From Deacon George …

5/21/2020

Being the Church

During these days when we are each experiencing varying degrees of self-isolation and sacrifice, I suspect that you may be like me, longing for the welcoming solace and fellowship of congregating for worship in the sacred space of our sanctuary at St. John’s. You may be missing the camaraderie of the weekly or monthly gatherings of ministry committees or groups like Prayer Shawls or Good Book Club, even the more task-oriented Finance Committee, Vestry, Worship Committee and Altar Guild. When will we ever see a Movie Night or participate in an Adult Forum again? And, Dear God, we miss our Coffee Hour.

We all know, though we find it easy to forget, that the church building is not The Church. We, the people, are The Church. (“This is the church, this is the steeple; Open the doors and see all the people.”) 

This morning I received a survey from Luther Seminary asking those of us who are involved there to respond with the ways we are keeping our churches together right now. I look forward to spending some thoughtful time today completing it, because I believe we are doing our best to step up to that challenge. And I know that when I see the results, I will have much to share with you about how other churches are proclaiming their faith and love for each other and their neighbors as well.

In the meantime, know this: We are doing what we can to continue being The Church, through Zoom Coffee Hours and GBC Bible Study every Sunday, Zoom Ministry and Vestry Meetings, our Facebook page, our website and this newsletter. We are making pastoral phone calls daily, and we would encourage you to use whatever communication technology you have to do the same.  

I am hopeful that we will be able to do some youth and adult formation via Zoom, including perhaps re-starting the Adult Forums is some fashion. I know Betsy has done some wonderful Godly Play for our youth using website video. 

Perhaps this techno-creativity will move you to either suggest or facilitate something that we have not yet tried, so that we can continue Being the Church in our present physical isolation.

I recently heard the celebrated Minnesota epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm say that he abhors the term “social distancing” and much prefers to call it “physical distancing” because, he says, we cannot and must not be distancing ourselves socially. 

So, Creative God, awaken your Spirit within us and motivate us to resume and continue our social connection with each other – with our Church – by engaging in the opportunities already available to us and by helping to devise new ways for us to meet and know you and each other in this time of physical isolation.

Have a Blessed Week!
Deacon George 

From Deacon Tom …

5/21/2020

Yesterday I attended my first ECMN Tuesday meeting with the Bishop and the Bishop Elect via Zoom.

I and about 79 other ECMNers spent about 20 minutes in the main Zoom room listening first to Bishop Prior and then Bishop Elect Loya talk a little about the phase we have now entered, which they described as moving from Phase 1 to Phase 1.5 … Phase 1 being the Blizzard and 1.5 being still the Blizzard but the time after the snow plow comes through and some of the roads have been opened up.

We were then put into break out rooms and talked amongst ourselves for about 30 minutes and then back to the main room where Bishop Elect Loya answered many questions. Questions which I imagine we all must have at this time.

Questions like:

Can’t we just hold a service with only 10 people? Unfortunately, no. What we can do is if we intend to live stream a service from our sanctuary we can have up to 10 people present to produce that service. Well that’s not really a big deal because St. John’s in St Cloud is not looking to do that. Also no meetings in the building: no vestry, No AA, no quilters, even if they keep distance from each other.

How about a service outside? Again the answer was no, and the phrase “slippery slope” was used (meaning that it would start harmless enough but it would soon get out of hand and not be anything close to the guidelines).

It seems not a lot has changed from phase 1 to phase 1.5. Oh we want change! That was loud and clear. 

We all miss our common gatherings. Our togetherness. But we have to abide by the bishops’ orders.

So – what can we do? The live streaming I mentioned above. Plus we can hold weddings and funerals that can’t be postponed, but we still must observe the 10 person rule, wear masks and practice physical distancing.  Those who are sick or who have underlying health conditions or are over 65 should not gather in any form during this phase. The Offices of the Bishop and Missioners will remain closed and all groups and gatherings continue to be suspended until further notice. 

So I was discussing this with my next door neighbor yesterday after the meeting. She’s Catholic and attends locally. She said to me that “her church has reinstated weekday mass for 10 or fewer but you have to have a reservation.” This got me to thinking:  if I were one of the people who was over 65 year of age, or if I had an underlying health condition or I was sick and I knew that my fellow parishioners were going to mass I would feel a real sense of loss and a longing to be a part of that group (community) even if it would do me harm physically.

In Matthew 25 v. 45 Jesus said: Then shall he answer them, saying,” Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (KJV)

We need to remember about all of us when it comes time to re-gather.  God’s peace be with you all.

Deacon Tom

From Deacon Tom …

5/14/2020

My message this week will be short. I’m finishing up my final paper in my final class prior to ordination to the priesthood in June or July or …

A group of us met online and talked with the bishop-elect last Thursday to discuss what ordination will look like. It will most certainly not be what any of us envisioned.

It will probably not occur on June 30th, though 1 or 2 might happen that day.

It will not include all the ordinands together in one space.

It will surely not be allowed to include more than about 10 to 15 people total.

Bishop Elect Loya is aware of all that is missing in these ceremonies and is planning and hoping that once we are all able to be back together we can all celebrate properly, including not just ordinations and consecrations but all the major events we have missed. Births, deaths, marriages, anniversaries, graduations …  these major events are starting to add up. 

A neighbor friend of ours posted her online commissioning as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army this last week. This occurred in her home with her commanding office on the computer administering the oath of office virtually. I never thought I would see that. Congratulations Ellie! I heard someone say that when  we have a vaccine and everyone is inoculated it will be time to have a grand celebration. 

I have a zoom meeting with the bishop elect in a couple of weeks to flesh out a few things. I will keep you updated. Until then remember to pray for each other and the needs of the church.

Blessings,
Tom

From Deacon George …

5/7/2020

Socializing From Home & Saturday’s WMMA Gathering

In an important new video from the Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Minnesota, respected epidemiologist and Minnesotan Dr. Michael Osterholm presents some sobering and unfiltered facts about the Covid 19 pandemic, where it is headed and the realities of returning to normalcy, mainly in the context of the Church. 

Osterholm says that right now, “We are living on virus time, not human time” and details the medical reality of a prolonged fight with this formidable disease. Amid the somber details, one remark that stood out for me was that Dr. Osterholm doesn’t like the term “social distancing”. He much prefers to call it “physical distancing” because, he says, we cannot allow ourselves to minimize the need for us all to continue socialization. 

To that end, I encourage you to register for and attend the West Metro Mission Area (WMMA) Gathering this Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to noon. It is yet another opportunity to engage with our Bishop-Elect Craig Loya, and a chance to hear a bit about the other churches that share the West Metro Area with us.

During one segment of the gathering, each church will have up to five minutes to tell attendees about its own faith community, using a single PowerPoint slide. It’s the ultimate brevity challenge, if you ask me, to brag about your church in five minutes or less. But Nancy Dyson and I will give it a shot and I want to share it with you now, as a preview of Saturday’s event.

We want the rest of the WMMA to know that we are committed to the baptismal ministry of all persons and our ministry model, the Shared Ministry Cohort, is based on that idea. We want them to see that we value each of the components of our ministry model as separate but equal accountabilities, allowing all members an opportunity to be active participants. And we want to stress that we are a missional church, stressing our public commitment to the underserved homeless community around us. Here is our slide –

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It will be interesting and informative to learn what our partner churches’ stories will tell us, and what Bishop-Elect Loya will share with us. Circling back, I feel certain that the WMMA conversation will get around to Dr. Osterholm’s message for all churches. You may be seeing a link to that message elsewhere, but I am including it here (thanks to Louise Muggli & David Wall), along with the link to register for Saturday morning’s WMMA Gathering on (what else?) Zoom –

ELCA/Dr. Osterholm Message.

Register for Saturday morning’s WMMA Zoom Gathering.

Have a Blessed Week!
Deacon George

From Deacon Tom …

5/7/2020

What gets you through your day? 

What gets you through this isolation?

What gets you through the changes that have happened in our lives these last 8+ weeks. 

Yes, it’s been that long since your vestry voted (in accordance with state guidelines and Bishop Prior’s order) that we not have in-person live services.

If you are anything like me, you are experiencing the loss and grief of not being physically together.  We are a people of touch. For some just a handshake will do, others need a hug and some just need to see each other in a warm and inviting sanctuary worshiping our God together, in a space where ALL ARE WELCOME.

This past week I have become aware of the loss and grief in my own life in several areas that I didn’t even realize were present. First, on Friday evening, as we held our last cohort gathering (this time on-line) with the bishop and the bishop-elect. We discussed the future of The School for Formation and set a meeting to discuss ordinations for those of us being ordained in June or as Bishop-elect Loya said “this Summer”. How different the ceremony is going to look as we adhere to gathering guidelines we now must accept as part of our lives. Gone is the mass ordination, all of our friends and family in attendance and all the priests coming forward at the end and also laying on their hands as a “cloud of witnesses”.  It will be replaced with groups of “2 to 3” and a few family members using a live-streamed service. I will know more about this after tomorrow following a meeting with Bishop-elect Loya.

Secondly, I also experienced a great sense of loss and grief surrounding not being able to return to St. Cloud Hospital for my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) because of their restrictions and then because I was not willing to bring a virus as deadly as Covid 19 home to my loving wife Alexis. Yesterday was my final day in CPE. While I still am completing clinical hours phoning you, our parishioners, it signifies the end of a unit of CPE that I had envisioned very differently perhaps spent at the bedside of people in need within the hospital. My vision and God’s vision were very different. 

These times are like nothing I/we have ever experience before. 

I invite and encourage each of you to pray for each other by name. We are all carrying something and we are all experiencing loss and grief in our own way. Some of us are better at expressing our needs than others and will tell our friends and fellow parishioners’ what’s on our hearts, others, not so much. Don’t allow your grief and loss to eat away and consume you. I assure you, that you are not the only one experiencing this. I speak from the heart!

In Jeremiah 29:11-12 it says:  For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.

Take a moment please. Pray. God hears our prayers!

God’s peace,
Deacon Tom