The following letter regarding COVID-19 is from Pastor Wolfmueller and the Board of Elders. For information on online content, including sermon texts, readings, bulletins, and service audio, please see the St. Paul website.
Beloved in the Lord,
Our Lord Jesus Christ founded His Church so that His salvation might reach to the ends of the earth. In the Church we receive the love of God and His gracious mercy for Christ’s sake through the Word and Sacraments. This love and mercy transforms us into people who wish to reflect God’s mercy to others. We serve one another in love: in our own families, in the church, and in society at large.
The most recent guidelines from the local Austin civil authorities and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in response to COVID-19 provide us the opportunity to serve one another in very concrete ways. The recommendations say that all older people (60+), those with chronic health conditions, and those who have compromised immune systems are at higher risk to their health. The CDC instructs all such people as follows:
“Stay at home as much as possible. Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time. When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often. Avoid crowds. Stay up to date on CDC Travel Health Notices.”
For now, if you are ill, experiencing a fever, a cough, or other signs of a respiratory illness, stay at home, take your rest, and seek any treatment necessary for your recovery. If you have any reason to suspect you may be a carrier, please stay home.
What does this mean for us as Christians? Most importantly, all responses should be implemented in the way of love, and not from fear. For there is no fear in love, and perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18a). What we do we do for the sake of our neighbors – young and old, big and small, strong and weak, sick and well. We are one Body, and we are to care for one another as the Church, whose vital ministry is even more clearly necessary in times of stress, fear, and uncertainty. We need to hear the Word, repent, be absolved, receive the Sacrament, and be strengthened in our faith by our common confession and worship. The following guidelines should be kept in mind concerning worship during this time of heightened health vigilance.
St. Paul Active Measures Moving Forward
- Effective immediately, and lasting through May 1st, St. Paul is cancelling all church activity to include regularly scheduled Divine Services. This means no Sunday School, Bible Study classes, Confirmation, or fellowship events of any kind–all board and committee meetings are to be held virtually or via conference call until further notice. During this time, Pastor Wolfmueller will lead services ‘virtually’ on the internet, starting with Wednesday’s March 18th Lenten service at 6:30 pm. We will announce Sunday worship times and virtual options in the coming days. Should the prohibition be lifted before May 1st, we will contact everyone and immediately resume physical services.
- Pastor and the elders continue to explore options for administering Holy Communion. For now, we shall plan to fast from the Lord’s Supper as a congregation. Pastor will lead us in a study to put these events in proper historical and theological perspective. If these restrictions continue for a protracted time, we will strategize various ways to get the Lord’s Supper to his people.
- Pastor is developing virtual education options to replace all canceled events and will communicate these resources this week. Please avail yourself of these options to receive God’s Word at www.stpaulaustin.org.
- Regarding Easter and Holy Week; should the current prohibition extend through Easter (as we expect), we plan to keep the liturgical calendar in our online and on-demand services, but plan to adjust our celebration of Holy Week for the week we return to physical worship together—even if that’s sometime in May.
- While we are not able to attend our usual Divine Services and activities, St. Paul appreciates your efforts to continue your regular giving. Please see https://www.stpaulaustin.org/give-to-st-paul/ for instructions on how to give online.
- Pastor and the Board of Elders continue to monitor direction from all civil authorities regarding the virus. We will meet virtually to review any recommendations for assembly that may impact our worship and meeting plans.
Let your conscience be at peace. Under these circumstances many pious Christians will be conflicted, since they sincerely desire to keep the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” Luther explains to us in the Small Catechism what this means: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” (Small Catechism)
This is not unprecedented in the history of the Church in general or the history of Lutherans in America specifically. In 1918, the doors of many Lutheran churches were closed from Reformation Day until Christmas Eve as the Spanish Flu swept the nation. Even Pastor Luther, as he dealt with the Bubonic Plague, did not condemn Christians from exercising their God-given reason to care for themselves and prevent spreading the disease.
But above all, let us all be fervent in prayer to our loving Father for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He would use this time in the world to be a call to repentance, that the preaching of the Gospel would not only continue, but flourish. Commit to praying the Psalms, perhaps especially Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning is now, and will be forever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Pastor Wolfmueller and the Board of Elders