Today is Ascension Day when we remember that Jesus ascended to heaven after his Easter resurrection. As one Facebook meme says, “It’s the day Jesus left to work from home.”
I take comfort in the notion that the full work of God has, from the very beginning, changed locations, as needed. Ascension teaches us that the work of Jesus – the mission of love, compassion, justice, and healing – continues in the disciples, who now have the Spirit as their guiding force. Many churches today are struggling to trust that the work of Jesus can go on without all the same patterns, structures and leaders. In the newspaper this morning, we hear that there is conflict between some churches and Governor Walz’ recommendations.
At Gloria Dei, we are moving into the next phase carefully, and we intend to continue as we have from the beginning by:
– Putting the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors first;
– Trusting that God is speaking to us through government professionals and health care workers; and
– Leaning into this new reality with creative imagination.
The church is not closed or on hold but is learning new ways to be vibrant and faithful.
Of course, all of us yearn to be back in community as soon as possible; however, the risk of infection, particularly to those who are most vulnerable, continues to be great. We’ve learned that it’s possible to be asymptomatic and still infect others. It’s not just a matter of asking people to say home when they’re sick. Any one of us could inadvertently put another at risk, even with masks, social distancing and lots of hand washing. We will certainly recover from this time of sheltering, but it will be much harder for us to recover if we become a site of new infection or even death.
For us, it is a gospel commitment to be strategically compassionate, boldly careful and unflinchingly hopeful. We will not worship in the sanctuary for the foreseeable future. On June 1, some staff will return to work in the building, while others will continue to work at home. Groups of 10 or fewer may make application to meet in the building but must have approval by our COVID-19 Task Force. Likely, this will be our reality for the entire summer.
Currently, the task force is developing policy and guidelines for how we will move forward. In the next week or so, we will publish a document that delineates how both members and outside groups will be able to use the building. We will update you regularly as we faithfully consider every step.
On Ascension Day, the angel said to the disciples, “Why are you standing there, looking up to heaven?” It was a call not to stand still, but to go forth and be the church. Those early disciples had no idea how to do it, but they did, one prayer at a time. This time of pandemic is our time to ascend into new ways of loving; into new practices of worship and prayer; and into new considerations for compassion and justice-making. Of course, we’ll experience sadness and grief along the way, but God has opened a door for us. And we trust Jesus’ last words to us: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”
In Love and Peace,
Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling