Community Worship: To Be or Not to Be?

Being together to support one another in our diverse spiritual journeys is critical. It is foundational to all World Faith traditions. And there is good reason for this. In such gatherings, encouragement, affirmation, emotional connection and spiritual touch are given and received. Allowing the loving and compassionate Divine to embrace and sustain us. The absence of this communal aspect of spirituality is like trying to shower while wearing a raincoat. Not quite the same……
We have learned yet again that the “church” is not the building. True indeed, but so much of the intimate encounter with God seems to happen within the gathered community of faith. In the midst of this historic time of “separation,” commendations to the many ways in which the “separated” people of faith have continued being “church” by responding to those in need. Loving the neighbor remains alive and well!
So, it is quite understandable that there have been debates, petitions, and even legal action to encourage the appropriate authorities to make person-to-person worship accessible and open now. Let us be mindful that this heartfelt emphasis must be tempered and balanced with the informed advice, counsel, and direction of those whose passion is also the greater welfare of our communities. The “We Are One” objectives eloquently summarize what needs to be our common direction: Empathy, Compassion, Civil Communication, Finding Balance, and Hope.
In the midst of all the pandemic chaos and recent national upheaval, it seems a bit ironic and somewhat hypocritical that such passionate and assertive debating and “petitioning” on our part has rarely addressed another life threatening contagion that has debilitated and inhibited so many long before Covid-19. The recent tumultuous events have illuminated yet again the inequity and trauma that has predated this epidemic by centuries. It behooves us, because we are mandated by God regardless of our faith tradition, to also love our neighbor, as Jesus said, by loosing the bonds of injustice “to let the oppressed go free.” We are obliged, we are required “to do justice and to love kindness,” to “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” If not, we may well fall into the temptation of simply worshipping without corresponding acts of social justice. We are admonished by the Hebrew Prophets, speaking for God: “I hate, I despise your festivals and take no delight in your solemn assemblies….but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” This is the heart and intention of the Creator.
So, when we finally are able to gather together in our respective communities of faith, will we seek to engage the deeper and more difficult issues of our own privilege and intolerance? Will we also confront the systems and policies that continue to debilitate our neighbor long after we have delivered their boxes of food?
Therefore, we the undersigned, members of the North Central Washington Cluster, Northwest Intermountain Synod (NWIM) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, commit ourselves and our congregations to continue as a “church in exile” until such time as our state and health leaders indicate congregational worship is appropriate.  Once gathered, we will continue direct service to our neighbor. It is also imperative that we again renew our efforts to deepen self-awareness of our own white privilege and gain a more complete understanding of the dynamics of intolerance and racism. Together we will work more effectively to counter the unjust structures and policies that continue to weigh heavily upon the lives of our neighbor.
Pastor James Aalgaard, Pastor, Grace Lutheran, Wenatchee
Intern Jenna Bergstrom, Grace Lutheran, Wenatchee
Pastor David Haven, Cluster Dean, Celebration Lutheran, E. Wenatchee
Pastor Paul Palumbo, Lake Chelan Lutheran, Chelan
Pastor Melinda Pupillo, Fullness of God Lutheran, Holden Village
Pastor Alex Schmidt, retired, Leavenworth
Lisa Therrell, NWIM Synod Council Member, Leavenworth

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