Beloved People of God,
St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” -- Romans 8:26
We are in a time in which the feelings of anxiety and confusion are overly abundant. Many of us worry about the world situation. Many have expressed that they feel they are on the edge most of the time. As individuals we feel helpless, sometimes to the point of despair. Anger over injustices and responses to it are widespread. There is great anxiety over the reality of the Covid-19 Pandemic and how we will move forward together in the best way possible. During the drive thru VBS I’ve received request after request regarding the starting of school, both from teachers and students. There is great uncertainty, which can lead to more anxiety.
Therefore, I want to remind us of some of the most familiar and comforting words that we have from the Apostle Paul. Through his words, Paul reminds us that God is with us! God is working across the past, during the present and into the future on our behalf.
Scholar James Dunn points out that the focus of these words is a little different than many believe. The problem is not that we know what we need and merely lack the right words for requesting it. Dunn shares we, "do not know what to want," let alone how to ask for it. In our confusion, the Spirit intercedes, aligning prayer on our behalf to the will of God for us. That is good news!
Knowing that Spirit is indeed interceding with sighs too deep for words and is aligning prayer on our behalf with the will of God, we will move forward in faith and continue to work toward the mission God has set before us. With our mission in mind, there are three items I’d like to share with you.
First, you have received a letter regarding St. Stephen’s Director of Children and Family Ministry and Organist. The letter shares that Jimmy Oakley, has resigned. Jimmy is a gifted individual and his music and his ministry with the children and confirmation students were greatly appreciated. We will continue to pray for God’s guidance for his future endeavors and journey of faith.
I am thankful that Lydia Brooks has agreed to expand her role and take on the children’s and confirmation ministry areas along with her responsibilities for youth ministry and families. The new position will be called the Director of Family Ministry. Lydia will serve full time in this capacity. Kathy Miller will, thankfully, resume playing for all traditional services and accompanying the Voices in Praise choir.
Second, the “Moving Forward in Mission – Covid-19 Response Task Force” has been hard at work, as Governor DeWine has shared, “in these extraordinary times, looking for extraordinary solutions.” Our goal is to return to indoor worship beginning September 20, 2020. We will be following CDC guidelines and Ohio state mandates. We will provide additional time between worship services in order to sanitize between services. An additional worship service will be added to ensure physical distance. Seating space will be limited. Based on individual seating spaces, the seating capacity in the Sanctuary is 50 people. The Family Life Center is 40. Both numbers may increase based on the number of families and/or couples sitting together. Our goal is to have two Spirited Traditional services at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. in the Sanctuary and two Gathering services at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., in the Family Life Center. We ask that those attending the Spirited Traditional services try to enter from the North entrance and those attending the Gathering services use the South entrance. There will be an RSVP system in place to help manage the spacing. The congregation will be dismissed by pew and everyone will be asked to refrain from congregating in the hall and exit the building. Digital hymn boards will be added to the Sanctuary space both to reduce the need for bulletins and to provide space for simulcasting if needed. Sunday School and Confirmation options are currently being discussed. We will be sending out a survey to gather congregational input and more information will be forthcoming.
Third, the Congregation Council voted unanimously at the July meeting to continue conversation with Zion Lutheran Church on Raff Road as to how we might share in ministry and mission together. We are looking at the possibility of accompanying Zion through an "Anchor Church" process with the support of the Northeast Ohio Synod. We have a long relationship with Zion and desire to foster a vital Lutheran presence in that area of Canton. The "Anchor Church Process" is an effort to be in intentional ministry together to foster a renewed sense of mission and vision. If we enter this process with Zion, it will likely take several months to develop. In the meantime, we would help provide worship leadership, pastoral care, children’s and youth ministry and administrative support. Zion has a 9 a.m. traditional worship service, for which Pastor Andrew and I would provide the sermon and worship leadership. Zion’s Sanctuary space is such, that this may provide another option for members who desire to attend a traditional worship service at that time. An additional contemporary or Gathering style worship service may be added in time. I believe God is calling us to utilize our gifts and abilities to help strengthen congregations, like Zion,
so that even more people might grow to love like Christ. I ask for your prayers, thoughts, and ideas during this time of discernment.
There is much before us. But I know, through God's faithfulness in raising Jesus from the dead, both the present experience of anxiety and what we can expect of the future will be transformed. Be assured, God is with us and we anticipate a time when even the worst that the powers of Sin and Death have to offer will be shown to be a "slight momentary affliction" (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:17) when compared with the "glory about to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). Let us continue to move forward in faith and mission.
Bishop Allende shared a prayer attributed to Augustine of Hippo that is suggested for use during a time of pandemic. I invite you to share with me.
Loving God, to turn away from you is to fall, to turn towards you is to rise, and to stand before you is to live forever. Grant us, dear God, in all our work, your help; in all our uncertainties, your guidance; in all our dangers, your protection; and in all our sorrows, your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.