Covid-19 safety plan

Returning to Worship Plan

These protocols will be adjusted according to new guidance, new research, local developments and best practices.

Before public services:

Vulnerable persons… If you are in a high-risk category because of underlying health conditions or are 65+years of age, do not feel compelled to attend public worship services unless you are comfortable with the potential health risk. Guard your health.

Please stay home if you are ill or showing symptoms of Covid-19.

If someone in your household is ill, please stay home.

Recorded services will continue to be available on YouTube and sowerandtheseed.org. Pastor is glad to arrange Holy Communion by appointment.  If you are in any of the risk categories and still wish to attend services, you are certainly welcome to do so, being aware of the risks.

Wash your hands often. Frequent and thorough hand-washing is great prevention.

Observe social distancingand conventional sanitary practices.

Masks are suggested but not mandatory … Masks may be helpful for reducing transmission of viral particles from the person wearing a mask. If you do not want to wear a mask, you will not be turned away or shunned. 

Please be considerate of your neighbor’s wishes to wear/not wear a mask.  Our respectful and loving care for one another allows freedom in this matter.

Ventilation will be increased as much as possible and as weather permits.

While Rice County is considered a hotspot services will be held outside when weather permits

Arriving for Service:

Avoid direct physical contact with others.  If visiting before or after worship services, please do so outside while observing social distancing guidelines.

Hand sanitizers are set at the entrances to the building.   (Donations are welcome!)

Doors from the parking lot will be open until service begins, for touch-less entry.

Seating is determined by the usher, who will keep persons / families safely distanced.  Pews have been marked with reserved signs to help keep one or more pews between families.

Bulletins will be placed in the pews, but will also be available by the usher.

During the Service:

Singing will be limited indoors. Singing is not listed as a hazard by the CDC, but some are concerned that singing, when forceful, projects more aerosols.

The Offering Plate won’t be passed; place your gift to the Lord in the plate as you enter / exit.

Communion will take place as persons are led forward socially-distanced by individuals and family groups. Please cup your hand, as the elder will drop the wafer into your hand. The wine will be served only by individual cups. (Sharing common cup bears the stigma of being unsanitary, even though the reception by common cup is a totally antiseptic process; so, for the present, we will only provide individual cups for those coming forward.)

Children who come forward with parents will be blessed without touch.

Music may be played during Communion. We welcome soloists or musicians to volunteer.

After the Service:

Pastor will not be greeting or dismissing with the customary shaking of hands.

Likewise, don’t shake hands, hug, or touch people who are outside your household. 

Visiting with others should be done outside, observing appropriate social distancing.

In addition to offering public worship services:

1.  We will continue to offer recorded services.

2.  We will continue to offer family communion services by appointment.

3.  You are encouraged to continue to develop and strengthen your personal devotional and prayer life and that of your immediate household using online, TV, and print resources.

4.  Please continue to pray for one another, for our congregation, and for your pastor.

5.  Please also pray for our leaders, our medical personnel, and for our community.

The Bible calls us to exercise Christian liberty, for ourselves and others. Martin Luther said that “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” In other words, we should recognize our God-given freedoms, but at the same time have great care for the rights and well-being other people.  Please refrain from forming opinions about others in terms of whether or not they attend in-person services or whether or not they wear a face mask.  The above are precautions that have been provided as best practices at this time.

It is a blessing that we can gather together to receive the forgiveness of sins personally and directly through the Word and Sacrament ministry.

At this time we will continue drive-in services at 8:30am on Sunday mornings, with in-person services at 10:30am on Sunday and 7:00pm on Wednesday.

Our highest desire is for the spiritual care of our members and visitors with a conscientious desire for the physical care of our members and visitors also.

As your pastor, I will gladly visit congregation members in their home and/or bring the Lord’s Supper. Please call me (507-685-2307) with any questions or concerns, or if you’d like a personal visit, for yourself or someone else.

In our Lord’s Prayer, we ask our Heavenly Father to “deliver us from evil.” Sometimes God delivers us not by removing the affliction but rather by giving us the strength to endure it. There is no safe place or safe practice in this world that guarantees we will be free from exposure to viruses, sickness, or death, even if we take the most thorough of precautions. 

Our confidence is never in the safety of personal protocols or practices of isolation. Our trust is in our God who is bold enough to make these promises in Scripture: “Though the LORD brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love” (Lamentations 3:32). 

We now have the opportunity again to public meet, receive the blessing and forgiveness of

God, encourage one another with the Gospel of Christ, and receive His body and blood to support our faith and grant it divine strength.  Public worship services are again being offered our members and the visitors in our community, but they are not compulsory. 

“I love the house where You live, O LORD, the place where your glory dwells.” (Psalm 26:6-8)

May God grant us peace and joy in Him!

May our Lord keep us in His mercy. Amen.

Schedule for worship services as we return to worship together

Worship services, as of May 31, 2020 will be as follows:

Sunday,
8:30 am Drive-in Worship
10:30 am In-person Worship (Bring lawn chairs for worship outdoors if weather is pleasant)

Wednesday,
7:00 pm In-person Worship (Bring lawn chairs for worship outdoors if weather is pleasant)

Because of the current situation Holy Communion will be offered at each service. We don’t want someone who has made effort to venture out discover that they have lost at “communion roulette.”

If held indoors, music will be limited.

These are subject to change. Please keep in touch.

Albert Mohler Addresses Government Guidelines for Churches

This update from Friday’s “The Briefing” by Albert Mohler, speaks about what is an appropriate level of guidance for the CDC and other government entities to give to churches and what churches’ stance should be. He also addresses the Minnesota lockdown situation.

If you are a podcast listener, I recommend that you include Albert Mohler’s excellent podcasts in your feed.

Governor Walz reaches compromise with churches

From KEYC:

[ST. PAUL, MN] – A day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance allowing for reopening places of worship, Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan Saturday announced they have partnered with Minnesota faith leaders on a plan for places of worship who decide to open to do so as safely as possible. Through consultation with Minnesota faith leaders, the Minnesota Department of Health has developed additional guidance for faith-based communities, places of worship, and services. Starting May 27, places of worship may open at 25 percent occupancy if they adhere to social distancing and other public health guidelines to keep congregants safe.

“I have had many meaningful conversations with faith leaders over the last few weeks,” Governor Walz said. “From a personal and public health perspective, the decision around places of worship has been a challenging one since the beginning of the pandemic. We know large gatherings of people raise the risk of spreading COVID-19. We also know worship is an essential part of many Minnesotans’ lives, including mine.”…

· In all settings, ensure a minimum of 6 feet of physical distancing between households.

· In indoor settings, occupancy must not exceed 25 percent of the normal occupant capacity as determined by the fire marshal, with a maximum of 250 people in a single self-contained space.

· In outdoor settings, gatherings must not exceed 250 individuals.

· Develop and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan in accordance with guidance developed by the Minnesota Department of Health and available at https://mn.gov/deed/guidance

What is going on between our churches and Governor Walz? Why have our churches announced that they are ready to defy the governor’s church shutdown orders?

You may be helped by starting with this news story from KSTP:

Next, you may want to read the letter from our Lutheran district presidents, but I will summarize.

On May 8th, the Minnesota North and South district presidents of the LCMS, together with presidents of the ELS, WELS, Free Lutherans, and Lutheran Bretheren, and Roman Catholic Bishops sent a letter to the Governor laying out plans to reopen churches under protocols designed by a group of medicial experts and theologians at the Thomistic Institute that have already been successfully implemented in other states and countries. The protocols were sent to receive feedback before we would implement our plans.

I personally spoke with our district president and a staff member at the Minnesota North District on Monday. The governor’s office did not respond to the letter in any way. Instead, last week’s announcement of his new Executive Order EO-56 he outright forbade worship services indoors or outdoors with attendance greater than 10 and announced added penalties including extensive fines and imprisonment for up to 1 year.

Yesterday, at his press conference, he indicated that these restrictions on worship services will continue for an indefinite period of time. Even as restaurants are allowed to have 50 dining outside churches are limited to 10. Governor Walz was asked about this and he fumbled around trying to come up with an answer. The answer he gave seems to admit the inequity and undermine his position, as KSTP reports:

“I confess on this one,” the governor said. “That we struggle on some of these and there is not a perfect answer. I think the logic behind it…. was the predictability of who’s there, but I think you could argue, boy, I see the same people every week at my congregation and the Smiths sat in the same pew every year for 30 years so we know exactly where they’re at, we know exactly where they are.’ I just want to say I think there is a very strong sense of urgency to figure this piece out around churches.”

https://kstp.com/coronavirus/walz-says-phased-plan-to-reopen-restaurants-bars-barbers-shops-and-salons-will-go-into-effect-june-1/5736107/?cat=1

This leaves us with little choice. We are asking for equal treatment, not special treatment. Moreover, there are not explicit constitutional guarantees given for other sectors of public life that are being given greater freedom than churches. What exact course our congregation will take is yet to be determined.

You can listen to President Woodford, Archbishop Hebda and counsel from Becket in this press call:

Finally, here is a word of encouragement from President Woodford:

Press Release from Becket, the Legal representation for the Minnesota Districts of the LCMS, ELS, WELS and Minnesota Catholic Dioceses

Minnesota churches tell Governor Walz they are resuming in-person worship services
Not waiting for Governor to change executive order
WASHINGTON – The Minnesota Catholic Conference and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in Minnesota sent Governor Tim Walz separate letters today announcing that they would be resuming worship services on May 26 despite Governor Walz’s current COVID-19 executive order which allows retailers to operate at 50 percent capacity but caps church worship services at ten people. Governor Walz’s latest re-opening order allows the Mall of America to open its doors to those seeking retail therapy but disallows churches from providing spiritual healing to their congregations. At the same time, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sent Governor Tim Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison a legal letter explaining why continuing to keep churches closed violates the First Amendment. Also representing the Catholic and Lutheran Churches is global law firm Sidley Austin LLP.

On May 13, 2020, Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order with guidelines for reopening commerce in the State of Minnesota. The order allows malls, shops, and other retailers to open their doors at fifty percent capacity, allows businesses—from pet-grooming services to medical cannabis operations—to resume in-person operations, and even announces a phased plan for reopening bars and restaurants, but explicitly leaves in place bans on in-person worship services for more than ten people. Even Minnesota casinos are reopening starting May 26. After weeks of dialogue with Governor Walz to try to achieve equal treatment for houses of worship, today the Catholic and Lutheran Churches announced that they would resume worship services for their congregations at thirty-three percent capacity on Tuesday, May 26, with Pentecost Sunday, May 31, as the first day of Sunday services. The churches have committed to instituting rigorous social distancing and hygiene protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Darkness and despair have taken hold of so many of our fellow Americans in the face of the economic and social hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Archbishop Hebda. “Faith has always been a source of comfort and strength and now more than ever it is of the utmost importance that we are able to meet the spiritual needs of our community.”

Since the beginning of Minnesota’s stay-at-home order suicide hotlines have seen spikes in calls as high as 300 percent in parts of the State, as well as a 25 percent increase in calls about domestic violence. Millions of Americans seek comfort and strength in their faith communities, which also serve as safe spaces for victims of domestic violence and those suffering with addictions. 

“Throughout this crisis, we have been committed to modeling Christ’s love by protecting people from the spread of illness. That’s why it is so disheartening that the Governor has subordinated our spiritual well-being to the economic well-being of the State,” said Rev. Dr. Lucas Woodford, president of the Minnesota South District of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. “Now that the State has deemed the risk of spreading coronavirus low enough to reopen non-essential business, we respectfully believe that it is our right and duty to safely resume public ministry to the faithful even without the support of the Governor.”

In March, well before statewide stay-at-home orders came into effect, both the Minnesota Catholic Conference and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod voluntarily suspended in-person worship services to preserve the health and safety of their communities. On May 7, and again on May 16 the churches presented Governor Walz with proposed protocols for resuming in-person worship services in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization and United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 
“If malls, casinos, liquor stores, bars, and restaurants are reopening, why can’t Minnesota churches?” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket.“Our Constitution stands for ‘equal justice under law’ and imposing a special disability on churches is anything but. Governor Walz and Attorney General Ellison should ensure equal treatment for churches and houses of worship—especially because they are crucial to helping our nation overcome this crisis.”
 
The head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice yesterday sent a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom explaining that, under federal law, California could not force houses of worship to lag behind other organizations during the reopening process.

A legal commentary on the governor’s new executive order

I commend to you for your reading and consideration an article from Renee Carlson, General Counsel, True North Legal.

The current executive order has left pastors struggling with the ambiguity of the orders and difficulty of navigating the situation.

I am pleased to find that I am not the only one who has seen this difficulty.

Trust is a Two-Way Street