Dear Friends,

When the SARS scare fully surfaced in 2003, I was the ELCA Director for Worship. It was immediately evident that faithful people were increasingly anxious about receiving Holy Communion, particularly the wine. Usually, when a disaster or a crisis strikes, people instinctively long to be together. But now, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is causing anxiety that impacts many more aspects of our daily life and raises the question as to whether or not people should gather for worship at all. With so much encouragement to stay apart, whether we are in regular worship, smaller groups, or alone, Lent becomes for us a time of reflection on what it means to be the Body of Christ.

Unless there are government-imposed, wide-spread restrictions, the decision about whether and when to gather is a local decision.

I am working to monitor what is happening in other synods of the ELCA and our team here in Southeastern Iowa is working to make sure you have access to the resources that apply to communities of faith. As you contemplate what is in the best interests of your own congregation, think also about the implications for people beyond your community of faith who benefit from and depend on the ministry. And when deciding, rather than assuming full responsibility or authority for making the decision, consult with the leaders of the congregation and work together on how to proceed.

Regarding communion practices, some congregations that continue to gather for worship may alter methods of distribution while others will rely more heavily on services of the Word.

Bishop Eaton notes in her recent video, "This pandemic and the need for physical distancing is happening during Lent. Communion means community and Real Presence. Could it be that one of our Lenten disciplines in these days is fasting from the Eucharist?”

We will keep you posted on any scheduling changes related to synod events. We have developed a resource page where we will share updates. We are contemplating ways that we might be “in touch” so that you have opportunities to share your own experiences. In all of this, I pray that you find the balance between caring for yourself and caring for your neighbors. And for the sake of all who are anxious, afraid, or ill, I encourage you to strive for more and varied ways to share the good news that Christ is with you.

Praying for the healing of the world,

Bishop Michael Burk