A Pastoral Letter to God’s People

from Rev. Thomas Q. Strandburg

Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church

March 20, 2020

Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of God, Our Father, and Our Lord Jesus Christ! Amid these challenging times when I am prevented from being present with you in person, I take this opportunity to communicate with you via this pastoral letter. I am deeply in prayer for each one of you, and for your families, at this time.

As you are aware, our church is taking very seriously the call of our federal, state, and local leaders to work cooperatively in the face of the current COVID-19 viral pandemic. We are in full compliance with the President’s coronavirus guidelines for America, “15 Days to Slow the Spread of COVID-19,” as well as all Centers for Disease Control (CDC) mandates. As you know, all in-person meetings, worship services, and small group activities have been cancelled through the end of March. Our Weekday Ministries program has also been cancelled, by order of the governor. To the fullest extent possible, our church staff is working remotely. Certain critical functions that are essential to the continuity of our church’s ministry are being performed in the church building, under strict adherence to all CDC guidelines pertaining to good hygienic practice and “social distancing.” For example, our maintenance staff is currently working to clean and sanitize our building from top to bottom, so that it will be safe for those who must enter for any reason. I thank them for their efforts. A few volunteers are also using the church sanctuary and Asbury Center as an “audio/video studio” to produce the two online resources that will substitute for in-person worship in the coming weeks – The Gathering livestream and the sermon podcast. I thank them for their willingness to serve. You will receive more information about these opportunities soon.

For the time being, all communication with the church should be done via telephone or e-mail. We regularly check for messages on the main church line (412-531-7131). I would encourage you to call the parsonage telephone (412-531-8646) with any items of a time-sensitive nature. You are also invited to e-mail me at any time at tstrandburg@mlumc.org. In particular, as you become aware of any needs within our congregation and community, please communicate them to us. I am responding to all requests for pastoral care during these days, taking all proper health precautions as I do so. I am currently healthy and well, as I hope you are too! Our dear parishioner Bernice Merchant has informed me that she is suffering from a non-viral ailment, which has required her to travel to South Carolina to be with her son. She has asked me to ask you for your prayers. She will continue to pray for us from afar. Please do everything that you can to keep yourselves healthy and well through these trying times.

I’ll close with a spiritual thought. As you know, I love hymns and the histories behind them. Hymn #129 in our hymnal bears the title, “Give to the Winds Thy Fears.” I would commend it to you, as printed below. The stanzas were written in the year 1653 by the Rev. Paul Gearhardt, Lutheran theologian and pastor, who became known as one of Germany’s greatest hymnwriters. Like us, Paul Gearhardt lived through challenging times. During his lifetime, Europe suffered under the ravages of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). According to historian Peter Wilson, the Thirty Years War was one of the most destructive conflicts in human history, resulting in 8 million fatalities due to violence, famine, and endemic disease. Gearhardt wrote “Give to the Winds Thy Fears” (“Befiehl du deine Wege”) just five years after the conclusion of the war. No Pollyannaish preacher he! He knew real pain and suffering because he had lived it. Hymnologist Albert Bailey notes: “No doubt [Gerhardt] repeated these lines to himself many a time in the after years when, one by one four of his five children died, his influential position in Berlin was taken away, and his wife succumbed after a long illness, leaving him with a single surviving son.” His poetry was translated from German into English in 1739 by Methodism’s own John Wesley, who obviously felt that these words would be beneficial for all of us. Though the circumstances that Gerhardt and Wesley faced were different, this hymn served as a source of comfort for two influential leaders in two different cultures, languages and centuries. I share the power of these centuries-old words with you in the midst of our own time of trial:

Give to the winds thy fears;

hope and be undismayed.

God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,

God shall lift up thy head.

Through waves and clouds and storms,

God gently clears the way;

wait thou God’s time; so shall this night

soon end in joyous day.

Leave to God’s sovereign sway

to choose and to command;

so shalt thou, wondering, own that way,

how wise, how strong this hand.

Let us in life, in death,

thy steadfast truth declare,

and publish with our latest breath

thy love and guardian care.