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(Letter from the Vicar – 17 April 2020)
Dear friends in Christ, members and friends of St Boniface, Augsburg!

Some of you may have wondered, “when do we hear from our vicar?”; others may have feel swamped by so many pastoral statements and updates and online offerings of spiritual nature, that you did not really miss my two-pence of opinion at all. And, if the latter is the case, rest assured, I am not planning to speak yet again about this “exceptional situation we find ourselves in” – others have done so, and have done well.

But as some slight relaxations of official regulations are approaching, it may be time to think about our re-entry into the atmosphere of normality. In space travel, a capsule, coming back from extraterrestrial orbits has got a heat-shield, and that serves a good purpose. For now, it seems, we are safe in that capsule, smoothly (more or less?) gliding through the vacuum of space, but some turbulence is bound to happen, as we approach the home planet again, as it where. We may really need this heat shield! And, believe it or not, even though the past few weeks were very strange for most of us, maybe going back to normality will feel equally strange – if not more so! And, depending on your context and situation in life, it may require some skill to “land safely”.

I was, these days, reminded of a passage in the New Testament, Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 14. And there, in particular, a verse like “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead, never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (v 13). In this section of the biblical text, Paul is addressing issues arising from groups of individuals, who, though in the exact same situation, arrive at very different conclusions concerning their individual conduct1. That, Paul clearly sees, can lead to conflict and even to mutual condemnation and judgment. So what is the right (Christian) way of dealing with such differences of conviction or opinion? The answer is, in short, respect the individual choice of others, while sticking with conviction and confidence to what you, bound to your own conscience, have discerned.

I like that balance between individual freedom and responsibility on the one side and the strong emphasis on the communal interest, on the other. In a world, where “Me first” (or, replace “me” by “my family”, “my class interest”, “my nation” and so on) has pretty much become a general motto of life, we need to hear Paul, who says he would rather restrict his own freedom than cause offense to a fellow Christian (1 Cor 8:13). This is not yet another motivational speech along the lines, “hey, come one, with a bit of goodwill we are going to manage this” (“Reist’s eich zam, dann werd‘ des scho’”).
Because at the center of his argument we find a direct link to the message of Easter: “We do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves; for to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Rm 14:7,9). If Christ, who experienced life and death – and new life is the Lord over our lives, we can expect transformation. The promise of a “new heart” is very close to the mystery of Easter. Paul is not just giving us advice, how we can live together, peacefully (v17, 19), but he points us to the one, who is able to renew our lives, attitudes and values – the one, who can change our hearts: Jesus Christ, the risen Lord.

So as we start trying to spell out, what the post-Covid19 shape of things will look like in the reality of St Boniface congregation, I hope that this age-old wisdom will prove itself still valid: that we need to find a space, where we feel comfortable, ourselves; not allow others to urge us to do something, we are not ready for; respect others, who move back into “normality” (if we remember at all, what that meant) faster or slower than we do; try to imagine and understand, what this strange new world must look like from my brother’s or sister’s perspective – which might be very different than my own one; and be very close (at least emotionally, not necessarily physically!) who might feel that they are the weakest link.
While all these things are very important even during normal times, for our life as a community of believers, it may have special relevance, as we approach the next stage.

As a church, we will keep moving on a learning curve. Possibly we will have to continue in a hybrid way of worshiping (with some virtually present and others physically present), even long after actual meetings are allowed and considered safe again – to cater for anyone and everyone, who sees themselves as part of this congregation. Details on how exactly we can do that are to follow. It will be a challenge – no doubt (as have been the weeks past). But one thing I do firmly believe: that with the life-transforming power of Jesus in our midst, we can move on in confidence and peace!

God bless you all!
Lutz Ackermann (Vicar)