Sep 01, 2020 Print This Article

The building is closed, but the church is open

As the coronavirus wreaks havoc around the globe and disrupts society on a massive scale, our churches, pastors and deaconesses are among the essential responders who must adapt quickly to serve their people and communities in need. Here’s a look at how a few Concordia Seminary graduates are following Christ’s call to serve during this most unprecedented time.

Rev. Gerard Bolling
Master of Divinity, 2016

Rev. Gerard Bolling is a pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Mo. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, many of Bethlehem’s members found themselves unemployed or underemployed overnight. Bethlehem’s leaders identified their community’s greatest needs as connection, food and assistance with bills. Bolling and Bethlehem’s other leaders are calling all the church’s members regularly to stay in touch and are personally delivering weekly Bible lessons to children at home. Bethlehem also is partnering with several churches in the St. Louis area to deliver boxes of food and to provide money and gift cards to congregants in need.

Photo: Courtesy Rev. Gerard Bolling
“This coronavirus time has shown us the importance of spending quality time with people.”

Rev. Ron Meyr
Master of Divinity, 1980

Rev. Ron Meyr is senior pastor at Faith Viera Lutheran Church in Rockledge, Fla. As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic began to be felt, the church sent a $25 Walmart gift card to each member to use or pass along. Many members exercised their faith by giving their gift cards to relatives, neighbors and others who were affected by the pandemic’s economic fallout. Also, Meyr has become recognizable for preaching atop a boom lift in the church’s parking lot during drive-in worship services. Members tune into a radio transmission to hear Meyr preach, and the services also are livestreamed.

Photo: Courtesy Rev. Ron Meyr
“We talk a lot about living by faith and not by fear. It has been an invigorating time to respond to new challenges.”

Rev. Kirk Neugebauer
Master of Divinity, 2016

Rev. Kirk Neugebauer is the senior (sole) pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Paragould, Ark., and associate pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Lafe, Ark. Neugebauer began several weekly Facebook series to minister to his parishioners and to his social media followers. “Monday Morning Encouragement” speaks the Gospel into specific issues people are facing in light of the coronavirus. “Thank God It’s Thursday” teaches viewers how to pray. “From the Balcony” — which he films with his brother and fellow pastor at St. John’s, Rev. A.J. Neugebauer — teaches viewers how to read Scripture with their families at home.

Photo: Courtesy Rev. Kirk Neugebauer
“With all the negativity in the news, people are finding their rest in the Gospel of Jesus.”

Rev. Andrew Schlund
Master of Divinity, 2015
Master of Sacred theology, 2020

Rev. Andrew Schlund is the pastor at La Iglesia Luterana del Buen Pastor in Mexico City, Mexico, and a theological educator at Seminario Concordia el Reformador in Palmar Arriba, Dominican Republic. Schlund has started leading online worship services and online Bible studies at his church. Family members of several parishioners have become sick or have died from the coronavirus, and Schlund is faced with the challenge of supporting those members through their grief from a distance. At the seminary, Schlund continues to teach his students remotely as they shelter at home in the Dominican Republic and throughout Latin America.

Photo: Courtesy Erik Lunsford/LCMS
“A lot of what keeps people hopeful is the Gospel itself. They know these sufferings are only temporary.”

Rev. Gary Schulte
Master of Divinity, 2006

Rev. Gary Schulte is a regional educator at three seminaries in Togo, Guinea, and the Republic of Congo. While most schools in the United States emphasize learning through textbooks and lectures, the seminaries in Africa use a mentor-based model. As a result, the social-distancing and stay-at-home requirements during the pandemic have dealt a blow to many African seminary students. While the seminaries are closed during the pandemic and Schulte cannot teach in person, he is adapting one of his devotional series into a biblical theology course and is translating it into French. He sends these teaching devotions to 150 African pastors every day to offer spiritual support and guidance for their ministries.

Photo: Courtesy Erik Lunsford/LCMS
“Studying biblical theology, you’re constantly reminded of God’s gentle care of His people.”

Deaconess Kim Sherwin
Master of Arts with Deaconess Certification, 2017

Kim Sherwin is the deaconess at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Liberty, Mo. When the stay-at-home order went into effect, Sherwin began filming videos for families to participate virtually in Sunday school from home. Now the videos are being used not only by St. Stephen’s members but also by people in other states who have no connection to the church. Sherwin also has organized volunteers to go grocery shopping for members who can’t safely do so, which has inspired the congregation to organize additional service opportunities, such as a prayer walk around a nursing home.

Photo: Courtesy Deaconess Kim Sherwin
“Our God is bigger than a virus. We have hope because we know how the story ends. … God will restore all things.”

Erica Tape is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.