ST. PAUL’S 2020:
KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE
“How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Since high-school days, these chilling words from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities have been etched in my mind. What seems especially chilling is that these words may now be used as an apt description for the current time period. As we struggle with the implications of the Covid pandemic, we too find ourselves caught within a world of contradictions. On the one hand, many have described the past 12 months as the worst of times. On the other, some have found positive signs in the current struggle.
On the negative side, the list of challenges has been formidable. The most visible of these has been the strain that has been placed upon relationships and social interaction. Singles, seniors and shut-ins have been especially vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and isolation. First responders and their families have had to live with heightened exposure to the virus. Those that have been engaged with small businesses that serve customers directly on a person-to-person basis have had to cope with the unrelenting feelings of economic uncertainty.
On the positive side, many have cited that our society has been able to move into the digital age as never before. The great “quest” to transfer work from the office away from home to the desk-top at home, has received added impetus. In addition, the resulting decrease on highway, air and sea traffic has been applauded in terms of its benefits to the environment.
Yes, the past twelve months may easily be described as a time of contradictions and extremes. As we reflect upon the parish family during that time we witness a similar pattern of blessings and challenges. As with every congregation within our Eastern Canada Synod family, St. Paul’s, Erbsville has had to close its sanctuary, shut down on-site worship, and postpone in-person ministry activities. To comply with provincial edicts, we have had to prohibit in-person committee gatherings such as Council, Outreach, and Worship and Music. We have had to postpone the celebration of traditions such as the Springtime in the Country bazaar, the annual Open Air Service, the Summer Lutheran Youth Camp and the Lamplight Christmas Dinner. We have had to postpone the in-person sharing of hugs, smiles, laughter, cordiality and the spirit that is so characteristic of our little church.
On the positive side, we celebrate the changes that were accelerated by the onset of the virus. First and foremost among these was dawning if you will, of the digital age at St. Paul’s. Through the initiative of Craig Bailey and Emily Hammer, our church was able to set up a parish web-site on the eve of the current crisis, in 2019 to be exact! Little did anyone realize how timely, and indeed, how significant this development would become in succeeding months!
St. Paul’s enabled us to “stay connected” during the pandemic quarantine. Through the enormous gifts, talent and the enthusiasm of Dan Amorim, our parish musician and, Eryn Lobsinger our tech assistant, members of St. Paul’s family were able to receive a “message from home” on a weekly basis. This message includes the Sunday worship presentation on YouTube and the ability to make brief announcements that are specific to our membership. Yes, we owe much to these four servants, who have given so much of their, creativity and fortitude, as we wait for the re-opening of our sanctuary.
The year 2020 found us asking as the Israelites did in exile: “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” We asked how we might cope with the new “land” called “Covid” and many in our group responded with the answer, “by faith, and faith alone.” This faith led us to new ways of keeping alive the dream of St. Paul’s. The date for our return to in-house activity was delayed again and again, but the hope remained strong.
We thus reflect upon a year that witnessed change as well as continuity. Through the good offices of our church musician Dan Amorim, we were able to secure a new organ for the church. The latter arrived Tuesday, January 21, 2020. Indeed, we had barely begun to celebrate the presence of this instrument when the Covid lockdown descended upon us. The planned dedication had to wait. We look forward to a grand event that will allow us to celebrate, not just the instrument, but also the gifted individual that makes it “come alive” every week for the praise of God.
The passage of the bygone year also witnessed a number of events that normally appear on the calendar. Thus, before the shut-down, one of our former Confirmation students Jordan Witt and his fiancée Brooklyn Meyer, celebrated the solemnization of their marriage (February 22, 2020). The youth group was able to preside at the joint Ash Wednesday service with Imposition of Ashes (February 26, 2020).This event was preceded by their invitation to the Ash Wednesday pancake supper. As always, we celebrate their dedication to this tradition. Since Holy Week occurred a few weeks into the pandemic shut-down, we celebrate that some of our young folks were able to participate in the YouTube presentation of Good Friday (April 9, 2020).
The Statistical Review of St. Paul’s also reflects events on a more negative side. Thus we are saddened to record the loss of a devoted pillar of the church, James Edgar Hammer (September 4, 2020). We share with Emily and Henry Hammer their feelings of sorrow and grief.
At this juncture, we recognize and give thanks for the work of a number of God’s dedicated servants who look after the day-to-day functioning of the parish. We express our heartfelt thanks to the members of St. Paul’s Church Council. During a time of uncertainty these folks have been an ever-present source of encouragement. They have had to negotiate the ever-changing circumstances that the pandemic placed upon us. Those who served in 2020 include: David Kachik (Chair), Craig Bailey (Treasurer), Patty Bailey (Recording Secretary), Maureen Nordin (Secretary), Barb Foerster (Outreach), Maureen Nordin (Worship), David Heipel with Donald Schott (Property), Maureen Nordin (Mutual Ministry), David Kachik (Cemetery), Emily Hammer (Youth).
Other servants provided day-to-day maintenance in ways that were “behind-the-scenes,” as it were. These include our church housekeeper, Gail Doerbecker. Throughout the months of the pandemic, she diligently kept our sanctuary spotless. This past fall, when it appeared that we might actually resume in-house worship, Gail was the person that had to negotiate the practical implications of such a move. Alas, events prevented us from resuming any form of gathering in the church. For some 10 weeks, the members of St. Paul’s Altar Guild continued with their task of looking after the day-to-day functions pertaining to the altar paraments, the Communion vessels, the church sign and other things. We thank Barb Foerster, Kathy Mathes, Maureen Nordin, Pam Parker, Merlyn Schott, Carolyn Schott and Trudy Tschoepe.
In the midst of the pandemic uncertainties and the lockdowns that resulted, members and friends of the parish stepped up to the plate in order to support the church with their gifts of stewardship. At this time, we hold them up before the Lord and we give thanks for them. Their unfailing commitment during St. Paul’s hour of need, enabled the parish family to negotiate events as they unfolded. Their sense of priority for the work of God in this small place is both exemplary and inspirational.
In closing, Val and I would like to thank everyone for the times that we shared through in-person visits, digital contacts and telephone visits. The pandemic did not change the personal joy that we feel in sharing the ministry of St. Paul’s with you. Yes, we did ask and we will undoubtedly continue to ask “how we can sing the Lord’s song in a new land.” With the presence of the Holy Spirit and with the spirit that exists within our small part of God’s great Vineyard, we will continue to hope and continue to build for the future.
Blessings, Pastor Olaf