Worship Plan Update

The Covid-19 pandemic has made the possibility of our in-person worship very tenuous at best. Your leaders met on Tuesday evening, July 21, to discuss their thinking about next steps for our worshipping communities.

Each person was given the opportunity to express their hopes and their concerns. In general, the hopes of all were that things could be normal again. Unfortunately, the concerns shared indicated that normal is not possible at this time. While we here in Nebraska have been spared the uptick found in many of the other states, we are not seeing a decline in cases being reported. While consistency is often thought of as good, it would be better if there was a consistent decline in the reported infections.

Therefore, your leaders have decided it is best to not meet in-person for worship through the bulk of August. It was decided to try an outdoor worship on the west lawn of St. Luke’s on the last Sunday of August, August 30, 9 am. The hope was expressed that if there is a decline in reported infections through the month of August, we will be able to begin in-person worship in September.

There is much that will be different when we do return to in-person worship. The CDC guidelines promote that we will need to wear masks, stay appropriately distanced, use hand sanitizer regularly and limit our music to humming or a soloist. The guideline indicates that group singing is highly discouraged.

As we look forward to the outdoor worship on August 30, please note that we ask that those attending bring their own lawn chairs. We will not be bringing any chairs out of the building. We will have a small table for the offering plates. One for each congregation. You will be asked to drop your offering into the appropriate plate. It is likely that we will not share communion on that day.

We ask for your prayers as we continue to discern what is best for our worshipping communities. Please continue to support the ministry of Christ in our midst. Please be safe and know that you are important to God. May God bless our efforts at being church for the sake of the world.

A Message from Bishop Brian Maas

George Floyd.
Breonna Taylor.
Tony McDade.
James Scurlock.

These four people are only the most recent of a long list of individuals, God’s own beloved ones, who have died violently because of their race. Because they were black.

Arguments about the specifics of how each died are simply distractions from the reality of racism and its consequences. Their race contributed directly to their deaths.

As I watch protests in the media I see expressions of grief, rage, frustration, and despair. I also see and hear and feel those same intense expressions as I listen to people I know, to friends, to people I care about, who because of the color of their skin have lived with the reality of racism all their lives. And who are exhausted in their wait for change.

As a white man with a very privileged existence, I can’t pretend to know their experience, their pain, their frustration. I know only that it’s real and I know I cannot ignore it. The time for words alone has passed. It passed a long time ago. Now is the time for honesty and for action.

My honesty is in confessing how ill-equipped I am for such work, how overwhelmed I am when I acknowledge the pain I see in the streets and in the faces of people I care about. My action—my action is to step into the pain, ill-equipped but trusting God will get me, get us, where we need to go.

I don’t know what form that action will take. I am seeking the help of others in determining what it will be, so that it is not yet another half-step that lets us pretend we’ve done something. My commitment is to doing something soon.

In the meantime, I ask for your prayers. Pray for those victimized by racism. Pray for those whose lives and communities are torn by its consequences. Pray for the protestors and the police and for all who strive to stand as one with those who are suffering. Pray by name for the loved ones of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and James Scurlock. And pray that our church seizes this moment to confront the reality of racism, ready for the hard, hard work that that’s going to be.

ELCA presiding bishop issues pastoral message on COVID-19 racism and white supremacy

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body,

though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. —I Corinthians 12:12

May 13, 2020

Dear church,

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

During the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am encouraged by your resilience and creativity in our witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am also inspired by your generosity. Through the ELCA COVID-19 Response Fund and our Daily Bread grants, we are providing critical support to struggling yet vital ministries across this church. Through Lutheran Disaster Response International we have intensified our accompaniment of global partners. We are church together.

This is a trying time for us all. At the same time, we know that a disproportionate burden of illness, death, discrimination and harassment falls on communities of color. This pandemic has exacerbated racism and racial inequities deeply entrenched in society and across the church. We see this in the growing anti-Asian racism and the disproportionate number of deaths in black, American Indian and Latinx communities. I have been learning from the leaders of the ELCA’s ethnic associations how the data we see on the news is experienced in real life. I have listened to leaders of color share the impact of this pandemic on their communities — on their lives and on their ministries. These stories are difficult but important, so we are launching a special series on LivingLutheran.org to lift up these voices for us all to hear. We also seek to ensure that our COVID-19 response more effectively tends to the realities of racism and racial inequality. We are church together.

Recently, in cities across this country, we have seen horrifying anti-Semitic and white supremacist messages displayed during public protests against government orders that are intended to protect lives. No matter our politics or opinions about our elected leaders and their policies, all of us must come together on the basis of our church’s commitments to condemn racism against indigenous people and people of color, white supremacy, sexism, and anti-Semitism whenever they occur. Whether our churches and communities are racially diverse or predominantly white, our work for racial and economic justice for all people is work for all of us. We are church together.

Just as God has joined us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in baptism, we are joined to each other. Paul helps us to understand this by speaking of the one body of Christ, with many members. While this is always true, perhaps we feel it more acutely in this time of physical distancing. In our longing to be church together, let us be even more intentional in sharing with each other, easing each other’s burdens, consoling each other in our fear and grief, condemning what is contrary to the gospel and living out our baptismal covenant “to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”

In partnership,
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop, ELCA

To learn more, visit:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups” https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html
ELCA social statement “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture” http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/RaceSS.pdf
“Explanation of the Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent”

Click to access Slavery_Apology_Explanation.pdf


ELCA social policy resolution “Condemnation of White Supremacy and Racist Rhetoric” https://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Condemnation_of_White_Supremacy_and_Racist_Rhetoric.pdf
ELCA social statement “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action”
https://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Current-Social-Writing-Projects/Women-and-Justice
“Declaration of the ELCA to Jewish Community”

Click to access Declaration_Of_The_ELCA_To_The_Jewish_Community.pdf


– – –
About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with nearly 3.5 million members in more than 9,100 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God’s work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA’s roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Candice Hill Buchbinder
Public Relations Manager
773-380-2877
[email protected]

Council Update regarding when to consider gathering together in worship

The council members of Grace and St. Luke’s shared a virtual conversation on Sunday afternoon to address plans for resuming worship. It was a shared feeling that we wait and not immediately resume our regular gatherings. The shared feeling was that we don’t know enough at this time to feel comfortable bringing all of us together. We are grateful that everyone continues to be uninfected by the virus.

So, we will look toward the first Sunday in June, June 7th as the potential date for resuming worship in our buildings.

Councils will meet during their regular meeting time and talk over further the details of when and how to safely manage our shared worship experience.

Some concerns that need to be addressed are: do all of us need to wear masks; do we have the ability to maintain 6 feet of separation during worship; what kinds of things do we need to do to be able to share communion; what do we do with fellowship time; how do we handle the distribution of the bulletin; how do we handle the gathering of offerings; do we have sufficient supplies of masks and sanitizer to feel safe; do we need to limit access through one door only. These are some of the questions and practices that we need to discuss and make plans for safe conduct. There may be other concerns, too.

Please know that all of us desire to share worship and fellowship together, however, it is most important at this time that we err on the side of safety. Please hold our leaders up in prayer and hold one another in prayer, too.

On behalf of our council leadership,
Pastor Laaker

Message from Bishop Maas re: Covid 19

March 27, 2020

To the Saints of the Nebraska Synod

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” –Psalm 46

Dear Friends in Christ:

In a time such as this, in which threats with names like virus and recession are piled on top of countless other less-specific uncertainties, I call you to remember the promise of the Word in texts like that above. Beneath everything that feels unsure, we stand on the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and the assurance of his constant presence.

I’m writing to remind you of that truth, and because some have asked for clear guidance for a variety of matters. Please understand that what I share here isn’t put forward as “commandments from the bishop,” but as counsel from the synod’s pastor. Every congregation, leader, and member will need to make thoughtful decisions appropriate to their situation. In the acknowledgement that I may be wrong, I offer the following counsel:

Not gathering for worship: while the information is not always clear or consistent and the temptation is strong to gather in person—we miss each other!—we have an obligation of love to our neighbor not to endanger her or him by violating guidelines put in place for the sake of the community’s health. My desire to be with others does not trump the reality that I may be the source of another’s infection. I urge congregations to follow community directives on avoiding or limiting gatherings until those directives are lifted.

Holy Communion practices: the Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament of the Table is that it is a bread-and-cup experience of Christ’s presence in a flesh-and-blood gathering of his people. While deeply important to believers, it is not essential to salvation, and there are times when we may, voluntarily or otherwise, fast from receiving it. My counsel, affirming the guiding principles of the ELCA, would be simply not to celebrate the sacrament in any form until we are able to gather in person again. This is a truly exceptional time, and I recognize that congregations, in consultation with their pastors, may choose another practice for the duration of the current situation. Our pastoral leaders are well-trained theologians sensitive to ministry in their context. Trust them. And know that when “normal” returns, exceptional practices will no longer be necessary.

Offerings and finances: your congregation is even more reliant on your support when you can’t gather in person. Now is the perfect time for your congregation to set up online options for receiving offerings—and of course one can always send a check in the mail. I urge congregations to prioritize staff salaries and benefits should decisions about expenses need to be made. Our office is working to stay abreast of help available for congregations through the Mission Investment Fund, the ELCA Credit Union, and other sources, as well as understanding what federal stimulus-related resources, if any, congregations might access. In this uncertain time, those of us with the means to do so need to step up our generosity, recognizing that there are those whose means have changed drastically. We are all in this together, and we share our burdens and our blessings.

Holy Week and Easter: the holiest time of our year is approaching, and we almost certainly will not yet be able to gather in person. Most of our congregations are finding ways to share worship online, by phone, or by mailing in-home worship resources to members. I’m certain this will be true for all of Holy Week and Easter. While we can’t change the date of Easter, every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection, so if your congregation chooses to make the first Sunday you’re able to gather again in person your celebration of Easter, with all the music, decoration, and festive elements of Easter Sunday, do so with joy.

Care for others: I am humbled and awed by the creativity and energy I see as members and congregations of this church invest themselves in innovative ways of staying connected with those most isolated and alone, providing food and more for those most negatively impacted, partnering with neighboring congregations to provide inspiration, encouragement, and worship, and so much more. Such faithfulness. Thank you, church—for being church!

Care for self: the radical shift in daily life is draining on all of us, and this new reality is going to stretch on for some time. Please, pace yourself. Limit your exposure to news, to social media, to anything that compounds uncertainty or distress. Breathe deeply. Take the time to pray. Be patient with yourself (and with those who live with you). Remember that you are God’s beloved creation. Care for yourself as such.

We are all in this together—with one another and with the God we know most fully through the life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Be encouraged. Have hope. Know you are prayed for, cared about, and much appreciated.

The Nebraska Synod staff are here to serve and support to the best of our ability. We are committed to keeping you informed—while being sensitive to the vast amount of information being shared these days. Thank you for your prayers. Please know you are in ours.

Yours in Christ,
Brian D Maas,
Bishop

Important Covid-19 update March 2020

Friends in Christ, March 17, 2020

I write this note as we take this adventure into the unknown. In 41 years of ministry leadership, nothing has happened like this. Life is changing rapidly due to the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. In order to comply with the Centers for Disease Control recommendations and the recommendations from Douglas County Health Department calling on us to limit our gatherings in order to slow the spread of the virus, we are taking the following actions.

Bishop Brian Maas sent this recommendation to all congregations yesterday: “I’m writing to urge you to suspend your in-person gatherings for public worship and other events for the weeks ahead. Knowing that policy advisors may change the timeframes again, I would encourage you to suspend in-person worship and events at least through Easter, and be prepared to extend that suspension as needed.”

Therefore, we will be suspending worship and all other activities at Grace and St. Luke’s for the next four weeks.

Remember: not gathering in a building does not mean we cease being Church! We are still part of the one Body of Christ, and we still connect with one another in prayer, worship, learning, and service. Regardless of our congregation’s size, we can be church together, even have a sense of worshiping together, without actually gathering face-to-face.

I would ask that we make every effort to support the ministry of Christ through the church. Please mail your regular giving to the office. If you would like to set up electronic giving, we can do that. Please call the office and we can answer any questions regarding this process.

I am exploring options for sharing the Sunday morning message. Please connect to our Facebook pages so that we can share ongoing updates easily. If you don’t have a computer connection and would like a copy of the Sunday message, we can arrange to mail one to you.

We are exploring options so that the ministry of sharing food from Grace’s Loaves and Fishes Pantry with those in need continues. At this time, we are limiting people’s entry into the building for this ministry. We may stop entry and instead hand bags of food out through the door. We will need lots of bags to do this so your donations would be welcome. The office will remain open each week day morning.

I would like to request that we each commit to supporting one another during this time. I regularly pray in the morning. I would invite you to pray then or at a time that works best for you. Let us pray for one another, the body of Christ, for those directly affected by the virus, for our leaders and for the wellbeing of all of God’s creation. Don’t hesitate to call one another, encouragement and conversation bring blessings.

On Sunday, as I ended my message, I quoted Joshua 1:9. God spoke to Joshua with these words: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord Your God is with you wherever you go.”

May the powerful presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit attend to our lives.

Pastor Damon Laaker