Friday, March 28

Good morning, dear church,

We are getting closer to the eye of the storm, I believe. You remember that movie “Perfect Storm” with George Clooney? Well, the waves are getting bigger and we are nearing the point when they may crash upon us. When you follow the news you know that the US has now the world’s largest number of Corona cases; you see that New Jersey is bracing for hospital capacity shortages; New York has been screaming for more ventilators; California is projected to be the new epicenter in our country. For sure, the population centers will have a harder time dealing with this pandemic compared to rural and suburban areas. In my phone calls to our parishioners I sense that most of us are still able to work, albeit many of us from home. I haven’t heard of any shortages of food or basic supplies. But I believe the storm surge will get more severe before it hopefully abates. And the metaphor that we have often used for life situations is very fitting this time: we are all in the same boat.  You can tell that also from the number of prominent people who are infected or affected by the pandemic.  Every day there are a few more revelations. First, it was Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson. Then we heard about members of congress and the senate. Football payers, basketball players, all kinds of athletes. Prince Charles has it. Boris Johnson has it. Heads of state are under quarantine…  Yes, those “important” people may get more attention and better treatment, but even just the fact that they couldn’t avoid this sneaky virus is telling.  I am saying all this sure confidence that as will get through this storm. And no, I am not using this as an opportunity to preach to you about Mark 34: 35-42 (Jesus calming the storm). However, remember how calm he was in all of it!

In our house, we have very rarely ventured out, trying to keep exposure at an absolute minimum, because we can, and because not only we ourselves will benefit from that practice but others may too. We are actually experimenting with how long we can live on our food supplies without going to the store. It’s an interesting experience, one we would never voluntarily sign up for under “normal” circumstances. And so I wake up and go downstairs and I see an empty fruit basket.  And I look into the drawer and there is no fresh bread. And the vegetables come to us only in the form of frozen goods at this point. Oh, and the chocolate s gone! It is an interesting experience and I will confess that I have been tempted to sneak off to the store to re-stock. (And please don’t offer to send us anything, we could do that ourselves.) But it is an interesting experience that helps me very gradually to connect with the experiences of those who are suffering most at this time. That’s one of the core rationales for fasting in the context of the Christian faith: to identify with others who are deprived, to pray and of course to get closer to Jesus. Wow, what a Lenten season!

Thank you once again for all of your responses and comments on these emails. I’d like to share a few again.  Sharon B. wrote about lessons we are learning during this time.

“I hope that we learn from this how to be kinder to each other.  It is amazing as I read stories, Facebook posts, tweets, etc. of those random acts of kindness – helping an elderly person food shop, sharing TP because your neighbor really needs it, not thinking of just ourselves, distilleries opening up to make sanitizer and sharing for the good of the community and not for a $buck, etc.., etc…  I’ve been trying to be better about reaching out to my virtual co-workers who are truly struggling with little ones as they try to work. 

I also hope that we learn not to take the environment for granted.  One article that has stuck out for me is the dolphins and ocean life that came back to the water in Venice, Italy canals.  When we as humans were forced to slow down, the water and animals “came back”.  We need to learn that many of our acts are killing the earth and that maybe after all of this, we will all think twice or think about what we can do to preserve our precious earth.  I love the church’s newly formed environmental committee – I can’t wait to see how it takes shape.  I know each day I try to do my little part; even now.   It kills me when I have to use a sandwich bag now for any reason!

Anyway, I am rambling in my note too, but just wanted you to know, thank you for reaching out to us.  We may not respond, but there are many of us reading and listening to your thoughts.”

Jennifer M. connected with my call for prayer for all of the health workers who are much more exposed than most of us. She is also facing another situation that’s difficult for a number of parents: shared custody. Those of us who share custody for children have to make some not so easy decisions to limit physical exposure to different households and people.  She writes this…

“Pastor, I have really enjoyed your daily emails. I am someone who works in healthcare and has to come to work throughout this pandemic. I usually receive your email while I’m at my desk and it’s nice to take a little break to read your kind words. Thankfully I do not have to come in much contact with patients because I am on the billing side of things, but it still makes me nervous to come in. About half of our patients have decided to stay home, but we do still have some people coming in that have had recent surgeries and need rehabilitation so they don’t have more problems down the road when this is all over.

Elizabeth has been staying with her dad at his house… He and his wife are able to work from home indefinitely and we decided it would be safer for her there since I still have to come to work and be around people. It’s been rough not having her home, but I know it’s for the best, and only temporary. I’ve never been so thankful for technology and the ability to video chat with her! She usually rolls the prayer dice before dinner every night, so Doug and I have been taking turns doing it and saying the prayer.

I have also been reading through the Sunday services. I have not tuned in on Facebook because I gave up social media for Lent! I find it ironic that it is now the only way I can “go to church” during this time.

Stay safe! — Jennifer”

My wife was wondering about the bishop’s comments about “virtual communion.” The Bishop wrote:

“Most of our congregations/communities of faith find “virtual communion” to be a deviation from the norm that should not be promoted. However, I trust that our Rostered Ministers and councils are caring for their congregations/communities of faith as they see fit.”  

What Bishop Davenport is referring to here is the practice of Virtual Holy Communion. I think it mostly works like this: you have your own elements at home and a pastor or priest blesses the elements via conference call, Skype or whatever and people receive Holy Communion that way. The Bishop is saying that some scholars and church leaders regard this as a “deviation from the norm” but she leaves it up to us pastors to make those decisions for our parishes. In case you wonder, I am not a big fan. Holy Communion is important to me, but it’s not like our spiritual welfare is at stake because of a prolonged break. I would really only do this as a last resort and consider it if this quarantine lasts much longer than expected. But as with so many things, I am not closing my mind to the possibility. What do you think?

Please remember that we are collecting food for Manna on Main Street today between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Please leave your bags outside of the church door. We handle them with much care and when they get to Manna they are stored in a quarantine room for several days to avoid any contamination.

Also: If you haven’t seen our church highlight video, please go on our website and check it out. It’s pretty nice. Or click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRVKKxw77Lo&feature=youtu.be

Today we congratulate Matt B. and Eric J. on their birthdays.

Stay safe and be blessed!

Pastor Andreas Wagner

Bishop Patricia Davenport

March 24, 2020

Greetings Beloved,

Grace and peace to you in the name of the One who can do all things but fail, Jesus Christ! 

This is my usual salutation, oh, but these are not usual times. The Coronavirus and COVID-19 has us as Christians, the disciples of Christ, us as the children of the Most High God, the Lutheran Tribe of the Jesus Movement, out of sorts. 

I have chosen to watch, pray and then act. I believe that faith without works benefits no one. I get the dislocation that you feel. We were mandated by our governor to halt gatherings of ten or more, then were requested to “shelter in place.” We were asked by our presiding bishop to worship virtually, fasting from communion for forty days. The list goes on: our employers asked, our families inquired, our communities…. 

Our responses are communicated in many ways, social media has moved into “HD” high definition fast and furiously. Some questions are being asked, answered (or not) in the court of public opinion. A trending question: “What is the bishop saying?  

First, there are a considerable number of messages on Ministrylink.org, our main method of communicating with our lay leaders, Rostered Ministers and partners in ministry across the five-county area. Second, the questions of worship and communion during this time of fear, anxiety and social/physical distancing have not weighed overly heavy in Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. Most of our congregations/communities of faith find “virtual communion” to be a deviation from the norm that should not be promoted. However, I trust that our Rostered Ministers and councils are caring for their congregations/communities of faith as they see fit.

Our Synod Council and staff are more focused on staying connected in this time of mandated distancing: assisting leaders in adapting to current technology, effective on-line worship and Bible study, podcasts, etc. In particular, my attention has been drawn to the economic impact that COVID-19 is having on our ministries’ ability to pay bills, the pastor’s and staff salaries, and health benefits. In addition, how are we continuing our food ministries to those marginalized, child care ministries for the essential employees that must report to work for the sake of us all. In addition to the many who have died, are infected and economically impacted by this pandemic, you, my beloved, are in my constant prayers. These are just a few things that are on my heart, mind and prayer list. I asked that you stand with me in prayer for our leaders as they guide us through these challenging times.

Please know that our synod staff is working remotely to continue our valuable ministry of accompanying you as you have need. Please feel free to contact me personally at pdavenport@sepa.org with your questions or answers. I solicit both. Stay safe, stay blessed and stay “sheltered in place” Psalm 91:1-2

+ Peace and blessings, Bishop Patricia Davenport

Thursday, March 27

Good morning, dear Quarantinees!

I remember someone saying in a marital crisis situation caused by the spouse (because it’s always the spouse, right?), “I didn’t sign up for this!” It was another way of saying, “This is your fault. I have nothing to do with it! Now get us out of here…” Yes, we humans like to find blame, and I have done it many times myself, aloud or in my heart. Usually blaming doesn’t help though. It gives us short emotional relief, that’s all. None of us signed up for this major halt of life as we know it. And blaming (other countries) doesn’t help. As with all serious situations in life, we have to deal with it. Watching the developments in other parts of the world and in some of the epicenters of infection in the US, I am convinced that the current strict social distancing rules are the best we, the people, can do right now and will save many lives. I watch with sadness the developments in one of my favorite European regions. In the Alsace region of Eastern France, which we visited on our Europe 2018 trip the situation is dire. There, people over 80 infected with COVID 19 don’t get treated anymore and are just given palliative care. The health care system there is overwhelmed.

At the same time, I believe that we will get through this and will learn a few lessons in the process. What if the world learned to share key scientific information early on for the good of all? What if our political system got shocked into actually working together for the people they are representing and serving? What if we all realized anew that affluence, recreational opportunities and the many distractions we all enjoy are not to be taken for granted and are maybe not to be taken quite as seriously as we often do? I am not telling you what lessons to learn from this and perhaps it is even a bit early for that. But each of us, hopefully, will learn something. Do you know why the world’s democracies were so strong in the second half of the 20th century and much more stable and functioning than they are now? It’s because in the parliaments of those democracies sat many people who had experienced real war and knew what truly mattered. I am convinced of that. Maybe in a backhanded way, this will lead to a renewal of our democratic culture and norms. One is allowed to dream, right?

Enough now of my thoughts.  I wanted to remind you that we are holding the third session of our Bible Study today at noon. I have attached the material again in this email. Please email for call information.   Also, later tonight, we will have a teleconference with our visitation deacons. Tomorrow, on Friday, food donations for Manna on Main Street again can be dropped off in front of the church. You don’t have to come in. You can send us a wave and smile though!  We will get these food donations to Manna because they will are in need right now. I am adding the message from our local Bishop, the Rev. Patricia Davenport at the end of this email. When you scroll all the way down you can read it. Church services will be in virtual mode until at least April 5, but likely longer. And while I am not yet canceling events for April, including conformation, etc.,  please plan for the possibility that these events will be postponed.

For today, I’d like you to pray for all health care workers, nurses, doctors, first responders, pharmacists and all who are on the frontier of the fight against the virus and may not be as well protected (as much as they try and are careful!) as those of us who are at home. I haven’t spoken to everyone in our congregation who is in that field, but here are a few examples.  Adam M. and his wife Theresa are both nurses and needed on the job. Adam serves Nursing Homes and provides care for the elderly. (He also kindly distributes gloves, disinfectant, and masks to people who need them). His wife Theresa works in a hospital. They have one child, young Ella. How are they managing? Ella, as Adam put it, is low–maintenance. Her parents are on different shifts and can tend to her needs at different times of the day. She also spends a few hours each day with trusted neighbors. Not easy, as you can imagine! Ashleigh D., with a young baby, is a nurse at Doylestown Hospital. Her husband Kevin holds down the fort at home because he is home from work at this time. Every day after work Ashleigh goes through a careful procedure to de-contaminating, changing clothes, putting them in a special bag to be washed, etc.  We have a few other healthcare workers in our congregation: Robin A., Lisa A. and probably a few others. Please pray for them and for all who are working in that challenging field. We need their help and expertise, but we also need them to stay healthy!

Be blessed, church and stay safe!     Pastor Andreas Wagner

Wednesday, March 25

Good morning church!

Have you ever sent an email and right afterward you thought, “Darn! I forgot something!”  No, I am sure I am the only one in the world…  Yesterday, as I asked you to pray for our college students who are re-adjusting their lives to their own four walls at home, I thought right afterward, “Oh, you forgot to mention a few…”  Jessica B. is home from Bloomsburg. So is Keira D., and she said to her grandmother, “What, I can’t even go to church?” (Thanks Keira, that was sweet!) Ben G. is home from Millersville. His brother Kenny, it was decided, is staying at JMU in Virginia for the time being. Allison G. is home from college, doing on-line courses. So is Nicky G. from Kutztown. Tannis G. is probably home from East Stroudsburg. Allison T. is probably home from Penn State. The list goes on, I am sure there are a few more, I can’t keep up with them all…

Our youth had an interesting get-together via teleconference last night. I wasn’t on the call because we had a Zoom leadership meeting at the same time. But I heard it went very well. When asked what they see as positive during this difficult time, guess what the number one response was??? SLEEP!!!  WE FINALLY GET ENOUGH SLEEP!   (I wonder though how long they are staying up.)

I would like to share with you this morning a video about our church that we have been working on for a long time with videographer Mike Landis. Almost all of the footage was created in the year 1 B.C.  (Before Coronavirus), almost exclusively in 2019. You will see there is lots of human touch in these pictures. But you will enjoy it, especially at this time, to see lots of familiar faces and hear lots of familiar voices. Enjoy it! We will post a shorter version on our website when it’s ready. This one is about six minutes long. And it will take a while to download, but it’s worth the wait…

Click to Download

In other updates:  We know now that Palm Sunday (April 5) will still be quarantined. But we had already ordered the palms (a while ago) and we will offer you a safe drive-through option on that Sunday where you can pick up your palms. We will have someone hand them out in the parking lot with gloves and we will explain the procedure some more when we get closer.

I learned yesterday that the health care staff at Liberty Lutheran needs more face masks. Scroll all the way down to the end of this message to see links with instructions on how to make them and local drop-off sites. 

Our Bible Study will convene again tomorrow at noon (March 26, 12 noon) via teleconference. I have attached a document with the texts that we are studying.  Contact me for the phone number and login information.

For today, I’d like to ask your prayers for our son Samuel (Sam). As most of you know, he has had to endure one h___ of a journey in terms of his health.  Sam will turn 18 on April 25, but he lost much of his teenage years to this wicked condition, which we hope we can overcome as a family. I could probably write a book about it, but here is the short summary of what transpired. In February of 2015 (age 13) Sam got increasingly sick. He had no energy, his legs hurt and he had trouble walking, his eyes were sensitive to sunlight; sometimes he had also severe noise sensitivity. He had crushing headaches and suffered from sleep-depravation. He spent a lot of time in bed. His doctor at the time, a Lyme specialist who had seen him for years, was somehow able to get him better over the following months. He received tutoring at home through the school in that same summer and, amazingly, was able to go back to school in fall! He made it through the entire school year and the following summer during a long stay in Europe I took him hiking in the Alps with several of my old buddies from university. Sam didn’t blink and even enjoyed the experience (and it wasn’t an easy hike). The following year he went down again, in early 2017, this time more severely. He just couldn’t even walk anymore and going to school wasn’t in the cards, not even learning at home, as the headaches interfered with any concentrated activity. He was home in a darkened room with another kind of darkness enveloping him.

He lost his circle of friends, which is a big deal for anyone, but especially for teenagers, one friend hanging with him the entire time. Thank you, James! Of course, we went from Pontius to Pilate to find out more about his condition, bloodwork, specialists, the whole bit. People frequently ask me, “Well, what is his diagnosis?” It’s a simple question but I can’t give you one simple answer. The truth is he has several diagnoses. One of them is that he has been suffering from CIDP (chronic, inflammatory, demyelinating polio-neuropathy), which caused nerve damage, especially in his legs. One of his specialists, a neurologist connected to NYU prescribed weekly doses of IVIG which in his experience has helped patients with similar conditions (few of them as young as Sam). Sam has received IVIG (immune-globulin treatment) for I think two years now.  Let me tell you, we could never pay for these treatments, and we thank God they are covered by insurance.  We have a wonderful nurse (our angel) Joan who comes once a week to our home to administer the medicine. She is a wonderful person and frequently spoils our kids with food. Even the dog is looking forward to Joan’s visits!  While these treatments did help and even reversed some of the nerve damage, we didn’t feel that the progress was strong enough (parents rarely do) and went to another specialist/scientist connected to Johns Hopkins. He discovered that one of the pieces of the puzzle was mast cell Activation Syndrome, which has to do with the workings of his immune system. The doctor introduced a regimen to stabilize his mast cells and that too has made a big difference for him. Finally, after two and a half years physically not being in school he was able to start part-time school for his senior year at Wissahickon this past September. He has also been able, amazingly, to keep up with all the core courses (on-line) and is expected to graduate with his calls, with honors too. This past Christmas Eve he surprised everyone when he walked up to the lectern and read one of the scripture readings, in typical Sam fashion without a single mistake, and he had not seen the text before, he was subbing for Jamie. He now spends much more time in the upright and on his desk and even plays (gingerly) a little bit of volleyball with his younger brother. We are hoping and praying that the progress continues and we are taking careful steps to look at the next steps in his life. 

This is the very short and very abbreviated and incomplete version of what transpired with Sam in the last couple of years. Please keep him in your prayers, as many of you already do. He has been amazingly resilient throughout this time and yes, while this corona thing is bad, we and many other people in our parish can honestly say, “We’ve seen worse.”

May God bless you all and please remember that life is not for the faint of heart,

But God promises to walk each step with us.

Pastor Andreas Wagner                                 

For instructions on how to sew a face mask, check out
these YouTube videos:
https://youtu.be/VgHrnS6n$iA
https://youtu.be/BCJcE-r7kcg 
(pattern with a slot to insert filter)  

Drop off masks between 8 am and 4 pm or mail to one of these locations:
Liberty at Home 7002 Butler Pike, Ambler, PA 19002 Artman 250 N. Bethlehem Pike, Ambler, PA 19002 Paul’s Run 989 Bustleton Ave., Philadelphia, Pa 19115

Tuesday, March 24

“We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” 

Colossians 1:9

Good morning, church!

There are many downsides and difficulties in every crisis, which are all too obvious and are constantly on display in our news and newsletters, in videos of suffering people from other parts of the world and different corners of our country, in predictions and projections and expert advice… There are anecdotal stories we tell one another about people we know who are affected in one way or another… But there are also upsides to every crisis, and the most obvious and common is – a sense of togetherness, a renewed sense of community. In my own native language, there is this wonderful word construct (the Germans are masters of the word constructs), called “Mitmenschlichkeit.” If you want a literal translation, try this one: “being human together” – and it’s one word, an actual noun! If you want to understand the meaning of this word in all its nuances, I have bad news for you: you must learn German! But seriously, crises bring us closer together, even in the time of “social distancing.” I selected the Bible verse above, which is the Moravian Bible verse for today because it reminds me that all the people I have encouraged you (and myself) to pray for every day, they need our constant prayer. Please continue to lift them up in your hearts and souls! It is one way to grow the church – not by necessarily counting numbers of people, but by all kinds of caring and being human together!

I will continue to share some of the responses I have received for the benefit of all of us. Mark B. who has now two little ones with his wife Emily wrote back on Sunday after watching the service and reading my sermon. Here is an excerpt and a flavor of what he wrote. And I appreciate it especially because Mark is one of the few people from his generation who grew up at St. Peter’s and stayed engaged.    

“Hey pastor,

Isaac and I were able to watch (most of) church today! Thank you! (my computer is going on 7 or 8 years old I can not remember – and it likes to remind me that work and the internet are not so important).

I wanted to just say that this whole thing actually moved me to tears.  The ability to “be at” church I love and worship with my family (my mom was on too! so literally and figuratively ha) clearly means more to me than i regularly realize. That and the message today.

As an Eagle Scout, outdoor adventurer, and amateur farmer, (and a little bit of a social rebel perhaps), I have always been in favor of people respecting the earth and the world around them. I completely agree with the german soccer coach, and you – the world needs a break.  The Earth needs a break.  We people do not need the latest iPhone JUST BECAUSE it came out and we have to keep up. And people (who don’t even know they are living selfishly – aka people who buy up all the Clorox and toilet paper) need to remember the Earth and people other than themselves. (We recently watched The Lorax – which is a very fitting analogy to these times of realizing how blind we are to the plight of the world.)Everyone should just go for a hike every now and then.  Like once a year or so,  And be exposed to the environment, earth, world around them.

Believe it or not, I appreciate this time, at home with my family, though I fully believe we are not meant to spend 24/7 with our family haha.  And I am 1,000% grateful that I have a job, and the ability to work from home…”

Charlene B. can see a number of upsides in the current quarantine.  She is starting a gratitude diary. I want to say that developing gratitude is a teaching that I have embraced more and more in recent years, and we centered one of our stewardship campaigns around it. Developing gratitude is one of the best things you can do for yourself. She wrote:

“Thank you for all your messages and creativeness. While it may not be obvious to us …now is a great time to practice gratitude. Whether it is just in our minds or writing it down (which will also serve as something to reread ages after this is over to remind us of what is important really.) 

For me…

  • When I am feeling upset I cant visit my mother… I think how grateful I am that she is with such caring people at Lakeview.
  •  When I wake up and hear the birds singing this time of year I think how grateful I am I can stay in bed a while longer and listen to them.
  • I am grateful for being able to take socially distanced walks with Ted and Terry.
  • It made my day when walking yesterday I ran into Judy J. and was able to have a socially distanced hug and conversation.

This may be the best time for people to start a gratitude journal even a family gratitude journal with their kids!    How wonderful to have that to look back on.”  – Charlene

Karen S. had something practical to share. She is busy making home-made face masks. See the picture of a sample face mask attached.

“Hi Pastor Wagner,

Hope all is well. I am making homemade face masks and thought maybe the women of St. Peters who sew might want to consider this for family and friends. I understand some people are sewing a piece of flannel between the layers which I will try with the masks I make today. Plastic gloves and safety glasses when shopping are also wise. I folded a tissue in fours in the second picture which would be disposable. Maybe a piece of paper towel would work too.”

As we go into the second week of the quarantine with no end in sight (yet), we continue to make adjustments to how we do church. We have already decided that we will run the next Steeple Views newsletter for all of you to enjoy. It will come out sometime next week. We will also create a skinny version of a church bulletin that we will send along with the sermon for Sunday to our homebound members. They are one of the groups particularly affected by the quarantine since they can’t have visitors at this time, compounding their sense of isolation. They are used to their weekly mailing from church, but of course, we haven’t produced any church programs in the last two weeks. Going forward, we will make a small and limited edition for them. Ginny Benner is the one who faithfully sends these materials out. Thanks, Ginny!

For today, I would like you to pray for our college students, almost all of whom are back home at this point, starting online courses, getting their education in their own four walls, crouched behind a computer screen. The exceptions are… Isabelle M. who spent a semester abroad in beautiful New Zealand and may be stuck there for a little longer than expected. (There are worse places to be stuck.) Her family intended to visit her just around now, but as the coronavirus made its infamous way around the globe and quarantines became mandatory for visitors to almost every country, those beautiful plans had to be buried. Katie G. is one of the few students still at Penn State working in a laboratory with lots of safety precautions in place. The others, as far as I can tell – are home!  Joey G. made it home just in time from Italy before the country suffered one of the biggest blows of this pandemic. Joey was in beautiful Florence (not in the Italian epicenter Lombardy) and came home about two days before emergency measures were put in place. (His mom is happy!) Cate H. made it home from Boston (Emerson) and her mom Evy told me that she went up Saturday a week ago to clear out her dorm in a high rise building. She was stuck in an elevator with a bunch of other parents doing the same, feeling a bit uncomfortable in this situation, certainly not the definition of social distancing. Rachel N. is home from Temple. Our daughter Sarah was home on spring break and never went back. The college wanted us to clear out her dorm as well, but we and many other parents said: “No, thanks!” Kenyon has students from all over the country and we didn’t think it would be smart to fly or drive to eastern Ohio at this time. The college relented. We will pick her up stuff in May. I hope to hear from some of our college students, whom we naturally don’t see very often. Please pray for them as they continue their journey in ways they did not imagine at the beginning of this new semester.  

Parents of teenagers:  remember, there is a phone teleconference with Mrs. Bodolus and Mr. Miller tonight at 7!

Blessings and peace to all of you! Pastor Andreas Wagner

Sewing face masks.

Monday, March 23

Good morning, church!

“Life is a series of adjustments.” America W. brought this saying to my attention when we talked last week.  And it is so true, isn’t it? As a church, we are adjusting and changing like never before in my 12.5 years at St. Peter’s. It’s borne out of necessity of course.  

Thank you for all your comments, encouragements and feedback about our Facebook Live service yesterday morning. We received more than 600 views and more than 100 comments, which is pretty good by our standards. (We are not a celebrity after all!) We had participants from different parts of our country, and some of our friends in Puerto Rico were watching as well. It tells me that people pay attention and that there is a hunger to connect on personal and spiritual levels, especially during this time.  We, the staff and the leaders of the church are constantly evaluating other ideas to help us connect better and in ways that adhere to public safety protocols.

We are already thinking about the Easter season and how we can make this very special to our members and families if (as I expect at this point) the quarantine is still in place. Please feel free to send me your ideas, because this is truly a community effort!

This week we are planning several things. On Tuesday night I will have a teleconference with our expanded Executive Team. This group has no voting or decision making power. That lies with council, but in times like these those types of conversations will be helpful and will make the work of our council and my work easier as well. Also on Tuesday night, Jenn will have a virtual meet-up with our youth. If you have a teenager in your family and don’t know about it yet, please reach out to her directly (dfm.stpetersnorthwales@gmail.com).  As far as I know, it will be at 7:00 p.m. We want to check and see that our kids are not bored silly yet and have an opportunity to talk to each other. On Thursday I will have a teleconference with our visitation deacons (6:00 p.m.). I have encouraged them to reach out to their “sheep” via telephone and to do it more often.  Usually, they aim for a visit once a month with our homebound members. I think, especially since we can’t physically visit, most of them need a bit more attention right now.

On Friday we will again accept donations for Manna on Main Street between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.  You can leave the bags of food in front of the church door and we thank you all for your response and generosity last Friday! Joy states, “it was the best day for our food drive… 370 food items were brought in!”

For today I would like to ask your prayers for our friends from the Lamb Foundation.  We always have a few “regulars,” North Wales residents who live at the Lamb Foundation and worship with us on a regular basis.  They all struggle with their own sets of disabilities and compromised functioning, that’s why they are there.  We love them and embrace them, which often includes putting up with certain quirks and habits that we would find odd in the general population. It’s part of being a caring church. Last week I spoke to our friend Joseph H. (Little Joe) in the hospital. He sounded good and is on the mend, but I am still not exactly sure we know his exact diagnosis. Joey is a sweetheart and he has sung with our choir for several years now, including last Christmas Eve. Some of you may have seen him proudly wearing a train conductor’s uniform and ushering people to the trains in North Wales (his gig a few years ago). He gave me a picture, little Joe beaming from ear to ear in his uniform. What a hoot! Then there is Evelyn who often knocks at our door whenever she sees light in the church. She craves attention and human contact, and sometimes more than other times we have to remind her of boundaries.  We can’t have her walk into every meeting for instance. But I was thinking of her especially since I know that she is suffering and in need of a kind word and attention here and there. For the most part, our members have been very good about it. But this quarantine must be killing her! Please say a prayer for her. Then there is Carl W., especially sad for me because I saw his mental decline practically happen before my own eyes.  He first attended church with a woman he was romantically involved with many years ago. The relationship came apart as his mind took a turn for the worst. I think for Carl the routine is especially important.  He ALWAYS comes to the 8:30 a.m. service. He is missing that routine right now and has no way to communicate like the rest of us.  For all those, as well as for Mark and Beth and another gentleman whose name I haven’t learned yet, please say a prayer for them. We so often forget about the segment of our community that lives permanently with those kinds of disabilities. May God bless them all!

(The names of the people I just mentioned will be initialed in any public media space, such as our website. But most of you know our friends from Lamb by name already.)

I continue to be encouraged and extremely pleased by the many responses I receive to these emails, as well as requests to add other people.

Thank you all!  Be well and be safe this week! Pastor Andreas Wagner

Sunday, March 22

Good morning, church!

Welcome to the Fourth Sunday in Lent, otherwise known as the Second Sunday of the Quarantine.

I have again put together a few worship resources for you for reading and using. The opening prayer is one that was shared by one of our members this week. I really like it. We will do another Facebook Live Stream from St. Peter’s Sanctuary at 10:00 a.m. We are meeting in a very small group with all commonly suggested safety precautions in place.

Meet us on Facebook!

Thank you all for bringing bags of food to the church last Friday. It was the most food we have received on any single day! Our food count for Manna on Main Street now stands at 1,488! Next Friday we will do it again.

Since Sunday worship is the time when we collect offerings, may I remind you to send in your offering envelopes or use the online giving option on our website. We have received a number giving envelopes at church in the last few weeks. It is much appreciated. Let me know (or Dave S. directly) if you are interested in the Simply Giving option. Thanks!

Roberta K-S. and Sharon B. have birthdays today.  Happy birthday!


Sunday Worship Service

Opening Prayer

May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.

Amen. 

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Epistle Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14

The Gospel Reading for this Sunday: John 9: 1-41

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” 10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. 11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” 12 “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. (Read on in your own Bible or in the NIV online version)

Saturday, March 22

Dear church,

Thank God for technology and for the easy connections that make this “quarantine” situation much more manageable! And that is true even for the vast majority of our elderly population! (Young people, they are much more on-line than you think!) I hear daily from people who connect with these messages in one way or another. Yesterday I received two nice emails from former parishioners, both living alone now, both very social people who have stayed in touch with our church. Since at least some of you will remember them, I am going to share their “life signs” here because it refreshes our sense of community beyond the “membership rolls” and opens a window into their experiences. The first one is from Ruth H. who was with us for a number of years, living in Lansdale. At that time her husband Bill was still alive but already very frail. Ruth was part of our first Stephen Ministry Training group. Her father had been a Lutheran pastor and church has always held a special place in her life. Shortly before Bill’s death, they moved again to be closer to their two sons. Ruth writes:

Dear Pastor,

Your messages DO help!  Thank you! I live alone at Rydal Park in a tiny 3 room apt. and it gets lonely.  All programs here have been cancelled and this week they also closed the dining room.  We may go down and bring food back with us or they will deliver it.  No one is allowed in except residents and the help.  I kind of feel like I am in jail.  Ha!  I am a people person and really miss the personal contact.  But . . . this is necessary to protect us, and this too will pass.  I am blessed.  I have a comfortable home, plenty of food & clothes, and friends I can email and hopefully will call me.  God is good.

I pray for the medical help, first responders, those affected by the virus personally or by the restrictions (being out of work, trying to work from home with children underfoot, etc.), and I pray that it will go away quickly worldwide.  But I wonder . . . is this pandemic here to help turn us back to God? ? ?  So many have drifted away, and adversity does make us rely on The Great Physician!  I pray this will turn the tide in that direction. Stay well!  Ruth.

I pray for the medical help, first responders, those affected by the virus personally or by the restrictions (being out of work, trying to work from home with children underfoot, etc.), and I pray that it will go away quickly worldwide.  But I wonder . . . is this pandemic here to help turn us back to God? ? ?  So many have drifted away, and adversity does make us rely on The Great Physician!  I pray this will turn the tide in that direction. Stay well!  Ruth Herbert” 

All of our long-time members know who Joan G. is because in her day she was very involved in church and ministry. A thought leader, she did things like prison ministry, writing and newsletter editing; she served on the North Penn School Board for some time. She was also part of the call team that interviewed me in 2007. About ten years ago she and her husband Rich moved to North Carolina where three of their four children live – and naturally also their grandchildren and, I am sure, great-grandchildren. It was a sensible move, but not an easy one. Having grown up in the Reading area, they had spent all their lives in PA and made many, many connections and friends. Rich died last year at a ripe old age. Joan misses him terribly and this is what she wrote:  

“Thanks, Pastor Wagner for reaching out to so many in this time. I am particularly touched by Judy J.’s  comments, as they mirror mine exactly. Having lived with someone for so long, their dying doesn’t mean they go away. I’m experiencing the same thing as Judy. I think Rich will be coming home soon or walking into the room soon or I’m trying to be quiet because he’s sleeping. There are things I want to tell him when he comes home…I’m particularly lonely in the evenings. It’s very different to lose that part of me that was there for 62+ years. I know what Judy is feeling and saying…”  (Joan G.)

Churches in our area are fast adapting to the temporary new normal. I am in touch with our interfaith group, as well as with my Lutheran colleagues in the Lower Montgomery conference. Many of them use Zoom conferencing calls. Some of them have established phone trees and buddy systems, people calling one another. I know we have some groups within our church that do the same thing, for instance, the Stephen Ministers and the “On Leave” choir members and some other groups as well. Since I expect, unfortunately, that our “quarantine” will be extended by the powers that try to keep us safe, we will think about some additional means of communication.  My wife mentioned yesterday it would be cool for some of the singles and people living by themselves to have a “Google Meet-up” coffee gathering. Not all ideas will work or immediately work, but ideas are welcome!

For today I would like you to think about one other group that is at home in our church building.  How are the AA groups faring? We have five groups that meet at our church from Tuesday through Saturday. How do they cope with this? Normally, when our church has a function and we can’t host them, there are alternative meeting spaces in the community and it’s an easy switch. Not at this time! They too have adapted to Zoom video meetings. I wonder whether it reaches all of their regulars or maybe not… Recovery work doesn’t stop during this time, even though the PA Liquor and Wine stores are officially closed. The conversations they have, the shared experiences of life, of failing and succeeding, of struggling and healing, the wisdom and no-nonsense of older recoverees, all those things are a lifeline for many of them. I’d like to ask you today to pray for them and to pray especially for my friend Bill O. He has been a member and attendee of AA for decades, and he gave me full permission to share that. In fact, knowing Bill, he really doesn’t care. These days he is very comfortable with who he is, including the scars that he carries from the darker times of his life. I think the only thing he is not comfortable with is the scars he inflicted on others in those days.  But that’s a burden he’s accepted to bear. About ten years ago I officiated at the wedding of Bill and his wife Lesley at St. Peter’s. It was through the process of the wedding preparation that I got to know and respect him. Once a fiery red-head, now bald and soft-spoken, he has really developed his spiritual side, and it has helped him (along with the AA community) through times of depression, despair and doubt.  A few years ago he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, which has been treated with different kinds of drugs and experimental treatments. He doesn’t pity himself. He knows that he has been blessed with undeserved new life, that these things are not in his hands, that living longer may just be the icing on the cake. In other words: he is at peace. Bill also taught me that for people like himself the anxiety of their loved ones is more difficult to handle. His wife is terribly concerned. Today, please pray for Bill and Lesley and all our anonymous friends who usually drink coffee in our Fellowship Hall and hold their meetings. They need our support and prayer!

Last, but not least:  you will receive once again worship resources in the form of the gospel reading, the sermon and prayers via email tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m.

At 10:00 a.m. we will live stream a brief service via Facebook Live. Join us on St. Peter’s Facebook page!

And finally, finally: we rejoice with Dave S. and his wife Linda. David had a suspicious tumor removed from his neck this week. It was not cancer!

By the way, all these daily emails are being uploaded to my blog on the website, but without last names, addresses and phone numbers or in some cases pictures.

Be blessed and be safe and enjoy this day! Pastor Andreas Wagner

Friday, March 20

Good morning, dear church!

As we mark the first week of living under these restrictive conditions and realize that, no, unfortunately, this is NOT A SCIENCE FICTION movie that we can turn off, let us also keep in mind that our world has seen much worse, and people, including our own ancestors, endured much more difficult times. Our president compared the now stepped up efforts to combat the coronavirus to a war effort. And in some ways it is like that: it requires sacrifices from everyone and it takes a huge national effort and it will hurt a good number of people. But still, having talked to people who lived through the times of the Great Depression and the great wars of the 20th century, I can assure you that our current situation is not that bad. Let’s keep that in mind, – not to play down the seriousness of the consequences, but to keep perspective. I have had the privilege to tell the life stories of many people of the previous generations and some of those stories were truly touching. The late George Husted surviving the Battle of the Bulge; the late Bob Sands experiencing the horrors of Okinawa; some of my former German parishioners surviving carpet bombings targeting their homes or Russian POW conditions and starvation. My grandmother told stories of giving out a few potatoes at a time to hungry city people looking for food in the countryside. We still have a few people who remember the days of WW2, at least from the home front, such as Florence U. and the other parishioners who are now in their mid-90’s. They all instill in us a confidence that we can get through difficult times. Let us watch out for one another!

One of the nice things about this time of increased messaging is that I sometimes hear from people I didn’t expect to hear from. Not all of the people on our membership email list are members. Some of them are friends and people who simply like to stay in touch with St. Peter’s.  Yesterday, our nephew’s wife Michelle H. responded. She and her husband Henry went with us to the Belize Mission Trip in 2017. They married a month later and have now a son Teddy and another one on the way. Michelle wrote about the emphasis on parents with young children:

“Thanks for this note and acknowledging what working parents with little ones are handling! Read this on my phone while on a WebEx while also trying to stay up on work email before switching back to Teddy duty with Henry. It’s for sure a challenge and like many others are feeling we are drowning! I know some people who can’t work are binge-watching shows, reading, etc, even being bored (what is that like?!) and for us, there is no margin of time.  Thankful we have jobs though in an uncertain time and thankful that we have a God who is always in control and is constant amid chaos!! Love the idea of online Bible study as an option for those who can make it…” 

As you all know, the restrictions or shall I say, PROHIBITION of public gatherings of people are firmly in place at least through the end of this month, but could well be extended to also affect our Holy Week and Easter celebrations in April.  We will talk about that and tackle that when we get closer and know more. Right now we have to wait and see and pray and be smart. And use this extraordinary time to our advantage (at least all those of us who are not drowning in obligations like Michelle described above). A number of people have commented and said, “I think the earth is sending us a message.” I tend to agree with that sentiment, as un-scientific as it sounds. But since when have pastors restricted their viewpoints to science? Science is of course critically important in these times, as laboratories race to find a cure or vaccine. But on a spiritual level, I too see this as a wake-up call for the global community. The earth, and God, are banging on our door! We can no longer pretend that we live by ourselves. We are, for better or worse, part of a global community. What happens in China and Italy will sooner or later affect us. What happens here affects other people around the globe. Maybe this wake-up call will teach us the limits of unlimited growth, self-centered decisions, the need to better take care of our globe and the advantages of local sourcing as well. I don’t mean to preach my opinions to you, but those are some of the things I hope for in the bigger picture… I truly do.  Lord, have mercy and teach us to live in more sustainable ways!

Today, I would like to invite you to pray for another group of people in our community: singles living by themselves. I recently talked to Judy J. who lost her husband last spring, suddenly and painfully. She is working at home now like so many of us, but she said it’s different because Roy always used to be there when she worked from home. Now he isn’t. So, the entire experience has a bitter taste and throws another wrench into that unruly process of grieving, which is difficult and topsy turvy anyway.  Please think of Judy and pray for her today, and along with her for others in our congregation who are living by themselves. I recently received a note from Karen W. whom you might know as one of the coffee ladies. She has frequently prepared our coffee table at church together with Bill J. She is single and wrote me this sweet note:

“I hope you and your family are doing well. I am fine, and now working from home. Fortunately, my job allows me to work from home right now. I count my blessings every day, and keep my sense of humor, staying away from the news. I want to thank you for the inspirational emails and prayers you send each week in your emails.  Living alone presents a real voice challenge, and I’m on the phone a lot for work. However, with working from home, I have no office mates to converse with all day. I pull out the weekly prayers from your emails and read them aloud. They help clear my voice, and they calm me down – as much as meditation does. Thanks for all of your inspiration – it does not go unnoticed!”

Please pray for Judy, Karen, Rob S., Ginny B. and all the others who are living by themselves, some of them with hardly any family members in the area!

Maybe you can think of a single person in our congregation and reach out to him or her. That would be nice!

Don’t forget: we will accept food collections for Manna on Main Street today between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. You can leave your bags in front of the church. We will take care of it.

Be well and be blessed, Pastor Andreas Wagner

A Message from Bishop Davenport & Richard Rohr on COVID-19

From our Bishop, the Rev. Patricia Davenport:

Beloved,

I’m sure you aware that Governor Wolf ordered that all non-essential businesses in Pennsylvania need to close, effective March 17, for two weeks. This is part of the ongoing mitigation efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. My colleague, Bishop Michael Rhyne of Allegheny Synod, shares that their synod’s attorney informed them that under the law, churches are considered non-essential businesses. (Yikes, Pastor AW)

The implication of this is clear: Congregations should not host in-person worship or in-person meetings while Governor Wolf’s order is in place. Yesterday I issued a strong recommendation for congregations to suspend in-person gatherings. I know that some of you may have planned to hold in-person worship in spite of that recommendation. 

The Governor’s order changes things. All SEPA churches should be closed for in-person worship through March 31. To do otherwise violates the Governor’s order.”

So, this means our church will be closed for public services at least through Sunday, March 29.

Finally, a word of wisdom from one of my favorite spiritual leaders of our time, Father Richard Rohr from the Center of Action and Contemplation (CAC) in New Mexico:

A Message from Richard Rohr about COVID-19

Love Alone Overcomes Fear 
Thursday, March 19, 2020

It is shocking to think how much the world has changed in such a brief time. Each of us has had our lives and communities disrupted. Of course, I am here in this with you. I feel that I’m in no position to tell you how to feel or how to think, but there are a few things that come to mind I will share. 

A few days ago I was encouraged by the Franciscans and by the leadership team here at the CAC to self-quarantine, so I’ve been in my little hermitage now for three or four days. I’ve had years of practice, literally, how to do what we are calling “social distancing.” I have a nice, large yard behind me where there are four huge, beautiful cottonwood trees, and so I walk my dog Opie every few hours.

Right now I’m trying to take in psychologically, spiritually, and personally, what is God trying to say? When I use that phrase, I’m not saying that God causes suffering to teach us good things. But God does use everything, and if God wanted us to experience global solidarity, I can’t think of a better way. We all have access to this suffering, and it bypasses race, gender, religion, and nation. 

We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love. 

But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole. This, I must say, is one of the gifts of television: we can turn it on and see how people in countries other than our own are hurting. What is going to happen to those living in isolated places or for those who don’t have health care? Imagine the fragility of the most marginalized, of people in prisons, the homeless, or even the people performing necessary services, such as ambulance drivers, nurses, and doctors, risking their lives to keep society together? Our feelings of urgency and devastation are not exaggeration: they are responding to the real human situation. We’re not pushing the panic button; we are the panic button. And we have to allow these feelings, and invite God’s presence to hold and sustain us in a time of collective prayer and lament.  I hope this experience will force our attention outwards to the suffering of the most vulnerable. Love always means going beyond yourself to otherness. It takes two. There has to be the lover and the beloved. We must be stretched to an encounter with otherness, and only then do we know it’s love. This is what we call the subject-subject relationship. Love alone overcomes fear and is the true foundation that lasts (1 Corinthians 13:13).