A Pastoral Letter to the Members
of Immanuel Lutheran Church
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (Psalm 122:1)
Dear fellow redeemed,
Can you believe it has been six months since the Governor’s mandate limited public gatherings to 10 people or less? During this time and throughout the summer we have experimented with different methods for broadcasting services so that those who were not comfortable attending one of our small services could still watch and listen to the sermon. It hasn’t always worked well, but for the most part we have been able to use the technology available to us to bring God’s Word to those at home.
I wonder, though, what the long-term effects of this use of technology might be? Created blessings such as technology can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on the purpose for which they are used. Most of our faithful folks would most certainly rather be gathering with their fellow believers on Sundays to hear God’s Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. Many feel torn between being safe and trusting the Lord. They see statistics on the news and hear warnings by health officials and medical personnel and believe they are doing the right thing by not attending public worship.
This is certainly okay for a time. God’s Word can sustain us even when we are not able to gather with our fellow Christians. However, the unchecked use of technology and live-streaming of services can, if we are not careful, lead to some unintended consequences. Here are three:
Virtual Church shopping -- In the world of social media and YouTube, there are countless available worship services from other churches and pastors online. If one is using these to supplement their regular diet of God’s Word received from their called shepherd, this is just fine. It becomes a problem, however, if one is continually seeking the food of God’s Word from other shepherds and churches in place of the one who has been given to them. We may be tempted to think that the “grass is greener on the other side.” During this extraordinary time, we would do well to think on the blessings that God has given us in our own church family and pastor.
Neglect of the Sacrament -- Online worship from home is great…except that it is not the full blessing that our Lord desires for us. The thing about the Lord’s Supper is that one needs to actually be present to receive its benefits. It offers us no benefits just to watch others partake. It is the Lord’s will that we receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We need to be careful that in our efforts to be safe and responsible we do not thereby neglect the Lord’s Supper. There are ways to administer it outside of the public gathering of the church that are both safe and responsible. I encourage and invite our higher-risk members to schedule a time to receive the Lord’s Supper either privately at home or at the church away from the crowds.
A wrong view of worship -- One of the big differences between being present in the house of God for public worship and watching it from home is that when you watch a service on the computer or tablet, it is more like you are a spectator than an active participant. Worship is not merely a spectator event but a time when the people of God are actively participating in the receiving of the Lord’s gifts and responding in unity with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. For those who are watching from home, I encourage you to make use of your hymnal, join in the responses and hymns and, if you are able, stand and sit as you would if you were in the Lord’s house on Sunday.
To these words of caution, I would add a word of promise and encouragement. God’s Word tells us that our Lord has conquered death and won the victory. He has taken away our sins and given us the hope and promise of eternal life with Him. We know that when we die—whether that be from natural causes, from a car accident, or Covid-19—God is still with us. And our souls will be safe and secure in the arms of Jesus. The current pandemic has created and instilled such a fear of sickness and death in people that many are afraid even to leave their houses, except to go to the doctor or the grocery store. While we are not free to throw caution to the wind, hoping that God will swoop in and rescue us, God’s Word does encourage us to live without fear and anxiety and instead, to put our faith in the Lord who is merciful and gracious.
We pray that the threat of Covid-19 will soon pass. But we also know that in this fallen world, there will always be threats to our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. My prayer is that our people will not grow too comfortable with the ease and convenience of home viewing of the Divine Service and decide that they are better off not coming. Remember the admonition of the holy writer, “…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25).
We are thankful to God that beginning in June we could again worship on Sunday mornings as a congregation without limitation of size. We miss those who still think it best to remain apart from their fellow members but pray for the day when most of us will be reunited in receiving the Lord’s gifts and responding with thanksgiving.
If you have any questions or concerns about how we as a congregation are responding to the pandemic, please voice these concerns to me or to one of the elders. We will do our best to respond in a Christian and God-pleasing way and to do our best to assist you in your walk with Christ. *
May our gracious God and Father, who raised Jesus from the dead, grant us peaceful hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
The peace of the Lord be with you!
* The following practices continue to be observed:
• Offering plates are not passed. The plate is at the back of the church.
• Sanitizing wipes are in each pew for families and individuals to wipe down their areas after use.
• I sanitize my hands immediately before distributing Communion, and soak the purificator in Everclear to cleanse the rim of the Chalice.
• Though not required, people may feel free to wear masks during the Service.
• Out of an abundance of caution, we encourage people who are at high risk or who are not feeling well to remain at home and to watch the video of the Service.
Rev. Paul L. Beisel, STM., received his Bachelor’s degree from Concordia University, Nebraska, in 1997. He completed his Master of Divinity at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN., where he also received a Master of Sacred Theology in 2004 focusing on Exegetical Theology. Pastor Beisel served Concordia Lutheran Church in Warsaw, IL., and Messiah Lutheran Church in Keokuk, IA., from 2002 until receiving a Divine Call from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Iowa Falls, IA. He was installed as Immanuel’s pastor on November 15, 2009. In September of 2015, Pastor Beisel journeyed to South Sudan, Africa, where he taught the Book of Matthew to fourth year seminary students (sponsored by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation).
Pastor Beisel was born in Oklahoma City, OK., on May 19, 1975. He spent the majority of his childhood in Pittsburg, KS. From 1986-1987, Pastor Beisel lived with his family in Taichung, Taiwan. Since then, he has traveled to Thailand and Germany. Pastor Beisel and his wife, Amy, are the parents of Susan, Lizzy, Martin, and Theo. Pastor Beisel enjoys time with his family, music, tennis, reading, fine dining, and for good measure, some Lutheran Satire.
Pastor Beisel welcomes your e-mails.