Grace in the Age of Pandemics
Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble… Phil. 4:14
We all have different sets of troubles. Could be doubts, fears, or anxieties. Could be health issues or infirmities from surgery or aging. Could be any number of things. But kindness calls us to bear one another’s burdens and troubles.
As one who is for the fourth time teaching a teenager to drive, I have a certain kind of first-hand experience with this. For one thing, while I do not think the danger is great (or I wouldn’t let my kid behind the wheel or get in the car myself) I have to admit that the danger to other people is greater than it otherwise would be. We are in one respect at least, an imposition to other drivers and pedestrians, and to some degree a danger. That danger can’t be avoided if we are to teach people to drive, but it is nevertheless real. I can assure you that I’m following safety procedures in teaching my children to drive, but I cannot 100% guarantee that we aren’t going to break a traffic law or cause an accident. I can only promise to try.
A learning driver also drives slowly and takes longer to find a “window” when turning into traffic. Being behind a student driver can be a test of patience. Most people are kind about it, but every now and then in my many hours riding shotgun with a new driver we’ll come across someone who clips pretty close trying to pass on the highway or who rides up on the bumper trying to get us to speed up.
So on one hand there are people with legitimate fears who are so concerned for safety that being the road with a learning driver is tough to contemplate. On the other hand, there are people whose concern isn’t for safety at all but simply to get where they are going more quickly. You deal with both extremes. And it is tough to judge—some people’s experiences give them reason to be more cautious. Some people do not feel unsafe driving over the speed limit or passing on the highway, so they do things regularly and casually that many others consider unsafe.
In church, we have to hold extremes together, and in kindness we have to share each other’s troubles. The policies we have in place for safety during the pandemic make many people feel like they’re on the road with a bunch of student drivers. For some that means feeling unsafe. For others that just means feeling annoyed. With Christmas coming up, we have to figure out how best to serve as many people as possible.
We need to recommit to the policies and procedures we have in place. People who are venturing out to church need to have the assurance, for example, that everyone will wear a mask throughout the service in the mask section, and that everyone in the other sections will wear one when moving in the aisles or narthex. Some people have told me that hasn’t always been happening. We have to recommit. By the same token, we are not in a position to offer guarantees. Neither I nor anyone else can 100% guarantee that everyone who comes to church on Christmas will have washed their hands, keep their mask on, etc. We do our best to put good policies in place and make it easy as possible for people to adhere to them.
All of us can be kind in sharing each other’s troubles. For some, the trouble will be having to stay home and participate in Christmas Eve worship remotely for the sake of safety. For some that means accommodating policies they find irksome. We can’t please everyone, but we ought to try to serve everyone as we’re able and put aside our own preferences for the sake of allowing as many people as possible to celebrate and worship this Christmas.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Maturity and Mistakes
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Phil. 3:15
Today I was confronted with several of my own mistakes. We were practicing the Advent/Christmas hymn program with the 5th-8th graders and I realized that I had never fixed the typos in the draft of the service I gave to the secretaries and that they then attached to the email yesterday (and it's in the announcement section below, with a link to watch). That means the bulletin you have for tomorrow’s online service won’t perfectly match what the kids are saying. No biggie. Please excuse the typos, but also, please print out a copy for yourself. The 8th graders will be reading a lot of explanations between the hymns. Those words are in your bulletin but we will not be putting them up on the screen in the recording so that the viewer can see the readers. That means if you do better reading than listening, you’ll be glad to have a printed copy you can read along with even if he words are a tad different in a few places due to corrections.
My second mistake was in assigning the readers. Since the service involves the band and bell choir in the balcony and the other choirs on the main floor, I was supposed to make sure I didn’t assign an 8th grader to read right before or after he or she needed to be upstairs. But of course we got our signals crossed about when they would be playing. Even though I had a bulletin in my hand and could have easily surmised when people needed to be where, I went from memory on it and got it exactly wrong. So we had to make a bunch of changes in the middle of the rehearsal. And nothing puts a nervous 8th grader more at ease than having their part changed at the last minute.
But they will be fine. We have good, confident readers and a lot of musical talent in our school. It would be great if we could pack the church to the gills doing an Advent/Christmas program. But I certainly expect that everyone who participates in the hymn-sing adaptation will be blessed by it. Just seeing young children learning and singing the ageless words gives a person hope and a sense of peace and joy about what could be a bleak future.
The decisions we make, and the mistakes we make in executing them, are not part of God’s revealed will. “Those of you who are mature,” as St. Paul calls them, know that the human side of church life is filled with people making the best decisions they can, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as the only right decision. The mature also know that church life is also filled with people acting on our plans with normal human limitations and mistakes. Not every hand bell player has great rhythm. Not every choir member has perfect pitch. Not every writer of program scripts has great typing skills (*cough*). But every Christian united by faith in Jesus Christ can receive the perfect blessings God gives through such services.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Zenas the Lawyer
Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:13-14
There is a Bible verse you don’t see every day. Even a pretty good Bible trivia contestant would probably not have Zenas the lawyer on the tip of his tongue in answer to a question in the bonus round. All lawyer jokes aside, the fact is that people like Zenas have always played a critical role in the functioning of the Church and its mission. Not only do congregations need lay leaders, they need the laity’s various secular skills in order to function in this world. And those skilled lay leaders need to exemplify a life of faith and service.
Who knows what important legal work Zenas the lawyer might have done for the fledging Christian Church? For all we know, the world would be a completely different place today if not for Zenas’s skill in winning some argument before the secular authorities on behalf of the persecuted Christians. Or maybe he was just a good organizer of mission trips because he understood all the practical, legal matters involved with going from place to place. Whatever it was, St. Paul urged St. Titus to make sure Zenas had everything he needed.
Here at St. Paul’s in Munster we have been blessed for many years to have someone with formidable skills in the secular arena serving the congregation. Karen Hott used to manage Carson’s department store, overseeing well over two hundred employees. To be effective at that level of management, one must have a pretty large and wide combination of skills. There are HR-considerations, finances and accounting, corporate and government legalese to be deciphered, the planning and organizing, and the interpersonal skills necessary to keep everyone on task. Like Zenas the lawyer, Karen has been using those rare secular skills and experiences in service to the people of God.
When I came here seven years ago I could tell right away as an outsider looking in that Karen was the nerve center of the organization. That’s a great blessing and in some ways a danger. In fact, in one of our first one-on-one meetings I told her that because she was so very capable, she was almost too important to the day-to-day functioning of the institution. The congregation relied on her because we knew we could. But we would be hard pressed to deal with her absence should she retire or move away. Consequently, years ago Karen and I agreed that she would work on cataloging her various roles and duties such that when the time came for her to hand off the job to someone else we would have a fighting chance to experience a smooth transition.
Well, that time has come. Much to the chagrin of the staff, Karen has decided to retire in 2021. Everyone who has benefitted from the mission and ministry of St. Paul’s owes her a debt of gratitude. Her skills and tireless efforts on behalf of this place and her interest in and dedication to the welfare of every member of this congregation has made such blessings possible.
Thankfully, we have been planning for this transition, and Karen, who knows the ins and outs of human resource transitions more than most, has generously offered to provide us with plenty of overlap. The new Business Manager will have many months of shadowing her and learning the ropes before taking over. That is a tremendous blessing to St. Paul’s and to the next Business Manager. We have every reason to believe that God will continue to equip and provide His Church with skilled servant-leaders to keep the mission and ministry of the Gospel running strong. If you or someone you know would be interested in filling the position of Business Manager of St. Paul’s, please look for the call for resumes in this week’s bulletin.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana