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 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.

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