Bishop Macholz's Letters of May 24th & May 31st

May 31, 2020
 

Dear Siblings in Christ,
 

To be honest with you I don’t know where to start. The killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis continues to play itself out across my television screen as I watch it over and over again, not out of a sense of the macabre but out of a place of deep sorrow and disbelief that this has happened again. Only a few days ago we watched videos regarding the killing of Ahmaud Arbery that took place in February and was recently being brought to light. And after Ahmaud Abery there was Breonna Taylor and last October there was Atatiana Jefferson and before her was…a long, long list of black and brown people whose lives were needlessly taken by violence in a society that continues to not only remain broken but break even further.
 

On CNN last evening one of the persons being interviewed said, “I think this country has reached a tipping point.” I pray that is so. I pray that the balance tips us into a space where we can no longer ignore the cries of injustice of our black and brown sisters and brothers, no longer stand silent while racist and bigoted remarks are so easily tossed around by leadership, no longer stand speechless as we watch another person, created in the image of God and deeply loved by God, be killed or demeaned or slighted or discriminated against or denied or marginalized because of the color of their skin or ethnic background or family history. We must begin to speak and speak loudly against this ongoing nightmare in which our sisters and brothers live and in which we participate.
 

And we must begin that conversation admitting our own realities. I confess to you, as I did to two of my colleagues yesterday during two separate phone calls, that I am not free of racism and that I struggle to fully comprehend my white privilege. I confess to you that I was once more complicit in this in my past than I care to realize. And, I confess to you that I have much work to do before I get to where I need to be in this dialogue to change the balance of inequality that exists in this country as we move forward to face these realities and find resolution for the pandemic of racism that runs silently through systems and lives with little recognition or knowledge on our part. It is time to talk, to talk honestly and from our places of great vulnerability, giving voice to our own shortcomings and failures, our own racism and white privilege.
 

It is also time, in that space of vulnerability to listen. To listen deeply to the realities and stories of our sisters and brothers in the black and brown communities. To listen deeply to the hurt and pain and righteous anger for what is not only occurring now but for what has taken place for centuries. To listen deeply to our own hearts and minds and confess our sins and failures and silence. Then, and only then, will we be able to move forward in a conversation that is honest yet painful and, at best, challenging for us to be involved with in our relationship with others.
 

In these days I pray for the family of George Floyd, a father, a brother, a friend, a co-worker, a companion on the way, a bright and shining light. I pray they may find comfort in the promise of the resurrection. And I pray that they may know that his death will lead us to new learnings and new life and hope for change and a new direction in this country.
 

I invite you to join me in this prayer, in vulnerability, in honesty, in perseverance, in hope, in faith, in conversation and in the hard, hard work we have before us.
 

May the One who is faithful prod us and motivate us and, if need be, shove us forward into the hopeful future held out by our Lord Jesus Christ ‘that all may be one.’
 

In Christ’s Peace and Hope,

John S. Macholz, Bishop

 

May 24, 2020

Dear Saints of God,

Nobody wants to be with the people of God in person more than I do. And nobody is more concerned about the safety of the people we are called to serve than me. I mean that sincerely. Today, when I learned, via three emails and a communication from staff, all within about ten minutes, that the President decided to deem houses of worship essential and that they should open this weekend, regardless of the numbers, at what appeared to be the last moment, I was stunned, to say the least. While Governor Cuomo allowed for groups of ten or less this far exceeds those bounds.

I cannot imagine that anyone is in a place to open their buildings this Sunday and head in this direction, even if the total number of people was ten or less. I cannot believe that anyone has done the cleaning and disinfecting necessary to welcome people back to worship. I would find it hard to comprehend that much thought has been given to how to social distance in our sanctuaries and fellowship halls and hallways. Maybe someone has a plan in place and is ready to implement it but I could be wrong. I have not heard of anyone in a position to throw the doors open and announce that we are back to business as usual, on May 24, whatever that was or is.

I can say that what I have drawn from staff and pastors in congregations around the synod in my conversations over the past two weeks is that there is a strong consensus that most are not only not ready to go back to worship right now but might find it difficult to do so before the first of August at the earliest.

According to Governor Cuomo and his plan, which overrides what the President has said as I understand it, we are in Phase Four of the process which, at the earliest, might find us back together in mid July and for many, that was a stretch. Recent news reports have clearly shown that in some areas of the country that opened early and churches that followed suit there has been a spike in deaths followed by a second closing of their buildings. Priests, Pastors and lay people have died. This may seem isolated at the moment but these stories will increase if we move forward. Please note the following story.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2020/05/19/two-churches-reclose-after-faith-leaders-congregants-get-coronavirus/.

Tracing, Testing and Antibody Testing are going to be critical to getting this pandemic under some form of control, if that word is even useable, and we play a part in that process as well. As the church we are called to love one another, care for others and share the love that we have witnessed in Christ Jesus. I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we do that best by staying home and staying safe, continuing to worship on line or in whatever medium we might be making use of and preparing with great intensity for the day when it arrives that we can open with a much stronger sense of safety with procedures and processes in place.

The following link is from new guidelines the CDC released earlier this afternoon. I comment them to you to read before you make any moves toward reopening this Sunday if you are seriously considering that. It may take you until Sunday to finish reading them! Remember, facts trump feelings.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/faith-based.html


The questions we need to ask focus on are how we care for not only the communities in which we live and practice our faith but the people that live within and beyond our boundaries. To date the best way to do so has been to practice staying at home, as difficult as that has been, praying for those in need and working toward what might be. To jump at this moment in time to get back to worship will be, I fear, a disaster for which we are not willing to carry the burden. That may sound dire to some but we are now reaching a total of 100,000 deaths to date from this pandemic alone. Each of those deaths represents a family in grief, friends that are mourning, trauma that has taken place and tears that will continue to be shed over such great losses. These are the people that we and others love.

So, as another President was famous for saying, my encouragement is to “Stay the course!” Keep on working to stay safe, talk about what needs to be done as we move toward the day when we might gather again and please, please, don’t rush into things. The church has been around much longer than any of us and will be around long after we are gone. This is God’s Church and God will continue to care for it, whatever shape and form it takes.


My strong encouragement is as it has been throughout this unprecedented time: to follow the directives of the Governor, stay abreast of the work that the CDC is doing to keep us informed, remain in touch with the local health officials and connect with your insurance carrier.


We are the Church, the people of God. We are not the building, a trite, perhaps, but true reality in our lives. We have lived into that in the past nine to ten weeks. Let us continue to discover what that means, what works and where the spirit it leading us.

And, let us also remember this; there are so many among us who are part of the most vulnerable to this pandemic in our midst. These sisters and brothers are relegated to the category of those over 60 and persons with compromised systems, among other realities. Some of these are the pastors who serve in our congregations. Most of them are the people who populate our pews. Do we have the capacity to care for them if we rush back to worship and are we willing to carry that responsibility? Simple questions to be asked.

Finally, {I’m attaching two documents that came from} a meeting I attended on Wednesday with religious leaders across this state. Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Christians met to talk about re-opening and its serious nature. I can tell you in all honesty that from the eastern end of Long Island to the southwestern most part of New York and up the Canadian border not one of those leaders is ready to reopen the churches for which they are responsible. My voice joins with theirs.

If you have any questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to be in touch. We are Church Together and together we will weather this storm and come out on the other side stronger and better at proclaiming the Gospel of Christ Jesus who brings us new life. To him alone be the glory!


In Christ’s Peace,

John S. Macholz