With the state of Idaho moving into Phase 4 of their reopening plan, the Council has received questions about why we have not resumed in-person gatherings. Especially, since we are a church and many other congregations have resumed worshiping inside their buildings. We are hoping you will go to the following links and read the attached documents, so you have a better idea of what the Council is weighing, as we discuss and plan the best next steps for being the church together.
We received the following resources from the Northwest Intermountain Synod, ELCA in mid-May: https://nwimsynod.org/reopen-guidelines. There is a lot here, so start with “Appendix A: Self -Assessment Tool" and then the “Guidelines for Reopening”, which is based upon the CDC guidelines. The Council and a sub-committee of the Council are researching options for how we can implement these recommendations for our building and people.
As you can see it is a lot to process and plan. We hope to have it broken down into chunks soon, with volunteer job descriptions. We will need your help in order to faithfully resume using the building for worship and supporting community groups, who share our space. But, we also are hearing people need a form of gathering sooner, rather than later. We are not willing to rush the process, but do recognize other, less risky gatherings can and should take place. So, Pastor Lori is working on an outdoor worship option for Wednesdays, late afternoon or early evening (when the cross side of our sanctuary is shaded). Details will be in the monthly newsletter coming out next week.
In order for the outdoor worship to happen, we do need help with sound and volunteers to run it. Pastor Steve is working on this, so please call him if you have equipment you are willing to share and/or if you are willing to be trained to run the equipment. We also need cooperation with physical distancing and ushers to help people do this. The expectations will be spelled out next week.
Complicating the Council’s work is the fact that the community of Sandpoint is not universally practicing physical distancing nor choosing to take steps to support a successful reopening. As a result, there is active, community spread of the virus in Sandpoint. We would like to move away from an all or nothing approach to living with Covid-19 because, we recognize isolation is just as deadly as the virus can be for some people.
So, we encourage healthy eating, sleep, play, time with God, exercise, and minimizing time on social media and/or 24/7 news. We also want you to develop ways to socialize (preferably outside or with physical distancing), so we minimize the risk of spreading the virus, as we resume time together.
And, our insurance company requires us to do our due diligence, as far as implementing physical distancing practices for those who gather for church activities. But know, liability is not what is driving our decisions. What is really important for us, is we believe putting these safety precautions in place is our calling as the church. It is stated in the mission we share in Christ’s name: to Praise God, Nurture Faith, and Serve All. And, as Martin Luther wrote in his response to how Christians should respond to the Plague:
As we continue to figure out how to live with Covid-19 and each other, there will be some days and some decisions we do well and some we won’t do well. There is much we don’t know. Each day brings something new we need to consider. There are big challenges we collectively are experiencing, and each household is also facing joys and additional sorrows we cannot see or understand. It is easy to become myopic in our experience of the world, unless we keep looking beyond ourselves to God and the needs of others.
We are committed to doing what we can to support all of us, as we seek to live into this new way of life. And, create resources for the diverse ways the community of First Lutheran Church is able to connect during this time: online, through printed resources, and in new forms of in-person gatherings. You can help us do this by pondering the documents attached, and spending time with God reflecting upon how you will support these efforts.
There has been quite a bit of discussion about reopening church buildings and folks have asked when we will be joining other congregations in town by holding in person worship services. We do have a small group working on the action steps and guidance offered from our bishop’s office. If we move into stage 4, we will consider reopening the building at the end of June. Know this will happen in small steps.
Based upon science and medical advisors, the church Council does not think it is safe to resume gatherings of people for long periods of time, indoors. Also, any worship we can hold in the FLC building, will not look or feel like what many of you are expecting. Social distancing practices, including wearing face coverings and creating cleaning teams, and eliminating high risk activities, like singing, will change what we do on Sunday mornings.
That said, we need to remember that the church never closed! The church is the people! And, we never stopped being the church, because the Holy Spirit has never been contained. It blows open doors, inspires hearts, comforts, teaches, guides, and keeps creating new life as it always has from the very beginning.
Sadly, health precautions and even Governor Little’s directions for reopening are being ignored by many in the larger Sandpoint community. The commitment to the social distancing practices — necessary for a successful reopening — are often touted as politically driven or unnecessary. Which puts senior living facilities and churches at higher risk - if or when we allow visitors back into our buildings.
Until that time when we gather once more, know that members of First Lutheran Church want to support and encourage you. We have people who can shop for you, would love to chat with you, hear your stories, help you work through technical issues, and serve you communion all by phone. If you are open to a call, let us know so we can share your phone number. Or tell us what you need and we will try to creatively make it happen. Because this is what being the church is all about; God’s love given and received is the heart of the matter.
If you have prayer requests, use the form you can find here: https://firstlutheransandpoint.breezechms.com/form/prayerrequest. It is connected to our church management system, so we can do a better job of following up on your requests.
Also, look for a newsletter this week letting you know about upcoming ministry opportunities like First Thirstday, 2nd Harvest Food Truck, A Church Directory update, and more.
Peace be with you,
Pastor Lori C. Morton
You probably read about Governor Little’s plan to begin reopening Idaho. Worship centers are included in the first round. Know, we will not be gathering next Sunday, May 1.
The FLC Council has an unofficial meeting on Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. by Zoom we had scheduled before this announcement. We will review the state order, our insurance policies, the larger church’s recommendation, and what makes the most sense for you, Luther Park, and the resources we have available to be good stewards of everyone’s health.
We will keep you informed.
First Lutheran has been a polling place in the past. This year, all voting will be done by absentee ballots. This means you will need to apply for an absentee ballot either online or mail by May 19. This is not automatic.
It is better to apply sooner rather than later, because your ballot needs to be returned by June 2!
You can find everything you need to know to vote here. You can apply online: idahoVotes.gov/absentee-request/. Or to request a paper form: call or write Bonner County Election Office and ask for paper absentee ballot REQUEST. 208-255-3631.
This week we are starting a new worship series called “The Heart of the Matter”. With it we are offering both at home, self-led services and ways you can participate in faith formation activities for all ages, to do together throughout the week.
Online worship led by Pastor Steve and Pastor Lori via our website and Youtube will continue to be posted and ready for your participation at 9:00 a.m. on Sundays. Make sure to tune in this week. We have the unique opportunity to hear God’s Word preached by Bishop Kristen Kuempel, the Bishop for the Northwest Intermountain Synod of the ELCA (our synod).
Today, we decided to suspend all worship services until further notice. Also, the church office will be closed. If you have questions, call 208-263-2048 and leave a message. We will regularly check in, as the church staff works from home.
The Church Council and Pastors will be calling everyone connected to the church in the next couple days to check in. Online and other worship resources will be developed and shared in the days ahead as we better grasp what you need and how best to stay connected.
Remember, church has not been canceled. The church is the people. Together, we will find ways through this ever-changing time through the love and light of Jesus Christ.
This letter was emailed March 13, 2020 and will be posted to all members of First Lutheran Church.
March 12, 2020
Dear People of First Lutheran Church,
After prayerful discussion, the Church Council wants to be proactive in our efforts to address the Covid-19 virus pandemic. As people of faith, we are called to be stewards of one another’s health and care for the Body of Christ. God also tells us over and over in scripture, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
With that in mind and our ministry with Luther Park Assisted Living and Memory Care, the Council has voted to do the following for 30 days:
In addition to these scheduling changes, we will increase the regularity of cleaning all frequently used surfaces with recommended disinfectants. Online worship resources will be offered. Sermons are already posted on our website: www.firstlutheransandpoint.org (Praising God - Sermons - 2019/20). The photos and reflection questions for each Gospel reading is available too (Nurturing Faith - Lenten/Holy Week - 2020). We are looking into streaming or Facebook live sharing the worship, so those who want or need to stay home can participate.
Luther Park has enacted precautions as well. The door between the buildings has been closed. Residents may access First Lutheran this way for worship, but everyone else should avoid entering Luther Park unless you are family or close friends. Signs are up and letters sent to residents and their family describing entry requirements.
What else can you do?
Peace to You in Christ,
First Lutheran Church Council,
Pastors Lori Morton, and Steve Neuder