Dear Friends in Christ at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church,

We made a very difficult decision at our March 12 council meeting. Acting on the advice of our synod bishop and Island County Public Health we are cancelling all worship services and congregational activities at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church indefinitely.

Why are we doing this?

We are concerned about the most vulnerable in our society. This virus is most deadly to the elderly and those with underlying health problems. As Christians we value all human life and are willing to make sacrifices to preserve it. In gathering together for worship services, we could easily end up unwittingly spreading this virus to those least able to fight it.

We care about the members of our congregation.  A large percentage of our congregation is over 60 years of age, which the CDC identifies as having a higher risk of serious complications from the virus. For a number of these stalwart members of our congregation, if we have a service, they will be there whether we encourage them to stay home or not. We do not want them putting their health at risk.

It is our civic duty. Our government is desperately trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 to prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed. A relatively small percentage of the population will need medical care or hospitalization from this virus, but if they all need it at the same time it will create the same kind of public health crisis other countries have already experienced. The government, flawed as it certainly is, is a gift of God given to maintain order and promote the public good. (Romans 13:1) As Christians we are obligated to help our government carry out its proper purpose.

This was not a decision made out of fear, then, but out of love for our neighbors. I believe it is a courageous decision, made in faith that the Lord will provide for us in the weeks ahead.

This was also not a decision we made lightly. Just hours before the meeting I was talking to an OHLC member who said, “I need to worship now more than ever.” It’s true. We need to turn to God in prayer in these hard times. At the end of the council meeting I prayed that God would lead us in finding creative ways to worship, pray, and be in the Word together. As a start, I will be doing a live stream on Facebook at 8 and 10:30 this Sunday which will include scripture, a sermon, and prayer. All you need to do is go to the Oak Harbor Lutheran Church Facebook page at 8 or 10:30 and look for the live video stream. Other options will be explored in the weeks to come. We will also be in touch with those we know are not technologically savvy, providing mailings and phone calls for spiritual care.

For the time being, the church office will be open regular hours. We will let you know if that changes. I am available for pastoral care and conversation. You can email me at pastor@oakharborlutheran.org or call or text me at (360) 320-4041.

No outside groups will be using the building during this time except His Kids Preschool, which will make their own decisions about closure, and our Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups, for whom discontinued meetings pose their own serious problems.

It is vitally important that our members maintain their giving in the weeks ahead. You can do so by using our online giving platform, Tithely. You can download the app on your phone or find the link on our website at www.oakharborlutheran.org. You can also mail in your offerings to the church office.

It has been suggested that we form a team to bring groceries to our members who may not be able to get out to replenish their food supply. This would need to be handled very carefully, but I think it is a good idea and an example of how this isn’t a season “off from church,” but a season of new and different opportunities for Christian ministry. Let’s try to think this way in the weeks ahead.

How long will this go on?

I am hoping we will be able to resume services on Palm Sunday (April 5), but we have no way to know what the future has in store. Be assured that we will be back to our normal worship schedule and activities as soon as it is safe to do so. What a wonderful day that will be.

In the meantime, know that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear.” (Psalm 46:1-2a)

Together in Christ,

Pastor Jeffrey R. Spencer