COVID-19 Update

April 6, 2020

St. John Family

When the church council last met (it was on March 19th, but it seems like a year ago) we said we would not gather for worship through April 5th and then reevaluate.   As most of you probably know, Governor DeWine officially announced last Friday that the “shelter at home” order was extended until May 1st.  Bishop Beaudoin has also said, “don’t gather for worship”.  I wish we had the opportunity to ‘reevaluate’, but it seems the decision has already been made for us.  So at this point (recognizing things constantly change) we are looking at gathering again for worship no sooner than May 2/3.

I haven’t discussed this with any of the committees yet, but I think when we are finally able to gather again we should have a big Easter celebration.  Easter is a ‘floating holiday’ anyway, every Sabbath day is a day of resurrection, so why not have Easter in May?  Let’s go all out; we’ll plan a big celebration, lots of music, I don’t know if we can still have an Easter breakfast, but maybe we can gather for some sort of meal.  We’ll make it a big deal.  What do you think?  Talk about it.  Share your ideas.  We’ll put the committees to work planning. 

I think it will help us through these anxious times if we have a joyful celebration to look forward to.  Give this idea some thought.  Think of ways you can contribute to our celebration.  And until we can gather again for our “Easter 2” celebration, continue to think of new and creative ways to love God and love each other while we can't be together.  Continue to seek ways to BE the church wherever you are.

Now announcements…

Bishop Beaudoin recently said he doesn't like the term "social distancing" and I tend to agree. To slow the spread of the COVID19 virus, we are certainly required to be physically distanced, but that doesn't necessarily mean we have to be distanced socially. Facebook has been a great tool for many of us to remain socially connected while remaining quarantined at home. Unfortunately, not all of us are able to be connected with technology. Therefore, to stay connected during this time of physical distancing, St. John is seeking volunteers to call their fellow church members. Volunteers are asked to pray, call, listen, and pray.

1. Pray. Before you make any calls, pray for the families on your list. Pray for their health, physically, mentally, and spiritually. That they remain free of viruses and colds. That they are able to cope with the anxieties and pressures of our physically distanced world. Pray that God may give them the faith to figuratively 'light a candle', and remain hopeful and secure in the presence of Christ.

2. Make phone calls sometime this coming week (we will provide you with a list of 10 families to call). You can make your calls on your own schedule.

3. You do not need to 'preach' to the people you call, just ask them how they are doing and be willing to listen. As you all know, these are very difficult times, for a host of different reasons. It helps to have a friend that is willing to listen and help process what is going on.

4. Ask if they are getting updates from the church (mail, email, text, FB, etc.). If they are not and they would like to, contact the church office for help getting them on a distribution list.

5. After your phone call (or during if you are comfortable doing it) pray for the families on your list again, including any of the specific concerns that came up in your conversation.

That's it. Pray, call, listen, and pray. Help us stay socially connected while remaining physically distanced. If you are willing to help, reply to the post or send a message (email and text are good too) and we will get you a list of ten names.

Other announcements…

·       The “virtual worship service” for this weekend has been posted on Facebook and YouTube.

·       The church office will be open during the week from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm, but we may have the doors locked to help us practice distancing.  There are newsletters and devotionals outside the office door. If you need to get inside to drop off an offering envelope, or speak to LisaAnne or me, please ring the “video doorbell” and someone will let you in. 

·       Worship CDs of our “virtual service” are available.  If you know of someone who was not able to tune in, please let us know.  We also changed the way we make the recording, so hopefully we have eliminated some of the empty space.

·       I haven’t mentioned it in the sermon for a couple of weeks, but I would still like you to call two people you normally see in church.  Help others with their fears and worries by talking with them. You don’t need to preach to people – just listen and reassure.

·       The Easter Lilies are still being delivered.  We will have them in the sanctuary for our virtual worship service on April 11, and then we will make them available for pick up on Easter Sunday morning. If you ordered Lilies and are NOT able to stop by the church to pick them up on Sunday morning, please call the church office and we will keep yours inside.

·       The Blanket Ladies (Margaret and Arline) are still making face masks to share with our local health care agencies!  They need elastic to make more.  The desired width is 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch in white or black.  Each mask takes about 19 inches of elastic. It has been sold out in most stores.  If you have any to share, please feel free to drop it off at the church during business hours.  If you do not want to enter, you make leave it outside the door near the office. 

·       Check out the video/discussion from the “Bible Project”. The topic this week is the Gospel of the Kingdom.  It is very well done.  I put a link on Facebook and here

·       Thank you to everyone who has dropped off or mailed in their offering envelopes.  Also thank you to those who have signed up for automated giving.  We have had 6 or 7 new people sign up for online giving.  If you want to get started there is a link on the top right corner of the church website.  You can also call the church office for help getting that setup.

·       Don’t forget about our Faith Practice reading.  This week we read Romans chapter 14.  If you have ideas about how we could talk about/read our Faith Practice reading together, please share your ideas.   And… we are coming to the end of Romans.  If you have ideas or suggestions about what we could read next, please let me know.

·       We are putting together supplemental food bags for people in our community.  We have been distributing them Monday at 11:00 a. (Thank you to Carol and Alice for helping out this week.)  However, next week the school bus may come on Tuesday rather than Monday because of Easter, so we will change our distribution date to coincide with school lunch delivery.  If you want to help with this project, please contact Pastor O’Brien before you show up.

·       We are sending out announcements and updates by email and text messaging (through Remind).  If you would like to be on either of those lists, please contact the church office.

·       We will snail-mail a copy of this letter to the members we know don’t use a computer.  If you know of anyone we may have missed, please contact the church office.

·       The Parish Education Committee is providing supplemental Sunday school activities during this time we can’t gather.  We have been sending those out daily on Facebook, and there is also a weekly collection on the church website.  Please check those out.

Throughout this Holy Week, though we can’t be together physically, we can be together in spirit. And wherever we happen to be, our suffering, sorrowing, saving God is with us.  Wherever we find ourselves this week – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – we move to the cross with Jesus.  In faith we say, “Blessed is the One who comes to die so that we will live.” 

I hope you all have a safe, healthy Holy week!

God’s Peace,

Pastor Shawn O'Brien



March 20, 2020 Statement

On Thursday evening (3/19), in response to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Church Council of St. John Lutheran Church has decided to suspend communal worship services beginning immediately

The Bishop has recommended canceling through April 5, so we desire to return to our regular worship schedule beginning Easter weekend (April 11/12).  

This was not an easy decision to make. I don’t want to not gather for worship. Our time in worship is an important part of our life together as the people of God. The benefits we receive from gathering in worship are invaluable; we are filled, renewed, and fed to live out our faith in this changing world. The thought of not doing this runs against what I hold dear as a pastor and as a person of faith. I want to gather with you all to worship, but I also see that for the sake of “the least of these”, for the sake of containing the virus, for the sake of being part of the larger community in crisis, this decision seems to make the best sense for our congregation.

Some other notes about ministries and activities…

All weekly activities are also canceled at this time. The church building will be open from 9 am until 3 Monday through Friday. 

Please let us know how we can address any needs or concerns. The sanctuary will also be open at these times if you would like to come in and pray silently.

Sunday school and confirmation classes will also be discontinued until further notice.

Home visits have been suspended. Nursing homes and hospitals are no longer allowing or strictly limiting visits. Therefore Stephen Ministers and I will not be going to those places, except in ‘emergency’ or critical situations. If you or a loved one need pastoral care, please call the church office.  

The prayer chain is still available to our members. Call the church office (419-836-5514), Margaret Berger, or Enda Sandrock to start the prayer chain.  

We will be sending out updates through an email list (email office@stjohnwilliston if you are not already included in the weekly email distribution), text messages (through Remind, contact the church office for help signing up), and the church’s Facebook page (if you haven’t already, please “like” St. John Lutheran Church – Williston for updates and information).  

We will be taking advantage of the use of technology during this time. Some sort of abbreviated worship service or devotion will be live-streamed onto our Facebook page or recorded for YouTube each weekend we can’t gather. If you need help getting set up on any of these platforms please call the church office and we can walk you through the steps to make sure you are connected.

Please remember St. John will still need your financial help during these weeks even though we are not meeting in community as normal. If you are not signed up for automated giving now is a good time to start. Call the church office for help getting that set up. You can also mail your offering into the office (PO Box 235, Williston 43468) or stop by during the hours posted above

Finally, I wanted to say that I am praying for you and all of our St. John family, that we may all stay healthy and safe. 

This is a time of great uncertainty and stress. We watch the news and read reports, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of good news. If you are tempted to dread, remember that our Good News is not found in events, but in a person; Jesus the Christ who promises to be with us until the end of the age (Matthew 28). Jesus has seen us through many difficult, challenging times before and he will see us through this one as well. If things seem dark, I pray that you will have the faith to pause and remember that you belong to God.  

I shared a meme on the church’s Facebook page. It read, “viruses are contagious, so is panic, fear, hysteria, calm, love, enthusiasm, kindness, joy… choose wisely”. I pray that as we take steps to avoid spreading viruses, we may also avoid spreading panic, fear, and hysteria so that we may be infectious with calm, love, enthusiasm, kindness, and joy. Remember, even though we can’t meet together for worship, we can still be the church.

Some ideas are in the works, but if you have thoughts about how we can continue to “be the church”, please let me know. One idea… call a friend you normally see at church, maybe someone who is among the "vulnerable" to this virus, someone who can't be around other people, and ask them how they are doing. See if they need anything (medications, food, toilet paper? ;-) ) Seek ways to show them the love of Jesus. We are social beings and need each other; be there for them in a 'social distancing' appropriate way. Remind them that God is good, and we will come through this together.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about any of this, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Let us pray, and wash our hands, and consider our neighbors as we continue to function.

May God be with us!

Pastor Shawn O’Brien