Blessed are the Peacemakers: Bishop Jaech’s Letter to Lutheran Congregations

Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

 

I am writing this letter on November 5, two days after the elections. Some election results are known and some are still pending.   My purpose in writing is not to mourn or celebrate any of the results. Rather, I would like to think out loud with you about what God is calling us to do as Lutheran Christians from November 5 onward.

 

I ask that question because I anticipate that there will continue to be bitter arguments and verbal attacks for weeks and even months after the election, possibly even physical violence.  I pray that this will not be so. Yet, I feel that our country is sharply divided and our unity is being tested more than it has ever been since the Civil War.

 

For that reason, I am certain that Christ is calling us to begin working as peacemakers, in the same way that he called his first followers in the Sermon on the Mount.  God envisions us to be a community where all people treat one another with respect and dignity, even in the midst of disagreements and conflicts.  Part of our calling, therefore, is to work with Christ to heal broken relationships and restore shalom, peace, to our hearts, families and society.

 

Being a peacemaker does not mean that we become neutral on every issue, giving up or silencing our own viewpoints or political positions.  One key part of our calling as Christians is to provide food for the hungry, homes for the homeless, protection for children, and justice for the oppressed, just as Jesus did.  Therefore, it is necessary for us to passionately denounce what is wrong in our society and actively work to make things right.   At the same time, however, we are also called to be peacemakers.  A peacemaker not only cares about achieving a just end, but also cares about the process in which people arrive at that end.  Specifically, a peacemaker models, teaches and helps people to work through their conflicts and disagreements in a manner that is respectful of others and to work towards outcomes that are fair, just, and unifying for all.

 

As we witness or find ourselves involved in conflicts in the weeks ahead, here are some specific things we can do as peacemakers.

 

  • Model what you want.  If you want to be listened to by another person, listen to them first.  If you don’t want to be verbally attacked or insulted by another person, don’t attack or insult others.

 

  • In every conversation, spend 50% of your time (or more) listening to people with whom you disagree, rather than talking at them.  When someone says something you disagree with, rather than immediately jumping in with a counter-argument, say, “Please say more about this.  I see things differently, so I’d like to understand your thinking and how you came to this conclusion.”  This will also help them to listen to you.

 

  • If you witness someone being verbally attacked or insulted, go and stand at their side and say to the person being insulted, “This is a really difficult moment. I want you to be respected and safe.”  Say to the one speaking insults, “My experience is that insults always make things worse.  What is it about this matter that makes you feel so strongly?”  That gets them out of their reactivity to talk about the issue itself.

 

  • Don’t get drawn into bitter or insulting exchanges on social media.  Don’t try to address or resolve conflicts by email.  It is so easy for us to misinterpret the meaning or tone of what someone has typed out to us when we are conflicted about something.  Use emails for exchanging information about dates and activities, but the minute that some tension or disagreement appears, say to the other person, “Let’s talk about this on the phone (or in person, or on Zoom.)”

 

  • Reach out to a local mosque, synagogue, or Historic Black congregation to get acquainted and offer support.  No matter who wins the election, violence and verbal attacks against non-Christians and people of color are going to increase in the months ahead.   Peacemakers give special care to those who are at highest risk and make sure that they have a voice at the table.

 

  • Hopefully this will not happen, but think through what you will do if a person comes to your church openly carrying weapons.  Acquaint yourself with what the local laws are about openly bearing arms in public places.  Introduce yourself to your local police department, both to establish a good relationship and learn from them about relevant ordinances and what to do in such situations.

 

  • Being a peacemaker is both satisfying and stressful, both deepening and exhausting.  Therefore, don’t try to do all this on your own.  Find others in your congregation who will support one another as a peace team.  Learn and get support from community organizations such as Braver Angels who are active as peacemakers, helping people in the United States to address conflicts and restore our unity as a nation.  (See www.braverangels.org)

 

Martin Luther called upon government leaders to govern fairly and called upon citizens to work together to build communities where every person receives the respect, support, and care that God wants for them.  Today, the Spirit of Christ is stirring and calling us to break out of our constant, heated divisions and learn again to talk, deliberate, and live together in a way that is fair for all.

 

Jesus once said, “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back?… I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.”  Luke 6: 31, 35-36 from The Message Bible

 

Christ not only frees and teaches us how to live, but also empowers us through the Holy Spirit to live in a new way.  May Christ give a double measure of that Spirit to our nation in this crucial time.  May we open ourselves to the Spirit, so that we work courageously as peacemakers.

 

In Christ,

 

Bishop Rick Jaech


Pastoral Message on Voting as People of Faith


St Mark’s Lutheran Church by the Narrows COVID-19 Exposure Control, Mitigation and Recovery (ECMR) Plan

As required by Washington State, the following is a description of St. Mark’s ECMR Plan: this plan contains polices related to  “… PPE utilization; on-location physical distancing; hygiene; sanitation; symptom monitoring; incident reporting; location disinfection procedures; COVID-19 safety training; exposure response procedures and a post-exposure incident project-wide recovery plan.”  As needed, we have specified practices for both paid staff and congregation members/other building users as well policies for indoor and outdoor gatherings and events. We have developed these policies to be consistent with Washington State COVID-19 guidelines, and will implement them in a manner that conforms to the current reopening phase for Pierce County. As needed, we plan to revise or modify the plan if new State or County guidelines are issued.

This plan has been developed by the COVID-19 strategic planning committee and approved by Church Council.  It has been reviewed with all St. Mark’s (SMLC) staff, made available to all SMLC members via the church website, and provided to all other organizations who use the building.

Teresa Handy, hospitality coordinator, is the COVID-19 Site Supervisor. In this role, she works in close coordination with the COVID-19 strategic planning committee and the lead pastor, Jan Ruud, to monitor the health of employees and church members as well as to ensure compliance with the COVID-19 ECMR plan.  All concerns regarding COVID-19 safety and public health-related issues should be directed to the COVID-19 Site Supervisor.

PPE Utilization and Hygiene 

Frequent handwashing / Hand Sanitizing. 

Consistent with CDC guidance, staff and congregation members should frequently wash their hands using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is especially true after eating, using the bathroom, after touching frequently used items or surfaces, or after nose-blowing, coughing or sneezing.  To promote frequent handwashing, we will:

  • Post flyers encouraging proper handwashing and related hygienic practices throughout the building.  These include reminders to not touch one’s face with unwashed hands or with gloves; washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol; cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, machines, shared tools, elevator control buttons, and doorknobs; covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Include reminders of good hand hygiene in the weekly email “Bridge” newsletter.
  • Ensure that there is always ample supply of soap and paper towels available in all bathrooms.
  • Provide hand sanitizer stations/ bottles containing at least 60 percent alcohol throughout the building and for all outdoor and off-location activities.

Covering coughs and sneezes/ Singing

  • In addition to reminding staff and congregation members of the importance of covering their coughs and sneezes, we will provide boxes of tissue throughout the building.
  • At present, it is thought that singing produces a wide distribution of droplets, similar to coughing and sneezing.  Thus, staff will ensure that all vocalists who sing for musical recordings are at least 20 feet apart if indoors.  Should services resume, the congregation or a large choir will not be able to sing, but worship leaders or other soloists may as long as they are distant (at least 20 feet) from any other person.

Face coverings

  • All staff and congregation members will be required to wear masks inside the church building, unless they are working alone in their offices, vehicle, or workspaces.  Children under the age of 2 years are encouraged, but not expected, to wear a mask. Masks are highly encouraged, yet optional, for children 2-4 years under close adult supervision.  Parents of children over the age of 5 should ensure that their children wear their masks while they are indoors.
  • Signs reminding people of this policy will be posted on all doors.
  • Staff and congregation members will be encouraged to bring and use their own masks; cloth masks will be available to those who need one. During the time they are speaking or singing in worship, worship leaders (i.e., those speaking/singing from the chancel area) may remove their masks, provided they can maintain at least 20 feet from any other person; this is to ensure they can be well heard and understood by congregation members. When they are not speaking or singing, worship leaders will put their masks back on.  All worship leaders will use their own microphones. 
  • Masks must fit properly.  They should cover the mouth and nose at all times.

For off-location gatherings that are outdoors, staff and congregation members should follow the Washington State guidelines.  As of July 2020, masks are required outdoors if one cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing.

Current COVID-19 standards require employees and the public to maintain 6 feet of physical distance.  To comply with this guideline, St. Mark’s will:

  • Remind people via the weekly Bridge newsletter of the importance of maintaining social distance.
  • Limit the number of people in the bathrooms to either 2 (larger, multiple stalls) or 1 person (smaller bathroom)/ family unit(s) at a given time and ask those waiting to maintain 6ft physical distancing outside of the restroom.  We will post reminders on all bathroom doors.
  • Identify the maximum number of people/ family units each of the following spaces can accommodate while maintaining 6 feet of distance:  Sanctuary, Parish Commons, Parish Commons Classrooms, kitchen, choir/ bell rooms, Sunday school rooms.
  • Post signs on each door that provide these numbers and configure the furniture in these rooms to ensure the 6 feet of physical distance.  As needed, staff members or ushers will help seat people to ensure they maintain the intended social distance from each other.
  • Remind parents that they should monitor their children to ensure that they also maintain the 6 foot distancing standard.
  • In areas where we anticipate that people may be waiting, and therefore potentially crowding (e.g., church office, outside restrooms), we will post signs on the floor that tell individuals where they should stand so as to maintain the 6 foot distancing standard.
  • Not provide childcare or host any informal gatherings (e.g., social times following events) where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

For outdoor gatherings, leaders will remind congregation members to please maintain the 6 foot distancing standard.

Current COVID-19 standards recommend that workplaces clean and disinfect surfaces frequently, including high touch areas and general cleaning practices.  To comply with this recommendation, St. Mark’s will do the following:

Procedures for Staff Work Spaces

  • Disinfectants will be available to staff throughout the worksite, and the Site Supervisor will ensure cleaning supplies are frequently replenished.  The cleaning products will be consistent with current CDC guidelines, which are subject to change.
  • Staff will frequently clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces at locations and in offices, such as shared tools, machines, vehicles and other equipment, handrails, doorknobs, and restrooms.
  • Shared tools and other equipment must be sanitized before and after each user. Staff who oversee a given work area are responsible for ensuring that this cleaning occurs.
  • If an employee reports feeling sick and goes home, the area where that person worked should be immediately disinfected. Disinfecting needs are to be promptly communicated to the Site Supervisor.
  • Staff members are encouraged to use disinfectant between uses of any shared spaces throughout the day.  Staff should also keep workspaces free of clutter, excess personal items, and other unnecessary items to allow for maximum cleaning of all surfaces.

Procedures for Other Building Uses

  • Whenever meetings or services resume, the staff or congregation member who leads the meeting will ensure that all furniture, equipment, and bathrooms used are cleaned afterwards according to guidelines they have been provided by the Site Supervisor.
  • Groups that use equipment requiring special consideration (e.g., hand-bells, marimba mallets, microphones) will work with the Site Supervisor to develop cleaning processes tailored to their unique circumstances.  The leader of these groups will document the cleaning process they agree to follow in a plan that they file with the Site Supervisor before they resume meeting.
  • No other meetings or services will be held until the spaces have been cleaned/disinfected properly.
  • To help reduce the number of contaminating and contaminated items, all building users will be asked to minimize the number of items they bring into the building.
  • Groups will only be allowed access to the spaces designated and agreed upon by the site supervisor and group leader prior to meeting.
  •  Individuals will be responsible for sanitizing all surfaces touched in the restroom after use using provided disinfectant/sanitizing spray.

Staff Members

  • Before coming to work, staff members should take their temperature, preferably with a no-touch thermometer; staff should not come to work if their temperature is higher than 100.4 F degrees.
  • Staff should also not come to work if they are experiencing any symptoms of ill-health, including cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle ache, new loss of taste or smell.  They should also immediately return home if they develop any of these symptoms while at work.
  • When arriving, staff will sign in (i.e., name, date, phone) to affirm that they are without fever or symptoms of ill-health.
  • Contractors, other types of paid employees, or volunteer staff who come to the building to perform some type of work will also sign-in to affirm the same information as staff.
  • An individual/family sign in form can be provided ahead of time upon request of the event organizer to be turned in at the time of entry.
  • To ensure compliance with this policy, we will have all persons enter the building through one door.
  • The Site Supervisor will keep all sign-in records for 4 weeks.

Congregation Members and Other Building Users

  • Before coming to church for meetings, services, or other gatherings, congregation members, staff, meeting attendees, and guests will be asked to take their temperature, preferably with a no-touch thermometer. They will be asked to remain home if their temperature is higher than 100.4 F degrees.  They will also be asked to remain at home if they are experiencing any symptoms of ill-health as listed above.
  • When arriving at church, all people will be asked to sign-in (name, contact number) and confirm the above health information (i.e., temperature below 100.4 F degrees, no ill-health symptoms).
  • In order to ensure that all people sign-in, we will direct everyone to use a given door for larger meetings or services (> 20 people) and have a volunteer or staff member oversee the sign-in table.  For smaller gatherings, the meeting leader will oversee the sign-in process.
  • These sign-in logs should be maintained for four weeks by the Site Supervisor; should a COVID-19 case be reported, this log may be used to inform others who may have come into contact with the person who became infected.
  • In the case of other groups who use the building (e.g., Cub Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous), a point person from their organization should maintain the sign-in logs for their meetings and will provide them to the COVID-19 site supervisor upon request.
  • When preschool resumes-families will be allowed to enter through the lower preschool doors. The preschool director will maintain sign in logs for all students/families/and staff  entering the building.

Current COVID-19 standards require that organizations have procedures to address sick employees.

  • If a staff member becomes ill and needs to return home, they will inform their supervisor and be asked to remain at home until they have been symptom-free for 3 days or until cleared by a health-care provider.
  • As noted above, the Site Supervisor will ensure that the workspace where the employee has been present is cleaned.

If either a staff or congregation member reports that they have been exposed to, or tested positive for, COVID-19, St. Mark’s will take the following steps.

Staff Members

  • Staff should inform their supervisors if they have family members that are sick with COVID-19 with whom they are currently living. That staff member must follow the isolation/quarantine requirements as established by the State Department of Health.
  • If a staff member is confirmed to have COVID-19 infection, the COVID-19 Site Supervisor should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Congregation Members and other Building Users

  • St. Mark’s will ask all congregation members and other building users to please report to the Site Supervisor if they test positive for COVID-19.
  • Using the sign-in log information, the Site Supervisor will contact any persons who may have had contact with the individual who tested positive to alert them of their possible exposure.  The name of the person who tested positive will remain confidential.

Staff Members

To ensure that St. Mark’s staff remains up-to-date on current COVID-19 recommendations, we will:

  • Require all staff to complete a training session that emphasizes the importance of wearing masks, maintaining social distance, washing hands, monitoring possible symptoms, and cleaning of workspaces.  Staff will be asked by their supervisors to affirm that they have viewed the training video.
  • Provide additional training as new information about the virus becomes available or when State or CDC recommendations change.

Congregation Members and other Building Users

  • To maximize compliance with the guidelines described in this document, we will ask all congregation members and building users to please watch a video / read a short description that outlines the changes as related to hand-washing, mask-wearing, social distancing, cleaning surfaces, signing in, and use of the sign-in log.
  • Congregation members and others who lead meetings will be provided with an additional training that informs them of their responsibilities to oversee the sign-in process and clean the spaces they have used.

In addition, we will inform people via posters, verbal explanations at the sign-in tables, and Bridge announcements.


July 2nd Message to the Congregation from Pastor Jan Ruud