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Response Memo on Coronavirus

Update May 2,2020

As the weather warms up and the weeks of the pandemic lengthen our congregation has a blessed desire to once again gather around the Word and Sacrament of our Lord.  This is a holy and godly desire, as Blessed Martin Luther says, “To gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer.”  We believe that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)  We also firmly believe that we need and desire the life-giving Holy Supper of our Lord’s Body and Blood which we confess to be “a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy imparting salvation and comfort, which will cure you and give you life both in soul and body” (Large Catechism 5, 68) and the Cup of Blessing (1 Corinthians 10:16).

At the same time, as Lutherans, we believe that with regard to our government, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”  (Small Catechism, 4th Commandment)  Likewise, with regard to the health and welfare of all our neighbors, “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” (Small Catechism, 5th Commandment)

On first reading, these beliefs seem to be contradictory.  They are not.  Our confession of and desire for the former leads us to our desire for and confession of the latter.  We have suffered deprivation of gathering together for a time in order that we may obey our God-given authorities and serve our neighbors.  It is also essential for us to focus on God’s Word and our confession of it in these times rather than the provocations and prognostications of the secular media to guide us.  In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Church has not been singled out for closure of any kind and is not presently in a state of persecution.  Our elected officials have asked the citizens, businesses, and organizations of the Commonwealth to respond in a responsible and charitable manner in the face of a health crisis and we all have done so.  Our God-given system of government allows for, even calls for, civil debate on this and every issue, but that should not be construed as hostility or violence.  We will continue to follow our governor’s leadership so long as he does not try to force us to deny the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The clergy have consulted extensively with the parish elders, the English District of the LCMS, the recommendations and guidelines of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and other Lutheran theologians and ethicists during this time of discernment.
While some of the northern regions of the Commonwealth will begin to reopen next week in what is termed the “Yellow Phase”  (https://www.governor.pa.gov/process-to-reopen-pennsylvania/), Allegheny County is still in the Red Phase with the stay-at-home order still in effect.  Until Allegheny County enters the Yellow Phase, First Trinity and Holy Cross will continue to webcast our Sunday Services on Facebook and YouTube.
When Allegheny County enters the Yellow Phase, First Trinity and Holy Cross will begin to reopen focussing on gathering around the Word and Sacrament of our Lord Jesus Christ first of all.  On the first Sunday after Allegheny County enters the Yellow Phase, First Trinity and Holy Cross will resume holding in-person Divine Services under specific guidelines:

  1. First Trinity will hold two Divine Services each Sunday, one at 9:00 AM and the other at 11:00 AM.  Both services will be exactly the same.
  2. Holy Cross will return to their normal schedule of Sunday Service of the Word at 9:30 AM, the Divine Service is celebrated twice a month.
  3. Attendance at these services will be limited to 25 people.
  4. Social distancing will be observed by household.
  5. Attendance by those in at-risk demographic groups will be discouraged for their own safety but not prohibited.  I will be available to make Eucharistic house calls by appointment for those people.
  6. Loitering after the Services will be discouraged,
  7. Offerings will be received in a stationary plate and not passed from person to person.
  8. The church windows will be open and main exhaust fans running to keep air flowing through the buildings. (see https://youtu.be/H2azcn7MqOU)
  9. Extra hand sanitizer stations will be set up near building entrances.
  10. The churches will be sanitized by the custodian before and after each Service with a hospital-grade disinfectant.
  11. The clergy will practice enhanced sanitation as was being done at the beginning of the pandemic in March.
  12. The Elders of First Trinity (David Miller, Sam Mussmann, & Tim Palmer at First Trinity, and Walter Brooks at Holy Cross) will contact members to determine who will attend each Service in order to maintain the 25 person limit.

The Services will also continue to be live-streamed for those who need or desire to remain at home.

The Rogation Days Processions will be held at Holy Cross on Tuesday, May 19, 10:00 AM and at Frist Trinity on Wednesday, May 20, 10:00 AM.  The processions are held entirely outdoors around the bounds of the church properties while Psalms, the Great Litany, and prayers for blessings and protection of our parish are prayed.  If Allegheny County is still in Red Phase, these will be conducted by the clergy and staff only.  If the county is in Yellow Phase, social distancing will be observed.  Please call or email me for instructions if we are in Yellow Phase and you plan to attend.
The mission outreaches of the parish will also follow the guidelines of the Commonwealth.

  • Holy Cross Food Distribution remains open under modified operating procedures to provide food to the neighborhood.
  • Holy Cross Clothing Distribution will resume when the county enters Green Phase.
  • The Pittsburgh Lutheran Center for the Blind has canceled all events until the annual ice cream social on August 2.
  • Pittsburgh Lutheran Deaf Ministry has canceled all classes and social events until further notice.
  • First Trinity Homeless Ministry will resume street outreach when the county enters Yellow Phase.
  • First Trinity Homeless Ministry will resume the quarterly mercy distribution when the county enters Green Phase.
  • The campus ministry will follow the lead of our local colleges and universities in regard to resuming in-person activities.  

First Trinity and Holy Cross will resume Sunday School and social events when the county enters Green Phase.  The Operating Board has resolved for us to hold a special parish-wide Feast of Thanksgiving when we enter the Green Phase with parish breakfasts, games for the children, and special music and liturgical prayers and celebrations at the Divine Services.  We look forward to that day!

Finally, I commend to you the wisdom and encouragement of our bishop, the Reverend Dr. Matthew Harrison, President of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in this video (including ASL Interpreter):  https://youtu.be/ycXy6TE3HGo

We have been blessed at First Trinity and Holy Cross thus far to have suffered no cases of the coronavirus and we pray that this will remain so.  Please keep all those affected by this pandemic, especially our brethren in eastern PA and in New York, in your prayers that the Lord will deliver them speedily.  If you are in any need, please call, message, or email me.  The Lord be with you all.

Update March 16, 2020

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Discussions have been held today with the pastoral staff,  lay leadership, and medical professionals of First Trinity, our Bishop, the pastors of our sister LCMS congregations, and the leaders of our neighborhood religious institutions.  To say that the Coronavirus situation has been a rapidly developing one would be a gross understatement.  In just the last few hours, Governor Wolf ordered all non-essential businesses to close and Mayor Peduto sent all non-essential city employees home.  President Trump, in a press conference with his Coronavirus task force, recommended that people avoid gathering with more than 10 people.

Although it may seem overly cautious, First Trinity and Holy Cross will suspend all activities and in-person Services until further notice.  The Holy Cross Food and Clothing Distribution in Hazelwood will be providing emergency food bags to those in critical need on a case by case basis.  The Holy Cross distribution center is closed.  It is a charitable and Christian act for us to endeavor to protect the most vulnerable among us by mitigating the spread of this contagion.

First Trinity will again webcast a Sunday morning service via Facebook Live at 11:00 AM.  The service will be Matins (morning prayer) with preaching.  A link to the webcast along with a copy of the service folder will be made available beginning Thursday.

Pastorally, I advise you to heed the admonition of our government and public health officials.  Stay home unless you must go out for essential work or errands.  Avoid gatherings of people.  Wash or sanitize your hands often.  Avoid touching public surfaces.  Discover ways to keep contagion out of your home.  Most importantly, spend time with your family in prayer, reading of the Bible, singing, and wholesome recreation inside and outside of your home.  As the weather allows, make use of and enjoy the blessed abundance of natural open spaces that we have in Western Pennsylvania in the countryside and in our large city parks.  Let us protect and serve the vulnerable among us.  Check on your elderly neighbors and generously share with those who are in need.

Many times over many centuries, our good and gracious Lord has delivered us from pestilence.  He will again and strengthen us in our time of need.  Let us continue steadfastly to love Him and serve our neighbors.  He is faithful and will care for us, His children.

Matthew 6:25-34:  Jesus said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

The Lord bless you all with His peace.

Originally Posted March 13, 2020

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The recent news and events concerning the COVID-19 (commonly called Coronavirus) global pandemic have given our parish special cause for concern and prayer. In circumstances like this, our primary Christian vocation remains one of loving God and serving our neighbor. To this end, the Church desires to remain constant in prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel while being cautious in protecting our neighbors from undue exposure to the contagion, especially those most at risk.

This week, I have been in contact with Bishop Hardy, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the lay leaders of our congregation, and the directors of our mission outreaches. We have conducted extensive research concerning this pandemic and have consulted the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and the Allegheny County Health Department as well as that of the City of Pittsburgh, our neighboring universities, and our local health care systems including UPMC, AHN, and Concordia Lutheran Ministries. Finally, the pastoral staff met this morning to summarize and implement our findings.

First and foremost it is important for us all, as Christians, to remember that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Church and the universe and that all of our days are in His hands. Let us remain faithful with a joyful and hopeful outlook focused on the reality of the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection unto life everlasting in Christ. With that as our view-point, let us love our God and serve our neighbor cheerfully to the best of our God-given abilities.

First Trinity and Holy Cross will continue to celebrate the Sunday morning Divine Services. It is the Church’s responsibility to continue to proclaim the Word of God, offer the Sacrament to those who need and desire it, and make prayers and supplications for all people. As God’s beloved children, you may come to hear the Word, receive the Sacrament, and pray with us as you wish and are able. We understand that some of our flock fall into a higher-risk demographic and we concur with the advice that is given for the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, or who are showing symptoms of any kind to please stay home. We also understand the need for social distancing, therefore we will take advantage of the gift that our Lord has given us with two amply-sized church buildings to ask everyone attending services to sit with their families apart from other families. We have plenty of room to fill while maintaining reasonable distances from one another. Hand-shaking and close personal contact will be discouraged. The pastors will make a few minor additions to our already meticulously sanitary distribution of the Blessed Sacrament and, although our congregation firmly believes that this is the “cup of blessing” (1 Corinthians 10:16), no one will be faulted if they simply choose to abstain from the Lord’s Supper for a brief period.

Celebrating the Presence of Jesus Christ in the City of Pittsburgh since 1837.

The prayer services (Matins, Vespers, Stations of the Cross) will continue at First Trinity and Holy Cross albeit with fewer in attendance. Sunday School and Bible class are cancelled until further notice at both locations. All parish meals are cancelled until further notice. Other parish events and gatherings of some of our mission outreaches are being cancelled due to the at-risk demographics that we serve. Decisions concerning any other events will be made by the various mission directors in consultation with the parish pastor.

For those who are staying at home, First Trinity and Holy Cross will make print and on-line devotional resources available to you. Our Sunday Service Notes as well as our weekly sermon podcasts will be available. We ask that you all pray for our parish, city, nation, and the world as we suffer through this pandemic. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me. The Lord be with you all.

In Christ our God,

The Reverend Dr. Douglas H. Spittel Parish Pastor
First Trinity Evangelical-Lutheran Church Holy Cross Evangelical-Lutheran Chapel Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania