Dear Beloved of God,
Today is the Tuesday after Pentecost. And Spirit? She is swirling! Now, as then, we stand at a tense moment in history: hearts burn and protesters pray and unexpected preachers preach and a spirit of change blows with hope. Those who serve the status quo watch, smirk, and ask, “Aren’t you just drunk, foolhardy, angry, entitled, or all of the above?”
I am a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American, the whitest denomination in the United States. I serve the Oregon Synod, perhaps the whitest synod in the ELCA. I have been long marinated in my privilege. So as I light a candle and pray for racial justice and the long-deferred dream of wholeness, I have more questions than answers:
- How do you kneel on a human being’s neck for nine minutes?
- How many precautions are needed before a brown or black bodied person can jog unarmed down a street?
- How can the dignity of entire groups of people, in a nation, a church, a region I love so much, be so willfully overlooked for four-hundred years and counting?
- How have I benefited from silence, and what does truly liberating action look like?
- What would it look like for the ELCA to “take a knee”?
I don’t know. But I do know some things:
- White Supremacy reigns, and it isn’t simply about individuals, it’s about systems and institutions which consistently privilege one race above all others.
- Racism and white supremacy are sins. Though I am committed to an anti-racist life and learnings, having been marinated in the white supremacy of my culture and, by virtue of the color of my skin, I am racist.
- All people are God’s beloveds and to be able to see that we need to help center the experiences of those who’ve been marginalized and silenced for eons.
- The violence we see all around us is dangerous, and yet is a response to a culture which violates, and has violated, black and brown bodies for centuries.
- It’s time I learned to listen. It’s time the institutions I love learn to be open to radical transformation.
- None of this work toward justice, peace, and transformation, which is God’s work, will be easy.
Christ’s redeeming, liberating love will lead the way if we are truly open to its capacity to be a light, set on a hill, making visible what has not been visible – the dignity of black and brown bodies, the sins of past and present racism and the transformational work ahead. Please join me in responding out of that divine mandate to courageous love in difficult times.
I ask you consider giving one month’s worth of your congregation’s mission support which would otherwise go to the Oregon Synod and donate it to a trusted local organization working toward racial justice and the dismantling of white supremacy.
This will impact the synod office, yes, but it will also be sacramental; body and blood, given for the world. Pray for your neighbor. Educate yourself. Challenge racism wherever you see it. And believe in the power of Spirit to change this world.
Dear friends in Christ,
As June approaches, it is time for us to check-in about in-person gatherings. The messages coming from our elected leaders can be contradictory and confusing.
- Governor Brown has allowed 31 of the 33 Oregon counties (not the Portland-metro area) to begin phase 1, which allows for groups of up to 25 people to gather with social distancing.
- President Trump has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and has called on governors across the country to allow these places of worship to reopen.
- Public health experts warn us that the nature of the virus has not changed; it is still highly contagious and our communities are still vulnerable.
More troubling news comes from those churches that have already attempted to reopen.
- At least 107 people became infected after attending or coming into contact with someone who attended a service at a German baptist church, despite church officials insisting that social distancing and hygiene guidelines were upheld during the service.
- A Baptist church in Georgia stopped in-person services two weeks after reopening as several families came down with coronavirus. Again, the church states that all modes of social distancing were practiced and followed by the families attending.
- A Catholic church in Texas also closed after it was discovered multiple members had contracted the novel coronavirus and one leader had died. Again, the parish had followed cleaning, sanitation and social distancing guidelines prescribed by State health officials.
Here in Oregon, we are blessed with the opportunity to learn from these churches experience and protect our ministers, lay leaders, members and communities from risk. In-person, indoor gatherings of people from different households are high risk and they are a risk we do not have to take. We know we are essential, but it is not essential to gather in person at this time.
Our priority is protecting the well-being, health and safety of ALL members of the Oregon Synod: congregants and staff. Therefore, we advise that church buildings remain closed to all but essential staff for as long as in-person, indoor gatherings remain high risk.
Thank you all for taking care of each other during these troubling times. Let us continue to pray for those who are sick, those who have died, and for the good health and welfare of all members of our communities.
Lovers of Christ,
These are unprecedented times to be a spiritual leader. I have been holding you, your families, your congregations, and your communities in prayer, offering petitions and lighting candles around my house to remind me to rest, breathe and pray. These are challenging times.
A few things to note as we move forward together:
The COVID19 news is changing fast, and so will our recommendations to you. We are taking great care not to pass along anything but accurate and safety conscious suggestions. Consider anything from the Disaster Preparedness Team as something from me. We are working together closely, with one another and state agencies. Right now we strongly recommend that you cancel all in-person church activities for at least two weeks and possibly eight weeks or more. Prepare your people. Find ways to stay in touch with your people. While this is hard, public safety is our primary concern. It is evolving, and so will we.
I want to hear from you – see your faces and hear more about your challenges, collaborations, fears, creativity, and prayers. We are working with the deans to create a plan for me and my staff to connect with you this week, virtually over Zoom. If you don’t have a Zoom account, please create one. It’s free and will be an important way to stay in touch going forward. (You may consider getting a subscription for your church if you don’t yet have one. It runs $12.50 – $17 per month and even the least techie person can often figure it out. I have found it invaluable for sustaining momentum already.)
Your Oregon synod office is closed for the immediate future. We are checking phone and email daily Tuesday-Fridays. The Bishop and Bishop’s Associates are working from home (phone numbers at bottom of page) and Jemae McCanna will be in the office most days to keep things flowing. Email will be a crucial way to stay connected. The website will hold all of our mailings and soon will be a repository of ministry suggestions you can share with one another. Northwest Washington Synod, for example, has had great success with that, and you may want to check out their idea page for clever ways to do ministry in these times.
The Oregon Synod Facebook Page is another excellent way to stay connected. Encourage all your members to like that page, to like the ELCA and other synods’ pages. You will find prayers, ideas, bible studies and so much more! Here’s a prayer I posted on my personal page this morning.
For Patrick, Christ was love, light, truth, peace, laughter, hope. If it works better for you, insert one of those words into this section of his well-loved prayer. I’m making it my mantra today. And wearing green.
Blessed St. Patrick’s Day!
Bishop Emeritus Dave Brauer-Rieke, current member of the Disaster Response and Preparedness Team and his wife Gretchen Brauer-Rieke, a medical professional RN/MSN, created this helpful video on COVID-19.
A Letter from the Oregon Synod Disaster Response Team
March 16, 2020
Little did we expect that our new Oregon Synod Disaster Response Initiative would be engaged in full-on response mode so soon!
Today, we are writing to you to underscore the seriousness of the COVID19 Coronavirus health emergency and to ask you to act now to protect the health and safety of your communities by adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Oregon Health Authority guidance.
- CDC recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the U.S. More Information on Mass Gatherings.
- Oregon Health Authority/the Governor’s Office recommends that individuals in high risk populations (those over 60 years of age, or those with an underlying health condition) should avoid social and community gatherings of more than 10 people, for four weeks (through April 8, 2020).
- Today, President Trump issued guidelines that called for Americans to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people and to limit discretionary travel.
The bottom line for us, this means cancelling all in-person worship services and group activities for the next 4-8 weeks or until we hear otherwise. We know that with situations changing so rapidly, these sites may not always be in sync so we will try to bring you the most recent developments as we get them.
If you need help creating alternatives to worship, study, and prayer, please call the synod office at (503) 413-4191 or our team via Jan Wierima at (503) 318-8145.
We will be sending you accurate, practical resources, information pages in English and Spanish, and CDC and OHA updates, so please watch for emails from both the synod office and the Oregon Synod Disaster Response Team.
It is vital that we take strong measures now to help stem the spread of this virus. Please contact us with your questions and we will get you answers!
Your leadership is vital—thank you for taking these strong measures now. Watch for regular updates!
In Faith, With You,
Jan Wierima, Charlene Larsen, and John Core
Synod Office: (503) 413-4191 Jan Wierima (503) 413-4191
March 12, 2020
Dear siblings in Christ’s liberating love,
God knows there is enough anxiety in the air in this intense and polarized election season when climate change is eroding our planet and our denials, and the church we love is aging, shrinking and increasingly misunderstood. We do not need the coronavirus in the mix, but in the mix it is. Social distancing and self quarantining appear to be critical ways of dealing with the spread of the disease. As we in the Oregon Synod strive to be faithful and courageous leaders, here are a few things we know:
The World Health Organization has just declared that the COVID-19 outbreak has gone from an epidemic to a pandemic. An epidemic is something that has gone beyond human control and a pandemic is something that is both out of control and now worldwide or covering huge geography. This means we are most likely yet at the beginning of its impact.
30 people in Washington State have died. Others in New York and New Jersey have died. Thousands have been diagnosed and many others remain undiagnosed.
The elderly and those with compromised health are the most at risk.
135 colleges and universities like Smith and Stanford are sending students home to study online for the foreseeable future.
Some synods are canceling all worship services. Others are suggesting no Lenten potlucks and no peace-passing, wine or juice, or open baptismal fonts at worship.
At least one synod is on the verge of canceling its April synod assembly. We are delaying our Assembly registration (scheduled to open this week) while we monitor the situation.
The CDC appears to be indicating that the best thing we can do is to slow the inevitable progression of the disease throughout the country. If we can slow or halt its progress, hospitals will be better able to serve the reduced numbers. If not, our health system may be overwhelmed and not able to care for the sick and affected.
Remember that the spread of the virus is most often exponential. The CDC reports that Italy, for example, had 62 identified cases of COVID-19 on the 22nd of February. It had 888 cases by the 29th of February, and 4,636 by the 6th of March.
I’ve been praying, thinking and studying, and reluctantly as your bishop, I strongly suggest:
- Canceling worship services for a season.
- Communicate well. Provide clear and consistent information about the disease from trusted sources. Explain that the health and wellness of the congregation and community is your utmost concern.
- Follow up with those who are ill or will be concerned, afraid, alone, or at risk.
- Create an old-fashioned phone tree to connect with members.
- Prepare an online at-home worship service for each worship service canceled. Perhaps use video! Scan the internet for good ideas.
- If you continue with worship, skip the wine, juice and the passing of the peace with touching. Instead, substitute bows, waves or other greetings in the name of Christ. Focus on hand washing. Provide hand sanitizer in all rows as it is available.
- Encourage those who are ill to stay at home and self-quarantine.
- Prepare for the worst and pray for the best.
- There are many, many good articles and resources.
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7
Whatever you decide, God bless you and keep you! I will be praying.
We are so proud of Deacon Sue Best, who has been honored with the Survivor of the Year award from the Susan G. Komen Oregon and SW Washington affiliate! This award celebrates a local breast cancer survivor, who has supported, demonstrated and served the Komen Affiliate and inspired others who travel the journey of breast cancer to live the Komen promise: to save lives and end breast cancer forever by empowering people, ensuring quality care for all and energizing science to find the cures. Over the last 20 years, Sue has served in a wide range of volunteer roles including Race for the Cure, committee membership-grants, annual conference planning, ED search committee; Worship in Pink (WIP) liaison at Augustana Lutheran, frequent speaker for WIP and Issues After Breast Cancer Conference, and, most recently, as the closing keynote speaker at the March 2019 Issues Conference https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY3lpYYgjpI. Thank you, Sue, for inspiring us with your advocacy!
On December 14, 2019, Laurie Larson Caesar was installed as bishop for the Oregon Synod by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Ann Eaton. The event was held at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in NW Portland. It was an ecumenical and interreligious service with blessings from representatives from the Yakama Nation, the Sikh, Jewish and Muslim communities. Here are links to two news articles: