Everybody recognizes the medical arts and sciences as an essential service providing physical care for the body. I ask you to provide legal recognition for the essential services provided by Christian pastors as they deliver the spiritual care for the whole person, body and soul. This is work which God has given them to do and within the many faith traditions, the service provided by Christian pastors is sincerely held to be as essential to maintaining their spiritual life as food is essential to the physical body.
The U.S. Constitution’s protection of religious liberty, and the Michigan Constitution’s guarantee that, “Every person shall be at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience,” would seem to prevent the State and its officers from judging religious practice “non-essential.” For the government to claim the exercise of their religion as “non-essential” when those practices could be undertaken under essentially the same guidelines issued for other “essential services,” would seem to constitute an excessive entanglement.
Christian pastors do much more than lead the public worship of the church one day per week.
The work of a Christian pastor can be likened to a doctor providing medical care for the body. The difference being that the care that Pastors provide is for the soul. Whenever a Christian Pastor meets and gathers with their members whether individually, in very small groups, or in the public worship service with the entire congregation, they provide an essential service as they deliver God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation through His Word and the Sacraments to God’s people.
This work requires physical proximity because, according to the teachings of Christianity, God delivers His blessings through visible and tangible items in time and space. Through the spoken word, through the water of Holy Baptism, and through the bread and wine of Holy Communion, God comes near to His people to bless them, to be with them, and sustain their faith in the midst of this world. The providing of these gifts to God’s people is essential to the Christian faith, and their tangible nature requires physical proximity.
This means that the opportunities for Christians and their pastors to be together in both time and space is an essential service necessary for the maintenance of the spiritual life of the Christian. While the Word may be preached and proclaimed through electronic means over great distances, the carrying out of certain rites, such as the reception of Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Eucharist, requires physical proximity. It cannot be done “virtually,” any more than groceries or medicine can be delivered virtually.
It is not necessary that the gatherings for these activities be large. It is not necessary that all the members of a given congregation gather in the same space at the same time. It is not necessary that there is close proximity of all the participants for the duration of the events. There is a great amount of flexibility and variability with regard to these details and much that can be done to mitigate risk.
However, it is essential for the exercise of the Christian faith that Christians have the opportunity to come together in both time and space, even if only in small or very small groups, so that they may receive all the blessings that God desires to deliver to His people. According to the teachings of the Faith, it is the Christian Pastor who has been placed by God in a specific place at a specific time to hand over those gifts. This makes the Christian Pastor essential personnel, and the work that the Christian Pastor does, an essential service.
Jesus said, “Wherever two or three gathered in My Name, there I am in the midst of them,” indicating the essential nature of the ability of Christians to gather together. (Matthew 18:20)
Likewise, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Gathering around Jesus and His gifts is essential. (Matthew 19:14)
So, too, Jesus said, “Whoever puts a stone of stumbling before one of these little ones who belives in Me, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mark 9:42)
We must preserve our states and nation from the wrath of God who would be justifiably angered by a refusal to allow His blessing to flow freely upon our people during this time.
We cannot permit laws and orders enacted during an emergency, even such a great emergency as we face today, to be a stumbling block that cuts off the provision of these essential services to the precious lambs for whom Jesus bled and died.
If you are in a state, like Michigan, that does not recognize the essential services provided by Pastors to the people of their congregation, please contact your state legislators immediately and request that they act within their office to legally guarantee that the essential service provided by pastors to their members and community is recognized and that the spiritual life of our citizens is not put at risk as we attempt to keep and preserve their physical life.
We must enact clear legislation or promulgate appropriate regulations and orders that will ensure that Christian Pastors are able to continue to provide essential services to God’s people and deliver to their communities the only true hope we have, the hope and peace brought to us by Jesus, in these difficult and uncertain times.
Pastor Matthew Dent
Bethlehem Lutheran Church
5622 Johnsfield Rd.