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Pastoral Letter (March 26)

Pastoral Letter (March 26)

by Pastor Jotham Johann on March 26, 2021

Dear Siblings in Christ,

Well, here we are in Holy Week, a time of the year when we especially focus on what our Lord DID for us, including his suffering, death, and resurrection. The solemnity in remembering the scene at the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayals on Maundy Thursday, and the pains that Jesus had to endure on Good Friday is strikingly contrasted by the sheer joy and exuberance of Easter.

When people ask me which day is more significant – Christmas or Easter – I often respond with a shrug and a muffled response about the chicken and the egg as well as some claim about cause and effect. Like a lot of dualism in theology and in our lives, for instance, the law and the gospel, one cannot be viewed without the context that the counterpart offers. Nevertheless, if I had to “choose,” I lean a bit toward Easter, since all would be for naught without Easter. Christmas would be irrelevant without the resurrection. In fact, that’s why Christians, including Lutherans, often say that we are Easter people; they don’t say that we are Christmas people. In any event, the debate goes on.

Although Holy Week is always special, this one is unique. I can safely say that in no other year, including in 2020, has our congregation worshipped in so many genres: indoor worship; outdoor worship; virtual worship; and podcast worship. We have 11 worship services offered during this Holy Week. I anticipate that the combined participation over Holy Week will be the greatest in our 50+ years of history. As I shared with some of you at a recent outdoor service, I recently had nightmares in which the staff and I had to prepare for 22 services during Holy Week, and then I woke up, felt a cold bead of sweat, pinched myself, and realized that it was 11. Calm down, man; it’s only 11, I comforted myself!

Well, whether it’s 11 services or multiples thereof, bring them on! Let God’s Easter sunlight shine through the haze! We look forward to being together this week, more than we have at any point, since the onset of the pandemic.

After the dust clears from the Easter celebrations, we will be in deep transition in many ways, from pandemic life to vaccination stages to post-pandemic life. Please be patient with the staff and volunteers as we make multiple transitions, particularly on our staff.

We will soon celebrate the “past” ministries of Donna Carrens, Julie Schorfheide, Grace Linder, and Susie Hardwick as we transition into those of Michele Clair, Heidi Cooper, and others soon to arrive over the next few to several months to come. Speaking of which…it is my privilege and joy to announce that Jeff Donahue will serve as our new Communications Director. His official start date is April 14, but he will start collaborating with Julie well before then. Brother Jeff, who will shortly become a member of GSLC, having participated in our recent Connections Class, has already been serving with our staff as one of our “super volunteers,” providing us many hours of service during every week over many months. He is a trusted and competent worker in the vineyard.

Also, after much conversations with our church judicatory – the Southeastern District – as well as conferring with our Circuit Visitor and the leadership of our sister church, Our Savior’s Way Lutheran, in Ashburn, where the call of our Pastor Gary James currently resides, the Board of Servant Leaders took action at its March 18 meeting to nominate Pastor James for a call to GSLC. It is my hope that once the hurdles of the process are crossed, the board and I may present Pastor James for your consideration and deliberation. If you decide to call Pastor James after your prayerful deliberation, his possible acceptance would not change how he serves among us, currently. He is very retired and would continue his service among us on a part-time basis. Obviously, it would be a bit peculiar, if not confusing, for Pastor James and Sister Jill to become members of GSLC, something they desire, and yet have Brother Gary’s pastoral call remain at Our Savior’s Way. In any event, more regarding the call process will be shared with you in the next months.

So even as we ramp up our indoor and in person activity during this vaccination period, we continue to be careful. A few days ago, we learned that one of our main singers (who has underlying health issues, including asthma) has tested positive with covid. We pray for health, loved ones, and this singer’s voice. I am not sharing the name because of privacy issues and because that was this person’s wish. Covid can affect singers, their voices, and their livelihoods. We pray for full recovery.

This development is just one example of the considerable obstacles to our music and worship plans. We do receive requests from you for this feature or that feature. Sometimes, for health reasons and for folks not willing to serve in a certain way, we cannot yet meet those requests; you’ll just have to be patient.

This singer was one of those who was willing to sing in a group during Holy Week at indoor services. Although we are now allowing up to six singers in the loft, I will not push any singers or directors to be there. Not many singers are willing to go up there in a group, unmasked to sing. And it may be hard to find willing conductors. We are trying. Folks will make prayerful decisions about how they serve during covid and what risks they are willing to take. And we will honor and respect those decisions.

Meanwhile, since the singer has had contact with members of staff and volunteers, they are on notice to get tested or quarantine, as necessary. We’re not sure, even if we are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms, whether we are carriers of the virus. Until we know that, we want to take precautions for our loved ones who aren’t yet protected and those around us. 

In addition, the father-in-law of one of our pianists/substitute conductors has covid and is not doing well. This servant is planning to travel overseas for a visit. We pray for this servant and the family. So we are currently down a pianist and conductor for Holy Week and maybe beyond that.

I ask for your patience. Staff and volunteers are taking risks to serve you. We have division of labor to lessen the risk and viral loads. For example, Pastor James is leading the indoor services. I am leading the outdoor service, the virtual services, and baptisms, weddings to come, confirmation to come, etc. We want to be sensible, managing the risks. Multiple pastor colleagues of mine, who I am grieving, have passed on, due to covid, during the past few months. Other staff and volunteers are also dividing the viral load and taking sensible precautions.

I ask that you are supportive of those taking risks to serve you and our worshipping and gathering community. We’re not going to hide, curled up in some corner, but we will be sensible and manage risks. We ask for your prayers.

Blessed Holy Week to you, your loved ones, the GSLC community, our many partners, and the church-at-large! We reflect. We mourn. We repent. We rise. We celebrate. We thank. Amen.

Your brother in the Lamb,

Pastor Jotham Johann

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Prayers and blessings

Pastor Johann has made a number of videos and podcasts consisting of prayers and blessings. Here are the links to the videos:

Mealtime Prayers and Blessings (Vimeo) (YouTube)
Prayers during the Pandemic, Part 1 (Vimeo(YouTube)
Prayers during the Pandemic, Part 2 (Vimeo (YouTube)
Prayers during the Season of Hurricanes and Wildfires (Vimeo(YouTube)

You can find our podcasts by searching for GSLCVA on your favorite podcast app.