COVID-19: Being fully the church in times of Coronavirus
Lutheran leaders urge all churches to support laws and regulations that “promote and protect life”
(LWI) - As restrictions to contain the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak spread to countries around the globe, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) leaders have written to all member churches reflecting on the best ways of responding to these unprecedented challenges and how new approaches are needed to gather for worship while maintaining the necessary distance to contain the outbreak.
In the 19 March letter, LWF President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa and General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge, note that restrictions on “social distancing” pose particular difficulties “for churches whose identity is expressed in a gathering of people in one space around the Word and sacraments. When the body of Christ cannot meet together in one place,” they ask, “what then are we to do?”
Theological and pastoral implications
The two leaders stress the importance of supporting and complying with local government laws and regulations that “promote and protect life.” Churches, they say, are called to set an example of “responsible adherence to public policies” and, at times, “even push local and national governments to heighten restrictions on movement and gatherings in order to protect the most vulnerable and the elderly.”
In normal circumstances, President Musa and General Secretary Junge say, compassion moves the church to create community with the sick or isolated. But now, the wellbeing of vulnerable neighbors is best served by not assembling.
As Lutherans, the letter continues, “we profess that we are liberated by God’s grace through faith” and so are “free from religious compulsion.” In times of a global pandemic therefore, the two leaders say, “not to gather in one place for worship is an expression of compassion and solidarity. It does not diminish our worship but embodies worship in a new way. It doesn’t make us to be less the church, but fully the church. This is the paradox of compassion that comes with the current pandemic of COVID-19.”
Alternative ways of being together
Urging all member churches “to live into these times of exception with ongoing trust in the means of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit,” the two leaders highlight alternative ways of “remaining together” through online activities, radio and television broadcasts or the distribution of print materials for households to continue Christian education and worship at home.
Musa and Junge note that even when sharing the bread and wine is not available, “we take comfort in remembering that the Word is a means of grace, that can be received through prayer, singing, reading and meditating on the Word, as well as remembering our community and our neighbors.” The Holy Spirit is present when we profess God’s name even if we are alone, they say.
Live out the Reformation principle of “ecclesia semper reformanda” (the church in ongoing process of reforming) as you find new ways of gathering in Jesus’ name and worshipping the Triune God.
As a communion of churches united in worship, the LWF leaders insist, we know well what it is to be geographically distant, yet closely bound to each other and “that experience is a resource for all of us.” They invite all churches to make use of weekly prayers which the LWF Communion Office will continue providing, both for print and social media.
In these exceptional times, the LWF President and General Secretary conclude, “we call upon you to live out the Reformation principle of “ecclesia semper reformanda” (the church in ongoing process of reforming) as you find new ways of gathering in Jesus’ name and worshipping the Triune God.”
Read the letter