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"The Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man* should be alone;
I will make him a helper as his partner....'" —Genesis 2:18

(*Note: Here the English translation "man" doesn't fully do justice to the true meaning of the original Hebrew word "adam," which is derived from "adamah," the Hebrew word for "earth." So, "adam" literally means "earth creature" and might be better translated as "human being.")

Dear friends in Christ,

     I hope you are all well managing to stay spiritually grounded in these challenging days. I miss gathering with you, and yet for the time being, staying at home is the best way to care for our congregation and for the wider community. 

     I've been pondering what the coronavirus chaos means for our lives, for Christ's church, and for this world God so loves. I suspect some of you have been doing the same during these long days that seem like months! I also suspect that we won't even begin to make sense of this until we've lived through it.

     In talking with people on the phone and online, one of the things I've heard over and over is how much everyone misses being together. I, too, experience this deep longing, which I understand to be the way God has "wired" us by nature. Often when I've officiated a wedding, I've reminded the couple and those in attendance that God has created us out of love and for love. In Genesis 2 God looks at Adam all alone in the garden and declares, "It is not good for the human being to be alone; I will make him a helper to be his partner." Clearly, God is saying that we humans are meant to be in loving relationship with each other, and when we're not, something vital is missing.

     And yet for this "alternate universe" we suddenly find ourselves plunged into, being in loving relationship looks like keeping our physical distance from one another. I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Right now loving our neighbor looks like an empty church building.

     Since last Sunday, the need to play it safe has become much more personal. This week I've learned of the coronavirus-related deaths of two members of other Lutheran congregations in Portland. One of those who died was Marcia, a dear 90-year-old, whom I remember from my days serving at Central Lutheran Church (2011-2013). Marcia was famous for her faithful presence, her warm smile, and her lovingly prepared, scrumptious desserts. The other person who passed from this life was a 63-year-old from Augustana Lutheran Church. He was the father of three young adult members of the congregation, who are in their twenties.... As I imagine how the death of either Robert or myself would affect our own young adult children, who are also in their twenties, I feel a profound sadness for that family. So, as hard as it is for us to stay home for several weeks, the potential to protect and save the lives of others makes it well worth the sacrifice! 

     I also want to share with you some hopeful news. Yesterday I participated in a Zoom video conference meeting with 101 others from all over the Oregon Synod. (Wow! I'm so grateful for the gift of technology and how it's connecting us during this time!) It was good to hear from our bishop and from our Oregon Synod Disaster Preparedness Team. Originally, this team was set up to prepare for "the big one"— i.e., the devastating earthquake that's "due" on the West Coast. They are funded by a grant through Lutheran Disaster Response. However, with the advent of coronavirus, our synod team has switched gears and is connecting with the Oregon Health Authority and other agencies to facilitate communication and prepare for whatever may come next as we confront this unseen threat. I'm deeply grateful for their faithful, adaptive leadership!

     During our online meeting yesterday, Bishop Laurie Larson Caesar shared a couple of stories of how God's people are making a difference by doing small things with great love. A member of one congregation and her children decided to buy gift cards, write notes to go with them, and then place them on the windshields of cars in the parking lot of the hospital near where they live. They did this in the hope of giving some comfort to those whose loved ones are ill or who are working to care for the sick. Bishop Laurie also shared that one of our synod mission developers, who leads a Spanish language congregation of 25-30 people, last week for the first time ever did an online worship service, recorded it, and uploaded it to the internet. So far, it has received 11,000 views! Wow!... Bishop Laurie points to this as evidence that there's "a great hunger for accessible Spanish-language worship services."

     Speaking of spiritual hunger, one of our bishop's assistants, Pastor Melissa Reid, offered the hopeful observation that she believes the church is needed more than ever right now and that we'll emerge from this time as a stronger church.  Like Pastor Melissa, I also believe it to be true that by staying connected, tending our faith, and caring for our neighbor through this time of trial, we will be renewed and strengthened to be the Body of Christ in the world. Amen! May it be so!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Michelle Manicke

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