Dear Members and Friends of Christ the King Lutheran Church,
Greetings to you in the name of our Risen and Healing Lord, Jesus Christ! We pray that this letter finds you as well and whole as can be in these challenging days. We write to inform you of positive developments and opportunities as we begin to think about returning physically to our church campus. This is a necessarily long letter. We pray that you can take a few moments to read and reflect. We welcome your responses.
Firstly, you are daily in our prayers of gratitude and intercession; we pray for your good health and purposeful work; however its shape has changed. Your remembering the whole ministry of Christ the King Church by your prayers, participation in online programs, and continued financial support have kept us in as healthy a place as we could desire. General ministry (operational) receipts are ~ $40,000 ahead of how we were in 2019 year-to-date. Members have contributed now what might usually be held for later in the year, anticipating correctly that we will be challenged by the emerging economic depression from COVID-19 and the energy sector. And, of course, we are keeping expenses as low as we can, unsurprisingly, since our work now has shifted almost entirely to our homes, Zoom, and cell phones.
Nevertheless, we are mindful that the months to come—no matter the seeming reopening of the economy—will present continued challenge. We remember how in 2008 with The Great Recession cutbacks were required even though our membership was larger. Praying for the best and planning for the worst, your Congregation Council approved the motion that we apply to the special Small Business Administration Payroll Protection Program (PPP), available also to non-profit organizations. We thank God and are glad to inform you that we did secure a loan in the amount of $148,000 to ensure ministry positions through the end of 2020. After December, when we show that this loan indeed funded staff salaries, the entire amount will be forgiven. We pray and expect that this leverage will help us as a congregation even more to help others in need and to reframe our ministry appropriately for the new day, as there will be no return to “normal” as we have known it.
Others in ongoing need now include members of the CTK congregation and elsewhere. Some of you already have surmised that emergencies among us will arise, and they have. Members are newly unemployed, worried about rent, utilities, groceries, and other essential needs. Again, we are so grateful for your prayerful and anticipatory generosity! We have established a fund designated for this pandemic emergency moment. Its balance currently is about $4,000. If you would like to contribute to this, please simply designate it as “Emergency” and we will see that it is faithfully managed. Also, as you may know from online worship yesterday, the May mission focus is our AMMPARO group. It, in turn, is allying with the Family Life Center at St. James’ Lutheran Church, Houston, to care for immigrant and refugee children and their families in their plight during the pandemic. Checks designated “AMMPARO” will help that cause.
What About Reopening?
With so much desire and hope already pressing the opening of the economy, we wonder too about coming back to church ourselves.
The wonder is also pressed as Crossing Borders (CB), the school that rents our facilities and Chaucer House, reopens today, May 4. Please note that pre-schools/day schools are accountable to a different state licensing system than are public schools or we as a congregation. Like almost all other such schools, today CB reopens to serve the children of essential workers (mostly medical center related). It will do so at only 25% capacity, use only Chaucer and the ground floor rooms of the Education building, and will initiate new rigorous hygiene practices. We will keep in close communication with CB, looking for their re-growth to align with our own return and new protocols to our facilities.
As for our return for worship and other facets of our life together, we cannot predict exactly when we can worship together again. But we will follow these criteria, recommended by health authorities and our national and synod church leaders.
- We can begin worship physically together when in our context there have been fourteen days of declining cases of COVID-19. When we do return to worship, we must do so with physical distancing and strict hygiene. Persons above the age of 70 with health vulnerabilities will be encouraged to remain home. For our worship space, this means that attendance will be limited to ~50 people per worship service (the space requirements change a bit with families, as compared to couples or individuals). We will add more worship services to accommodate our average attendance. We will implement a sign-up system to ensure that all who so wish can come to worship. There will be no fellowship or other classes in this first phase; it will be worship only.
- When we have had 28 days of declining cases with no rebound, we can somewhat relax distancing practices and add back classes and fellowship activities. This plan includes the ability to host weddings and funerals. Vulnerable individuals will still be discouraged from attending during this second phase.
- Finally, after 42 days of declining cases, we can resume most usual activities, while encouraging still new safety protocols.
As local and national data continue to be evaluated, the time requirements for implementation of (2) and (3) above may change. A special “return committee” of Pastor Larson, Pastor Liebster, Terri Koehler, and Linda Schoene has been appointed to recommend how we shall return and when. These considerations will be informed by other staff advice and finally authorized by the Congregation Council. We will keep you as informed as possible.
Streaming into our Close Future
We celebrate with you the Holy Spirit’s gathering us close even with technology for worship, prayer, and study. Our experience of Zooming, Facebook- Streaming and YouTubing these past many weeks has revealed much about Christ the King Church and about what we can do effectively well in our near future. The success of “Mid-Week Meds” and Sunday Worship on FB and YouTube shows how well bound and healthy the CTK community already is.
It also shows what we have long suspected and something for which we have long planned, that our outreach via streaming and zooming can be very significant. While digital numbers are apples to the oranges of our previous physical attendance averages each week, the number of people who view us has been on average 3 times our usual attendance, and sometimes over 5 times. We have reached a lot of people with the word and beauty of the Holy! We must keep that up.
So, we’ve concluded thusly. While we’ve been waiting for the “right time” to conduct a campaign to pay for and install a new sound system (you heard the demo version last spring), we discerned that we must install the new speaker system immediately. Further, it must be accompanied by a video system so to livestream our worship, studies, and other events.
Our recorded manner of Sunday Worship and “Wednesday Meds” during this home-stay period has proven the need of care for each other during quarantine. It will and must continue to be an option for any who cannot attend on a given weekend, especially for those who must remain home. But we cannot proceed in the way we have done by using the nave as “The Liturgical Actors’ Studio.” Real live-streaming requires at least three cameras, and a computer, along with amped-up signal strength, our desired new speaker system, and a trained real-time producer.
We have the producer in the wonderful gift of Rachel McWhirter. Now we need the gear; all to be installed by the time we return to the church campus. The new audio system, demonstrated last spring, will cost about $80,000. We can expect another $10,000 for live-streaming equipment.
And, again, why do this? Because we have discovered quite personally how this so well serves each other when home-restricted, especially our members whose restrictions are not temporary. Further, the Spirit has gathered fellow worshipers in from, quite literally, all around the globe. That means something about the scope and message of our mission to be A Healing Place.
We are not without opportunities for mission today! Because it has been quite a different marathon, we may wonder if we have the wherewithal to be ready and to serve God and neighbor anew. We will because God’s promises are kept; the Risen Christ is with us; and your generosity of faith has both proven the point and shined light on the way. Thank you!
The Peace of Christ IS with us all!
Duane Larson, Senior Pastor
Andy Winesett, Congregation Council President