Aloha Dear Friends of CLC,
“Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 1:2)
My father used to say those words at the beginning of every sermon he preached. Since I have been reflecting on them these last few months, I think it is a good way for me to begin writing this my most unusual Pastor’s Annual Report ever. Because we could all use a good dose of grace, mercy, and peace right now.
Usually, I review the past year and write about aspirations, intentions, and plans for the coming year.
This time, however, it is different.
The coronavirus pandemic and the disease it causes, COVID-19, has turned everything upside down and inside out. Probabilities, metrics, and risk assessments are out the window and radical uncertainty prevails everywhere. Including with our faith and family, our work and play. “Anxiety” is the word of the day, every day. What’s coming next? We just don’t know.
Before I speculate on 2021, however, I do think I should give a recap of what has happened this year with CLC. In consultation with other experts – pastors, bishops, and government and public health officials – as the pandemic approached, we took tentative steps to be more hygienic, safer. Asking for masks, washing hands, keeping our distance. Adjusting our communion practices – no grape juice, no intinction, finally no common cup.
And then, with a sudden, quick lockdown in mid-March no in-person worship, no communion, no in-person singing. Service of the Word became the liturgy of the day. The chancel changed shape with the table pushed back and the lectern front and center. Sound Cloud came in February, then, we Zoomed – we tried. We got better at it. Facebook livestreaming came along. The Jans and Sikkinks leaned into refining the audio-visual production. Chieko sanitized everything in sight. Paul and Eli rolled back the walls for outdoor ventilation. Emily played piano from home.
YouTube uploads. Sound levels, visual acuity and waiting rooms became the concerns of the day. The classrooms were zapped and misted. The sanctuary was professionally scrubbed from top to bottom – some thought for the first time ever.
Emergency funding arrived. High-definition cameras, directional mics, processors, and a laptop that idled at two hundred miles an hour appeared. Everything we did by rote had to be remembered and reconsidered – was it safe to still “do it this way”? Learning curves abounded.
The holidays, holy days – Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday – without anyone but me and the Jans running Zoom and FB Livestream in the sanctuary was a first. It felt surreal.
Then, in July back to limited in-person worship with Service of the Word while we pondered how we might celebrate communion. A few persons returned carefully, cautiously to the sanctuary with its rolled-back walls, sparse, spaced seating, and hand-sanitizers beside every offering plate. Most still Zoomed, FB’d, YT’d, or SC’d. Rightly, so.
In August we resumed in-person communion. At the same time because it appeared that we were in a long, drawn out marathon with the virus and that we weren’t fully coming back together in-person anytime soon, we decided to offer communion online to those worshiping from home. Chalices and “real” bread went on hiatus. Wafers and individual, disposable plastic cups made a return appearance. (There’s a reason we keep our individualistic Lutheran Pietism on the backburner and at the ready!)
Because we live joyfully ever after, even, and especially, in the midst of tragedy and sorrow, we decided to belatedly celebrate our Fortieth Anniversary in September. Every former pastor (a first!) and our current bishop, Andy Taylor, joined us in person or online to celebrate, pray and give thanks. Twenty-two worshipers (another record!) came in person and many more joined us online. We YouTubed a talk story with earliest of members.
Christmas Eve we had forty in-person and forty-four online worshipers. There we learned that forty is about the capacity of safe seating in the sanctuary. We didn’t celebrate communion that evening because we didn’t want people moving around much. So, we focused on the carols and the candles. Christmas Day, we had a communion service with more carols for those not wanting to go out at night. And that way we could have communion at Christmas.
We are most blessed, encouraged, and resurrected by your ongoing care of each other and commitment to CLC. With Zooming, worshiping, dropping food and cookies by for IHS, online church council meetings, lawn-mowing and upkeep, and continued financial offerings you have remained faithful. We have only had a small, four percent drop in giving, which was more than made up for with outside, emergency funding and increased volunteer work.
At the end of May, our longtime Office Manager, Collette Wiedemann, retired. Carolyn Koehler, recently retired from another parish, came on as what I call our “Permanent Interim Office Manager.” Mahalo nui loa to both for their service and making a smooth transition in difficult times.
I also worked closely with the Kidney Foundation regarding its donation pod, one of the busiest on island, and with the Rainbow Schools before, during, and after the lockdown. We had to carefully rethink everything in terms of public health and safety for the sake of the staff, the KF donors, the pre-school students and in-person worshipers.
That’s the gist of it. Amidst chaos and uncertainty, tragedy and sorrow we are still here. God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is still here in Word and sacrament, amongst the communion of saints, encouraging us, grieving with us, waiting with us, resurrecting us.
We know circumstances for any and all of us may change in an instant. So, no big changes are planned for this year of 2021. Worship, both in-person and online, will continue as-is for the foreseeable future. Maybe we could explore ways to incorporate singing back into the in-person liturgy – but safely so!
I grieve not being able to do more for keiki and youth. Twelve months ago, some of us were gearing up to have at ministering more to keiki and youth. That was totally derailed by the coronavirus. I feel sad about that and remain open to suggestions.
In 2018 we addressed issues of Women and Social Justice and then, in 2019 after some discussion voted to become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation officially welcoming LGBTQIA+ persons of faith into our congregation. I had been thinking that in 2020 we might talk story about racism and white privilege. I would like to attempt that conversation in 2021, especially in the light of what the coronavirus has revealed about health, wealth, state violence, and race. Maybe begin with an online book group? Or open talk story session?
Finally, one exciting project that is under way as I write – the CLC Community Garden is coming! In January, as part of his Eagle Scout Project, Hunter Spangler and troop will be constructing multiple four by eight foot garden beds in the space between the parsonage and the parking lot. This is his and CLC’s response to the massive hunger insecurity Oahu is facing. Stay tuned for more as the project unfolds!
Mahalo nui loa, again, for your care and commitment. Your faithfulness has not been in vain. We – you and I together – have received grace, mercy, and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus in these uncertain times. Now, while still encouraging each other, let us bring grace, mercy, and peace to our neighbors in need.
Blessings in Christ,
Rev Keith R Wolter