary Affeldt.
LISTEN’s Holiday Basket Program
In past years, our congregation has participated in LISTEN’s Holiday Basket Program by selecting tags from our Giving Tree and generously buying gifts for local families and seniors in need. This year the program is taking a different shape to further protect us all from the pandemic. Instead of going out and buying gifts, LISTEN is instead requesting monetary contributions. LISTEN has many families and seniors who have asked to receive holiday gifts this year – in fact, they have a waiting list of people that are hoping for help. They have committed to providing warm clothing and holiday food for 200 local individuals that have requested support. Each child will receive a $100 gift card for a local store to purchase clothing and each family (including seniors), will receive a $50 gift card for a local grocery store.
Here is how OSLC can help bring Christmas Joy to our neighbors in need:
Please consider making this donation ASAP so that LISTEN can have enough time to plan for and distribute the Holiday Baskets before the holiday season starts. Wouldn’t it be great if they receive so many donations that they are also able to bring joy to those in our community on the waiting list.
After Jim Antal’s book reading, several OSLC members have continued to meet and talk about how we as a church might want to respond to the current situation we find ourselves: the environmental and societal (economic/racial) injustice associated with global warming. How can we as individuals and a church body respond to this crisis? The group invites you to join the conversation. Contact the office for the link to the next Zoom discussion.
In the Creation Story of Genesis, after God called forth earth and sky, flora and fauna, God created humans and asked them to care for all forms of life. As God’s family, we are to be stewards of God’s creation. The future of Earth is in our hands.
As stewards of God’s creation, we have a responsibility to our neighbors. In Luke Chapter 10, we are asked: “Who is our neighbor?” In the context of the on-going climate crisis, our neighbors include not only our children and grandchildren, but also the entire global population, all future generations, all creatures, and vegetation. Our generation has a responsibility to take steps now that will have a positive effect far beyond the present moment.
The life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus the Christ, reconciles us to God, to one another, and to all of God’s Creation. We hold and live the hope that it is possible to have a new kind of world, a world infused with God’s life-giving Spirit, where creation is appreciated, respected, and protected, so that all life is nurtured. God entrusts us, people of Our Savior Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry, to be God’s hands for protecting and restoring God’s Creation.