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Bishop Thomas Aitken's

Pastoral Message

May 22, 2020

(April 27th)

Dear Synod:

You are the Church. Buildings are not. You already know that I have taken a strong Leadership stand on not returning to our Church buildings for in-gathering worship as per my seven pastoral messages and videos over the last two months. Just because we "can" or when a premature or even foolhardy pronouncement may be made to return to the buildings, does not make it good, right or salutary for ourselves or our neighbors. In fact you know well, that Christian faith teaches us to serve the neighbor, to put the neighbor's needs - as Luther said - ahead even of our own. I hold to that fast as I know you do. Worship in our Synod has not been cancelled over the past 8 weeks. You are my living proof of this as I have been blessed so much from worshiping with you on line.
Parking lot Services with appropriate distancing and extreme attention to hygiene are different from gathering in person in the building. I hope that day comes - just like you do. I also believe that will be a long time down the road. I will continue to lead us into safe, science-thinking and faith-thinking ways about when in person gatherings are safe. In the meantime, let us each work on our own congregations "Smart Team" planning as we live intelligently, and lovingly into the future. Keep on worshiping in the creative ways you have found to do so, and let us urge our neighbors by our words and deeds, to live not in reactionary response, anger or cynicism, but with Christian hope and trust in our Lord.
Peace, +Bishop Aitken

Bishop Thomas Aitken's

Pastoral Message

                                                                          April 27, 2020

Dear partners in Christ in the Northeastern Minnesota Synod, 

“ I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility, and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 

               (Ephesians 4:1-3) 

 During this continued Covid-19 pandemic let’s remember that Christians have a life foundation and purpose already given to us in Christ.  As the Apostle Paul says above, it is a life grounded in patience among other things.  In this pastoral letter, I stress that we be patient.  I am mindful of the good work our Synod leaders, our Governor and smart medical folks are doing in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.  Rostered Ministers – thank you for the extra work needed to provide pastoral care and worship leadership along with your worship teams.  

 In my opinion, Governor Walz is a great leader for our State.  Please check regularly his updates: https://mn.gov/governor/covid-19/    I appreciate the difficult position he as a leader is in, trying to balance economics, safety for not only the most vulnerable, but as we increasingly see, for all of us.  He keeps reminding us that the medical experts claim subsequent outbreaks could easily happen.  Testing, contact tracing,   physical distancing, and limitations to group activities will be absolutely necessary to slow the spread of the virus.  Gradual gatherings when and only when it is safe, people worship will most likely be needed and then in phases, not all at once.  This will take  patience and wisdom from all of us. 

 Now is not the time to be foolhardy about getting “back to normal” when there is still such a need for social distancing, face masks and intentional work on the part of all of us to flatten the continued infection curve of Dovd-19 by paying attention to staying at home.   We are in this virus spreading stage for longer than many  believe or want to believe.   The Church  can model maturity, intelligence and patience within  our congregations as we begin to carefully think through potential phases of change in how we handle our congregational lives together.  One of the solid resources for congregations comes out the Wisconsin Council of Churches: “Returning to Church:  Ministry during the COVID-19 outbreak” just released last week. It is in my opinion, a  wisely cautious and faithful tool as we make important decisions for the future.  I am particularly grateful that the document utilized public health experts and church leaders across the United States.  It urges us to think contextually, recognizing that there is no perfect timetable plan  but some thinking about three types of Phases:  https://www.wichurches.org/2020/04/23/returning-to-church/

I will be using this with our Synod Council in the days ahead  in helping all of us think through “Phases” of re-entry in  our own context here in Northeastern Minnesota Synod, and will share our learning and goals in subsequent pastoral letters.

As I went around in our Synod, the first two months of 2020 to teach at  “Bishop’s visitations”  for Confirmation Students, parents and mentors, I used Galatians 5:22 as my Scripture Passage as the framework.  I shared with our youth the truth that the Holy Spirit is actually forming in them, the mind and heart of Christ. The fruits of the Spirit that St. Paul mentions in that passage are in reality the very things Christ himself is: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control.  Those fruits or gifts are being formed in all of us.   Let’s use them to the glory of God and the good of your neighbor right now as we stay safe, faithful and yes, patient. 

Your +Bishop, and partner in Christ, 

The Rev. Thomas M. Aitken

 Other Resources: 

Minnesota Covid-19 cases and data https://tinyurl.com/soypouq

 FAQ: https://mn.gov/governor/covid-19/faq/

 Governor Walz Guidance for faith based communities


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