YouTube censored our worship service. My sermon from August 2, to be exact. They deleted our worship video from that Sunday because it “failed to meet our community standards” and was “spreading misinformation” regarding COVID-19.
What was my mortal sin in that service? In my sermon I dared to share an email from one of our members. This particular member, who I kept anonymous and will continue to do so, has over 20 years experience in microbiology, and they explained that because of what they know about how viruses work and masks don’t, they would not be wearing one. I then went on to share some of the data that supports wearing masks, and informed the congregation that we at SHLC would indeed be adhering to the governor’s recent mask order, despite the informed opinions that suggest otherwise. But apparently, my even mentioning a thought process not conforming to the will of the social media gods warrants censorship.
We appealed their decision, and we are contacting our congressman and senators about this infringement on our First Amendment rights by an entity that now controls the communication of over 1.3 billion (with a B) people. This has led me to consider what we do next, in terms of coronavirus precautions. The governor’s order is set to expire on September 28. The virus won’t be gone by then, but it is already showing signs of retreat. We’ve already seen – and recent studies confirm – that the virus is not nearly as lethal nor contagious as we feared back in March when the experts were projecting 2 million (with an M) deaths in the US alone. Positive strides have been made. That sounds great … unless you’re one of the vulnerable who fall victim to this disease. Or their family.
We cannot just jump back to mask-less, fellowship-full existence as long as the virus poses an imminent threat to our own brothers and sisters in Christ. We should not put a stumbling block in the way of our brother (Rom. 14:13), nor do use our freedom in Christ to indulge our own thoughts and desires, but through love our freedom serves others (Gal. 5:13).
That being said, what do we do come September 28th? What do we do in the Aftermask? We’ve already rolled out reopening plans for children’s and youth ministries, along with guidelines for our worship gatherings. But we know how long the best laid plans last when the data keeps changing.
Eventually, the masks will come off, and that’s a good thing, because it means our God-given immune systems are getting back to full time employment like they’ve always done.
Eventually, the social distance will close, and we’ll be able to sit together, talk together, eat together, worship together and live together in holy love as God designed the crown of His creation to do.
Eventually, the exponential increase in depression, domestic violence and suicide brought on by the masking distancing closing will subside (yes, shutting everything down and shutting everyone out kills people, too).
And eventually we will be able to have conversations and differences of opinion without censoring, attacking, unfriending or abandoning our relationships with one another. We are not the same people we were back in February, and we probably won’t be ever again. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13:8), and at no time did He stop being our Savior and Lord these last six months. He has made His power, His presence and His peace known even louder and deeper and in more creative ways for those who know the voice of their Shepherd, who hear Him even in the midst of the chaotic screeching of a society that has lost its way, if not its mind.
We follow Him. We follow Him alongside the same fellow lambs we loved before the mask. Now we will love them even more in the Aftermask.
Pastor Steve Kline
By now Target and Walmart have entire sections of their stores dedicated to school supplies. Various retailers will try to entice you into buying new clothes for the kids – and, while you’re at it, spend a few bucks for new threads for yourself, too.
The school districts will fill your inbox with calendars, schedules, meeting dates and supply lists. The sports teams are ready to start their preseason camps. And you might still have the time and the weather to slip in one more weekend up north before it’s time to get back to … well, you know.
Actually, I don’t know. Nobody knows. By now the marketing wizards have normally zapped us with every “Back to School” hook they can dream up. But normal disappeared a few months ago. We’ve put out a missing person report on normal. Nobody has seen normal since March.
We all want to get back, but get back to what? What will school be like? What will church be like? What will America be like? Our requisition of questions has vastly exceeded the supply of answers.
Let’s start with the schools. The Hortonville Area School District has put out a 37-page Reopening Plan. Essentially they are planning on a 5-day school week. They’re even entertaining teaching classes outside. This is northeast Wisconsin. That should be a wonderful two weeks.
I actually applaud their effort, and I have a mountainous level of respect and compassion for our school administrators, teachers and staff. They’ve already proven that they can turn on a dime when calamity strikes, as it did in March. They are trying to foresee the unforeseeable, and makes plans around the chaotic and disjointed lifestyle imposed upon all of us by the virus known as SARS-CoV-2. I prefer to call it the Little Slimeball.
For our church, we’re working on a plan to start up Sunday School and DOGs in September. In all likelihood, we will have adult leaders and helpers wearing masks, but not so likely for the kids. Based on the scientific expert I heard on the radio – choose your sources wisely, but they’ll probably say something different tomorrow – children are not susceptible to the Little Slimeball, nor do they transmit it (unless they have underlying medical issues). We’ll do our best to keep it safe.
We will still offer in-person worship, but with the guidelines we set out at the beginning still in place:
As for our country, we need to get back to work without getting into arguments. We need to get back to unity as Americans without hyphens. We need to get back to liberty and justice for all minus the vitriol toward the other side and the violence toward anyone at all. We need to get back to the foundational freedoms that dressed this nation with the finest attire any republic has ever worn, without obsessing on the couple of stains we picked up from years of wear. Treat the stains without trashing the whole outfit.
I know I’m oversimplifying, but freedom does not come easily nor quickly, and it’s never cheap. It took centuries of societal evolution to devise a national structure built on freedom; it takes centuries more to see that it reaches every heart, soul and life within its borders. It’s the harsh reality of human enlightenment that great ideas and noble principles must slowly work their way in to the cultural conscience. America had to start before slavery could end. Now let’s put an end to the lingering bigotry, too.
For the children of God, there’s only one place to go:
~ Pastor Steve Kline
June 25, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We are just a little over a week away from starting worship in our new Worship Center! This has been a long time coming, and words cannot describe the excitement I feel toward finally stepping into this beautiful new house of worship. Our Lord has certainly blessed us beyond all imagination! Our first worship in the new space will be Sunday, July 5.
A couple notes about our new building:
With this new chapter in our ministry about to be written, we also need to enhance our security measures. I need not tell you about the world we live in, and the time has come where we will take extra precautions to keep our Family and families safe while they are here in God’s House. These steps have been carefully and thoughtfully vetted by a team of members with knowledge and experience in the security field. They’ve done their homework.
We have already implemented locking the doors during business hours, with a doorbell and camera at the new Atrium entrance by the covered drop off. The office staff will be able to buzz you in from there.
Our security team, along with our Facilities Ministry Team, have devised a plan for locking doors after worship begins, and similarly on Wednesday nights after DOGs and youth group begin. Beginning in July, the doors will open an hour before large group events like worship and DOGs, and then will be locked again 10 minutes after starting time. We will have doorkeepers posted by the Atrium and MMC entrances to open doors for latecomers.
While this will be noticeably more inconvenient and take awhile to adjust to, the obvious goal is to hinder bad actors from inflicting harm on anyone in the building. We are also working on an Active Shooter Plan, along with other security measures that will be designed to help keep our minds at ease, knowing that we’re doing all we can to keep all God’s children safe while they are here together to join in Word and prayer.
This will also create the opportunity for more servants in the House. We need more ushers, greeters, and doorkeepers. With the advent of a new worship space, we are offering training for all worship helpers on one of two upcoming weekends:
WORSHIP SERVANT TRAINING
for all ushers, greeters, doorkeepers, worship assistants, altar care:
Saturday Worship Helpers: Saturday, June 27 - 6 p.m. or Saturday, July 18 – 6 p.m.
Sunday REACH Helpers: Sunday, June 28 – 10:45 a.m. or Sunday, July 19 – 10:45 a.m.
Sunday Traditional Helpers: Sunday, June 28 – 11:30 a.m. or Sunday, July 19 – 11:30 a.m.
Please choose just one training session of your preference. Meet in the new Worship Center.
Keep in mind also that starting July 5, we are restoring our regular summer worship schedule:
Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. (REACH Worship **No Saturday worship on July 4th**)
Sundays at 8:00 a.m. (Traditional Worship)
Sundays at 9:30 a.m. (REACH Worship)
Mondays 7:00 p.m. (iWorship Blended Worship **No Monday worship on Labor Day**)
Finally, our next Drive Thru Communion will be Sunday, July 19, 11 a.m. – Noon, by the MMC entrance.
Pastor Steve Kline
No sooner do we figure out a plan, by the next day it’s out of date. So we will not be offering a drive-thru communion on April 5 & 19, at least not until the threat subsides and we can get out of the house again.
Also, effective tomorrow (Wednesday), we are closing the church building to the general public. We will have some staff still working in the office, but we’re trying to minimize the human contact – the very words rub against the grain of the Church! But we have to take precautions. If you need anything at from us at church, please call ahead. We can meet you at the door, if need be. Those who are working on church projects or ministries will still be able to come in.
I am also happy to announce the launch of the SHLC Community Support Project, which is designed to serve our congregation and community during this crisis. If you or anyone you know is in need, or if you or anyone you know is able to help or give, we have a Google Form to fill out, which we will then use to match up needs with solutions. This includes things like picking up groceries or meds, rides to doctor appointments, childcare, emergency need for personal or household items (we even have a limited supply of toilet paper, if you run out), as well as spiritual or emotional needs. You can request prayers or a call from one of the pastors. If you’re really having a rough time, I can come and visit, and I promise to wash my hands first.
Here's the link to the Google Form for our Community Support Project: Support Form
We’ll also be putting this up on our website and Facebook page. When you submit the form, we’ll be able to process your gift of time/energy/resources, or your need for help. You will be contacted as soon as possible to take care of the situation. Please remember: THIS IS FOR EVERYBODY, NOT JUST MEMBERS! Please share with your neighbors and others in the community.
We’re still doing daily video devotions on Facebook at 11 a.m. each morning Monday thru Saturday. We are also streaming our Lenten service on Wednesdays at 7 p.m., and our Sunday services at 8 a.m. (traditional) and 9:30 a.m. (REACH) each Sunday we’re all cooped up.
FOR YOUR PRAYERS: Our Haiti mission team is trying to return home today, and have passed the first few checkpoints at the airport in Haiti. Please lift up prayers that our good and gracious God see them safely all the way home!
God reaches us …
Hello? Is anybody out there?
Let me start by saying how much I miss you, already. I love every opportunity we have to come together, so this social distancing thing really stinks.
Pastor Chad and I will be providing a daily devotional message, usually through email, though we’ll use Facebook on Wednesdays. Jessica is sharing a wide assortment of materials for children, youth and families that you can use at home.
Just a reminder that we will be streaming our service tonight at 7 p.m. on our Facebook page. You can also link to it through our website: shepherdhills.org. This is also how we’ll be worshiping the next few weeks. Praise God for technology! And technicians!!
Also a more uncomfortable reminder: the mission and ministry of our Church Family continues during times of trial and triumph, and everything in between. In fact, this is especially the moment when Jesus expects us to rise up and be Little Christs, to meet the needs of the people around us. This also means that we need to remain faithful in our giving to Him. Our website has a link you can use to give electronically. You can certainly mail your offering (please don’t mail cash), or drop it off at the office. We’re still open for business for as long as it is safe to do so.
Please keep checking in with our website and Facebook posts, and if you need anything at all, please call or email.
Yours in Christ,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The world has seen the devastating power of COVID19 – the coronavirus – in recent weeks. The extensive loss of life is profoundly tragic, and we pray for those who grieve the loss of their loved ones, as we should whenever death leaves its mark.
We’re also witnessing governments, institutions and organizations taking drastic measures to try to contain the spread of this virus. The state board of health has issued a statement that recommends cancelling non-essential gatherings of 250+ people. Whether we all agree about the need for these actions or not, I believe that people in leadership positions are seeking the best medical advice they can find, and implementing precautions that are in the best interests of those they are called to serve.
We should do likewise here at SHLC. We do NOT plan to discontinue our worship or educational ministries here. God’s command and blessing, along with our need for His means of grace in Word and Sacrament, are the overriding factors in determining to carry on in His mission and ministry within our Church Family and community. He has shepherded His people through far worse threats and disasters, and I firmly and joyfully believe that He will do so again and again!
We will also be taking every feasible step toward keeping our facility as clean as possible. That being said, we do not want to take unnecessary risks, or expose our brothers and sisters to those risks, if we can help it. Based on what we’ve learned from the latest communications from medical experts, and my own conversations with medical professionals, we will move forward with the following directives for our congregation:
I don’t know how this pandemic is going to go, or when it will subside. But this I do know: our God is bigger and stronger than any virus! His grace is more than sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), and His power is made perfect in our weakness. That doesn’t make us immune. It makes us conquerors.
Pastor Steve Kline
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
I pulled into the church parking lot, and there was nobody there. It’s still early on a Sunday morning, I told myself as I unlocked the doors and went inside. They’ll all be here shortly. They’ll walk in any time now.
But they didn’t. Nobody showed up. Nobody walked in. The time for worship came and went, but nobody came to church today.
“How can this be?” I wondered to myself. Surely not everyone had taken vacation on the exact same day, and they can’t all be sick. I had noticed over the last several weeks, months even (years, really), that more and more seats were going un-sat. The faithful were few, and growing fewer. But certainly there would always be somebody there with me, right? Not today.
So I determined to figure out where they went. If I could find them, maybe I could talk to them, and perhaps I would discover how this had happened.
I got back in my car and drove up to the café, on a hunch that some of them would be there. The parking lot was full, but I found a spot and went in. Sure enough, there were a handful of our people having breakfast: a family at one table, a couple couples in the booths, another guy at the counter.
When they saw me they mostly looked away, but one of the couples offered a rather sheepish hello. When I asked what they were doing here, they said they’d made plans for the day and were starting it off with a nice breakfast. They would’ve gone to church, but they were really looking forward to enjoying their time together, because they needed a break.
Then I drove down to the sports complex and had to park out by the road. On the long walk up to the main entrance, I recognized several vehicles, including those with silver Jesus fish emblems and Bible verse bumper stickers. I stepped into the lobby and was immediately met with swarms of junior athletes, already dressed to play and big duffel bags lying nearby.
I ran into a frenzied mother from church, who was trying to shepherd three 8-year-olds to the right place. She said, “It’s tournament day,” as she hurried on by. Coming down the hallway were two dads, one of whom I recognized, and I heard him tell the other, “If they don’t come to every practice and every game, they sit the bench.” He saw me and gave a smile and a nod as they walked away.
Back in the car I realized that I couldn’t drive all over town like this to find clumps of members somewhere, so I figured to head back to church. I took the long way, through subdivisions and past condos, and sure enough, I saw a few cars in driveways that used to park in the church parking lot.
As I turned onto the street where the church is, I thought that now someone may have shown up for the late service. Nobody did. It was supposed to start in a couple minutes.
I went into my office and flipped open my laptop. A bunch of church people were posting and sharing on Facebook. Same with Instagram. Many of the posts were time stamped within the last hour or so, even the last few minutes.
I decided a more direct approach would help me find some answers, so I picked up my phone and tried calling some of our members. Mostly I got voicemail, as the realization that they may not want to talk to me today of all days sunk in. After trying several different numbers, I finally got a guy who answered. A rather groggy voice said, “Hello?”
I politely identified myself (did he not have caller ID?), and asked him how they were doing. They were fine. Without pushing too hard, I learned that this was their day to sleep in. It didn’t take long for him to catch on to my ulterior motive. As he offered his reasons for why they attended less and slept in more, he hit me with the phrase, “You don’t have to go to church every week to be a good Christian.”
I was stunned, not because I’d never heard it before, but because I had heard it all too often: coming from me! All sorts of sermons and lessons started cascading through my memory as I told people they couldn’t save themselves by going to church or saying lots of prayers or doing good deeds. I didn’t mean not to do them at all. They would have picked up on that, wouldn’t they?
Maybe I should’ve been more clear. I thought they understood the importance, the need to prioritize their time so that church comes first on Sundays. Maybe I could’ve made it more invigorating and entertaining to come to church. How could I have let this happen?
Then I reflected on what was missing. No one here to forgive, or be forgiven. No one to share the Word with, to share a prayer with, to share life with. No one to sing with.
No one to baptize, no one to feed at the Lord’s Table. It was heart wrenching to absorb how much I missed them, how much I needed them.
That’s when the revelation came: they weren’t supposed to be coming to church, and they certainly weren’t supposed to be coming to me. They should have been coming to Jesus. After all, He’s the only One who makes them Christian, and He’s the only One who keeps them Christian. Somehow they had interpreted “You don’t need to do” into “You don’t need anything.” Or anyone. They have themselves, and they think that’s enough.
I arrived at a scary conclusion: if each generation thinks less and less about spending time with Jesus, where will their children be? Or their grandchildren? Probably at the café, I muttered to myself half-jokingly.
As I locked the church door, I looked at my watch. Good timing: I would’ve had to cut things short for this service. I had tickets to the game. I drove away.
Nobody came to church today.
Pastor Steve Kline was installed as Senior Pastor at SHLC on May 25, 2014, after serving 12 years as Senior Pastor at Zion in Wayside, WI. He was ordained in 1992 and previously served congregations in Pulaski and Hales Corners.