Pastor’s Notes

December’s “From the Pastor”: Change in Plans

Dear friends in Christ,

As we approach Thanksgiving, there is a lot going on at St. Peter’s and much to share with you.

First let me share the very important news that in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday, when family gatherings are predicted to spread COVID-19 even faster than before, St. Peter’s Council has voted to hit “pause” on gathering for in-person worship on Sunday mornings. This will begin the Sunday after Thanksgiving, November 29. The test positivity rate in our area has been rising and parts of Oneida County are just shy of being classified as a yellow zone by the state. With the extremely long incubation period of the virus, if you have it, it is common to spread it before you have any idea you have been infected. VVS, Oneida and Rome schools are (to the best of my knowledge) all remote at this time due to positive cases and quarantine requirements. Council decided it was best to err on the side of safety at this time.

Gatherings in the church building such as Council meetings and Bible study will also be paused for the time being. Individuals may enter for specific tasks, etc. as long as only one household group is present in each space at a time. The only exception will be for the packing of the VACC Christmas boxes this month, in order to help address the great need our community is experiencing. Blue Christmas will move to online only and Christmas Eve will continue as scheduled, with a 4:00 pm online worship service and a 6:00 pm drive-in service. Council will be monitoring the situation and deciding when to “un-pause.”

I am sure some of you will find this news disappointing and even frustrating. It is certainly not how we wanted to celebrate this Advent. But we will be together again, hopefully sooner rather than later. Vaccines are on the horizon and a new day is coming. It almost seems fitting that as we enter the Advent season, when we are waiting for the coming of Christ, we are also waiting expectantly for the chance to safely gather in-person again. Maybe practicing how to wait for the first thing will help us wait for the second.

I am also wondering about how Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude, might transform this disappointment. There’s nothing quite like gathering in person, I think we can all agree. At the same time, I am grateful for these five months of in-person worship. It’s been different, and without all of you present it’s been incomplete, but I am grateful we had the chance to see and hear other church members and be in the same physical space after months of being separated. I am grateful that we were able to share the Lord’s supper for a time, even if it was pre-packaged or done remotely. I am grateful for the creativity, innovation, faithfulness, and compassion I have seen from many of you during this time. And I am grateful for the strength Christ has given us and will give us, even as we wonder how much longer we will need to be strong.

In some ways, this Thanksgiving will challenge us all to really inhabit the meaning of the holiday. How do we give thanks, not just when times are good and the table is filled with food and surrounded by love, but when times are hard? When the sad things tend to crowd out the joyful things? It’s OK to have a “pity party” for a while, but God calls us forward and helps to adjust our perspective so that we might see and give thanks for our many blessings.

I ran across these words of Pastor Harold Petersen, an old-time Danish Lutheran pastor, who wrote the following on Thanksgiving 1969. It seems appropriate for our times:

Thankfulness comes not from things or paychecks or elevation of ourselves, it comes from a goodness that fills the heart—a goodness which we cannot earn—it is belonging to others and belonging to something much bigger than ourselves. This can come—and often does come when outer surroundings are not so good. To find goodness we must turn our gaze inward and upward to God and outward to see how we can aid others.

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie

A Pastoral Concern about Music

The following was shared by me (Pastor Katie) in the November newsletter.

I have a serious pastoral concern to share with you regarding music (primarily in our online services, since they utilize a lot more music than the in-person services). You might be thinking “huh?? What does music have to do with pastoral concerns?”

Over the last year or so, credible allegations about sexual and spiritual abuse have emerged regarding David Haas, a liturgical composer who has written many beloved hymns, including “Blest Are They” and “You Are Mine.” Over 40 survivors have come forward to share their stories of Haas pursuing them and coercing them as teens and young adults over the years. To make matters worse, often he would use his music as a means for his pursuit. A report released on October 1, 2020 by Into Account said:

He wrote sacred music for women he was actively abusing and in such songs chose to express theological themes designed to disempower them. Haas blended religious devotion and abuse in a way that increased the vulnerability of his spiritually sincere targets and guaranteed that it would be difficult for survivors to disentangle themselves from his abuse without spiritual confusion or distress.

With this in mind, many of the licensing agencies who license Haas’ music have removed his works from their portfolio, which means that we no longer have the right to use his music in worship (and he no longer has the ability to profit from this music). If you think this sounds extreme, I would ask you to put yourself into the shoes of someone who had experienced this abuse, walking into worship or tuning into worship, only to hear the same music that had been used to psychologically manipulate you. It would be traumatic, to say the least.

In my judgment, these are important pastoral reasons to avoid using David Haas music in worship, and therefore I will be advising our musicians and the Worship and Music team to not choose his music for worship. and I will not be choosing it myself. I see it as a matter of hospitality, spiritual health, and caring for those who have been hurt—something Jesus urged us to do, just as he did. If you have questions about this, please contact me.  You can also read more in this article published by the National Catholic Reporter.

November’s “From the Pastor”: Amazing, Surprising Grace is Still Alive

Dear friends in Christ,

In my sermon on Reformation Sunday, October 25, I spoke about how the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ surprises us and sets us free. I talked about how that needs to continue happening; we need to experience this liberation ourselves in order to share with other people how the good news changes lives. It’s something you need to know personally, not just objectively. Grace as an object, a thing we talk about, separate and observable, doesn’t change lives. Grace from one person to another, active, connecting, moving, flowing—that’s what changes lives.

I talked about this, but then I was surprised (to the point of tears) to experience it myself later in the service. I had been wondering for a while now why Communion had felt weird. For a while I thought it was the different way we are doing Communion for the time being; pre-packaged cups, no personal moment handing each person the bread, plus it’s over in just a few minutes. We added music; I remembered to say “The gifts of God for the people of God,” which helped, but it still felt weird. I wondered if perhaps we were simply out of practice.

Then one day, it hit me, as Bonnie O’Dell and I were chatting on the phone about someone who was interested in coming to church at St. Peter’s. We were discussing Communion and Bonnie said, “Well, you know, it’s not our table, it’s God’s table.” And it hit me like a lightning bolt. I had not been inviting you all to the table in the same language that I normally do, where I make it very clear that the table doesn’t belong to me, or St. Peter’s, or the ELCA, or the Lutheran tradition in general—it belongs to God, and that is why everyone is welcome.

So Reformation Sunday was the first Sunday I remembered to use those words—and clumsily adapted them, since we are symbolically “coming to the table” even while we remain in our seats. And I felt that liberating presence of the grace of God pierce my heart once again, and I couldn’t help but shed a few tears. Because it felt like Communion was finally BACK again. Even under layers of plastic wrap, sitting in hands thoroughly sanitized, and even though you each picked it up for yourselves as you came in, it now really felt like Communion. The meal of grace and forgiveness and salvation for everyone, period.

Maybe you’ve had moments like this during the last eight months that reminded you of who we are and what is most important to us. I hope you have seen and felt and experienced the grace of God in a way that pierced your heart and set you free all over again, and if not, I hope and pray that you experience that in your own lives. Because this is the kind of thing that has the power to keep us going, to light our fires, and to remind us that “God is [still] our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46)

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie

October’s “From the Pastor”: The Terrible Parables

Dear friends in Christ,

I know that for the past six months, it’s been a struggle to find good news in the world. But the stories are there, hidden under the umbrella of a pandemic, waiting quietly in the corners of our lives, flying under the radar…they are there. Simple stories that remind us that there is some spark of divine goodness at work in people today. Stories that don’t make it all go away, but help us hold on to our humanity and to what gives us hope and life.

We cannot deny that it’s tough going out there. Hopefully remembering the small bits of good news make the bad news more bearable, because they remind us that we can carry heavy loads when we carry them together.

As we wrapped up the Season of Creation in September and I looked ahead at the readings to come for October and November, I was struck by the fact that we get parable after parable from the gospel of Matthew, and pretty much every single one of them sounds like really bad news. I read the assigned gospel readings for each week and after each one I thought, “Well, that’s just terrible!” Lots of weeping and gnashing of teeth and being thrown into the outer darkness or the fires of hell. Not a lot of love, peace, grace, or joy in these readings at all.

That’s why I’m dubbing the preaching for the months of October and November “Terrible Parables—Good News.” Because if we dig deep enough and pay attention to the kernel at the heart of these “terrible parables,” there really is some good news there. It’s not flashy or glamorous or exciting, but again…a little bit of good news reminds us that God is still there. Together with God and with each other, we can bear the bad news. We can build something in an election season where everything just seems to be trampled and destroyed. We can lift each other up and love each other and our neighbors in a time where human connections seem to be frayed and weakened.

Maybe our lives are like “terrible parables” right now. But they are not devoid of Christ. Jesus is the one who connects us in spite of everything else, and makes it possible for us to continue to love in the face of hopelessness and despair. It is so important that we continue to witness to Christ’s life and his call to keep on loving each other in the face of destructive forces, and to trust that there is a future beyond all of this, not just in heaven but on earth as well. This is why we were put here in this place and time, to prepare for the reality to come, to build the next chapter of how we live, and to build it in a way that keeps the love of God at the center.

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie

September’s “From the Pastor”: The Healing Power of Creation

Dear friends in Christ,

Last September, we celebrated the Season of Creation in worship, and even though everything else about worship has changed since that time, we are preparing to do the same this year. Last year we focused on Universe, Ocean, Storm, and Animals, but this year the Sundays are Forest Sunday (September 6), Land Sunday (September 13), Wilderness Sunday (September 20) and River Sunday (September 27). Our readings, liturgy, and the hymns for online worship will reflect these different elements of creation and how the Spirit speaks to us through each one of them. (I have not yet decided if we will try to do a Blessing of the Animals on October 4. Stay tuned!)

It strikes me that being outdoors and in nature is one of the most widespread ways we have found to resume daily life in the midst of COVID-19 ties. Fresh air and a good breeze disperse the virus particles to a point where we are less likely to be infected. I know several of you who are attending Sunday worship in-person have mentioned to me how much you have enjoyed catching up outside after worship concludes. Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that being outside is good for us. Spending time in creation seems to be a healing experience, not only for our souls but for our bodies as well!

We’ll take some time to hear about how God has worked through these different aspects of creation to shape the salvation story. For the online service, I’ll be bringing you children’s messages from some unique locations that connect to each part of creation. We’ll also be sharing different ways to care for these parts of creation in your daily lives.

Of course, the other worship experience I am really looking forward to this month will be our drive-in worship service for Sunday, September 13! My seminary classes did not cover “how to preach from the bed of a pickup truck,” but that’s what I’m learning now. As it is also God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday, we’ll have a food drive for the Verona Food Pantry until 12 noon in the parking lot (thank you to the Sandefer family for your leadership in this effort). I also hope to incorporate an element of “back to school” blessing for all students and teachers, whether classes are in-person or online. Your understanding is appreciated as we experiment with these new ways to be together and worship God.

I also have several news items to share with you as your pastor:

  • Staff Anniversaries: Please join me in thanking our staff members who are celebrating work anniversaries this month: Anthony Dangler, six years (last month—my apologies for missing it); Kathy Piemonte, five years, and Linda Hartman, twenty-one years!

  • Communion schedule: We are tentatively going to move forward with celebrating Communion on the first and third Sundays of each month for both in-person and online worship, as long as we are able to source the pre-packaged Communion cups and wafers. If you would like Communion bread recipes to use at home, please check the August Chatter or reach out to me and I’ll be happy to send some to you. You can also do a Google search and start experimenting.

  • Virtual VBS: In the second half of August, families with young kids who were on our St. Peter’s list and on our VBS list from 2019 were given bags of activities and videos on five different Bible stories were posted online. Families are encouraged to watch the videos and engage the suggested activities at their own pace. Unfortunately we are now out of activity bags, but the videos are still available on our YouTube channel and Facebook page. If this is something you would like in the future, please let me know as we may turn this into a monthly version of “Sunday School at home.”

  • Worship Survey: After we experience the drive-in service on September 13, I will be posting an online survey in our weekly emails and on Facebook, etc. in order to hear from you all about what type of worship you would be most likely to engage with in the next 3-4 months. I realize nothing is quite as good as what we had before, but we also want to make wise and informed decisions going forward.

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie Yahns

August’s “From the Pastor”: What Can We Do?

Dear friends in Christ,

A well-known and oft-hammered home part of the Lutheran tradition is the focus on faith vs. works. Martin Luther railed against those who said that works done by human beings were part of our salvation, and insisted that salvation came only by the grace of God, and all that was required of us is faith.

I’m not going back on that just yet. But I’ve been surprised to find that for me, in this time of pandemic, my mood and my mental health have been positively impacted by works. By that I mean, when I can actually get out and DO something to confront the virus, it lifts me up and energizes me for the entire day.

Take yesterday for example. I decided it was time to get tested again for the virus. I have committed to doing this on a regular basis now that we are starting to meet again in person, in order to minimize the risk that I will asymptomatically infect others (like you). While I know New York is far from perfect in how it governs itself, I have say that I am so thankful we live in a state where we have easy access to free testing.

There’s so much that is out of our control right now, but getting tested is one of those things we CAN do to protect our loved ones. If you have something coming up this summer, and you’re looking for ways to do it safely, I encourage you to consider getting tested, either before or after or both. I didn’t think the nasal swab was a big deal and the results come back within five days, often sooner. You don’t have to qualify or be on a special list. I got my first test at WellNow Urgent Care in Oneida and my second two tests at the state testing site in Rome on the old base. You can visit coronavirus.health.ny.gov/covid-19-testing for more information, or contact me if you’re curious about my experience.

It’s all a part of a concept I’ve found helpful in these times called a “risk budget.” Just like a financial budget, every individual and every family should have some type of risk budget, where you carefully consider how much risk you have to “spend” on various activities. Just like with money, you can’t spend risk as though it is unlimited, or there will be unpleasant consequences. At the same time, if you spend nothing, you may be extremely secure, but you’ll also be extremely limited in what you can do.

Every budget has expenditures. You may be required to spend your risk on certain activities—maybe you work with the public and in order to keep your job, you have to assume a certain level of risk. Maybe you care for children or grandchildren or elderly parents, so you choose to assume less risk in other activities in order to keep them safe. Maybe there are milestone gatherings in your family that you must attend—weddings, funerals, that sort of thing which can drain your risk budget. Maybe you have specific health challenges that decrease the amount of risk you can spend (for example, if you are undergoing cancer treatments and your immune system is compromised).

Gathering for in-person worship is one of those things that comes with a certain level of risk. We have tried very hard to make that risk as low as possible, but we can’t eliminate it entirely. So I fully realize that some of you have to make difficult choices as to how you will allocate your risk budgets. You may choose not to attend church in-person so that you can care for your family, or do what your job requires of you, or preserve your own health. Or, you may assess your situation and realize that you have some discretionary risk you could spend. Do you come to worship? Eat inside at a restaurant? Go on a trip? Your risk budget might say, you can’t afford to do all three. But you can make choices about where you’re willing to spend your risk.

Just like I don’t presume to know your financial budget, I don’t know your risk budget. And that’s why I fully support whichever decision you make, whether you decide church is something you can do right now, or whether church is something that is too costly for your risk budget right now. This is why we’re moving forward with both online and in-person worship, and while they are slightly different based on which activities can be done safely in-person and which ones can’t, I am treating them as two different but equal worship opportunities. Just like the 9:00 and 11:15 worship services, these two services have the same message, but different style and feel for different purposes.

Maybe that’s why getting tested has been so helpful for me as I think about these same questions. It’s another way I can keep tabs on my risk budget. It helps me make sure I am not overspending my budget in order to serve as your pastor in these times. I think this is part of living life responsibly in the pandemic age. Because ultimately managing our risk budget helps not only ourselves, but everyone around us as well.

Thank you for all that you are doing to share the love of Christ with your church family and beyond in these strange time. God bless you all!

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie Yahns

P.S. One quick public service announcement. We’ve had one attempted scam recently where someone posing as me created a new email address and used it to try and get a staff member to purchase gift cards for them. We realized it fairly quickly, but just in case any of you receive an email like that, let me say that I will NEVER email you and ask you to buy gift cards for me to use in ministry. If you receive a message like this, look carefully at the phone number or email address. Contact me directly (not by simply replying) if you need to ask.

July’s “From the Pastor”: “Namask-e”

Dear friends in Christ,

Things are changing swiftly in our current world situation. There is an odd combination of both monotony and variability that’s got us upside down and all over the place. When I look back at what I wrote for you in last month’s Chatter, I feel that all over again. At that time we were planning to begin drive-in worship services sometime soon in our parking lot. That plan is also one that has changed dramatically.

Council has just put the finishing touches on a letter to be sent out to our entire membership and friends. It may have already reached you before this issue of the Chatter, or perhaps not, depending on how fast the mail travels. In that letter you will read that we are planning to resume in-person worship in our building on Sunday, July 12 at 10:00 am.

The letter will also give you a lot of detail about how this service will be different from what we usually experience in our worship space. There will be a number of precautions in place and your cooperation is essential. Masks will be required, along with social distancing, and the service format and style will be different from before. You’ll need to make arrangements the week before to attend on Sunday and you may need to sit in a spot different from your favorite seat. There’s a lot to get used to, but if we can adapt to the new ways and things continue improving in our area, we will be able to continue re-opening safely. (These are just some of the details—please refer to the letter for a full list.)

I know we are all tired of the virus, tired of dealing with change and getting used to new things. Trust me, I am as well! And yet this is where we find ourselves, and we continue to be concerned for the safety and well-being of our neighbors and our fellow members of the body of Christ.. I believe that even with the precautions in place, seeing each other in person will be a joyful occasion and one that brings us hope by reminding us that Christ continues to dwell among us and between us no matter the obstacles.

Let me say a word about our online worship services. Most importantly, they will continue. Why?

  • I know there are a number of you who are in the high-risk categories (or have family members who are) and will choose to worship from home to stay safe.

  • These services have also proven to be a new way to minister to others outside our membership roster.

  • The format of these online services will include some elements that are not safe in a shared enclosed space, so that may lead you to choose this option.

  • If you can’t wear a mask or don’t want to, this is probably the best option for you.

Worshiping at home is a completely valid choice and still counts as “worship” just as much as gathering in person. You are not “playing hooky” if you choose to do this! You can also do both—but there is no extra credit, sorry.

If you decide to worship at home but without a screen, you can use the Home Liturgies for July and the hymns later in this issue of the Chatter to worship with just yourself and your Bible. We have also started mailing out copies of this home worship and my sermon (after Sunday morning) to those without email. If you’d like to receive this, just let Kathy in the office know. She can send them by regular mail or email.

Russ and I continue to try new things to make the online experience a more worshipful one for you. Right now we are going to try pre-recording the online service and posting it as a premiere on YouTube and on Facebook for Sunday morning at 9:00 am. It should look almost identical to what we have been doing. It will be available on demand right away for those who prefer a later service time. This will help simplify our Sunday morning schedule and help ensure the worship videos can be accessed by everyone who wants to watch.

There are a few more important pieces of information I need to share with you. First of all, you probably know that a few beloved and long-time members of our church family have recently entered the church triumphant and are now resting in the arms of Jesus. Dutch Regner passed on Monday, June 22 and Bob Zeller passed on Sunday, June 28. Please hold their families in prayer in this difficult time.

Secondly, Jim Herchek has submitted his resignation as one of the co-presidents of Council and we have reluctantly accepted it. He will be missed greatly and we wish him well in his future pursuits.

Finally, in the last few issues of the Chatter, I have been reminding us all of some basic values to keep us grounded in our faith in these challenging times:

  • Through Christ, God’s love, grace and forgiveness is present with each and every believer in ordinary, everyday things.

  • Because Jesus loved and died for every single person, no one should be forgotten or left behind. People are more important than money or resources.

  • We are the hands and feet of Christ no matter where we are.

  • You are a part of a strong and amazing group of people who will rise to the challenge.

These are just as true now, as we move toward a new phase and continue to try and stay connected even as we worship together, but in different places. Thank you for your willingness to have courage and follow the Holy Spirit into new places of discovering God’s grace.

Together in Christ,

Pastor Katie

June’s “From the Pastor”: To the Covidians

Dear friends in Christ,

While preparing this article for you, I was also thinking about the Bible texts for the coming Sunday, which include 1 Corinthians 12 (the part of Paul’s letter where he talks about the body of Christ and how each one of us is a member of it). Then I happened upon something on Facebook, written by the Rev. Greg Brown of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, that made me chuckle. It is a paraphase of 1 Corinthians 12 written for our times.

1 Covidians 12
Now concerning the wearing of masks, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that in the time before Covid, we were enticed and led astray thinking that we were not responsible for one another’s health. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the spirit of love ever says ‘masks be cursed!’; and no one can say ‘masks are a really good idea for everybody!’ except through a spirit of love.

He goes on from there, and I’m glad to share the rest of his words with you if you like (just send me an email). But I thought he was right on, because he builds on Paul’s point that the members of any body are deeply affected by each other. When one member of the body suffers, the entire body suffers with it. When one member is honored, the whole body rejoices. (1 Cor. 12:26)

For many of us, that reality has never been more present in our lives than it is right now. When one person is sick, it means that all the others can be made sick, quite literally. We cannot deny that the parts of the body will not always agree—ears and eyes and noses and fingers all tend to see things a little differently. But if one member (of the church or society) lashes out destructively at others, it means the entire body is compromised. Therefore, how do we account for different perspectives while also working for the health and well-being of the entire body?

Father Brown’s point in these few verses is that a “spirit of love” should pervade all the workings of the body. Dismissing masks as a sign of fear, weakness, or control by others is NOT a sign of a spirit of love. But neither is forcing everyone to wear masks just for the sake of compliance. Followers of Jesus are called to a higher standard: doing things not just because you CAN (that is, to show your power) but because you CHOOSE to show love. Love is not a sign of weakness.

Actually, acting with a spirit of love may be the main thing needed for healing and wholeness. Even if one of our St. Peter’s family were to become sick with Covid-19 (and I am preparing myself that it will likely be “when” rather than “if”), healing would come not from cutting that person off, but from showing love to them in ways that also care for the rest of the body’s members. Even when a cure is not possible, healing can still come through showing love.

We have many examples in the gospels about how Jesus healed others, and his methods varied a fair amount, depending on what the situation required. The consistent factors are love and restoration to community. And those are elements that we can continue offering, even when we do not have the miraculous powers of Jesus to heal, and even when the wonders of science fall short of providing that healing. Even when we are not together in body, we can be together in spirit, because love and community is still our shared goal. The “spirit of love,” which we understand to be the Holy Spirit, is acting among us and between us to bring us together in this way.

Shifting gears…I would like to share more about our plans as St. Peter’s. As I’m sure you know, our world moves faster and faster every day, and in the time of pandemic, that seems to be even more true. We can make plans for the next few months, and in a matter of hours and days, those plans seem like they were from another time. But we continue to try!

In harmony with the regional re-opening plan created for New York state, Council has focused on planning for a gradual shift to a drive-in worship service in our parking lot. This will require some new equipment, a lot of planning, and a lot of help from all of you to keep things running smoothly. Council also agreed that we did not want to rush into anything. We are proceeding with caution. If all goes according to plan, we hope to be starting this in the latter half of June, or perhaps even the first Sunday of July.

First, let me say that we will continue providing at-home worship resources in the Chatter and online worship services alongside the drive-in option. We are working on a way to provide the same worship service simultaneously, both live online and to the parking lot. There are many reasons why the at-home options might be more appropriate for your situation, and nobody will think any less of you for choosing them.

Second, you might be wondering why we chose the drive-in format. Here’s a chart that might help you understand our reasoning:

Worship while sitting in your car Worship in sanctuary (with safety provisions in place)
You can sing along to your heart’s content and join in the prayers No singing or communal speaking (these are two activities that turn church services into “super-spreader events”)
You can open your windows, maybe occasionally turning on the AC No fans or AC should be on, as they spread particles through the room
No need to wear masks Masks required (there are places in the sanctuary where it would be difficult to stay six feet apart)
Bring your own travel mug of coffee No coffee or snacks between services
Social distancing built right in No hugs or handshakes
Greater capacity Limited number of people allowed in the building
No health or age restrictions on who can come People in one or more of the high-risk categories should not attend

A few other considerations for worship in this way:

  • In order to minimize transmission through conversation and restroom use, the building will not be open on these Sundays. If you need to use the restroom, you may well need to start your car and drive home (and nobody will judge you!). If you need easy access to the bathrooms or have other health concerns, perhaps one of the at-home options would work best for you at this time.

  • Please do not get out of your cars. I cannot say it enough! We have been cleared to begin drive-in worship, but the minute you start getting out of your cars to congregate, we are classified as a different type of gathering that is more risky.

  • We will create a plan to mark off certain parking spots to ensure social distancing between cars (so you can safely roll your windows down). Please follow the markers!

I share this not to be a wet blanket, but to help you understand what has brought us to this choice. We certainly do plan to be back in the building at some point, but Council as well as Worship and Music plan to focus on drive-in worship for the time being.

As we prepare and wrap our brains around this idea, I also want to say one very specific thing. There may be times in the coming months, as we gradually begin to gather more often, when I am not as present with you as I once was. For example, I might not drop in on group meetings. If you reach out, I might suggest that we meet by video chat, or talk on the phone instead of meeting in person. Please do not take this as a sign that I don’t want to be with you. I love you all too much to put you at risk.

Think of it this way—if I am meeting with numerous people, then I am exposing each person not only to my germs, but to the germs of all the previous people I have met with. Scientists have told us repeatedly that it is common to have the virus and still spread it, even with no symptoms. The last thing I want is to become Typhoid Mary (Covid Katie?) to you all. I am more than happy to talk by phone, text, email, video chat, you get the idea. I am starting to do a few carefully socially distanced visits (with masks) for seriously ill parishioners, but I will be spacing those out and doing them only when other methods of connecting do not work.

Let me close by reminding you of the values I articulated in last month’s Chatter:

  • Through Christ, God’s love, grace and forgiveness is present with each and every believer in ordinary, everyday things.

  • Because Jesus loved and died for every single person, no one should be forgotten or left behind. People are more important than money or resources.

  • We are the hands and feet of Christ no matter where we are.

  • You are a part of a strong and amazing group of people who will rise to the challenge.

Thank you for your understanding and your partnership in the Gospel. Again, may the Holy Spirit fill your hearts with peace for today and hope for tomorrow as we move forward together.

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie

May’s “From the Pastor”: Is It Time Yet?

Dear friends in Christ,

I am guessing that many of you eagerly opened your copy of the Chatter hoping to see a definitive date for when we will resume in-person worship. Oh, if only I had something that concrete to share with you! But we are adjusting to a new normal where concrete details about the future are scarce. The mantra of “we’ll just have to wait and see” has become part of our “new normal” for now. It is a test of our flexibility and adaptability.

That’s what these times mean for all churches right now. Churches that can pivot and respond appropriately to what is happening (both for safety and for connection) will find a way to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead. The Council is meeting regularly by Zoom to work on a plan for St. Peter’s to open when the time is right, probably in phases, probably with the long game in mind. Please pray for us as we weigh lots of information and strive to make faithful and smart decisions for our church family. We will do our best to get the word out quickly when there is a word to share.

The biggest challenges I see have to do with our population (many of whom fall into the demographic groups that are most at risk) and the activities we share in church. We shake hands, we hug, we talk to each other, we sit together, we eat together, you get the idea. If you have seen the sad story of the choir in Mt. Vernon, Washington (the town where my parents live), you know that singing is one of the most dangerous ways this virus can spread. The choir in Mt. Vernon held a socially distanced rehearsal in early March and followed all the rules, yet over 75% of them were infected with the virus due to the movement of the droplets that come out of your mouth when singing. Two of them passed away. With this in mind, what type of a gathering will we be able to have when we actually do manage to meet together in person? Will it even be church?

It will look very different, that’s for sure, but as long as we gather around the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ for the whole world, it will still be church. It may not have group singing, it may not have coffee hour, it may not have Communion, and it may have a one-way flow of people where those leaving the building do not encounter those entering the building. It may be a hybrid of some kind, a mix of in-person and online worship. You may even need to sit in a different pew in order to maintain six feet distance from others! (I realize this could be the hardest part of the equation.) These are all things being proposed by other church bodies that will be discussed and weighed by Council.

We need to be preparing ourselves for the long haul. Psychologists who have studied the effects of trauma on a population have created a graph that shows the public’s response. It does not look like a quick bounce back. There are times of optimism and pulling together, but also times of disillusionment, frustration and slow rebuilding. But once that work of reconstruction is done, there is a future. It’s important to take a deep breath, step back, and look at the big picture.

As we walk that path together, we remain committed to several important things.

  • Through Christ, God’s love, grace and forgiveness is present with each and every believer in ordinary, everyday things (this is the foundation of our sacraments, baptism and Holy Communion, but it’s true for much more than that).

  • Because Jesus loved and died for every single person, no one should be forgotten or left behind. No child of God is expendable. People are more important than money or resources.

  • We have been called by the Holy Spirit to be the body of Christ in the world, and as such, we are united even when we are also broken and scattered for the sake of the world. We are the hands and feet of Christ no matter where we are.

  • I just read an email from Holden Village where they highlight this one thing they are certain about: You are a part of a strong and amazing group of people who will rise to the challenge. I think that applies to the people of St. Peter’s as well. Even on those days when we feel hopeless, God is the one who strengthens us and “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us” through the Holy Spirit.

I’m sure there are other values we could and should lift up, but those are the ones that come to mind for me right now. Whatever our gatherings look like in the future, I would propose that we keep these values front and center.

Another matter I would like to address: Digital Holy Communion. You may have seen or heard about other churches that are offering “virtual Communion” or as I prefer to call it, “digital Communion.” This involves providing your own bread and wine, having it with you as you attend church online, and after I say the words of institution, eating and drinking in your own homes.

I realize that in these times of distance, this might provide some comfort and reassurance that we continue to be the church even when we are apart. However, I have some concerns that this does not capture the essence of the meal we share when we are together. It’s not as much about the bread and wine for me—it’s more about the actual sharing of those elements, and about attending to each other’s most embodied needs, the need for daily nourishment that unites all human beings. This connection is not meant only for those who happen to live together (and what of those who live alone?), but for the entire family of God.

While I believe that online community is absolutely real and powerful, it is still not the same as being together physically. (For example, online dating is definitely a thing, but there comes a point where a couple must meet in person to move their relationship to the next level.) We are embodied, incarnated beings and Communion is a powerful connection to that reality, that we need physical nourishment as well as spiritual. One of the greatest philosophical dangers of the virus is that it threatens our relationship between our minds, our emotions, and our bodies.

Our bishop John Macholz has strongly recommended against practicing digital Communion, but he has also made it clear that he is not dispatching any “liturgical police” to come down on those who might choose to celebrate it. I bear no will toward those who do so, and some Christian traditions have slightly different approaches to Communion that would better allow for it. But I have some other concerns about the practice, including questions about accessibility (is it really a meal for everyone if those without a computer cannot participate?) and consumerism (why is it that we don’t handle it well when we can’t instantly have something?). I was captivated by the image of Maundy Thursday worship at Holy Wisdom Monastery, a special place for me, where they could’ve technically celebrated Communion, but chose to have an empty plate and cup instead as a sign of solidarity and empathy with those who are hurting and struggling right now. Likewise, my husband and I could technically celebrate Communion for ourselves here at home, but I don’t know if I could bring myself to do that when I am separated from all of you. That’s not what I was ordained to do. It would be a hollow echo of the song we sing together.

Going forward, I plan to continue including a prayer of spiritual communion in our remote worship services, asking for the same things that are granted through bread and wine to be given to us spiritually in these days. But this is still something I am thinking about and mulling over. If you have thoughts or feelings on this matter, I would be glad to hear them and talk with you more. Please reach out and let’s touch base. You can email me at pastor@stpetersverona.org or pastorkatieyahns@gmail.com.

May the Holy Spirit fill your hearts with peace for today and hope for tomorrow as we move forward together.

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie

P.S. I need to give a very big shout-out to Russ Brookins for his additional hours of volunteer time helping to make online worship a reality for St. Peter’s. There is a lot of work behind the scenes and Russ has been tirelessly investigating different technologies to help as many people participate as possible. Please reach out to Russ at webmaster@stpetersverona.org and tell him thanks for all his hard work!

P.P.S. Thanks is also due in a big way to Scott Stewart and Anthony Dangler for pivoting to new technologies in these times, even when it hasn’t always been easy! We’ve been able to enjoy additional harmonies and instrumentation with this format and they have done an outstanding job. Please thank them both if you get a chance.

P.P.P.S. Again, my sincere thanks to the many folks out there who have made it a priority to continue their financial support of St. Peter’s. I know there is still a great deal of economic uncertainty that makes it difficult to plan for the future or be generous today, despite our best intentions and efforts. Thank you to those who have been able to continue your generosity. We (Council) are doing our very best to steward those resources faithfully and wisely.

April’s “From the Pastor”: An Upside-Down Easter

Dear friends in Christ,

As we navigate a new reality, I have heard a number of people referring to the time in terms of B.C. (“before coronavirus”) and the current era. It really does seem like the beginning of March, before “stay at home orders” and “social distancing” were part of our vocabulary, was a hundred years ago. We are living through a major shift in our world and it takes some time to find our footing.

At first, we were hopeful that a two-week hiatus from activity would quell the virus’ spread, but as the end of March drew near and the number of cases just kept going up, it became clear that April would also be affected. Bishop Macholz sent a letter urging churches to remain on hiatus through May 15th. For churches that raised the huge question of: What to do about Easter? Is Easter something you can reschedule?

Fortunately Easter comes whether or not we do anything about it. Jesus Christ will be raised from the dead and life will triumph over death, even if our worship services and traditions can’t happen in the same way. And God can bring new life even from places and situations that look hopeless. In some way, this is the precise time our faith has something to say: that even when it looks like the world is ending and God has forsaken us, that is the very moment when God is actually most present: in the courageous care our health care providers are giving to those who are ill, in the tireless work done by those providing essential services, in the hard choice to set aside our own restlessness and stay home for the health of others.

It’s a challenging time, don’t get me wrong. Our ways of coping (staying busy) and the ways we demonstrate God’s love—showing up and being there for others—have now become a source of worry, as we don’t know who might be passing the virus to whom. Now is the time to find new ways to care for each other, and not to lose heart.

Caring for Each Other

I sent a letter to our mailing list a few weeks ago, sharing opportunities for connecting like coloring pictures for the elderly, volunteering to run simple errands for those in need, and calling to check on the people you might not have seen for a while. If you didn’t get this letter and would like more information, please let us know. Also in this issue of the Chatter, you will find information on the current ministry of the Verona Food Pantry and the Rome Rescue Mission.

What About Worship?

Those of you with Internet access, I hope you’ve had a chance to check out our Sunday worship experiences on YouTube, which we are also posting on Facebook. These are approximately 30 minutes and include prayers, readings, sermon, and music. If you subscribe to our channel and turn on notifications (click the bell), you’ll get a note every time we go live. Reloading the page also helps. We are also experimenting with evening prayer on Wednesdays using Zoom for a more interactive experience, and on Fridays at 12:15 pm I go live on our Facebook page with some initial thoughts on the coming Sunday. If you’re on our email list, please make sure you are seeing my emails with links to these things.

Those of you without Internet access, I’ve created a simple order of worship that you can use at home as long as you have a Bible. You’ll find it later in the Chatter.

What about Holy Week?
  • Palm Sunday, April 5—we will post a worship video on YouTube and Facebook in the morning. For this we need your help! Color one or both of the palm branch coloring sheets found in this issue of the Chatter, take a photo of yourself or someone else holding them, and send it to me at pastor@stpetersverona.org no later than Saturday, April 4 at 9:00 am. We will incorporate the photos into our worship video as a virtual “palm parade”! Also consider placing some kind of greenery arrangement on your front door that makes use of whatever branches you might have (they don’t have to be palms!).
  • During the Week—watch your email and your mailbox for daily devotional moments that you can use anytime at home.
  • Also during this whole week—we will be creating a worship space outside our building for individuals taking a walk or remaining in their car for prayer. The large cross will be up with thumbtacks and elastic cord—feel free to write a note, a word, a prayer, create a picture, a flower, a craft, whatever you want, and come and put it on the cross. Bring an Easter lily or other potted plant, or maybe a painted rock, and place it either by the cross or near the bell tower to create a beautiful place for rest, prayer and reflection. (Please make sure to maintain physical distance from anybody else who might be in our parking lot at the time.)
  • Maundy Thursday, April 9—The gospel reading for this service is the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, but in these days, handwashing is a true sign of love for your neighbor. We hope to create a devotional video of people washing their hands, so take a picture or a brief video of you or someone in your family washing their hands and send it to me at pastor@stpetersverona.org.
  • Good Friday, April 10—Our Tenebrae service includes the reading of the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion and the extinguishing of candles. We’ll do the same this year with people in various locations. If you can take video of yourself reading a Scripture passage and blowing out a candle, please let me know ASAP at pastor@stpetersverona.org. Most cell phones that can take photos can take videos.
  • Easter Vigil, April 11—There is some conversation around a synod-wide Easter Vigil service to be created online. If this doesn’t happen, I have some ideas of what else to offer digitally. If you’re interested, make sure you are subscribed to our email updates and I’ll send more info when I have it.
  • Easter Morning, April 12—We have some special things planned for our Easter morning worship video, so please tune in on YouTube or Facebook if you are able!

Remember that Easter is longer than just a day—it’s actually a season of fifty days. And by the grace of God, I hope we will be able to safely gather before that season is past. Whenever we are reunited as a church family, that’s when it will truly feel like Easter, as the body of Christ comes together again with new life!

It’s easy to feel disconnected from your church family at this time, so if that’s happening to you, I encourage you to pick up the phone or the pen and reach out to someone. Sending a card, calling or texting someone on the phone, these are all powerful ways to show someone you care from a distance. If I can help you or someone else feel more connected, please let me know. You can email me at pastor@stpetersverona.org.

I look forward to seeing you all on the other side of this. What a blessed day that will be!

Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie