Dear Friends in Christ,

“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” (Jeremiah 29:11).

In Jeremiah, chapter 29, the prophet writes a letter to those who are living in Exile in Babylon. He encourages them to be patient, to remain faithful, and to trust that God has not forgotten them. God will keep the promise made to the Exiles and return them to their homes. “…I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10b).  God has plans for the people of God, and those plans are always grounded in promise and hope.

God’s people lived in Babylon for 70 years, and then in God’s time, they returned from Exile. I find comfort in knowing that God does not forget, abandon, or forsake us. God has plans for our welfare and our future, and those plans are always good.

During these last few weeks, we too have been living with a sense of exile and separation. We long to be with people we love. We long to worship together. I long to listen to a Detroit Tigers baseball game, follow the statistics and standings, and read the box scores in the morning. I’ve been doing that since I was in elementary school, and I really miss it. What are some of the everyday rhythms, habits, and events that you are missing?

For those of us who follow Jesus, I would venture to say that what we miss the most is life in the faith community. We miss parish life. Corporate prayer. Small Group Bible Study. In-person worship. Catechism Classes and Confirmation. One of you shared with me that you even miss in-person Church Council meetings. This time of separation and quarantine does indeed feel like a mini-Exile.

But as the Prophet Jeremiah reminds us, God has plans for us and for our future. We will once again experience the rhythm and relationships of parish life… though it will be different and learning how to navigate this new reality will take prayer, patience, and wisdom.

During this past week, I have been working with a team that is formulating a Parish Plan of Return. In the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, many of us had great expectations that our parishes would return to in-person worship and other activities after a short hiatus. We now understand that our return to parish life may take place in incremental and extended phases. We are running a marathon, and not a sprint, so we need to reset our hopes and expectations, accordingly, though always trusting that God has plans for our welfare and future, and those plans are always good.

Please pray for the Northwestern Ohio Synod’s Plan of Return Team as we ponder and plan how God will lead us into a brave new future. These team members include:

  • Pastor Paul Reichert (St. Martin’s, Archbold and Dean of the Maumee Valley Conference)
  • Pastor Will Stenke (Trinity, Findlay)
  • Deacon Steve Basselman (St. Martin’s, Archbold)
  • Ms. Laura Strietelmeier (Nurse at ProMedica Toledo Hospital)
  • Ms. Kathy Barbee (Intensive Care Nurse at St. Vincent Hospital, Toledo)
  • Mr. Dan Barbee (President of Rural Health at Mercy Health System)
  • Pastor Sarah Schaaf (Director for Community Engagement)
  • Bishop Daniel G. Beaudoin (Northwestern Ohio Synod)