March 17, 2020
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I really wish I wasn’t writing this letter.
Cancelling worship services goes against everything we are and everything we want to do as a church.
However, in faith, we want to obey the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and mother…” which we learned means “We should fear and love God that we do not dishonor or anger our parents or others in authority, but honor, serve and obey them…” Our government’s Center for Disease Control has recommended, and the governor of our state has mandated no gatherings of more than 50 people, even for religious services. In a news conference, President Trump recently said to limit gatherings to 10.
In faith, we also want to obey the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” which we learned means “We should fear and love God that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.” If avoiding large gatherings helps slow or stop the spread of the virus, in Christian love, we will do it.
So with all seriousness, and with much disgust, I say:
All worship services at St. Stephen’s are cancelled until further notice.
What about the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day” which we learned means “We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it”? Well, for that, God has given us some tools. Since January, we have been using streaming video to broadcast our services on Facebook, and then those videos are uploaded again to YouTube. On our website, www.ssbdwels.com, we have a new button, “YouTube Worship,” which links to video of our worship services. Your pastors will continue to write and preach new sermons, week by week, and present shortened worship services as YouTube videos. These will also be shared on Facebook.
For those without computers or Internet, we have our weekly radio service which we’ve been broadcasting for 47 years, every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on WBEV 1430 AM.
Your pastors will continue to make home shut-in visits, unless people call to cancel. Because of restrictions in nursing homes and some senior apartments we will be unable to visit until restrictions are lifted.
Your pastors will be in the church office, Monday through Friday during regular office hours. At least one pastor should be present, even if others are out on visits. We will also be around church 8:00-10:30 a.m. on Sundays for private communion. We always welcome phone calls and are happy to do counseling or an over-the-phone devotion if you call. The church office number is 920-885-3309. Pastor Dorn 631-7028, Pastor Heyer 887-1117, Pastor Stratman 885-6960.
We have been working on online giving as an option for donations and offerings for some time. We are putting that into service now. Look for an “Online Giving” button on www.ssbdwels.com on the main menu, and create a profile if you are a new user.
How long will this last? We don’t know. We will be monitoring the recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and from state and local authorities, and will resume worship services as soon as the ban on gatherings of 50 or more is lifted.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing to do but watch and pray and wait.
The governor of Wisconsin has closed all schools, public and private, until April 6.
Stores, businesses, restaurants and nearly everything else are affected.
While all this is strange, eerie and disturbing, it’s almost nothing compared to challenges in the past. In the 1918-1919 “Spanish flu” epidemic, between 500,000 and 675,000 Americans died, and worldwide more than 17 million died.
The favorite Thanksgiving hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God” was written by Lutheran Pastor Martin Rinkhart. Rinkart came to Eilenburg, Saxony at the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. The walled city of Eilenburg became the refuge for political and military fugitives, but the result was overcrowding, and deadly pestilence and famine. Armies overran it three times. The Rinkart home was a refuge for the victims, even though he was often hard-pressed to provide for his own family. During the height of a severe plague in 1637, Rinkart was the only surviving pastor in Eilenburg, conducting as many as 50 funerals in a day. He performed more than 4000 funerals in that year, including that of his wife.
When it was done, he wrote his hymn:
Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills,
in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
the Son and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven;
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
The word is that the Corona virus is more contagious than the common flu, and that 20% of the people who get it will have to be hospitalized—and our hospital system would not be able to handle all the patients. “Social distancing” will help reduce or slow the number of infections.
So, “honor, serve and obey those in authority.” “Help and befriend your neighbor in every bodily need.” And “do not despise preaching and his Word.” Listen to our radio service. Watch our YouTube worship. When the crisis is done, we, too, will sing “Now Thank We All Our God.”
This newsletter is short—with everything cancelled or uncertain, we will wait to print a calendar and to announce other events. A special mailing will be prepared when the crisis is over.
“God is our refuge and strength. Therefore, we will not fear…” (Psalm 46)
Mr. Thomas Zuberbier has accepted the call to be 6th grade homeroom teacher and athletic director. Our calls for first grade and principal have been returned. Because of the emergency, the Church Council has authorized the Board of Education to make the next Divine Call for principal and first grade teacher.