June 13, 2020

Dear First Lutheran Church Family & Friends,

May love, joy & peace be yours through our Lord Jesus Christ.

When are we opening up the church again?  That’s a question we are hearing from time to time.  The governor has said we can go to 25-50% capacity safely with 6’ social distancing, masks, no singing, no touching, no food service, no passing of books and offering plates, disinfecting common surfaces, etc., or guidelines close to that.  Many of us were looking forward to opening back up for in-person worship in June or July—me included.  However, we have decided to continue on as we have been.  Peace & Power serves us well, along with our radio broadcast on KATE radio.  We are once again having meetings of church members up to about 20 with stringent health safety procedures.  We have tried some funerals in the church for bereaved families with small attendance with the masks, social distancing, etc.

So, why not open up for Sunday morning worship again?  Our sanctuary has a large occupancy rating that could accommodate the 50% guidelines.  Other procedures, though stringent, could be enacted.  However, we see the numbers of confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus cases continually increasing in Freeborn County.  Many people from throughout Minnesota and other states recently gathered in close proximity to one another in Minneapolis and other places to demonstrate for justice in the response to Mr. Floyd’s death and systemic racial prejudice.  Public health officials are concerned about a possible increase in virus cases as a result.  So, now we wait for the statistics to see how the pandemic will develop over the next few weeks.  The ultimate goal for us in our decisions is to honor God, declare the Gospel, and keep the most vulnerable safe.  Many of our faithful church members, including me, are over 60 years of age, and potentially more susceptible to life-threatening complications if the dreaded virus is contracted.

So, for now, we will stay the course of celebrating God’s goodness using the tools we have of Peace & Power, etc.  Loving and protecting our neighbors through sacrificing the large group Sunday worship experience, and praying fervently for the end of this plague, will be our course for the next few weeks.  This course of action is reconsidered on a weekly basis by staff and leaders of FLC.

Thank you for your patience, faithfulness and goodwill during this time.  Let’s continue to hold fast to the fruit of the Spirit in our personal and corporate lives:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. ~Galatians 5:22-23

When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned for the Gospel, he wrote to the church at Philippi, with whom he longed to be:

 I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.  God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.  ~Philippians 1:3-11 (underlining mine)

We all long to be ‘back to normal’ again.  I know I do.  We pray and look forward to the day that we can gather freely in a new normal, having learned new and innovative ways to love and cherish our neighbors.  If anything, we are learning, like many of our persecuted brothers and sisters in other lands know, that we should not take the privilege of freely meeting together as Christians for granted.  It is a right and opportunity that we do and should all cherish.

May you know the presence and peace of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit each and every day.

In the light of His love, Pastor John F. Holt

March 26, 2020

Dear First Lutheran Church Family & Friends,

Love, joy & peace to you all through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, the suspension of meeting together for church services is going to continue on well into April.

To honor Governor Walz’s directives to sequester ourselves as much as practicable seems to be the wise and loving thing to do to be good stewards of our own health and the health of our neighbors.

Thanks to all of you for your understanding and cooperation during these unprecedented times.

Here are the ways we can stay connected spiritually, if not physically:

  1. Go to our website, flcal.org, and click on links for videos of our Sunday and Wednesday services, and Holy Week services.
  2. Tune into Peace & Power” on Sunday mornings at 10:00 am on KAAL-TV, Channel 6.
  3. Go to our First Lutheran Church, Albert Lea Face Book page for updates and inspiring posts—many every week.
  4. Pray for one another.
  5. Communicate through telephone calls, text messages, email & other forms of cyber-communication.
  6. Tune into KATE radio 1450 on Sunday mornings at 11:00 am to hear our Sunday worship service.
  7. To be notified by email of the latest developments, send your email address to kara@flcal.org.
  8. Come to Drive-through Blessing time under the portico on the south side of our church building, where a church staff member will offer a blessing & prayer, from a safe distance, through the open window of your vehicle, or through the glass by cell phone.  (We’ll get to see each other!) [10-11 am & 5-6 pm, on Wednesday, April 1, & Monday–Friday during Holy Week, April 6-10]
  9. Call your pastor, if you need someone to talk to. Pastor Jan & I are available by phone at the church, 373-6424, or our mobile phones, (507) 383-4750 or (507) 621-1758.

A ‘go to’ passage of Scripture that I memorized many years ago is found in Lamentations 3:22-23;

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning.  Great Is Thy faithfulness.

I love the old hymn that flows out of this passage:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!  Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.    

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!     

Written in 1923, by Thomas O. Chisholm (1866–1960). (Now in Public Domain)

Here’s a prayer:

Mighty Lord Holy Spirit, Come to us now to aid us in these difficult times.  Thank You for all You are doing to guide our governmental and health care authorities.  Grant us Your peace and inspiration to serve You well each day.  Draw us close to You for all we truly need.  To You alone be the glory now and forever.

In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

What an interesting time in which to live.  As the angel often said to people, “Fear not.”  God is good.  God is faithful.  I am grateful for all of you and for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  God’s got this.  God has us in His care.  Whether we can meet again on Resurrection Sunday or not, we can still sing and shout:

Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

In the Light of His love,

Pastor John

John F. Holt, Lead Pastor

March 16, 2020

Dear First Lutheran Church Family,

Greetings in the love, grace and peace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

With deep concern for the health of our members and our community, and to be faithful to Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors, we have decided to temporarily curtail worship and activities at First Lutheran Church.  As of today we are suspending physically gathering at FLC through March 30.  This includes worship on Sundays and mid-week Lenten services, all gatherings of children, youth, quilters, etc., as well as groups we host, such as AA, NA & Al-Anon.  We will re-evaluate this on March 29.

We plan to record worship services to broadcast on Peace & Power on KAAL-TV, ABC6 at 10:00 am on Sundays, as well as KATE Radio at 11:00 am on Sundays.  We also plan to post a recording of our Lenten services on our church website: www.flcal.org.  We may incorporate other forms of electronic communication, but this is yet to be determined.  In this time of uncertainty, we may not be able to gather physically with one another, but we will try to remain spiritually close to one another, nurtured by God’s Holy Word.

As you are well aware we are in a national health emergency at this time.  The Governor of Minnesota has closed schools through March 27, and asked that citizens practice physical distancing, frequent hand washing, staying home from work when ill and more, to slow the spread of the Corona virus Covid-19.  Although there is not yet evidence of the presence of the virus in our community, we are taking a proactive approach to mitigate the risk of spreading Covid-19, as recommended by our national and state leaders, the Centers for Disease Control, our public health departments and our ELCA Synod leaders.

Although the FLC building will be closed to people stopping in, our church staff members plan to have our regular office hours during this time.  Please, do not hesitate to call if you have questions or concerns.  If you have a need, and don’t know where to turn, please, let us know so we can try to help.  We encourage you to stay connected with the church and one another during this time.  We can be reached via telephone: (507) 373-6424, and email: firstoffice@flcal.org.  If you are concerned about getting your offerings to church, please, feel free to mail them or use online giving.

Let’s remember in prayer all those who are ill and those around them, especially medical personnel.  We look to God and one another for strength and healing, not just in these days of uncertainty, but always.

In a communication from our Southeastern Minnesota Synod Bishop, Rev. Regina Hassanally, she writes:

Remember this, dear People of God: it is the same God who called Abraham into an unknown land, who led Moses and the Israelites through wilderness and into promise, who worked through politics and circumstance to save God’s people through Esther, and who tore through the heavens to proclaim Jesus as beloved Son that is with us still today.  It is the same God.  Our realities may change.  God does not.

Here are some selected excerpts from the Bible that have been meaningful for me during this trying time:

Psalm 16:1
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

Psalm 46:11
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Psalm 91:2-4
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare
 and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalm 124:8
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 & 5b
For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die…
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…

2 Corinthians 1:9-11
9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

We exist as a congregation to love and serve one another together, gathered around Word & Sacrament.  Although this gathering will be altered due to our public health concerns in the coming weeks, our generosity with each other is still needed.  Here are some suggestions, while we are avoiding public gatherings:

  1. Pray for one another, especially those most affected by the outbreak.
  2. Contact your neighbors and friends with phone calls, mail, social media or text messages. Many are feeling anxious, isolated, happy, hopeful or anything in-between.  This contact is a way of loving your neighbor.
  3. Continue to support our shared financial needs as the congregation of First Lutheran Church. Your offerings can be mailed to church.  You can use online giving through our website: org and clicking on “Online Giving”.

A communication from Grace Lutheran Church shared this:

These are quickly changing times, and uncharted territory for all the generations of our congregation.  We need to be safe without giving into fear.  We need to be community without risking our health.  We need to be the Body of Christ in this new time.  God is present, and we will remind, show and live this truth in the midst of our collective uncertainty.

We will continue to rely on the Bible for stories of God’s promise of presence, strength and grace in the days ahead.  We will rely on God to continue to create new life in these uncertain times.  We will look to Jesus for ways to serve our neighbor, and we will trust the Holy Spirit to intercede with winds of change, reason and care.  Together, with God’s help, we will remain the community of God while taking care of ourselves.

May all of us in First Lutheran Church continue to look to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the peace & power that we need for daily life in these challenging times and for all time and eternity.  We can rely on our Lord always.

In the light of His love,

Pastor John F. Holt

On behalf of our FLC Staff and Ginny Larson, FLC President