A letter from the Synod Council:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” Colossians 3:12
Dear Siblings in Christ,
On behalf of the Synod Council, we write to tell you about some significant decisions we have made regarding the 2021 Synod Assembly.
The Synod Council has been Dwelling in the Word, using Colossians 3:12-17; 4:5-6. Throughout the months of Covid, we have had to make a number of difficult decisions. We have always sought to ground ourselves in scripture and listen for the Spirit to move us collectively in those moments when we face tough situations.
Earlier this year, we moved the Synod Assembly from our regular June date to a date in September in hopes that the Covid virus would wane and vaccination rates would be robust enough to allow a safe, large, in person gathering. In early June 2021, we met to discuss how to hold that September Synod Assembly—virtually or in person. We convened a Medical Advisory Team to sift through data and guide us in interpreting the recommendations and guidelines. In early June, positivity rates were in the single digits, vaccinations were on the upswing, case loads were down. While our community was not out of the woods in the battle against the virus, we felt we could take enough protective measures and streamline the Assembly such that we could gather—about 400 of us— in person.
As you know, though, things have dramatically changed in the last month. The benchmarks we looked at in June are all significantly worse—vaccination rates have leveled off, there is still no vaccine for children under 12, positivity rates in central Florida now exceed 20%, hospital capacity (including staffing) is stretched thin. In Jacksonville, one hospital has again rented a refrigerator truck as the morgue is full.
God commands us to love God with all our heart and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to be clothed in compassion and patience. It is in this spirit—with care for our neighbor at the forefront—that we have decided to hold our Synod Assembly virtually, rather than in person. In order to put all the plans and technology in place, we will reschedule it to October 15-16, 2021. More information will be forthcoming on the details of registration, refunds on hotel rooms booked, etc., from the Office of the Bishop.
We cannot outguess the progress of this virus. We cannot ignore our most vulnerable who cannot be vaccinated. While children may not be in attendance at the Assembly, many of us go home to children or grandchildren who cannot be vaccinated. We take our responsibility to our collective health and the health of our community to heart and have decided to err on the side of safety. Gathering 400+ people in one place in Central Florida indoors and possibly becoming a super-spreader event at this time would, in our view, be irresponsible.
As we discussed how many things we would have to give up in the Assembly if we tried to gather in person, we also realized that we were taking much of the “joy” out of our gathering: Limiting singing and worship, no communal meals, sitting masked in a cavernous room socially distanced, eliminating the manager’s reception, etc. Some of the things we love most about getting together were not going to be possible. The 2021 Assembly will be greatly pared down in the virtual format to allow us to do the business we have to do—largely elections—and minimize “zoom fatigue.” And remember—the 2022 Synod Assembly will be here very soon—June of 2022 (currently).
We know that some of you will applaud this decision. Some of you will take issue with it. We know that congregations are taking different measures in these days. Some have returned to in person worship with singing and communion; others have gone back to virtual only; still others are taking measures in between. But for the synod, having 400+ people travel to gather for a couple of days in a community where the virus rages is different than a congregation accommodating 75 people in a worship setting.
So, siblings in Christ, let us remember to clothe ourselves in patience and compassion, in kindness and humility. We ask for your prayers as we try our best to be “church together” in these difficult times.
With thanks to God for the vaccine and for technology that can still connect us,
With prayers for those stricken with covid,
With lament for those who have died from it,
With prayers for the stamina of caregivers,
With a certainty that God is with us in these days,
On behalf of the Synod Council
Bishop Pedro Suarez
Cheryl Stuart, Vice President
Pr. Kenneth Blyth, Secretary
Tom O’Reilly, Treasurer
Pr. Don Reiter
Pr. Anna Figuerio
Pr. Bruce Edwards
Pr. Jefferson Cox
William Horne, Churchwide Representative
Phyllis Wade, WELCA Advisory Member