* Agenda, Pastor’s report and Solar report posted below.
This year’s COVID-tacular Annual Meeting will be held via Zoom following worship on Sunday, November 15th at around 11:30am. Annual Reports were mailed out on November 2nd. The Zoom invitation is the same one you receive weekly for Sunday worship. If you did not receive a report, or do not receive the Zoom information, please contact Pastor Linda.
This has been a year of waiting – intently, expectantly, on the edge of disaster or relief. It’s a feeling I haven’t been able to shake since March, and one which the on-going election process has only heightened. I think you probably recognize the feeling – pregnancy comes immediately to mind. You might remember waiting to hear about a job you really needed, or your draft number to be called up, or the long wait to know how crops will come up or produce following a spate of bad weather, or medical test results that you want and fear at the same time. I’ve had the sense that life, ministry, the church are changing quickly, becoming something completely new, but I won’t know the shape they take until later. There are people who thrive under these conditions, who are always leaning forward waiting for the next new thing. I am not one of those people. I am a collector of things I cherish from the past.
I say this in part as confession and acknowledgment that I have not adapted or responded to the challenges as quickly as I would have wished. There’s little point in making excuses for it, but I do apologize. I also say it in recognition and gratitude for a council that has the skills “for such a time as this,” to use the quote about Queen Esther in the Bible. I am impressed by their willingness and energy to address the needed changes in technology and our organizational structure. They have worked hard – attended more meetings than any other council: every week for about 2 months, then every two weeks in considering how the church should respond safely to COVID-19. We are back to once a month meetings now, but at last year’s annual meeting, the congregation voted to change bylaws allowing every-other-month meetings unless needs arose. Those needs did, almost immediately, and your council members rose to the challenge without complaint.
The loss of in-person worship, fellowship time, Sunday school, confirmation class, choir rehearsal, various meetings and groups, and our big congregational fundraisers has been significant. The financial side of the loss is addressed elsewhere, but there is a spiritual loss, a psychological loss to recognize, too. I am grateful for the technology available to Zoom live worship, to post audio and print worship materials on the website – it is a tremendously helpful way to stay in contact, but it’s not available to everyone and we know it’s a poor substitute. There is something profoundly comforting in being together incarnately, as bodies in the same room, around the same table. I experience the separation as loss and with a sense of being lost. I write and record sermons and the worship service at home, preach to my computer every week in an empty sanctuary, share communion without anyone physically there to receive the presence of Christ. It is disorienting for all of us. We share a deep longing to gather this particular collection of bodies back into the church, side by side, face to face.
But, in the meantime, it is fair to acknowledge that the separation has also necessitated change that is good, beneficial, expansive of our mission and gifts. Saturday discussion remains one of my favorite things. Saturday discussions on Zoom have allowed participants from out of town, out of state, to join us every week. There is also a sense of safety, I think, when exploring ideas and examining scripture (or listening and processing without talking) from your own home. My/our computer and technological needs have highlighted the skills of Chris Tou, who has given hours of time every week, not only in bookkeeping, but in monitoring the Sunday worship Zooms, posting the service in chats, teaching and working with others who need help connecting, receiving the various bits and parts of worship audio and creating a single stream. Molly Tulkki has created the popular Sounds of Home podcast. Molly, Terry Speiker, and Nikki Strandskov have taken on the newsletter void. Intending to honor pastoral part-time status and best practices, the financial committee and pastoral support committee have formed to delineate roles, responsibilities, and priorities for lay and pastoral ministry.
And, in the midst of upheaval, some things remain. Firewood showed up at the parsonage. Ronnie maintains his mouse trapline at the Hall and church. Bill Brumfield cleaned, primed and painted the church signs and all the doors and trim of church and Hall, and provided LED lights outside at church operating on sensors for security and welcome. Sign-meister, Henrik Strandskov, gives passerby things to think about or smile at. Paul Petersen mows and manages the cemetery. Members and our loyal congregational friends send financial contributions to keep the church and ministry viable in diaspora. First Molly, and now Christy Wetzig, facilitates the lay-led worship Sunday – called Matins – necessitated by a part-time pastoral call. A large number of members are willing to participate in weekly worship sharing insights, prayers, readings, music. Worship remains at the heart of what we do, why we are engaged with one another, why our doors have not been locked by COVID.
In addition to planning and providing worship, my roles and responsibilities changed this year by nature of being in residence and in response to the pandemic. In terms of administrative tasks, I applied for and we received Payroll Protection Plan funding from the Small Business Administration through Frandsen Bank. I have been in contact with Charvey Spenser regarding documentation and deadlines, and this week received the Loan Forgiveness Application, due 31 December. Receiving monthly contributions by mail (rather than on Sundays), recording and depositing them is something I and many pastors of small churches have found ourselves doing these months. This is one thing the financial committee is addressing. I have cleaned the church as necessary, and sanitize before and after AA meetings to maintain as safe a space as possible. I mowed the property and minimally maintained the flower beds.
The Northwest synod, Wisconsin Council of Churches, and ELCA have been very attentive and active in email and Zoom conferencing regarding best practices during COVID-19. I participate in several Zoom meetings each week outside of our congregation and spend hours reading and responding to email and articles sent by these agencies and members of our church. Pastoral care takes the form of email conversations and phone calls.
2021 will be shaped by the pandemic, and so our activities and agency as a church will also take on new shapes. Finding safe ways of doing what we do, playing with the ‘box’ will be our creative challenge. It is my daily prayer that you will remain safe and healthy, engaged with each other, and in your unique way, continue to bring God’s word, justice, hope and promises to bear in your lives and among your circles of work, family, friends and community. We will be together again. And it will be familiar and new. As it should be.