Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
– Isaiah 43:19
Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020
Dear St. Philip the Deacon Friends,
I write to let you know that, as we prepare to begin our fall programming at St. Philip the Deacon, we have determined that the most faithful and responsible way forward for us right now is to continue our pattern of having a single live stream service on Sundays at 9:45 a.m., and not to gather yet for in-person worship.
As indicated in the companion podcast to this letter, I am reminded of what a member told me last week—namely, that “this stinks.”
This is true.
2020 isn’t how any of us would have drawn it up, and not being able to worship as we’re used to do does indeed “stink.” Despite the success of our virtual service—summer attendance has been double what it is during a typical summer—we recognize that virtual worship does not, and cannot, replace in-person worship.
That same person went on to say that “we just want to get things back to normal,” and then quickly added: “but I know we can’t.”
This is also true.
No matter how we approach the fall—whether we continue our current pattern of livestream virtual worship only, or try to cobble together some smaller in-person services with strict protocols and limitations—none of them are going to feel anything close to “back to normal.” And, as noted in our Vision document sent earlier this summer—which provides our framework for an eventual return to in-person activities—in-person worship right now would be lacking in many, if not all, of the things that make it feel like worship.
Given all of this, after prayerful and careful reflection, the Pastoral Team, Church Council and Executive Team have decided that this is not the time to begin in-person worship. Not yet, when our sense is that doing so remains an unnecessary risk—one of the things Martin Luther wrote that Christians should avoid during a time of pandemic.
As the fall begins, we are committed to exploring ways that we can stay in community virtually, and will also work to find responsible and safe ways to have smaller in-person gatherings. These gatherings will continue to include Individual Prayer in the Sanctuary, as well as baptisms, funerals and weddings. We will also continue to accommodate groups of people outdoors—gatherings, for example, for our high schoolers, families of “littles,” recent fishing retreat, and upcoming Habitat for Humanity build. We’ll continue to reach out to our members who are feeling isolated, and as the school year begins, we’ll work to find ways to support our young families.
We continue to monitor the circumstances related to Covid-19 and will adjust our plans accordingly when we feel it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we ask for your ongoing prayers and support. There is no question that this is a strange and unusual year—a year that “stinks” in any number of ways—but it is also a year in which we are still called to be the Body of Christ, and a year that is filled with opportunities for us to live our mission: to Reach Out, Proclaim, and Inspire.
Tim Westermeyer, Senior Pastor
on behalf of the entire pastoral team, the Church Council and Executive Team
Pastors: Pastor Mark Schmid, Pastor Cheryl Mathison, Pastor Valerie Strand Patterson
Church Council: Tom Abrahamson, President, Ben Bienert, Tim Dagoberg, Claudine Galloway, Heidi Hukriede, Alyssa Porubcan, Beth Jacob, Sarah Johansen, Jason Scherschligt, Ed Wasz
Executive Team: Mike Braun, Lana Jones, Bob Paulson, John Schultz
“Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my right hand.”
– Isaiah 41:10
Saturday, May 23, 2020
Dear St. Philip the Deacon friends,
I am writing to provide some clarity given the current dynamics surrounding “reopening”—and specifically surrounding the reopening of churches.
As I have said before, we are of course interested in allowing people to worship again in person as soon as we feel we can responsibly do so. That said, the size of a church will be a major factor impacting when and whether a congregation will be able to responsibly return to in-person worship. For a church the size of St. Philip the Deacon—with multiple services, most of which are attended by hundreds of people—the return to in-person worship will almost certainly be at a later date than churches which are significantly smaller.
- In the interest of providing some general guidance and direction as we anticipate an eventual return to in-person worship, we are developing a document which will broadly outline a path toward that return—including incremental steps or phases which will precede a return to full in-person worship services. Developing this document is a high priority, and we plan to have it ready to share with the congregation in the next two weeks. To be clear, this document will likely not have specific dates associated with these phases, but rather will help us to identify and define the markers associated with incremental steps toward return.
- As we prepare this document, we are staying in touch with the senior leadership of other “peer group” churches, and our sense is that they are largely aligned with the approach we are taking to an eventual return. We have also heard from many members of St. Philip the Deacon, who are overwhelmingly supportive of our approach.
- As we have communicated from the start, our posture during this time is based on the fundamental Christian value of love for our neighbor. Specifically, this approach is informed by three priorities: 1. Care for the weakest and most vulnerable; 2. Follow the best medical advice available; and 3. Take no unnecessary risks. Another way of saying this is that, as we think about an eventual return to in-person worship, we have to proceed based on what we discern is responsible, faithful and safe, rather than on a vague sense that we must return as quickly as possible, simply for the sake of returning.
As I have tried to say many times in the last few weeks, we are still doing the work of God’s church even though we cannot currently gather for in-person worship. To say it again: Yes, of course, we look forward with hope-filled anticipation to the day when we can return to worshiping together in person, but—in the meantime—we also trust that God is still directing and guiding us, and inviting us to continue to faithfully carry out the work of the Gospel in these changed circumstances.
As always, please feel free to reach out with any immediate questions or comments you may have, and blessings to you for an enjoyable and relaxing Memorial Day weekend.
With Gratitude, Thanksgiving and Hope,
March 26, 2020
Dear St. Philip the Deacon friends,
In the wake of the Governor’s “Stay at Home” Executive Order yesterday, a quick update about what this means for events and activities at St. Philip the Deacon:
- First, we have already essentially been following this directive here at SPD by encouraging people to work from home, and by facilitating virtual meetings and programming.
- In our initial communications about suspending all “in person” activities, we indicated that we would communicate with you again by March 27. Given yesterday’s Executive Order, we are extending the suspension of in person activities through at least April 10, and likely beyond that.
- While the church building remains essentially closed to the public, a few staff members will be working very limited hours on-site throughout the week to continue some essential functions that can’t be done from home. This means that, among other things, we are continuing to check on the church’s mechanical systems, pick up mail, and conduct our online worship services.
- Related to our online worship: We plan to continue our Sunday 9:45 a.m. online worship and our daily 8 a.m. morning prayer services with a skeleton crew of pastors, musicians and tech crew. Please know that by doing this we are not disregarding the Governor’s Executive Order. In fact, the order specifically allows for these types of gatherings, as follows:
Faith leaders and workers. This category includes officials, workers, and leaders in houses of worship and other places of religious expression or fellowship, wherever their services may be needed. This category also includes workers necessary to plan, record, and distribute online or broadcast content to community members. – Executive Order, page 8, letter “v”
- I want you to know that our decision to continue these online worship services is in accord with the Governor’s Executive Order, and we are absolutely committed as a congregation to modeling practices that will continue to slow the spread of this virus. We are working hard to balance this critically important priority with what we also view as essential during this time—namely, continuing to find ways to allow all of us to “gather” regularly for worship, even if only virtually.
- Related to worship: We are obviously quickly approaching the high point of the entire church year: Holy Week and Easter. In terms of setting expectations, our plan at this point is that all Holy Week services—Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday—will be conducted virtually. We will do everything we can to make all of these services as meaningful as possible via livestream, but clearly this year’s Holy Week services will be a very different experience for all of us. (Look for more information in the days ahead about picking up palms to use at home for Palm Sunday, and also about “in home” communion during our Maundy Thursday service.)
- A final word related to Easter: My thought at this point is that when we gather again in person—whenever that is—we will celebrate Easter again. After all, every Sunday is a mini-Easter anyway, and by that time I am assuming that everyone will be more than ready for a grand and triumphal celebration—together.
As I hope you already know, the staff here at St. Philip the Deacon has been working hard to find ways to keep all of us connected as a faith family during these strange and unprecedented times. I invite you to find some of these resources at spdlc.org/corona, at facebook.com/spdlc, and via our SPD YouTube channel and new podcast channel. While none of these efforts or initiatives can replace the in-person gatherings we all long for, I do sense that God is using this time to draw us closer together as a community, and that we are making connections in some new ways that will deepen our relationships for years to come.
Please know that you are in the loving and daily prayers of the pastors and staff, and let us know how we can be of service to you during these unsettling times. Until the day when we can gather together again in person—which I hope will be very soon—I send along my gratitude, appreciation and thanksgiving for your partnership in the Gospel here at St. Philip the Deacon.
Please stay in touch, be well, and
March 18, 2020
Dear St. Philip the Deacon friends,
It has not even been a week since we made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend activities. Even in that short period of time, much has changed, and we want to continue to stay in touch with you and keep you posted on plans and activities at St. Philip the Deacon. Following is a short update:
What We’re Doing
Following what is now a consistent pattern throughout the workforce, we are encouraging our staff to work from home for the time being. This means that the church will not be open during regular business hours. Pastors and staff will still be available, and we encourage you to reach out to us via email and phone. If face-to-face meetings are required, we will deal with those on a case-by-case basis.
We will continue to offer our 9:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship service via livestream at spdlc.org/livestream. Past services are also available at spdlc.org/sermons. While we will not be holding our Lenten mid-week services, the first two of these are also available in archive form on our YouTube channel playlist. At this point, we are exploring our options for Holy Week and Easter, and are assuming we will most likely not be able to gather together in person.
We will be convening virtual Bible studies, prayer meetings, and guided meditations using the Zoom online meeting platform. The first of these will take place tomorrow, Thursday, March 19 at 9 a.m. and will be a meditation yoga class, taught by Amanda Berger. To join this meeting, use the following link. Look for more opportunities like this in the days and weeks ahead.
Zoom Link: Guided YogaFaith Meditation
Meeting ID: 361 724 362
Beginning next Monday, we will offer a short, daily prayer service led by one of the pastors at 8 a.m. every weekday morning. Each of these will also be available afterward in archive form, on our YouTube channel.
We are in touch with partners like Interfaith Outreach, Messiah Food Pantry, area school districts and Families Moving Forward to see how we can be most helpful to them. We are also reaching out proactively to our members to check in with them and stay connected to them.
We are hoping to create an information hub to connect people who can help with people who need help. We are aware, for example, that high school and college children are at home, and may be able to assist in a number of ways—everything from help with childcare to tutoring. Stay tuned as we work on how best to structure that.
What You Can Do
Keep the entire situation in your loving prayers.
Let us know how we can support you, and what you might need from us.
Join us in virtual worship on Sundays at 9:45 a.m. Even though we aren’t able to gather physically, we are still a body drawn together by God’s love, and regular weekly worship will be one important way for us all to stay connected and grounded during this strange and isolating time.
Share online resources with others. Please encourage people who are not signed up to receive these emails to do so at spdlc.org/enews. Our social media pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are also good resources for ongoing updates, as is the spdlc.org/corona page on our website. All of these allow us to quickly and easily communicate, and we are trying to ensure as many people as possible are connected to them.
Continue to Give. This period will create some unusual and unexpected needs. For example, families with Families Moving Forward are currently being housed in area hotels, rather than area churches. To support unexpected challenges like these, we need your ongoing help. The church continues to receive mail, so envelopes typically given in the offering plate can be mailed. However, if you are not currently using automated giving, you might consider signing up at spdlc.org/egiving. You can also make a special one-time gift at that page. The work of the church continues, and your gifts continue to make a difference.
Even as I write this, I am receiving a constant stream of emails, calls and texts from staff who are thinking creatively about how we can best “be church” during this time. We will continue to update you on these ideas and opportunities in the days and weeks ahead, and we look forward to seeing how God will use this congregation—and you—during a challenging and difficult time to bring light and hope and healing to a world in need.
In the meantime, thank you for your prayers, your support and your commitment to our mission and ministry. Be safe, stay in touch, and
March 13, 2020
Dear Friend of St. Philip the Deacon:
As we have continued to monitor and assess the situation regarding the coronavirus over the last few days, we have decided to make the difficult—but we believe faithful and responsible—decision to temporarily suspend all activities at St. Philip the Deacon, including worship.
We are taking this step not out of fear, but rather as a way to be a proactive and responsible community leader attempting to do our part to “flatten the curve” of transmission and limit the spread of the virus. We believe taking this decisive action today not only allows us to most fully love our neighbor—especially the weakest and most vulnerable members of our community—but also allows us to be supportive partners of our healthcare system by doing what we can to try to prevent it from being overwhelmed.
We recognize that the sense of community, support and love we have to offer at St. Philip the Deacon is more important than ever right now, and we make this decision in full awareness that by suspending our activities—especially worship—we are, for a period, limiting how we can support one another in community. But we also believe that the decision to err on the side of caution is called for in these circumstances.
WHAT ARE WE DOING?
- Beginning today, we are suspending all regularly scheduled ministries, including weekend and mid-week Lenten worship services, at least through March 27.
- We will continue to monitor the situation, and will reevaluate our next steps no later than March 27.
- We will live stream an abbreviated worship service at 9:45 a.m. for the next two Sundays. These services will also be available for replay on YouTube. Again, these services will be created for the sake of online viewing only. Please do not come to the church.
- The church offices will remain open during regular hours during the week, and pastors and staff will remain available for pastoral care and other needs.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Pray for this entire situation—for those affected by the virus, and for those who will be asked to care for them.
- Be safe. Continue to follow recommendations to remain healthy by washing your hands and by staying home if you are not feeling well.
- Please share information about St. Philip the Deacon’s decision to temporarily suspend all activities with others you know. We want to ensure that everyone gets this information in a timely manner.
- Continue to support the mission and ministry of St. Philip the Deacon. Envelopes that would typically be given during worship can be mailed or dropped off during the week, or you can give online at spdlc.org/egiving or through the GivePlus+ app for mobile devices.
With you, we are keeping this entire situation in our loving prayers, and are also exploring ways that we can continue to be an effective and supportive community partner during this period. We will continue to communicate updates on our website, via email and our social media platforms. In the meantime, feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns, and thank you, as always, for making St. Philip the Deacon such a vital, healthy and beautiful community of faith.
Grace and Peace,