Dear NT-NL Leaders,
As we continue to lead, learn, and live into the realities of being church in the time of COVID-19, we are being asked to make decisions in rapid succession, often with partial or competing information. This creates a level of anxiety and uncertainty that is particularly taxing during what is already a busy time in the life of the church. Over the past two weeks, I have been blessed to be in conversation individually with many of you, with all six of our conferences via zoom, on a rostered/authorized leader zoom call with 75 of you, and our weekly Thursday prayer time (Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/686256906).
In these conversations, I have been continuously amazed at the way you have adapted, learned, and remained faithful in your leadership. That is to be commended, and know that as your bishop, I am personally grateful for you all. As your bishop, and as a clergy spouse, I also know how exhausting making these decisions and transitions can and have been. So as we continue this marathon, please be sure to care for yourself and your families. My prayer is that the resources and support we are able to organize and provide for you on our COVID-19 resource page (https://www.ntnl.org/resources/covid-19/) and on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/bishopgronberg/) (reminder anyone can see a public Facebook page with or without an account) will be of use to you in this time. Also, Avery Hawley of Briarwood is doing weekly Sunday “walks through the gospel” appropriate for our young people to keep them thinking about outdoor ministry, even in this time of quarantine.
One question that has been lifted up regularly is the status of Synod Assembly. Given the constantly changing landscape, I had told the synod council we would wait until April 1 to make an announcement. Last evening (March 31), the synod council postponed synod assembly to a time to be determined. It was my hope that we could find a date on which Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie would be able to commit to being with us. However, given the continued fluidity of this crisis, we have not yet been able to confirm that. So what does this mean…
-Those who need to submit assembly reports should do so as soon as possible to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will still produce the assembly resources and make them available online.
-On April 25, I will release a “state of the synod” video report similar to my bishop’s report at assembly.
-All paid assembly registrations will be refunded when NT-NL office staff are able to be back in the office full-time (please be patient with us).
-If you made reservations at the Lorenzo Hotel with our code, we will have them cancel that reservation and send you a confirmation. If you do not receive that within 10 business days, please contact them.
-We will look for a date, hopefully in late summer/early fall, that we can gather at Paul Quinn College for a shortened assembly business session and then festival worship to celebrate together in person (what a joy that will be!) and also the 50th anniversary of the ordination of pastors who are women.
-We are looking at an August date to host a luncheon at Briarwood for those with ordination anniversaries.
-As available, more details will be forthcoming.
There have been questions about the CARES ACT and how it might benefit our communities. Our Churchwide Legal Team has developed multiple resources available at https://www.elca.org/publichealth, including updates and Resources on COVID-19-related Benefits for ELCA Congregations, Synods, Other Ministries and their Employees (https://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/COVID-19_Relief_Summary_033020.pdf) and a summary of Cares Act Provisions (https://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/CARES_Act_summary_033020v2.pdf).
In addition, our Churchwide organization is responding to COVID-19 in a comprehensive way,.with three new approaches designed to provide several levels of support for our most vulnerable congregations and ministries. These three approaches are Daily Bread Grants, Here to Serve, and the Covid-19 Response Appeal.
DAILY BREAD GRANTS
ELCA World Hunger is announcing the immediate launch of Daily Bread Matching Grants. Through these grants, ELCA congregations can raise funds for their feeding ministries using an online fundraising platform and will receive a grant of $500 from ELCA World Hunger. Up to 100 Daily Bread Matching Grants are available for ELCA congregations on a first-come, first-served basis, with the possibility of more grants becoming available in the future. Apply or donate here.
HERE TO SERVE
The churchwide organization is inherently a resource in support of the members, congregations, synods and partners of the ELCA. During this time, Domestic Mission will pivot to a project-based, service-oriented structure so this church knows we are here to serve. By the first week of April, we will launch a chat function on ELCA.org along with an 800 hotline for prayer, support and questions that will be answered by our staff. As soon as these channels are live, we will let you know.
COVID-19 RESPONSE APPEAL
It’s more important now than ever to support our church across the country through these difficult times. We will begin to raise funds to support our congregations, ministries and synods. This effort will launch the week of March 30 via email and social media with a special form online to donate.
In addition to this new three-pronged response, work continues in providing and updating resources on ELCA.org/publichealth. We are also still at work in the world. Our global mission work continues and grows in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are working with our global companions to provide support where we can. This includes support already given to our partners in the ELCSL in the form of a grant for education related to sanitation and proper hygiene in a pandemic. Our friend and colleague Bishop Momoh responded with good words of support.
Closer to home the ELCA bishops of Texas and Louisiana have prepared sermons for the Triduum, both in video and written format. Those can be found at https://gulfcoastsynod.org/resources-during-the-pandemic. Other resources will be coming overtime.
This crisis has already changed, and will continue to change, the church and our world. We will not be the same when this is over. But transformation is what God’s word does. The living Word of God changes our reality, uniting us with God, and declaring to us the forgiveness of our sins. We have a word for the world today. A word of hope in the midst of anxiety and fear. A word of promise of God’s ever present abundance in a world that emphasizes scarcity.
This is also an opportunity for us to live more fully into the life we share #InMissionTogether. Although we cannot be physically together, we are able to resource one another, pray with one another, worship, and be ever more reminded why we do church as congregation, synod, and churchwide expressions. We are stronger and better together in mission for the sake of the world. God bless you all. I close with this prayer from the ELW Armed Services prayer book (page 57)…
Almighty God, by our baptism into the death and resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ, you turn us from the old life of sin. Grant that we who are reborn to new life in him may live in righteousness and holiness all our days, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.