“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare... For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me... I will gather you… from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and bring you back from the place which I sent you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:7, 11-12, 13a, 14
The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah speaks to God’s beloved people when they have been driven into a place they didn’t choose to go, a place of exile away from everything familiar where they were enslaved for seventy years. Living with COVID-19 has been a form of exile in which our way of moving through daily life has been restricted, travel plans cancelled, in-person visits with family and friends few and far between, and even the smiling faces of strangers concealed behind a mask. Jeremiah tells God’s beloved people to adapt to living in exile: build houses, plant gardens, bear children and seek the welfare of the city in which you find yourselves. And pray to the Lord on the city’s behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
During this seemingly endless pandemic exile, God’s sustaining love, poured out in Christ Jesus, the Spirit breathing life into us moment by moment, we have navigated our way through the second year of living with COVID-19 as a community both “here” and “there”, in-person and online. Pivoting to this new reality we call ‘hybrid ministry’ has taken energy and perseverance. It has been exhausting, frustrating at times, and costly. But with your generosity and patience, our investment in this new reality has borne fruit in countless ways.
We have built a new sanctuary from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia, with 20-50 people in-person and 22-96 households online each week. We have 172 households who receive our weekly digital newsletter, several of whom we have never met in person. Thanks to your generosity as well as Chris Pedersen, Trevor Johnson and Gareth Griffiths from Soundrite Technology, we have an AV system and trained volunteers who keep us connected to one another and to God’s life-giving presence. Audio Visual teams of teen and adult volunteers have learned new skills, developed confidence and competency; they continue to be essential to our communal worship life. We remain indebted to each of them mentioned by name in our worship report.
We have planted gardens for learning and growing together in faith outdoors, over the phone and on Zoom. It is surprising how significant and transformative these conversations can be, giving all a chance to be heard, seen, and loved. With the world waking up to the call to cultivate an anti-racist community, we have found ways to experience God’s grace moving in our lives and remember none of us is alone. Through hybrid ministry, the prophet Isaiah’s words have become real: “yet, I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15b-16a) The pandemic restrictions actually helped us nurture faith with our youngest people through the kids’ messages on Zoom. On many Monday nights, the kids show up ready to share what’s been going on in their lives, explore a Bible story, laugh, and pray together. We have nine young families who’ve connected with each other and the gospel in ways that hadn’t happened in the church building in the last decade.
We have borne one another’s griefs over social isolation, the death of loved ones, cancer treatment, ongoing pain management, and ongoing recovery from addiction. This is all possible because we are rooted in the love of the One who bears all our grief, who came to those who abandoned him bearing his wounds to say, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
We have learned how to live with the virus, protect the vulnerable and build relationships in new ways. Recently our COVID protocols were tested. One of our in-person Sunday worshippers became symptomatic on Tuesday and tested positive for COVID on Wednesday. This means they were highly infectious on Sunday. But because they wore a mask and practiced social distance, and our air purifiers and ventilation system were in place, no one who attended worship that day contracted COVID-19. This hopefully encourages you to consider coming to worship in person.
Though we had reduced rental income in 2021 (-$16,000) due to pandemic restrictions on rental groups who use our building, at least two TLC households have generously contributed (+$12,500) from proceeds of the sale of a family home and dividends from investments. These gifts, along with your faithful generosity, which allowed us to repair the church steeple and replace the sanctuary furnace, means that we finish 2021 without a deficit.
The investment from the 2012 sale of Annieville House (senior living facility adjacent to the church) to Fraser Health, resulted in a Legacy investment fund that yields dividends to fund our annual budget. In the coming year(s) as you review your family estate plan, if you are drawn by the Spirit to leave a lasting legacy that would allow Trinity Lutheran to be good news for years to come, let our Finance Task Force (Diane Parsons, Bob Duffield, Lucy Qian (Treasurer), Chris Pedersen, Kristen Spanza, Pastor Tim LeDrew) know. Such gifts live beyond us, stirring up hope and healing in ways we can yet imagine.
As we lean into a hopeful future, God promises to continue to show us how to seek the welfare of the city; to build, plant, and bear burdens together for the sake of love, poured out in Christ Jesus for you and for the life of the world. God’s grace is at work through you!
Love in Christ,