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Facing COVID-19 together: A message from our synod president

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Events of the recent weeks and days surely remind us that Jesus’ words describing the trouble that we will experience in this world are all too true. But especially in times of trouble like these, we will want always to remember the rest of what he told us: He has overcome the world. Our times are still in his hands. He will never leave us or forsake us. No matter how dark the days, he remains our light and salvation; whom (or what) shall we fear?

Throughout our synod, various areas of ministry, congregations, and schools have already been affected by the current health crisis and have been taking steps to respond. And, as the situation continues to change, many more decisions will likely need to be made in the days and weeks to come.

The synod has taken various actions in response to government recommendations and mandates, and, after much prayer, other decisions have been made based on common sense and an abundance of caution. To do our part in helping to limit the spread of COVID-19, the synod has placed a moratorium on all non-essential foreign and domestic air travel for synod personnel. Meetings at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry have been postponed or canceled. Martin Luther College, Luther Preparatory School, and Michigan Lutheran Seminary have canceled in-person classes through the Easter break.

As the situation changes, WELS congregations will be faced with making difficult decisions about how gospel ministry and congregational worship will be carried out in the coming weeks and months. Here are some important points to consider:

  • The Fourth Commandment and other words of Scripture remind us not only to show respect and obedience to governmental authorities, but also to remember them in our prayers as they make decisions to safeguard our nation.
  • According to the Fifth Commandment, we have the responsibility not to do anything to hurt or harm our neighbor (or ourselves, for that matter), but to help our neighbor in times of need.
  • God’s Word reminds us of the importance and blessing of worship and encourages us to make faithful use of the means of grace.

How do we apply these biblical principles at a time like this? The Centers for Disease Control has recently recommended that for the next eight weeks, public gatherings should be limited to no more than 50 people. Some local governmental bodies have already gone further, issuing an outright ban on public gatherings of 50 people or more. Restrictions could become even tighter than that in the coming days and weeks. What does this mean?

  • While we can make recommendations, the synod does not have the authority to mandate uniform actions by all of our congregations. Rather, congregations will need to make their own responsible decisions about worship gatherings, depending on local circumstances and governmental restrictions.
  • Respect for our government, Christian love for our fellow citizens, and proper concern for our own health may require congregations to alter their worship plans. In some places, services may need to be canceled to comply with government mandates. In other places, congregations may decide to offer more service times to keep gatherings below the recommended or mandated limit. Congregations that cancel services are encouraged to find alternate means, such as live streaming worship, sermons, and Bible classes. Congregations that do not have the ability to do this may want to make their members aware of other congregations that do. In some cases, emailed sermons and devotional materials might be considered. Congregations can also equip parents with resources that can be used in family devotions. Our trust in the efficacy of God’s Word reassures us that his Word works even when public worship gatherings are not possible.
  • Recognize that this is an extraordinary opportunity to let our light shine in the ways that our congregations and their members serve the people in their communities in Christian love.
  • In times such as these, as your local ministry strives to meet these challenges, your continuing and regular offerings are as vital as ever. God’s work must go on.

We ask you to be patient with us. We are doing the best we can to provide information and guidance in this difficult time. And we ask for your prayers that God will guide us with wisdom and faith as we make what will likely be difficult decisions.

So it is with God’s church in these last days. We know that Satan is doing all he can to silence the proclamation of God’s saving gospel. We know that our enemy from hell tries to use events like this to drive a wedge between God and his people. But we also know that God can and will cause even this crisis to work together for the good of those who love him. He will use this to drive us to the cross of our Savior, where he gave himself to make us his own. And he will lead us to the open door of the empty tomb, where he demonstrated his complete victory over Satan, sin, and death.

May our gracious God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Preserver, keep you strong in your faith and confident in his promises.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

March 17 update: As part of precautions and in efforts to reduce gatherings, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS) announced face-to-face classes are on hold for the time being. Online instruction will begin March 25 with the hope of resuming face-to-face classes April 15.

 

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Schools and families facing COVID-19 shutdowns

Schools are shutting down and kids are home. Now what? Many of our WELS schools are seeking to offer solutions for learning opportunities and activities while students are home. The WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools (CLS) has met with various members of schools’ leadership to brainstorm and share ideas.

First and foremost, Mr. Jim Rademan, director of CLS, says, “We are requesting that all our WELS schools follow CDC, state, and local guidelines regarding closures.”

Many schools are already working on plans to keep kids engaged in education during the shutdowns. “Several of our schools have been working very hard to engage children in continuous learning and have put together their plans and are willingly sharing those with others,” says Rademan.

CLS is working to compile plans, documents, and resources that schools can adapt for their own use. The list will grow and change as more information becomes available.

It’s unknown how long students will be out of school; it’s a moving target, but the key for schools is to find a way to connect with students during this time to cultivate ongoing learning, explains Rademan. Right now, there are more questions than answers as to how this will affect the school year and academics. Currently, the main priority is to keep communities healthy.

“Every state and every local district and every local school is going to need to adapt to the local culture and community that they’re in. The key is to communicate,” says Rademan. “We’re encouraging our schools to pay attention to their state instruction websites and local schools and figure out ways to connect with kids for continuous learning.”

Mrs. Cindi Holman, Early Childhood Ministry national coordinator, has provided some helpful tips for parents and families as they will now be home together. View tips for families.

“One recommendation is being really prudent about watching out for having the news on all day long. While it may look like your children are not paying attention, they’re hearing this,” says Holman. “Just the same way we can get overwhelmed and stressed by the constant barrage of information, the little ones don’t really know what to do with that kind of information.”

Holman says, “For parents, is it going to be challenging? Yes, it is, but we can really embrace this as a special treasured opportunity for families. In a time when we’re overscheduled and running all over all the time, this opportunity to have extended family time, I think, will bring tremendous blessings to families. It’ll take some adjustment, but I think it will bring great blessings.”

 

 

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Spiritual resources for uncertain times

As we find ourselves in uncertain times, with news of the spread of COVID-19 changing constantly, it’s important to remember where Christians find their faith, hope, and strength—our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“God’s Word is full of encouragement for all of us during this time,” says Mr. Bill Ziche, president of Northwestern Publishing House (NPH). “As you and your family find yourself at home, it is a wonderful opportunity for you—individually and as a family—to get into God’s Word and find peace.”

Northwestern Publishing House has many devotional books to help you, including:

All of these resources are available from Northwestern Publishing House, nph.net, or by calling 800-662-6022. Many are available as ebooks as well. NPH customer service lines are remaining open, and orders will continue to be filled.

WELS also offers many free devotional options, including a daily devotion that can be e-mailed directly to you.

“Besides offering you this encouragement from God’s Word, you can share these e-mail devotions with others,” says Rev. Eric Roecker, director of WELS Evangelism. “Think of the unchurched people you know who may be facing an unknown future without God’s great promises. You can be the one God uses to calm their fears with the assurances the Daily Devotions provide.”

Several articles from Forward in Christ magazine can also be found online, including five years of previous issues. Messages of hope and God’s help can be found in many of the articles, including this recent Teen Talk.

 

 

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Technology for worship

In response to the recent CDC recommendations limiting public gatherings to no more than 50 people, many WELS congregations are now utilizing the blessings of technology to offer a livestream of their worship services.

If your congregation does not offer worship services via livestream, there are multiple ways you can still connect to online worship resources:

“May God bless our efforts to share his gospel in all circumstances, regardless of any earthly barriers we encounter,” says Mr. Martin Spriggs, WELS chief technology officer. “Truly technology is a blessing God provides for our use to take his message of peace and comfort to our members and the world. The apostle Paul once shared, ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39).”

 

 

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Learning about and adapting to this pandemic

If you are looking for resources from medical and science professionals related to COVID-19, visit cdc.gov, the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The site includes:

Congregations that continue to hold public worship services may consider changing some of their practices during this pandemic. For example,

  • worship folders (bulletins) can be picked up off a table in the entryway and disposed of after the service by each individual family;
  • the order of worship and hymns may be included in the worship folder or on a display screen so that hymnals do not need to be used;
  • serving food and drinks may be discontinued;
  • shaking hands may be replaced with a friendly wave;
  • offerings may be collected in a basket or offering plate placed in the entryway; and
  • online giving may also be promoted.

Although these temporary changes may feel unusual at first, God’s powerful Word does not change and will be the one constant during this unsettling time.

 

 

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