Dear Partners in Mission:
Yesterday we gathered for worship, dispersed in our various communities, yet together by the Christ who unites us. We heard again the story of Thomas, the disciple who refused to believe the resurrection accounts of his friends, who yet became a great apostle. We were reminded again, as I spoke in my sermon, that Thomas is both law and gospel for us, and that is good news. Christ comes to Thomas in his doubts, gives him what he needs, then sends him into mission.
It was a joy to see our leaders across our synod again adapting and finding new ways to connect with others, including the use of our video service of the Word and worship. Many have expressed gratitude for this offering, and I am grateful it was utilized. By Sunday evening, it was apparent that in a variety of platforms it had been viewed almost 2,000 times. Between that service and the many other offerings around NT-NL, this may have been the highest attended Quasimodo Easter Sunday ever (listen to the sermon to get the joke).
In this time of physical separation we, like the apostles, have a choice. We can be locked away for fear, or we can use the tools and technology we have to share the good news. We can be responsible stewards of our neighbors’ lives by limiting interactions, slowing the spread of this virus, yet also passionate evangelists living fully into the Easter hope we proclaim. The proliferation of resources onto the online world is an opportunity for us to invite others to hear from our NT-NL preachers and teachers. I have especially enjoyed our Briarwood “walk through the gospel” Facebook live posts on Sundays. All this we can do because we know our future is secure in Christ. As such, we can prioritize our neighbors’ health, give generously in support of those who have been displaced from employment, and work to care for our siblings who, for a variety of reasons, are left out of governmental support.
There are many ways you can support ministry in your context at this time. The first and foremost is continuing your faithful financial support of your congregation. Pastors and lay leaders are working more hours during this crisis than before. Finding ways to connect with parishioners and provide online experiences for worship, study, and connection. Adapting quickly to the ever changing realities of our communities and public health requirements. Your continued stewardship, living into God’s abundance, is critical for your community. Should you be able to also consider other needs, there are two other opportunities of hope and promise I lift up this week that are worthy of consideration:
- We remember we have siblings in West Africa who need our assistance. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone has been tasked by their government and global health officials to take up again the role they served during the Ebola crisis. To teach their neighbors about hygiene, provide meals for those left hungry, and to live the gospel in their everyday lives. They are performing this work of caring for, and building up, people with great efficiency and expertise. However, they need our help. Sending supplies in this current crisis would take too long. As such, Bishop Momoh has sent me a plan for their education and outreach program. I have responded in faith that we in NT-NL can, and will, contribute at least $10,000 in the next 3 months to these efforts. This is in addition to the $2,500 in emergency funds we were able to send several weeks ago. As with all our gifts to ensure financial accountability, Bishop Momoh has sent me a detailed budget, and these funds will be sent through our partners at ELCA global mission. If you or your congregation would like to contribute to this effort, please send those funds to NT-NL, and we will keep account and forward them on.
- NT-NL also has a responsibility to be good stewards of our shared ministry at Briarwood. Since mid-March Briarwood has, in compliance with state and county directives, been effectively closed to on-site programming. Given the importance of hosted retreats to the budget, this loss of revenue is significant. In previous years, this sort of interruption would have resulted in significant staff layoffs and potentially the insolvency of the ministry. We are grateful that wise financial stewardship over the last 24 months, including the sale of a portion of property, elimination of outside creditors, strong 2019 financial results, and the establishment of reserve funds have eliminated that potential disastrous outcome at this time and enabled staff to continue to work on programming and property. Additionally, recognizing its core mission to serve our communities whose financial situation is in flux, Briarwood is decreasing costs for all summer programming by 25%. This is, of course, contingent on public health guidance on whether camp programs can take place, but it is a strong statement that Briarwood prioritizes serving our NT-NL and local communities, recognizing the challenging times we are facing. On May 16th, the Briarwood gala will be held as an online experience. Your support of this ministry and its evangelical witness to our young people and community would be much appreciated.
The good news of Easter means we never have to have our doors locked for fear again. Yet in this COVID-19 crisis, it is wise our church building doors are closed. However, the church is not, and has never been, a building. The church is the people of God sent into the world in mission. People of proclamation, sharing the good news of Easter victory, inviting others to come and see, and being generous stewards of God’s abundance. We have challenges ahead of us in our communities. COVID-19 is both a health emergency and is also creating social disruption and bifurcation. Yet we also have much to be thankful for this second week of Easter and a word for this time. Jesus came to Thomas not just in spite of, but because of, his doubts. Jesus came to Thomas and gave him what he needed to believe; he showed him resurrection. May we be people who show our neighbors what it means to be people of resurrection with our lives, priorities, and care for one another. God bless you all, and may you know Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!!! Alleluia!!! Alleluia!!! Amen!