December 1, 2020

Dear Friends,

I am sad to announce that we have decided to suspend in-person worship services for the month of December due to the rising number of cases of Covid-19 disease in Freeborn County.  This decision was not made lightly, and we don’t like doing it, but feel it necessary in order to do our part in slowing the spread of this dread disease.

Our motivation is to love our neighbors and to be prudent in our actions.

Matthew 22:36-39 [niv]— “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”   Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Proverbs 22:3 [nlt]—A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

Since there are people who might unknowingly carry and spread the disease, we want to help slow the spread.  Even though our safety precautions were well designed and carried out with social distancing, hand cleansing stations and mask wearing, there is still the risk of transmission whenever people gather together.  Besides loving the people who might catch the virus and become ill, we also want to love our health care providers who are becoming overwhelmed in nearby hospitals.

In the meantime we are so thankful for our Peace & Power and KATE radio broadcasts, along with our website links to continue to provide a worship service and share the Good News with our congregation and the greater community.

We hope all will see this decision to suspend in-person worship services as a loving and prudent action in these challenging times.  We will continue to monitor pandemic trends and are eager to re-open for in-person worship services when it seems best to do so.  We know that ultimately we are in God’s Almighty Hands, and it is to Him we look for guidance as we carefully, lovingly and prudently respond to the conditions around us.

May God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit be honored and glorified in all that we do.

In the light of His love,

Rev. John F. Holt, Lead Pastor

First Lutheran Church + F.L.C. + For the Love of Christ


Thursday, October 22, 2020

An Update from Pastor John Holt

Today we discovered that most of the FLC staff had been exposed on Tuesday to a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19.  We know of no others who were exposed in the FLC building.  The only staff member not exposed is Pastor Jan Crissinger.  Therefore, we sent the staff home to quarantine for 14 days, which is the best practice recommended by the CDC and Mayo Clinic.  So, we are closing the church office and building through November 2.

*The only exception is for the wedding on October 24, which will now be officiated by Pastor Crissinger and supported only by non-staff FLC member volunteers in various registration, ushering and technical roles.

Other notes:

  • Staff members able to work from home will continue to do so.
  • Peace & Power on ABC6 on October 25, will feature the service recorded for July 26, which was pre-empted by ABC News coverage of the John Lewis funeral procession in Alabama.
  • If KATE radio is able to broadcast, they may use the recording from October 18, which was not broadcast due to radio station technical difficulties.
  • All other activities and meetings in the church building, including Sunday worship services, will be suspended at this time through Monday, November 2, 2020.
  • We plan to record elements of the worship services remotely for the radio and TV broadcasts on Sunday, November 1.
  • The church building will reopen on Tuesday, November 3, just in time to again be the election polling location for Albert Lea Ward 2, Precinct 1.
  • Any questions can be directed to Lead Pastor John Holt by calling the church office at 373-6424, keying #3 for the pastor on call, or extension 103, and leaving a message. The plan is to check messages daily and respond within 24 hours.

Please, keep your church staff and all others in prayer as we navigate responses to the covid-19 pandemic outbreaks in these perilous times.  We rest assured that none of this surprises our gracious and caring Heavenly Father.  As we look to Him in the assurance of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ, guided by Holy Spirit we can confidently say, “God’s got this; we need not worry.”

Remember Isaiah 40:31:
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.


August, 10 2020

First Lutheran Church Re-Opening Plan

Phase Three 

First Lutheran Church’s leadership has drafted a plan to reopen our building and to prepare for in person  worship together .  We are looking forward to worshiping together again!  We know that the church’s foundation is centered on relationships and the love of Jesus Christ.

It is imperative that First Lutheran Church has a plan to Safely reopen. The safety of our staff and congregation are our top priority.

We remind our community and all of God’s people to:

  • Practice personal preparedness, by washing hands, avoiding touching our faces, wearing a mask and social distancing when possible.
  • Stay home and join us on Peace and Power, Facebook or our website for worship if you are showing any kind of symptoms, Chills, Shortness of breath, Fever, loss of taste or smell, Cough or Headache, etc…
  • Stay home and join us on Peace and Power, Facebook or our website for worship if you are medically fragile or physically vulnerable.
  • If you become infected with COVID 19 and have been in our building in the past two weeks, please contact our church office at 507-373-6424 to notify us. Your name will be kept completely confidential. This is very important in helping keeping everyone who enters our building safe.

Data used in developing this reopening plan has come from the Governor’s office, the Minnesota Department of Health, the CDC, the synod office and the ELCA, as well as best practices from other large ELCA congregations.

General Building Policies

  • Masks are required to enter into the building and must be worn at all times
  • Social distancing guidelines must be followed.
  • Custodial Staff will sanitize door handles, bathrooms and frequently touched areas multiple times a day
  • Nursery is Closed
  • No catered food or beverages
  • Enter through the back south doors only. Doors will list precautions prior to entry and masks required.
  • The North doors will be locked and will have signage that gives the office number to call if they need assistance.
  • All meetings must be scheduled through the office at least one week in advance. At this point we are only open to internal congregational groups.
  • There will be Sanitized/Unsanitized signs in each room around the church to be used for custodial staff to let people know when a room has been cleaned and ready for use. Each staff member and group is responsible for using the signs to indicate of the room was used or cleaned.
  • No Coffee, catered meals or outside food

Worshiping in Person Starting August 16, 2020

General Information

  • One service starting Sunday, August 16,2020 at 9:30 a.m. which will be a blended type service
  • Maximum of 200 people
  • Social distancing must be followed by households
  • Masks required at all times.
  • No Coffee Hour or treats in the Gathering Space, all the tables and chairs  will be removed from the area
  • The only restrooms that will be available to members will be the down stairs bathrooms outside the Multi-Purpose room all other restrooms will remain closed to the public.
  • The limit of people in the elevator will be 4 at a time to properly social distance.
  • All drinking fountains will be closed.
  • Name Tag Stands will be removed out of the area.
  • There will be extra Handicap signed placed in the back parking lot to allow for more accessible parking.
  • There will be a banner purchased

Worship Process

  • All members will enter through the back door in the south parking lot.
  • There will be two check in stations for members before entering the Sanctuary. One at the gathering space entry way and one at the South Door entry.
  • At the check in station each member attending the service will be signed in with their name and phone number. An Usher/Welcome Center Member will be signing members in at each station.
  • Once members are signed in they will get a sticker placed on their shirt and get ushered to their seat.
  • To streamline traffic there will be signs up with which areas are closed and ropes to direct traffic.
  • Social distancing signs on the floor will be placed to help remind people of social distancing guidelines.
  • There will be an assistant by the elevator and in the gathering space to help direct traffic
  • Each family will be seated by an Usher in every other pew.
  • Once the service has started the custodial staff person will take a picture of the congregation from the side lofts of the church for the purpose IF someone becomes infected with COVID 19 we can notify the people that were sitting in the area. This picture will not be for publication use.
  • Offering Plate will not be passed, they will be placed at the door exiting the Sanctuary.
  • Since we understand that face masks substantially mitigate the contagious nature of viruses from our breathing, speaking, coughing, sneezing and singing, we do not prohibit singing in church, as long as the face mask stays in place; nevertheless, people are encouraged to just listen to the song leaders during worship.
  • Hymnals and Bibles will be removed, members are encouraged to bring their own Bibles of they would like.
  • Ushers will dismiss people at the end of service to encourage social distancing.
  • Members will be asked to exit the building immediately after the service to avoid congregating in areas.

Communion

  • On a Communion Sunday Greeters/Ushers will distribute prefilled communion cups as people enter the Sanctuary.
  • Communicants will hold their cups in place until the point in the service where we have Holy Communion.
  • There will be a waste basket outside of the sanctuary for them to discard their cups

 

Funerals

  • Maximum of 200 people in attendance
  • No Food Service at this time
  • Social distancing must be followed
  • Masks required at all times.
  • The funeral attendees will be restricted to the Gathering Space, Sanctuary, Elevator and downstairs bathrooms.

Weddings

  • Maximum of 200 people in attendance
  • No Food Service at this time
  • Social distancing must be followed
  • Masks required at all times.
  • The attendees will be restricted to the Gathering Space, Sanctuary, , Elevator and downstairs bathrooms.
  • Bridal party may also use the Parlor

Internal groups meeting within the Congregation- Starting June 15, 2020

  • All meetings must be scheduled through the office at least one week in advance and put on the  building calendar
  • 20 or fewer people at one time are allowed to meet
  • Meetings will be held within normal business hours from 8am-5pm M-Th unless other plans have been arranged with the office and the building and grounds supervisor.
  • Meetings are limited to the Multi- Purpose room, a designated area in Bethany Hall and the parlor.
  • Social distancing must be followed
  • Masks required at all times.
  • No outside food or beverages
  • Hand Sanitizer will be available throughout the building.
  • There will be Sanitized/Un-Sanitized signs in each room around the church to be used for custodial staff to let people know when a room has been cleaned and ready for use. Each staff member and group is responsible for using the signs to indicate of the room was used or cleaned.
  • Un-Santized sign must be put out when meeting is completed.
  • The bathrooms by the Multi- Purpose room and the Unisex bathrooms outside the parlor are the only bathrooms open for use.
  • Office staff will have a list of the above guidelines that need to be met to go over with all groups scheduling to use the rooms.

External Groups Meeting

At this time we will remain closed for external groups meeting.

Youth and Education

Yet to be determined

Preparedness plan for if someone is infected with COVID 19

  • If someone within our congregation tests positive for COVID 19 and they have been in our building, we will close for two weeks for a deep sanitation of the building
  • If a person has had second hand contact with a person that has COVID 19, we request that you stay home for 2 weeks or get a rapid COVID 19 test.

If you become infected with COVID 19 and have been in our building in the past two weeks, please contact our church office at 507-373-6424 to notify us. Your name will be kept completely confidential. This is very important in helping keeping everyone who enters our building safe.

This plan has been created with the guidelines that are in place as of today, August 3, 2020. This plan may need to be modified as the guidelines and recommendations change.

In this process we have learned that the world has changed and we are having to adjust to what we might call a “New Normal”. Although this new normal has created some uncertainty and anxiety we know one thing, God’s love is never failing and that nothing can separate us from him!

This is a new process for everyone so thank you for your patience and understanding as we learn to navigate all of these changes.

God Bless,

Kara Heinemann

Church Administrator

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.

Refrain
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.    

Refrain
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