Don't Forget to Wash Your Hands!

A Message from the COVID Action Team:
In response to recent CDC guidelines
July 29th, 2021

 

Your COVID Team continues to follow the latest updates concerning COVID safety.  Yesterday Alaska reported 376 COVID infections in one day, the highest tally since early January. Our status in Anchorage Municipality is substantial or high transmission, according to the CDC. Local health experts continue to express great concern over the newest variants. With all these factors in mind, the following decision has been made regarding worship THIS Sunday, August 1st, and going forward for the time being.

 

It is with intentional discernment and concern for our most vulnerable members that our Amazing Grace community will return to the practice of requiring face coverings at all indoor services. This decision is made so we can help do our part in stopping the spread because, as the phrase used so often during the pandemic, WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER.

 

We will not provide beverages this Sunday, but invite you to bring your favorite drink to enjoy as we share in fellowship together outdoors following our worship.

 

We continue to have online worship opportunities for our community.

A Message from Pastor Sandy:

Returning to In-Person Worship

Written May 25th, 2021
 

Dear Friends in Christ, 
                                                                                  

We are delighted to announce that we will return to in-person worship at Amazing Grace on Sunday May 30th!  As most of you are aware, the Centers for Disease Control recently changed their guidance concerning mask wearing, advising that vaccinated Americans can go without masks or social distancing in most public settings. 

This happened as we were preparing to announce our plans for returning to in-person worship at Amazing Grace. Our COVID-19 Action Team has prayerfully considered all of the available options, and we have decided to remain with much of our original plan, at least for now. As we have all this last year, we continue to be cautious in our focus on protecting God’s people, especially as we think of the potential for variants and our community’s reaction to these changing guidelines. Our plans will be reviewed and revised monthly as needed.
 

Amazing Grace is one of the largest congregations in our Alaska Synod, with a high percentage of youth and children. One of our values is that “All children are our children.” Last spring, we closed our church building and took everything virtual, to protect the most vulnerable among us, particularly our elders. Now, the most vulnerable are children and those who can’t get vaccinated. 
 

As a community of faith, we will continue to be of mixed vaccine status for some time. We do not want to create a different set of rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Recognizing that the virus is still present in our community, we will ask all people over the age of 2 to mask and distance while worshipping in our sanctuary in order to keep people as safe as possible. 
 

For the time being our indoor services will follow these guidelines:

  • There will be two services in our sanctuary each Sunday, one at 9:00 am and a second at 10:30am.  They will be shorter than pre-pandemic services, about 40 minutes each, in a blended style. Our 10:30am service will also be live-streamed on Facebook, YouTube and our website, so you may continue watching that way if you prefer. 

 

If you have a fever, or any of the following symptoms – cough, breathing problems, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of taste or smell – please enjoy our virtual worship service from your home. 

 

  • No RSVP or sign-ups will be needed for our in-person services. With summer schedules, an online option and two in-person services, we are hoping this will accommodate the worship needs of our congregation. That way we are also able to more easily welcome people visiting our congregation.  Overflow seating will be available in the narthex. 

  • Seating will be socially distanced, by household or individual bubbles. To help with spacing, ushers will guide you to your seating area. Once you are seated, please refrain from leaving your seating area. We will share the peace and commune in place for now. Children should remain with their household. 
     

  • Our Worship and Covid Teams recognize how much many of us have missed sharing God's meal together during worship. This is a priority for us as a community of faith. For now, people will pick up elements as they come in, and communion will be in our seats, utilizing the all-in-one kits we have utilized this past year. We will also bless and have communion elements available each week for people who are worshipping from home.

 

  • A table with a collection basket will be available for offering. We also encourage people to continue their financial support online via electronic giving, our website, or giving by text.

 

  • To begin, singing will be limited to a few vaccinated leaders. We look forward to the time when our rich musical tradition will be able to be fully embraced in the future. Attendees should plan to print or download the service on a tablet or their phones. Hymnals will not be available. Most of the service will also be on the screen. Limited large print paper copies will be available for those who cannot print or download; these should be taken home with you, or recycled.

 

  • One of our concerns this last year has been that while our congregation is large, our sanctuary is relatively small. Please note: windows and doors in the sanctuary may be opened, to increase ventilation so please dress appropriately.
     

  • Bathrooms will be open; we ask that only two persons enter at a time. 
     

  • To start, we will not offer coffee-hour or nursery. We plan to phase those in as time goes by. We know people will be excited to see one another, however, please continue conversations in the parking lot following worship.

 

  • Our strongest “guideline” is that we be gentle with each other and listen to one another well. Remember we are in this together, guided by love. Much of this year has fundamentally changed us. It has been a beautiful thing to recognize that God has been with us in the parking lot, in the living room, and in our community at large. It has also been a year of grief, isolation, and struggle. Many people will continue to be cautious, and anxious. Although vaccination and improved medical care have eased the consequences of the pandemic, it is not behind us.

 

As a Covid Team and Council, we will continue to work for you and with you to meet the worship needs of this community. We hope you will remember that the people who lead our congregation miss you and miss all of the same things that you miss, and are doing our best to get things right.     As we gather again in our sanctuary, we hope you will look at the other folks who are there and remember that the mask you're wearing is for them, even if you don't really think you need it.

It will be a joy to be back worshipping as a community in our building. We’ll make adjustments along the way. Come with an open mind and a gracious heart as we live into this new way of worshiping together. 
 

We can’t wait to see you!
 

Your AGLC Covid Action Team:                                                                                                                    
Tara Orley & Beth Farnstrom, Chairs;
Regina Pierce; Grace Matsutani;
Dave Hanson; Shannon Savage;
Diane & Bruce Ronchetti;
Amanda Lindquist; and Pastor Sandy Van Zyl

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A Message from Pastor Sandy:

Holy Week In a Pandemic (....again)

Written March 26th, 2021

As I said on Sunday, this past week marked our one-year live-streaming anniversary. It has been a HUGE transition that has evolved and grown over this last year. There's been grief and loss in not being together physically, and there's also been great creativity and increased involvement from a wide range of people in our congregation sharing their gifts in new ways. And transitions continue!… our new sound & video project is nearing completion and soon you’ll be seeing the fruits of that “sound investment” in the mission and ministry of our congregation. 

 

Our second Holy Week on-line begins this Sunday. Worshipping in this way is not “the same” to be sure, but it’s still holy, and we’ve experienced the miracle that Christ will be with us wherever we are. Long ago, on what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem and met people in the streets. We can surely trust that Christ will come now to our streets and homes and meet us. 

 

Hope you’ll join us for Worship this Holy Week and Easter - apart but still together – gathered with the whole church. In the rest of Grace Notes, we have all of the times and details. Blessed indeed is the One who comes! 

 

So grateful we are on this journey together, 

+Pastor Sandy

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A Message from Pastor Sandy:

One Year with COVID-19: Moving Forward with Trust & Hope

Written March 10th, 2021

"The Time to act like Community is NOW"  - These were the words I wrote to our congregation a year ago this week (March 13th, 2020). “The Call to Community” was our 2020 Lenten theme, and we answered that call. COVID-19 and Coronavirus were quickly becoming more than simply words in a headline. We were just beginning to glimpse the impact all of this would have on our lives. 

Our Parish Nurses and Worship, Music & Arts Team quickly developed a handout with resources and best practices. We bought hand sanitizer & wipes, and began looking at recommendations from the Center for Disease Control, state and local health departments, and the Alaska Synod ELCA.  We heard that the Anchorage School District would be on spring break for “one more week”, but daily and even hourly, things were changing in our understanding and response to COVID-19. 

On Sunday, March 15, we held our last in-person worship service.  On March 22 we streamed our first service with just a few of us in the sanctuary. At 10:00 pm that night, the Mayor’s “hunker down” order went into effect. It was a time of great disruption, fear, and uncertainty. It was also a time to reflect and think even more deeply about what it means to be the Body of Christ and to care for our neighbors. Our congregation rose to the occasion with creativity, care, and compassion. After consultation and prayer, our Church Council decided to suspend in-person worship through the end of the month, and then re-evaluate. We’ve been doing that ever since.

Our Covid Action Team has taken the lead in guiding us through mandates, protocols, and guidelines. HUGE thanks to this awesome team for their invaluable leadership: Shannon Savage, Grace Matsutani, Regina Pierce, Council Presidents John Lovett & Dave Hanson, Amanda Lindquist, Diane and Bruce Ronchetti, and our chairs Tara Orley and Beth Farnstrom. 

We met Monday night and although things in the city appear to be opening up and the vaccine is making good progress, we continue to be cautious in protecting God’s people. We plan to continue with virtual worship and outdoor events through the middle of May and then will reevaluate, as we have all this last year.


We continue to watch community vaccination rates and covid cases in the community. As of March 9, 16% of the population here in Anchorage is fully vaccinated. 23% have received the first dose. Safer practices recommend waiting until at least 50% of the population are vaccinated before re-opening. Safest, recommends 75-80%. We are still on high alert in the Municipality, averaging 15 cases per 100,000 in the community. Ideally, we’d like that to be < 10 for in personal worship.  The news yesterday of increased vaccination availability for people age 16+ is a very hopeful sign! 

The other thing that has been guiding our decision-making is progress on the sanctuary sound & video upgrade. There is good news there as well. We have met our fundraising goal – THANK YOU! AND work is scheduled to begin on installation next week! When the new system is in place, we’ll have a learning curve again to figure out how to offer worship with the new technology, but I have full confidence that we are up to the challenge. 

So yes this means for Holy Week and Easter, we will continue to be (mostly) on-line. Look for more information soon about some outdoor gatherings we’re planning: Easter Egg Hunts on April 3 and a “Sunrise” 8:00 am service in the parking lot Easter morning. March 24 & 27 we will have drive-through times for Holy Week Worship Bag pick-up
 
The time to act as community continues, dear friends…. And we have been doing it so well here at AGLC. Thank you for continuing to show love for our neighbors by taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the virus – washing hands, wearing a mask, and social distancing.  I continue to be so grateful we are in this together. I thank God for you, and this ministry we share.

In Trust and Hope in God's Amazing Grace,
+Pastor Sandy
 

 

 

 

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A Message from Pastor Sandy:

Keeping Christmas Amidst the Coronavirus

Written December 24th, 2020

A year ago at this time, it would have been inconceivable that we would not be gathering in our sanctuary on Christmas Eve to hear the story, sing “Silent Night,” and celebrate God’s promise in the birth of Jesus to be Emmanuel, 'God with us.' The only thing more inconceivable, however, would be gathering together in our typically packed Christmas sanctuary for a service that risks spreading the virus that has already taken the lives of nearly 350,000 US citizens and more than a million of God’s children worldwide.
 

Our Covid Action Team has recommended not having in-person services for Advent and Christmas and our Council has accepted that recommendation. It may not come as a huge surprise given the rising number of Covid-19 cases in our state and community, but it is still a disappointment and source of grief for all of us.  Hope you’ll join us on-line for worship on Christmas Eve at 4 pm or 7 pm (AKT) and Christmas Morning at 9:45 am (AKT), both streaming on our Facebook Page, our YouTube account, and here on our website. On Christmas morning, following worship, we will be reconvening shortly after the service (~10:30 am AKT) for Holy Home Communion, our at-home communion liturgy held on ZOOM. More information has been or will be sent out in a few congregational emails.

 

While our Christmas celebrations will be different than we had imagined or hoped for this year, we believe they are in keeping with the Church’s insistence to put the needs of others before our own. In fact, the decision not to gather in our sanctuary this Christmas out of regard for the health and safety of our neighbors is in keeping with the spirit of the One whose birth we celebrate, the One who declared that he “came not to be served, but to serve” (Mt. 20:28) and instructed his disciples to “love one another, just as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34). 
 

We’re also following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. In both the second and third century, Christians became renowned for the extreme lengths to which they would go to care for the sick, not only among their own ranks but also those of other faiths. In 1527, as the Bubonic Plague entered Wittenberg, Martin Luther urged his congregation to care for the sick, and said, “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence” 

 

When we look back on 2020, may we remember our willingness to adapt, and change, to make peace with what we had to, and that we were willing to sacrifice personal comfort for the work of love. I give thanks for all of the ways God’s love takes on flesh in our congregation and in you this Christmas season.
 

+Pastor Sandy

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A Message from The COVID Action Team:

AGLC COVID Town Hall conversation on ZOOM

Written November 12th, 2020

COVID-19 is affecting all of us. As situations change and new data becomes available, it’s hard to stay on top of all the information and protocols. Fortunately, we have members of our congregation who are working in the field. Deb Erickson, Deputy Incident Commander, COVID-19 Response IC Team at Providence Hospital, will share updates and answer questions about how to protect yourself and your family, what to do if you are sick or exposed, community and school concerns, and more. Regina Pierce, who is a School Nurse and has been working with contact tracing with the municipality, will also be on hand to share her experience and expertise.
Look for a Zoom link with the weekly bulletin next weekend. 
 

UPDATE: a recording of this conversation can be found on our YouTube Channelhttps://youtu.be/_yXdi18bdvc

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A Message from Pastor Sandy:

A Note From My Family

Written October 7th, 2020
 

Dear Friends in Christ, 

As most of you are aware, Tim and John were diagnosed with COVID-19. They both continue to recover, and Tim was recently released from follow up with the health department. Your prayer and support have meant the world to us. Both of my tests (9/24 & 9/29) have come back negative, but as I said, we suspect I was the source of infection for my family because I had very similar symptoms the week of 9/15. My guess is it had passed by the time I tested... Passed TO MY FAMILY which is not the best, 😒 but I am proud & grateful that we have done our part to help stop the spread. 

 

COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise all across Alaska, and particularly here in Anchorage. Three weeks ago, I did not know anyone locally who had contracted COVID-19. Now I can name a dozen. I implore you to continue to exercise caution and take the following steps to help prevent the spread:

Do the 3 W's: Wear a mask, watch your distance and wash your hands.
Avoid the 3 C's: Crowded places, close-contact settings, and confined/enclosed spaces. Keep contacts limited and social circles       
  small. Avoid indoor gatherings.
• Don’t ride in cars with people who are not in your household bubble.
• Limit your errands/outings.
• Watch out for COVID-19 symptoms. Get tested even if you have just one symptom or mild symptoms.
• Don’t be around others if you are not feeling well. Stay home and isolate.
• If you test positive, let close contacts know so they can protect others.
• Quarantine quickly if you are exposed to COVID-19, for a full 14 days, and consider getting tested 5-14 days after any possible
   exposure


The DHSS website has lots of great information:  http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/default.aspx#takeaction. Our Parish Nurses are an amazing resource for us at this time, as well. Contact the team through Tara Orley at akparishnurse@gmail.com for COVID-19 information or support with any health need. 
 

Please mark your calendars for special celebrations coming up later this month: 

On Sunday, October 18 we will be giving thanks for our Healing & Wholeness Ministry. Sunday, October 25 we’ll celebrate Reformation Sunday with Affirmation of Baptism for 5 of our young people. What exactly these celebrations will look like, is yet to be determined. 😊 We will be mindful of health mandates and will keep you posted! We’re also looking at a possible drive-thru communion time one Sunday morning, and a special celebration on All Saint’s Sunday, November 1st, to kick off a month of Gratitude. And speaking of that, our Amazing Grace Preschool had a great opening week! Kid-sized masks made by a few members have been a huge hit. Thank you! Please continue to keep our teachers, families, and students in your prayers.
 

Stay healthy & hopeful! Grateful we are on this journey together,

+Pastor Sandy

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A Message From Pastor Sandy on COVID-19:

April Update

Written April 29th, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ, 

As you have likely heard, on April 24, the Governor’s office, along with the Department of Health & Social Services issued new guidelines partially lifting restrictions on religious gatherings. The Council and I are in conversation about what that means for us at AGLC and when and how to meet again safely for worship. We are also receiving guidance from Bishop Wickstrom and the Alaska Synod, and will be working with our Parish Nurses and Disaster Preparedness Team as we consider our next steps forward. We are mindful that we are responsible for taking care of each other, especially those most vulnerable. We do not want to jeopardize anyone's health in the rush to be back in worship together. Stayed tuned for more information. Thank you for your patience. Our heartfelt thanks is extended to all of our members and friends who have generously supported the church through your online worshipping, care for one another, continued service, prayers, and offerings. 

 

Our treasurer Doug Simon has an update on our financial situation below:                                            

“COVID-19 has affected us all personally, some of us financially. While everyone is working hard to adapt our ministry, the pandemic has impacted Amazing Grace financially. At this time, we normally would have received a significant boost in giving as Easter brings out the best in attendance and generosity. Not getting that boost leaves us short of where we had planned to be going into the summer months when giving often drops off.

We have been encouraged that more and more people are switching to electronic giving; it has helped give us consistent financial support. If you would like more information about electronic giving, please feel free to contact me at doug.simon.pe@gmail.com or our financial secretary Marsha Korri at mhkorri@gmail.com and we will be happy to assist you. Instructions are also available right here on our website at www.amazinggracelutheranchurch.org/giving.  Thank you to those who have made the effort to send in your offerings as well. It is greatly appreciated. However you give, thank you for your generosity and for continuing to think about, pray for and support AGLC through this time.”

As I’ve said before, it looks different, but the ministry of our congregation continues. Even though we are not gathering in the same ways, we are still the Church. I’m proud of the quick adaptation we’ve made to providing on-line worship. Care and support continue to be offered. We are finding ways to connect in virtual community and praying for one another and for the world. We are continuing our financial support for important ministries, like Lutheran Social Services and our Alaska Synod. Amanda has been working with our Children, Youth & Family and Intentional Faith Development Teams to create plans for learning & fellowship for the summer, and ways to recognize our graduates.  Our Parish Nurses have developed guidance for how to be healthy and care for ourselves and one another during these challenging times.

This is a new time in the life of our church, with so many unknowns. But what I do know is that we have an amazing congregation, with talented, committed leaders and a faithful God who will guide us, and never let us go.

 

Grateful for this ministry we share, and all of you, 

+Pastor Sandy

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A Message From Pastor Sandy on COVID-19:

"We are going virtual. Join us."

Written March 17th, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ, 

Our Alaska Synod Bishop Shelley Wickstrom was a part of an on-line meeting yesterday with Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer for the State of Alaska, and other religious leaders around the state. During the meeting, one caller mentioned that the CDC is now recommending public gatherings of no more than ten people. Dr. Zink responded: “Move to online now. We can socially distance without being socially isolated. We are developing new ways to think about virus transmission. We need to change our social behavior now. “

After consultation and prayer, our Church Council has decided to suspend worship on Wednesday and Sundays through the end of the month, and then will re-evaluate. As difficult as it is for us to be separated during these next few weeks, it is the wise and prudent thing to do. The building may be closed, but the Church is not. "The Church, it is the people, living out their lives" and we will continue to do so.

We are working on ways to join together digitally for worship and will keep you informed. Amanda is also working on education resources and support for families. A new church YouTube channel is under development. Please check our congregation's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/amazingracealaska, for more information, or check back here on the website. Both will be updated regularly. AGLC also has a new YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO1h2PCfgMrfBdmXIBrEmHw?

Make sure to subscribe & hit the little bell icon so you will know when new videos are posted. 

Last Sunday our gospel reading was from John 4, Jesus meeting The Woman at the Well. In my message, I reminded folks "Many things have been canceled because of the coronavirus. God’s Love is not one of them. In the next few weeks, it looks like we are going to have to get creative in how we get this Living Water Jesus provides the Woman at the Well, but I fully trust that the Spirit will guide us. Like we heard in the story of Jesus meeting Nicodemus a few weeks ago, “The Spirit blows where it will.” Even if we are not here in this building, Jesus will meet us, because that’s what he always does.”

Now more than ever, I am grateful we are in this together. I thank God for you, your and this ministry we share.

In trust and hope in God's Amazing Grace,

+Pastor Sandy

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A Message From Pastor Sandy on COVID-19:

"The time to act like Community is NOW"

Written March 13th, 2020   

Dear Friends in Christ,

Daily and even hourly, things are changing in our understanding and response to COVID-19. This is a time of disruption, fear and uncertainty. It also a time to pause, reflect and think even more deeply about what it means to be the Body of Christ and to care for our neighbors.

 

Our Church Council met on Thursday. We are committed to being responsive to the needs of our community as the situation evolves. We are following recommendations by the Center for Disease Control, State and local health departments, and the Alaska Synod ELCA. Our Preschool follows School District guidelines and will continue to be on break. The Parish Nurses and Worship, Music & Arts Team have developed a handout with resources and best practices.

 

At this time, our regular worship services continue on Sundays at 8:15 am, 9:45 am and 11:00 am and at 7:00 pm on Wednesdays during Lent. We will not hold soup suppers to reduce the potential transmission of disease connected to sharing food. We have made adjustments to passing the peace, shaking hands, holding hands, how we receive the offering, and the ways we distribute communion to reduce chances of COVID-19 transmission. We are also looking into possibilities for streaming live on Facebook and sharing content on YouTube.

 

Please practice love for your neighbors by taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. This is a time for us to let our lights shine as we share the love of God in Christ we have so generously received. There is power in prayer. Please continue to pray for all those affected by COVID-19, which means all of us. We are in this together.

 

Then follow up your prayers with actions: Read scripture, share acts of kindness and generosity, connect to others through phone calls, notes in the mail, emails, and texts. Share what you have— that extra hand sanitizer or toilet paper, your hope, a box of cleaning wipes, a smile, offer to shop for a vulnerable neighbor. There are so many ways to help one another overcome the isolation a situation such as this can create. Let’s get creative together in discerning how we can be community for one another.

 

It is also critical to ensure the safety of everyone by taking good care of yourself. If you are sick stay home, seek medical attention (call first before going in!), and do not participate in activities here at the church or in the community where you may infect others. Please also let me know how we as an Amazing Grace community can love, encourage, and support you or a loved one, and how I, as your pastor, can walk alongside you.

 

It is more important than ever to remember we belong to God and to one another. The love of God becomes incarnate in us as we actively care for each other, especially in a time of greater anxiety and risk. May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Shalom, my friends. Peace be with you. 

                                                                                                                  

+ Pastor Sandy