Dearest Siblings in Christ,

With the COVID-19 situation changing daily and sometimes hourly, it can be exhausting. When places close and events get rescheduled, we can feel exiled to our homes. When the Israelites were deported from their homeland and lived in exile in a foreign land, God’s words through Isaiah comforted them, “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa 41:10). May these words bring us comfort as well.

As of March 17, 2020, Governor Kim Reynolds has mandated that gatherings of more than ten are prohibited. While Harrison County has one confirmed case of COVID-19, many people work, eat, and play in Council Bluffs and Omaha where multiple cases have been confirmed.

The Congregation Council at Saint Paul Lutheran has voted to suspend all activities through the month of March and to revisit and reassess the issue via a virtual meeting on March 31. This includes and is not limited to: in-person Sunday worship, Sunday school and Confirmation, choir, adult Bible study, Wednesday evening meals and worship, in-person pastoral care such as in-person hospital and home visits. Other pastoral care calls such as by telephone call, text, or Facetime will be made.

It might be likely that this will be extended into April. This might mean there’s a possibility of no in-person worship on Easter. The good news is that every Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. If Easter comes and we are worshipping online, we will celebrate Easter online. Like the Israelites finally crossing into the promised land and rejoicing loudly, we will also joyously celebrate the resurrection when we can again join together for in-person worship. The Lord God is with us and will strengthen us until then.

I mentioned online worship… Instead of gathering for in-person worship, we will be preparing an online experience, a virtual worship opportunity. The webpage will be linked from the Saint Paul website ( http://stpaulmvia.com ). Confirmation lessons will also be found on that webpage to come.

Even with the church building closed to gatherings during this time, Saint Paul will still have expenses: utility bills, salaries, grounds maintenance, etc. Please consider mailing your contributions to the church. We will be checking and processing mail as usual to keep with bills and essential communications.

Although we cannot be in church, this is a great time to be the church. Those I routinely visit; I will be scheduling times to “visit” by phone. Meanwhile, I ask you to call your friends to check on them and encourage them – not with fancy words or empty sayings but just by the sound of your voice saying, “hello.”  If you’d like to visit with me by phone, I can set up a one-time or repeating phone visit.  Should you wish to have prayer and communion, please contact me and I will meet you at church for some brief time together. I will maintain a physical distance bubble to keep you and me both safe.

As we wash our hands, cover our coughs, and maintain bodily distance from one another, let’s remember that we are not alone. The Lord our God is with us all. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinth 13:11-14).

In one peace,

Pastor Jean