Greetings in Christ, my dear siblings in the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the ELCA. Thank you for spending a few minutes with me as I update you on our Synod status. First, I want to start by addressing some of the concerns that have arisen in recent weeks.
We are aware of increased break-ins at our church properties. Unfortunately, thieves have targeted church buildings, knowing that they are closed due to COVID-19. We are working with law enforcement to protect our properties. In the meantime, please make sure security cameras are functioning and checked regularly. Just having signs on the property may be enough to scare burglars, though please make sure they are not unwelcome signs, as “No Trespassing” signs are not fitting for church property. Please report any suspicious individuals on your property, and please be mindful of items left outside.
Also, we know that our congregations are eager to get back to worshipping in person. However, please know that reopening your church too early could result in lawsuits if a congregation member were to get sick. Insurance may not cover your liability if you open against the official recommendations. Most insurance carriers are not even covering against viruses. For the safety of everyone, please do not rush to reopen until local authorities have guaranteed that it is safe to do so.
Next, I want to update you on some happenings in our synod. Right now, our United As One Special Appeal is raising funds to keep congregations and ministries strong during COVID-19. The financial impact of this pandemic has been severe, and every donation is appreciated! Please continue to give generously if you can.
Church leaders, if your congregation is in need of financial assistance during this time, please submit your Relief Grant Funding Application. This can be found HERE. There is also a link to the form on E-Spirit this week, and a link on our United As One Appeal page on our website, as well.
Even during COVID-19, it is important for Rostered Ministers to fulfill their Boundaries training. We are now offering Boundaries Training online. It is very important that all rostered ministers complete Boundaries training every three years. To complete the online training, please visit lewisonlinelearning.org.
Due to our current global situation, I have decided to cancel Conference on Ministry for this year. Instead, we will be focusing on meeting with our leaders in smaller groups, either via Zoom or in person once the threat of COVID-19 has passed. Please stay tuned for more announcements in the coming weeks.
Finally, I want to offer some positive stories from throughout our Synod, to remind us of the excellent work being done by our churches and our leaders.
We’ve heard so many wonderful stories about churches using digital worship to connect with their congregations. We’ve seen pastors become video directors and production managers, and they’re doing a great job! And our pastors aren’t just broadcasting worship; they’re also hosting informal chats and coffee hours, using the technology to encourage fellowship, connect with members, and create a virtual community.
We’ve also heard about generous support for our food pantries. Right now, the need for food and assistance in our communities is greater than ever. I’m so proud of the churches that are finding ways to serve the hungry in their communities while also maintaining a safe social distance.
In addition, I want to take a moment and let you know about the other work being done by the Office of the Bishop in the midst of our COVID-19 response:
- My staff and I have met with nearly every congregation either on Zoom or through email to communicate with our leaders. Our goal is to provide resources, encouragement, help especially with the PPP, answer questions of concern, and offer best practices.
- Retirements, interim ministry, and call processes are all still happening throughout our Synod. Our Candidacy Committee will meet as scheduled in July via Zoom. The Candidacy team is adapting well to our COVID-19 safety measures and is excited to host their Committee meeting digitally.
- While we deal with our COVID-19 response, we also want to make sure we’re prepared for other future emergencies and events. Our excellent Director for Disaster Response Jim Habermehl is already preparing for the upcoming hurricane season.
- Finally, we continue to plan for the reopening of our churches in future weeks. I have written a list of resources for congregations as they prepare to reopen in the future. You can find our Resources for Returning to Worship HERE.
I call on congregational councils to pray and support their rostered leaders as they make necessary and difficult decisions regarding reopening. I pray that our Lord will guide your conversations and give you understanding as you make these complicated determinations especially when you speak about reopening.
The Office of the Bishop is still here, still praying, and still working faithfully for our congregations. COVID-19 has forced us to step up and be at our best, and I’m very happy with the work being done throughout the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the ELCA.
May the power of the risen Lord continue to strengthen us in His love and His service. Amen