“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Dear friends in Christ:
Truth be told, I often feel blown about by every wind of opinion, every article I read, every news story I hear, every new wrinkle and development regarding this Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. Even as we adjust to Governor Evers’ extension of the Safer at Home Executive Order and the subsequent description of the phases of re-entry and the criteria that must be met in order to move from one phase to the next, we still hear projections that road before us is long, and it could be many months before we begin to emerge.
It’s not surprising that the debate over how best to balance the demands of public health, personal liberty, care for our most vulnerable citizens, and the strength of our economy have become politicized, and I’m sure that faithful people of good conscience can debate and disagree about how long we should keep our businesses, schools, houses of worship, and public spaces closed in an effort to slow the spread of this deadly virus. However, as I have been in contact with public health officials, governmental representatives, and leaders of various faith communities, several things are becoming clear:
- We will be moving through various phases in the coming months, and our ability to conduct testing and perform contact tracing will determine how long it will take to move through these phases. It is also likely that there will be subsequent outbreaks of the virus, which may cause a return to an earlier phase.
- Some form of physical distancing and limitations to our behaviors will be in place until a vaccine is widely available, and that is likely at least 12-18 months from now.
- The impacts on our businesses, schools, hospitals, and churches will be felt for a long time. Determining when and how we return to worship and other activities in our church buildings will need to be a slow and thoughtful process.
All of this means that the fabric of our relationships and institutions will be tested as never before, and we will need to summon resources of resilience, patience, compassion, and creativity as we strive to live into an uncertain future. As we do this, I pray that we can be guided by our love of neighbor and our concern for the most vulnerable among us. When we are tempted to listen more closely to our own needs and desires, I pray we can keep Paul’s guidance to the church in Ephesus in mind, that we are joined and knit together with the entire body of Christ in the world, and our calling is to love and build one another up.
Elsewhere, in Galatians 5:13-14 (The Message version), Paul writes, “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.” This won’t be easy, and we won’t always get it right, but our calling to sacrifice our freedoms for the sake of our neighbors has never been more important.
I continue to be grateful for all of the ways that we are rediscovering what it means to be church together for the sake of the world, and I look forward to discovering how God is calling and forming us into the communities that the world needs. You have my prayers and my love. We will continue to provide resources and guidance to our leaders and congregations, most of which can be found on the synod’s webpage at www.milwaukeesynod.org/covid.
Grace and peace,
Bishop Paul Erickson