We are Pastors Bert and Shelly Schultz serving at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jackson Center. We arrived for our new pastor call in August 2019 from northwest Wisconsin where we served as pastors for the past 20 years. The people of Grace and Jackson Center have welcomed us with open arms, and we are enjoying living in Ohio.
Amid all the changes brought about by COVID we are comforted and strengthened by the unchanging promises of God.
We certainly have faced many changes since March 2020 with the appearance of the coronavirus in our midst. Suddenly, we were no longer able to gather in large groups or worship in the manner in which we were accustomed. Basketball seasons were cut short including the playoffs and other sports cancelled or postponed. Schools were closed and virtual education at home was implemented. Local restaurants were closed for indoor dining and we ate home-cooked meals at home or take-out. Only essential workers were allowed to go to work often working many long overtime hours. Others who stayed at home worried about their family economics or businesses. We were forced to make changes brought on by a virus about which we knew very little. We needed to learn new ways utilizing technology and safety precautions to gather together, to do normal things like work, school and worship. The learning curve was steep as we had to change and adjust how to best educate, play, work, and worship God and his goodness in the midst of a national and local pandemic.
Even our funeral traditions changed. When we were faced with death in our local communities we were not able to gather to grieve, to worship, to be comforted by the Lord, or to be comforted by others and share God’s love and concern with each other as we had been. We were forced to use other means to convey our grief and comfort including means such as videorecording services, livestreaming events, drive through visitation, and the use of outdoor spaces.
The Lord was leading throughout the past year in adapting to all the changes and challenges of ministry during a pandemic. But in hindsight, there were so many blessings that the Lord God showered down upon us. Of course, the challenge of changes continues to the present. When we think that the virus is not a threat and we let our guard down, we are surprised at the ways it attacks or spreads in our communities. Often, we feel the impact of the changes when families and friends want to get together.
Over the past year, families had to design ways in which they could visit and be together in garages, patios, Zoom rooms, video chats, and outdoors for family gatherings such as weddings, graduations, and funerals. When the health department tells us to be safer by staying home, social distancing or wearing a face covering, our spirits and emotions sometimes want to rebel because the Lord God has made us to be social creatures. The safety precautions have affected us personally as well.
In September, we spent a week visiting our family and friends in Wisconsin and while there learned that the Ohio Health Department had put Wisconsin on the travel ban list in which upon returning we would need to quarantine in our home for fourteen days. We longed to be with our church family and others, yet for the safety of others and precautions necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, we remained at a distance physically.
During that time, we needed to make use of the phone, Zoom, Facetime, texting, emailing, waving out the windows and all the forms of communication available to us. Even more during this time of pandemic, we want to be close to one another to offer hope, comfort and care for each other, our neighbors, friends, and family.
Even worship is a family gathering of sorts as the people of God called by Jesus Christ seek to gather together not only to worship and be family together but also to be comforted by the unchanging promises of God as found in his Word (the Bible). These promises of God are timeless. They do not change day to day or week to week. We hear them as solid in the midst of an ever-changing world.
We can claim and hang onto God’s promise from Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.” The changes we are experiencing can make us feel alone yet God promises to be with us always (Matthew 28:20). We wonder what we can do about our situations that are so different than they were a year ago, so the Lord Jesus encourages us to pray about all things and thus receive his peace to guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6-7).
Perhaps in the past months you have been less than positive or congenial, you may have found yourself grumbling about many things, so in answer God encourages us to pray for and receive clean hearts and right spirits within us (Psalm 51). The Lord gives us strength to turn away from our negativity and grumbling and see the positive uplifting encouraging grace of Jesus, giving thanks in all circumstances because Christ is working something good even in the midst of this situation (Romans 8:28).
So you haven’t been your best person and you know you need to change, hear God speaking to you of his love and forgiveness (John 3:16, John 8:1-11, Isaiah 43:1-4, 25). Like you, we grieve the death of loved ones in the midst of all these changes, but we hang onto the promises of God that though we grieve it is not without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). We have hope because of Jesus’s crucifixion, his bodily resurrection and his promise of eternal life. God’s promise in Jesus is that God has prepared a place with Christ for you so that in His victory there is no more crying, suffering, pain, or death in our eternal home (Psalm 23:6, John 14:1-3, Revelation 21:4). May we always experience blessing and new life through the promises of God.
If you are looking for a church home or feeling curious to know more about Jesus, please check out Grace Lutheran in Jackson Center or a church near you.
The writers are pastors at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jackson Center.