Sanctuary ReOpening plan
A WORD ABOUT IN-PERSON INDOOR WORSHIP CANCELLATION
The Reopening Task Force was formed in July to find safe ways to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the congregation, and to continue to track the COVID-19 trajectory and adjust ministries at St. Matthew to keep parishioners and the broader community safe. Specifically, the Task Force monitors the infection rates of the four towns in which the majority of our members live: Avon, Canton, Simsbury, and Farmington. When the infection rate reaches 15 or greater positive cases per 100,000 people per day (goes into the “red zone”) in any one of these towns, the Task Force strongly recommends that we suspend in-person indoor worship until the red zone classification is removed by the State.
By November 27, 2020, all four towns had surpassed that infection rate. Pastor Julie notified the Church Council that in-person indoor worship would be canceled Sunday, November 29, as well as parishioners who had signed up to attend. Pastor Julie and the Reopening Task Force will continue to consult the town-by-town COVID data each week and determine whether in-person worship will happen, and will communicate the news on a weekly basis via the Friday Constant Contact email. In addition, up to date worship information, including cancelations, is available on the homepage of the website.
Planning for a phased re-opening
The Congregational Council met Tuesday, June 2nd, to discuss future plans for returning safely to the church building for ministry and worship, following the guidance of the ELCA and the state and federal government. We framed our discussion with Jesus’ words about the Greatest Commandment, to love God and neighbor. For us, this means balancing dual needs: the need for safety in the community, especially among the most vulnerable, and the need for authentic worship, which for some, means being in the sanctuary.
The Council is proposing an incremental approach. The first step is to conduct a survey of the congregation in order to gauge readiness for returning to the building and to explore what practices would make congregants feel most comfortable. Members can expect the survey in their email inbox mid-month; people who receive the newsletter via USPS will receive a hard copy to return to the office. In addition, the Council will appoint a Re-Opening Task Force at its next meeting on July 7th.The task force will utilize the survey information and guidance from public health officials and the ELCA to plan for the safest ways to resume in-person ministry. If you are interested in serving on the task force, please contact one of the pastors or our council president, Jack Pietrick. The Council will offer updated communications as our process continues.
In the meantime, Pastor Brian and I will begin to offer some smaller-scale, in-person ministry options. We will resume home bound visitation for those who desire it, using best social distancing practices such as wearing face masks and meeting outdoors where possible. We will wait for now on sharing Holy Communion. For those unable to receive a visit safely at this time, we will continue offering spiritual support over the phone. We will also offer porch chats with parishioners who would like to meet in person for conversation and prayer. These visits will occur on the office door porch, with seating at least six feet apart. Pastors and parishioners will wear face masks; parishioners are welcome to bring their own folding chair if that is more comfortable.
Other opportunities for in-person, small group fellowship may arise, especially outdoors. If you have needs or ideas, please reach out to me, Pastor Brian, or to our Council President, Jack Pietrick at email@example.com. We will do what we can to meet your needs in this unusual time in a safe way.
We will continue to offer online opportunities during this period: Zoom worship at 9 AM on Sundays, with the video on our website for viewing later in the day; men’s and women’s fellowship groups, bible study and Tuesdays at 10 AM. Pastor Brian and I will continue our check in calls to parishioners; we also are available for phone or video conference upon request. We are grateful for our leaders on Council and Care Teams; Finance, Communications, and Property Committees; our staff; and all of you, the faithful people of God at St. Matthew, who hold our ministry in prayer.
Re-Opening Task Force Members
The following people were appointed at the July 7 Council Meeting to serve on the St. Matthew Reopening Task Force: Kathy Alsgaard, Ellen Ericson, Tom Leonard, John Pearson, Doug Peterson, and Jack Pietrick. Kathy Alsgaard and Doug Peterson have agreed to serve as co-chairs, and Pastor Julie is an ex-officio member. They are at work to recommend to the Council the safest practices for St Matthew while keeping in mind people’s spiritual and relational needs. They plan to update the congregation on their work in the first two weeks of August. We give thanks to God for their ministry of wisdom, care, and leadership among us!
Click on a name below to view member's bio.
Communion Questions - Part I
This period of quarantine has raised some interesting questions sur-rounding the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Before the quarantine began St. Matthew was starting a Care Teams ministry which would bring communion to our homebound members, providing another visit each month to homebound members in addition to the pastors’ com-munion visits. Theologically speaking, lay people bringing communion to the homebound is an extension of the Table, a continuation of the Meal we share on Sundays. It does not involve reconsecrating the ele-ments. Rather, it is delivering the elements prepared in Sunday wor-ship to a person’s home, like a communion assistant might bring the elements to someone’s seat who is unable to physically walk up to the altar. Care Team ministry or “Eucharistic ministry” is common in many Lutheran churches and other Christian denominations.
During the pandemic some churches have considered the practice of “virtual communion.” Pastor Julie and I led two sessions discussing the theology of Holy Communion two weeks in June. There are many pas-tors, bishops, and theologians weighing in on this issue, and there is a lot of diversity in perspectives. It is interesting to highlight theological arguments for and against such a practice, as well as explore the back-ground of the Lutheran understanding of communion. As we learned in our zoom meetings on this topic, Lutherans believe in the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion, meaning the body and blood of Christ is truly present in the bread and wine in a way beyond just metaphor. Luther rejected Roman Catholicism’s metaphysical explanation of how this occurs (called “transubstantiation”) and adopted a simple “real presence” understanding, while other reformers argued for a more sym-bolic meaning. The Sacrament of Holy Communion did not have an emergency provision like the Sacrament of Holy Baptism in the Roman Church, nor did Luther adopt one because he didn’t believe not receiv-ing communion would jeopardize one’s salvation. Luther also empha-sized the priesthood of all believers and understood clergy as those set aside by the community to lead for the sake of good order. But he re-jected the Roman idea of an ontological change in one’s being at the time of ordination. He believed pastors were important because of the need to have educated leaders who were called to preach and preside for the community to have good order, but did not believe pastors had special powers necessary to consecrate the elements. Rather, it was always Jesus’ promise to be present in communion which guaranteed His presence. In fact, Luther once suggested that if a group of Chris-tians were stranded on a desert island without a priest, they could nom-inate one from among them to preach the gospel, perform baptisms, and distribute communion. That is because the Holy Spirit calls people through the community, not from the top of the church hierarchy.
Even if we aren’t on a desert island, this period of quarantine may feel like an emergency situation. Recognizing we are all among the priest-hood of all believers may sound like a green light to practice commun-ion at home. However, it is also important to understand that the Sac-rament of Holy Communion is about the community of believers being present together. It is not an individual practice, but one for the Gath-ered Assembly. Christians in Luther’s time did not receive communion every week. There was actually a rule that Christians should commune at least once a year, so obviously people were not regular receivers in the medieval church.
Luther also warned against understanding Communion in an overly superstitious way, as well as it being understood in too casual a manner. Is virtual communion too superstitious? Is it too cas-ual? Or is it taking seriously our call as the priesthood of all believers? Is it in line with Luther’s desert island scenario? Or is it dismissing the need for community of the Gathered Assembly? During this time of extended absence from the church building, the church is faced with these questions. We invite you to contemplate, wonder, and pray about them.