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

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