To the people of God at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in great love and mercy, has sent his Son to redeem us from bondage to sin and death by his cross, and who, by the power of his Spirit, continually gives us comfort and hope through the gospel of Christ—King Jesus our Lord.
The Board of Elders and I, together with the Chairman of the congregation, have made the decision to cancel services both on Sunday, March 22, and Wednesday, March 25. Because the situation with COVID-19 is so rapidly changing, we have determined to meet once a week to review local, state, and federal recommendations and to reassess our local situation. This will allow us to approach each week and make decisions with the best, most current information.
No one likes to cancel church. And we have not taken the decision lightly. As those to whom God has entrusted the care of his people at Our Redeemer, we have made this decision with much prayer, conversation, more prayer, more conversation, and more prayer. Each of us has worked to educate ourselves on the COVID-19 pandemic. We have researched state and federal public health guidelines, and we have received counsel from local health care providers. Yet, the fact remains that none of us has been trained or prepared to face this particular situation or to make these kinds of decisions.
But the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is a good gift-giver, and he has given us good gifts in those whom he has placed in positions of authority at the local, state, and federal levels of government. As St. Paul says, “For there is no authority except from God, and those [authorities] that exist have been instituted by God…for [the one in authority] is God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13.1-4). Each of us may have our own ideas about COVID-19 and how to deal with the situation, but since none of us are experts in the medical field, we humbly trust in our Heavenly Father, from whom every good gift and every perfect gift comes (James 1.17), and we receive those in authority as his good gifts for our good. We, therefore, seek to honor them, as the Fourth Commandment commands us, by complying with their recommendations to keep public gatherings to fewer than 10 people. We are confident that faithfulness and obedience to the Word and command of God will turn out far better than if we try to take matters into our hands.
Furthermore, God has richly blessed us in the fellowship of our congregation, giving us the marvelous gifts of one another—our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once remarked that next to the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, our brothers and sisters in Christ are the holiest objects in all the world because they are redeemed by the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit dwells in them. The largest demographic of our congregation is the 65+ age group, the age group public health officials have identified as the most vulnerable to the threat of COVID-19. We also have members in our congregation who have other immunodeficiencies, which make them vulnerable to serious illness or even death from this virus. As God’s good gifts to each other, we have an obligation to care for the well-being of one another. Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12.31), and recall Luther’s explanation to the Fifth Commandment in the Small Catechism which tells us to care for the physical well-being of our neighbors. Given the current information on COVID-19 and the recommendations from the public authorities, the best way for us to care for the physical well-being of our brothers and sisters is to heed their warnings and to receive their counsel. Again, no one wants to cancel our normal church services, but we should take seriously our duty to care for one another, and so be willing to adjust the way we do things out of love for our brothers and sisters.
While we seek to honor the good gifts God has given us in the public authorities and to care for the physical well-being of one another, we strongly desire the continuation of Word and Sacrament ministry at Our Redeemer. To continue the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacrament, pastor will be posting a Sunday sermon to our church website (rapidcitylutheran.net) every Sunday. We encourage you to take the time to visit the website and be comforted and built up in hope by the promises of God in Christ. Additionally, pastor will be contacting you to schedule a time to come receive the Lord’s Supper. Each individual household will be invited to come to the church for a brief service, including the preached Word and the Lord’s Supper. This provides for the ongoing ministry of the Gospel at Our Redeemer in the most sanitary way possible.
We further encourage each of you to:
Pray. Pray that God would quickly bring this pestilence to an end. Pray for one another. Pray for your pastor and for the congregational leaders to whom God has entrusted the well-being of his people at Our Redeemer. Pray for our local, state, and national authorities. Pray for doctors, nurses, and other medical providers.
Communicate. Call and check up on one another. Be willing to ask for help if you need it, and be willing to lend a helping hand to those in need. Communicate prayer requests to one another. We will be using the Our Redeemer website as a “congregational bulletin board” to get information to everybody. If you know someone who is unable to stay current with the website, please pass along to them any new information about what’s going on at Our Redeemer.
Seek comfort and hope in the Word of God. Read the Scriptures, keep up with your daily devotions, visit the Our Redeemer website to hear the sermon, utilize the South Dakota District ministry Main Street Living, either on television or on their website.
Continue your offerings and contributions. Our devotion to the ministry of the Gospel has not changed, and it is our offerings that help the ongoing preaching of Christ and the administration of the New Covenant in his body and blood. You can bring your offerings to church when you come to receive the Lord’s Supper, or you can mail them to: 910 Wood Ave., Rapid City, SD, 57701.
Be patient with us. As we seek to stay updated on the situation surrounding COVID-19 and to make decisions concerning the life of our congregation, please put the best construction on our words and actions. Please know that we are searching the Scriptures and prayerfully and diligently trying to make decisions and act in a way that is both faithful and for the well-being of us all.
Remember the words of St. Paul: “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back in to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8.15). Through our baptisms, we have received the Holy Spirit and been made children of God. Together with Christ Jesus, we are heirs of an eternal inheritance. Presently, we suffer with Christ, but we do so in the sure confidence that we will also be glorified with him. This is the promise and the hope God has given us in Christ. And it is this promise and this hope which will carry us through all things, even unto the resurrection of the body and the life of the age to come.
In Christ’s Service,