Hello and welcome to another Florida-Bahamas Synod Update!
As promised, every week I will do my best to update you on my perspective as I serve you as your Bishop.
The big issue right now is the notice from Governor Ron DeSantis that the first phase for reopening Florida began yesterday. I understand that some of you would like further directives from my office as to what to do during this time.
Today, I want to address those of you that are leaders in your congregation, committees and council members, and anyone who serves your congregation in a leadership capacity. You are essential in sharing information and in supporting your pastors. Pastors are making serious decisions, and that can be a lonely position.
First, please note that for congregations, nothing has changed. Even if some businesses slowly begin to reopen, churches were never closed. They are still allowed to gather with ten people or less. There can be people in the office daily, or meeting for planning, for council meetings, and for getting the weekly worship online. Gatherings larger than ten are still not allowed.
Here’s my strong recommendation: Please plan to not come together for worship with more than ten people for the rest of the month of May, at least. Take into consideration the risks to those in vulnerable situations in your congregation: people over 65 and those of any age that have diabetes, heart conditions, respiratory problems, those who have had a serious medical process or treatment recently, and all those with compromised immune systems.
My dear folks, take care of your pastors, as they can quickly become vulnerable. Many people will want to be close to their pastors as soon as they see them forgetting about social distancing.
Secondly, whenever the time to reopen comes, be ready. Prepare and plan now for those first gatherings of more than ten people. I humbly suggest you begin with the Service of the Word, so you may continue to practice social distancing. Abstain from singing, following the example of our Lutheran siblings from Germany. Wear face masks at all times. Do not begin with a full-blown service with Holy Communion. This would be too much of a risk, and as Murphy’s Law says, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. This is not the time for tests, and as it is written, “Do not tempt the Lord, your God”. Continue to livestream or post your services for those who cannot join.
Thirdly, continue to follow the recommendations of your local Health Department in your daily life. On our website, you can find a link to “Resources for Returning to Worship”, which was also sent by our electronic newsletter E-Spirit. I shared some of those guidelines in my video last week.
Fourthly, we have much to celebrate! We have launched our Covid-19 Synod Appeal “United as One”, and with glitches resolved, we have been able to process some grants already. Please, if your congregation applied and did not receive a confirmation email back, kindly resubmit it as we are still improving this service.
I also celebrate the many of you who are making face masks, those of you working with food pantries and homeless services, those of you taking serious time to pray intensively, centered and gladly, and those of you giving generously and sacrificially for God’s work.
I celebrate those who are spending long hours preparing online devotions, Bible studies, sermons, music, video conferences and more.
May the Love of Christ continue to be seen in our offering of time, talents and treasure!
I leave you now with this verse from Colossians, chapter 3:
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Amen.
I hope to see you next week. Goodbye!
+ Bp. Pedro
The Rev. Pedro M. Suarez, Bishop
Florida-Bahamas Synod, ELCA