Dear Friends,


It’s been long. And it looks like it will be even longer, as we do all that we can to combat this virus that feels as if it has invaded our lives. We stay home, wear masks when we need to go out, and have given up much of what life looked like back in the beginning of March. We are grieving. We are grieving the loss of what we thought spring would look like. We are grieving the loss of fearlessness as we leave our homes. We are grieving the loss of a time when we looked at the paper or turned on the news and didn’t hear numbers of illness and death. We are grieving the distance we must keep with dear family and friends. And we are grieving those who have become ill, or have died from this horrid virus. And we long for the time this will be over.

I am grieving the loss of being with all of you – worshiping together, working side by side, sipping coffee together, sharing a story or a laugh that isn’t distanced or shared only over a computer screen. But it looks like it will be quite a bit longer until we can come together again.

Bishop John Macholz this week has asked that congregations refrain from meeting in person until at least July 1, and perhaps later. The number one concern is keeping everyone as safe as we can as we come back together. And when we do return for worship in person, things will definitely look quite a bit different. Bishop Macholz, in a letter to rostered leaders wrote:

Let me begin with a sobering quote:
“The best estimate of epidemiologists is that some social distancing may
need to persist into 2022 in the USA to keep the surge of people severely
sickened by COVID-19 from overwhelming the health care system.” –
Journal of Science, April 14, 2020.

That is not what I wanted to read and hear but it is what it is. We are not
going back to pre-March church, whatever that looked like. Gone, I’m
afraid, will be handshaking or greeters at the door welcoming folks. Size
will matter as regards attendance as those numbers are revealed. How
the Eucharist is cared for from start to finish will be a critical issue as
well as how our buildings are set up to assure social distancing. The
Exchange of the Peace will take on new form if it takes on any form at all
and how we receive and process offerings on a weekly basis will change.
These are just some of the items to care for in the coming year. The list is
long and the task daunting but it will be necessary to do all of those
things and more.

It’s all quite overwhelming! But I want to let you know and emphasize that the leaders of Immanuel are committed to working to keep everyone as safe as possible, and will make decisions that will be the best for all of us. We will be reviewing how cleaning is to be done, how to safely distance ourselves, and our best practices for worship and for sharing communion.

While these weeks have not been easy, we have been learning. A lot! We have learned that church is not a building. We have learned that we are connected to each other by more than coming to worship together. We have learned that we can hear God’s Word of forgiveness, hope, and grace, in our homes. We have learned that meetings and education and fellowship still bring us together even when we must remain apart. We have learned that we can still remain connected to our members who are homebound and who don’t have access to internet. In other words, we have learned how to be church and do it well in a new and challenging situation. We have all grown as we seek new ways to stay connected, to pray together, to laugh together, and to serve together.

As we look ahead to the time we come back together, I refuse to use the term, “re-opening.” The church has never closed! We have been as active as we have ever been! And we will continue to be God’s grace-filled presence for each other, in the community and in the world. We have lived apart, and will continue to do so for a while yet. But we will come back together again with caution, but also with joy and love.

It hasn’t been easy, of course! And we will continue to face challenges. But we will continue to learn new skills, new ways of living out God’s Good News, and we will continue to discover new ways of serving together. Please keep our congregation’s leadership in your prayers as we begin to look at ways we can come together again safely.

I am so blessed to be a part of this community, to work alongside all of you, to gather with you for worship, and to step out in mission with you. Thank you for your prayers, your words of encouragement, and your love that you share so generously with me and with one another!

Peace be with you! May you know the joy of Christ’s love! May you breathe in God’s strengthening Spirit. And may God keep you safe and secure under holy wings.

Pastor Joanne

P.S. I am sharing with you a reflection on social distancing I discovered this week from Brother Richard Hendrick from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference website.

Lockdown: A Reflection

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.

They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.

Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.

So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.

Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.

Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.

Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul

Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.

Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

Brother Richard Hendrick, 13 March 2020