When I am home for bedtime, I often sing this song to our children: “Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me, I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.” These words, from Isaiah 43:1, have been my constant companion the past few days, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Do not be afraid. God is with you. God knows your name. God loves you.
I write this email out of love, not fear. This afternoon I was on a conference call for faith community leaders with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady of the Chicago Department of Public Health. While official guidance about public gatherings has not changed, they both emphasized how important it is that we act to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable in our midst. They “strongly recommend” cancelling in-person gatherings, including worship.
So it is that I am writing to say that we will not gather at Grace for public worship this Sunday, March 15. All activities, gatherings, and events at Grace are cancelled this weekend. This includes, as communicated earlier today, the Graceful Evening fundraising gala.
Our Wednesday Lent worship services and evening meal on March 18 are cancelled as well.
I write these words with tears in my eyes but with hope in my heart. I never thought I would cancel worship, but I can’t imagine making a different decision today. It is clear that the most faithful way we can respond to the gospel and care for our neighbor is to stay physically separated from one another.
This Sunday, we will livestream a Service of the Word at 8:30am. This will not be a public worship service; there will not be a congregation present. But there will be Word and song and prayer and an opportunity to be together virtually if not physically. You can watch in real time. The service will remain available as a recording to watch at your convenience. You'll find the link you need at the bottom of this email, along with a link to the bulletin for the service. Or click on the Live Stream image on the home page at GraceRiverForest.org.
(If you are signed up as a worship volunteer, please do not show up at church unless you receive a specific request to help us with the livestream. Thank you.)
We have not yet made plans for the coming weeks, although I imagine that we will be cancelling many things. This coming week Grace will be open from 8:30am to 3:30pm, Monday through Friday. Please feel free to drop by during the day to spend time in prayer in the sanctuary.
Grace School students will be learning from home March 16-20 and on Spring Break the following week. Plans for other meetings and events will be made in the days ahead and communicated via email and on the COVID-19 page of our website.
I encourage you to seek out the best health information you can find. Wash your hands. Be good to yourselves. Take care of one another. And pray. People of God, pray. For those afflicted, those who are anxious, those who don’t know where to turn, and for one another. Pray.
Hear the Word of the Lord from Isaiah: “Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me, I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.”
In the hope of Christ,
Almighty and merciful God, you are the only source of health and healing; you alone can bring calmness and peace. Grant to us, your children, an awareness of your presence and a strong confidence in you. In our pain, our weariness, and our anxiety, surround us with your care, protect us by your loving might, and permit us once more to enjoy health and strength and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
(from "Evangelical Lutheran Worship")