An Important Message from Pastor Annemarie about Upcoming Worship Options

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.  Galatians 5:22-26                

April 14, 2021

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This pandemic has gotten extremely old, hasn’t it? I feel frustrated. I feel impatient. I want all this to be over with. How are you feeling? Same? Different? A jumble of emotions?

What feelings are you experiencing lately?

At the same time as my variety of emotions shift from day to day, I know in my soul that God in Christ is with us, that God’s love never fails, that through the Holy Spirit, God calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth to be the Body of Christ in the world in good times and in bad, through thick and through thin, for better or for worse. My soul is comforted that in these “bad, thin, and worse” times that we are slogging through, that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in us and, particularly in these bad, thin, and worse times, graces us with the ability to be people of peace and love to everyone we meet each and every day. The peace and love of God in Christ.
How is it with your soul today?

This hard time will not last forever. We will get through this together if we hold each other in love, with compassion, with generosity of spirit, with forgiveness for the times we miss the mark. We will get through this if we keep Christ Jesus, and Christ alone, as the focus of our desire, our path, our hope. The Risen Christ who we now celebrate, who met his disciples with joy and peace where they were, wherever they were.

So, in our continuing efforts to determine how best to gather as the people of God, your council met last night, Tuesday, April 13th, to review the executive committee’s proposed plan for the worship formats we will offer. As we have throughout this pandemic, we are using data from the Arizona Department of Health Services, Maricopa County Public Health, the CDC, as well as guidance from the Grand Canyon Synod of the ELCA. We are also closely watching the currently evolving CDC recommendations for people who are fully vaccinated as they learn more.

We follow all this guidance for the health of our congregation and wider community, in Christ’s love for our neighbor. Our priority is to keep people protected while also offering choices in worship format, so that you can prioritize what is most important to you: indoor, outdoor or online; time of day; singing or no singing.

One of the many factors we considered is that it continues to be the case that singing is one of the best ways to spread COVID-19. Which is so very painful for me: I was raised by Lutheran church singers in a Lutheran congregation with a vibrant choir and a strong tradition of robust congregational singing—it was commonplace for the congregation to sing hymns without any accompaniment at all. So, for me, singing together is so very important and integral to worship. So we don’t make this decision lightly to offer one service that does include singing and one service that does not.

Starting May 2, we will offer the following Sunday worship schedule:

8:00 a.m. – Outdoor worship, with singing.
> This outdoor service will continue our current worship practices where you may sit in a chair or remain inside your vehicle. This service is the one that will be livestreamed and posted to our YouTube channel for those who are worshipping from home.

10:00 a.m. – Indoor worship, without singing
> This indoor service will be a brief 30 minute service that will include live instrumental music.

Well-fitting masks over both nose and mouth will be required at both worship services. Both services will have holy communion. We will continue to have sign-ups in order to moderate the number of people present, so we don’t exceed physical distancing requirements, whether outdoors or indoors.

This plan provides three levels of choices: location (outdoors, indoors, or at home), time of day (earlier or later), singing or no singing. This enables you to prioritize what is most important to you.
In these days I continue to be so thankful to God for you. And I am so encouraged, and I celebrate, how Esperanza has not closed for even one day of this pandemic. You know, I’ve observed that society has fallen into a habit over this last year of referring to churches as being “closed” if they are not worshipping indoors, as if that is the marker of being the church, the definition of being the Body of Christ in the world. But I ask you, has the church closed? Since the very beginning of this pandemic not one Sunday has gone by when the Good News has not been preached. And how many meals did you lovingly make and deliver to frontline health workers? And how many miles have been driven bringing much-needed supplies to the Navajo Reservation? How much esperanza, how much hope, have you spread throughout our wider community? How many Bible passages has Thursday Matters bible study group discussed among members between here and Canada, gathering faithfully every week despite the miles? How much vital, creative work of the Holy Spirit has been lived into being through you? Has the church closed? Not for one day. Have we gotten everything right? Not by a long shot. Do we miss meeting together in the way we were used to? Boy, do we. Do I grieve that I cannot yet place bread directly in each of your hands and say, “The Body of Christ given for you”? I do. Deeply.

This time will not last forever. As we make this final slog through this long-lasting pandemic, let us not give up holding one another in the love of Christ. I hope you will watch the video clip we’re sending you of the presentation that Jayne Peterson made this past Sunday in worship of a thank you to our cooks who made meals for frontline health workers. And I hope all of you will sign up for one of our “Getting to Know You” Gatherings that I’ll be communicating to you about in another little video tomorrow. So we can grow closer to each other as this community of Esperanza—this community of Hope.

Do not fear, for Christ is Risen. Let us walk together with Christ, held safely in his nail-scarred hands. May you know the deep joy and peace of the Risen Christ today.

God’s peace and grace to you this day,

Pastor Annemarie