To the people of the Northern Illinois Synod, ELCA
May 23, 2020
I hope this holiday weekend finds you well and living in God’s amazing grace.
Yesterday, the President of the United States said something that you and I have known all along. The church is essential. Every aspect of our lives has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the ministries of the church have continued in significant ways and the work of your congregation has gone on in ways that have made me proud of our synod.
President Trump also said that churches should reopen this weekend. Let me be very clear. Church buildings should remain closed this weekend. I affirmed this in a communication with the rostered ministers of this synod yesterday afternoon. I believe, and have repeatedly said, that we must take our medical advice from doctors and health departments and not rely on those who make politically expedient decisions.
In Illinois, we will not enter Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan until Friday, May 29. The state will issue guidelines to assist congregations next week. The CDC issued revised guidelines for communities of faith yesterday afternoon. We must continue to make smart decisions as we move forward and protect the health and wellbeing of God’s people. Our return to the sanctuary is not imminent.
The medical community continues to tell us that physical distancing and other precautions are critical to keeping COVID-19 under control. I expect that our return to the sanctuary will occur slowly and in phases. For now, online worship provides a much more satisfactory experience for worshipers than in-person worship can or will for some time to come. Unfortunately, there are few things that are as conducive to spreading a disease like COVID-19 than our normal Christian worship.
Even after we return to the sanctuary, we should consider online worship to be a permanent addition to our congregations’ ministries. We are reaching new people in new ways with the love of Jesus Christ. I know these are difficult days. I want to be back in a pew as much as you do. I remind myself as I remind you, it is out of our love for our neighbor that we must be part of the solution to this pandemic rather than part of the problem.
May God bless you and grant us patience and hope.
Walking with you,
The Rev. Jeffrey Clements
Northern Illinois Synod, ELCA