Greetings to our fellow ELCA congregations of Southwest CA:
With smoke, fire, pandemic, and a reckoning on race and racism in America, the Central Coast Conference continues to persevere in its care of its communities and love of God. While many of us leaders were bracing ourselves to hold our congregations through an election season, none of us expected to be reinventing church. But our core practices of faith remain intact — gathering in virtual spaces and safe places, mutual prayer, dwelling with the Word, accompaniment with many different kinds of journeys, and advocacy for the most vulnerable and underserved. Everything has changed. And yet, the more we look to history and the struggles of the saints before us, the more we dwell on those first churches who left centralized worship in the temple, we see ourselves mirrored in the pages of the Bible. May our crucifixions, imprisonments, and shipwrecks be transformed for the glory of God and the life of God’s people.
Bethel Lutheran Church — Templeton
With the gifts of our members, we were very quickly able to move our worship online and it has provided meaningful connection. Phone trees, online small groups, in-person youth group, and virtual coffee hour have secured new friendships and deepened established relationships. Our North County Womenade project, an interfaith coalition distributing cash assistance to local residents, will supply by the end of 2020 over $100,000 to local residents for immediate needs like rent and gas and health care costs and more. This included securing an $80,000 grant from the Immigrant Resilience Fund for undocumented residents of our region. The little things continue to matter too: every night after going out to our jobs and checking in on friends and family, we ring the bell at 8pm to honor the nearby hospital and remind the neighborhood God is here.
Hope Lutheran Church — Atascadero
In June, Hope said good-bye to Pastors Liz and Ryan Radtke as they moved to a new call in Virginia. It was not how they wanted to celebrate those seven years, but they made the best of a drive-thru parade and had quite a send-off. Soon after Pr. Russ Gordon arrived to shepherd yet another congregation through the interim period. This summer, they have provided online worship and begun gathering outdoors for informal socializing as well as Sunday morning worship. They continue to be an essential partner to the local homeless shelter and meal program. With strong council leadership and a deep desire to serve, they look ahead to their next chapter.
Calvary Lutheran Church — Morro Bay
Rev. Robyn Provis writes, “We are eight weeks into a new interim and doing very well after the retirement of Rev. Jim Berg who served here for 29 years. They report feeling excited and empowered… and are enjoying finding out there is more than setting three for worship LOL. I’ve been holding patio chair visits (Grace with space) in order to meet everyone. We continue to offer programming to stay connected such as ZOOM bible study and ZOOM Fellowship Friday social hour. A HUGE 6 foot by 12 foot banner is going up on the building tomorrow. People are enjoying going through the MET (Ministry Exploration Team) process with Pastor Marj and are getting ready to start interviews. In addition the council has divided up the members into “caring caller” lists so that council can keep in touch with individual members and families. Attendance for virtual worship is strong and people are faithfully sending in their tithes and offerings. So far, so good up here on the North Coast.”
Mt. Carmel Lutheran Church — San Luis Obispo
Despite the challenge of the COVID-19 virus, Mt. Carmel Lutheran Church in San Luis Obispo has continued to be an active community of worship, spiritual nurture and service to the community. We presently have two weekly Zoom online gatherings for worship— Sunday morning and Wednesday Evening Prayer; the latter has recently been adapted to include a small outdoor, physically-distanced setting. In addition, Sunday Adult Education has continued together with two weekly Bible study groups and an ongoing book discussion group. Our CAT (Children and Teen) Ministry has continued to offer online activities for kids and youth and we have some outdoor, in-person gatherings scheduled for the coming weeks. Our various Ministry Teams have continued to meet regularly via Zoom and in the past months we have done fundraising projects for Iglesia Santa Cruz and the SLO Food Bank, and hosted two blood drives. We have worked to expand our connections with members through a twice-weekly internet newsletter and a Telephone Tree. Although we long to gather together physically and there is concern about when we will be able to do so, we continue to be the Church led by God’s Spirit who calls, gathers and enlightens us.
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church — Orcutt
This neighborhood church also continues to worship primarily online and gather for Zoom fellowship hours and Bible study. In the midst of all the crisis adjustments, they continue to walk with people through the common transitions of illness and death, rites of passage, and preparing for new schooling experiences. They work closely with Iglesia Luterana de Santa Cruz offering vital supplies, hands-on assistance with feeding programs, and friendship through these difficult days.
Iglesia Luterana de Santa Cruz — Santa Maria
Pastor Esteban Salazar with his wife Angelica continue to faithfully serve and bless their tri-lingual community. They hold worship online every Sunday. With economic disruption, they bring food to members at home and listen with care to people’s struggles. And once a week, they continue their Feed my People Thursday tradition when they head to the fields with hundreds of sandwiches and words of prayer. Their ministry remains a powerful presence in Santa Maria.
Bethania Lutheran Church — Solvang
At the start of the shut down Bethania moved strictly to virtual worship on YouTube. We are currently working on moving to an outdoor service that will follow guidelines and have a recorded option available for those who can’t/don’t want to gather in person. The big ministry we’ve centered ourselves on during the pandemic is an emergency food distribution, which is in it’s 23rd week and feeding on average 1,400 people a week. We have also begun the process of converting part of our space into a food pantry, which should be ready in about 2 or 3 weeks.
And while not a geographical home to the Finnish Lutheran Ministry of the ELCA, we are a home to the leader, Rev. Jarmo TarkKi. The Finnish Lutheran Ministry is an 11 point ministry, serving Finnish communities west of the Mississippi and Mexico. Pr. Jarmo writes, “We have not had in person services since last February. Instead, we have live Zoom -worship services. We also have three separate confirmation classes, 15 students in three different locations (Dallas, Silicon Valley and San Diego), all via Zoom at this time. Currently we have three pastors, three musicians and a 1/3 time administrative assistant. I am the only full time employee.”