By Chris Markert, Bishop’s Associate for Mission

I had just arrived home late on Friday night after the weeklong annual gathering of the Order of Lutheran Franciscans. On Saturday morning, the bishop had contacted me to see if I could fill in for a clergy voting member for Churchwide Assembly (CWA) who had tested positive for COVID. By Sunday, I was packed and heading to Columbus, Ohio!

I noticed I had a runny nose. I never have a runny nose. But I had also been in three different climates within three days. Monday, I checked in for the CWA, received my voting credentials, and received my “swag bag” full of goodies, including four at-home COVID tests. We were asked to test each day during the Assembly. We were also required to show proof of vaccination as well as wear masks at all CWA events and sessions. Monday night, synod voting members gathered for the opening dinner. I still had a runny nose.

Tuesday morning, I was excited for the start of the Assembly. I got dressed, reviewed reports and memorials, and then headed down for the opening plenary session. We sang a hymn, prayed, and then Presiding Bishop Eaton officially opened the Assembly. The first thing she did was to remind us to wear masks and to take our tests each day, especially if we had any symptoms. She also pointed out that the Lutheran Parish Nurse Association had a room next the Assembly Hall where we could go and get tested. I turned to Aimee, another voting member and asked, “Is a runny nose a symptom of COVID?” She said she wasn’t sure, but she encouraged me to run out and get tested at the Lutheran Parish Nurse station. So, I jumped up and went out, expecting that I’d be back in my seat within 15 minutes. It took less than 5 minutes for the COVID test to turn positive.

I wasn’t allowed back in the Assembly Hall. I texted Aimee to bring my belongings to me. I texted Bishop Mike to let him know. And then Nurse Nora escorted me back to my room. I was given instructions to remain in my room for the rest of the week and to order room service for meals. Nurse Nora told me she would check on me twice a day to make sure I was okay. She urged me to contact a teladoc to see if I should be placed on the antiviral Paxlovid, which I did (and I was). Nurse Nora made a pharmacy run to pick up my prescription, Gatorade, cough drops, and Mucinex for me. The good news is that I really had mild symptoms- one day of a light fever, sore throat, and a runny nose. The bad news is that there were thousands of people downstairs who I wanted to be with, including old friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen in years. Plus, there were important and holy things happening that I was missing out on.

But what was so meaningful for me was how I saw the Church, in all its expressions, show up that week. First, with the churchwide expression, I was amazed at the staff’s careful policies and practices that were meant to protect those at CWA through requiring proof of vaccinations, the wearing of masks, and daily testing. The Lutheran Parish Nurse Association represented the healing ministries of the Church, and they provided compassionate care to me and the two dozen others who tested positive during the Assembly. And fellow colleagues and friends from around the ELCA checked in on me and let me know they were praying for me.

Then, there was the Gulf Coast Synod who surprised me by their love and care. This happened through our synod voting members who texted and called throughout the week to check on me, those who stopped by to bring me dinner, or iced tea, or snacks. For Pastor Anthony Chatman who happened to be in Columbus and was able to jump in to fill my place as a voting member.

And finally, there was my home congregation. When my pastor found out through my parents that I had tested positive for COVID, he called me to check on me. The congregation’s leadership prayed for me. I was lifted up in prayer on Sunday during worship.

You see, every part of the Church is fully the Church. Even at something that is often seen as a bureaucratic and administrative function like Churchwide Assembly, the Church of Jesus Christ was at work, including providing a ministry of healing and care.

My friends, I know there is much “stuff” congregations and our synod have to deal with on a day-to-day basis— property, finances, calendars, conflicts… and these are real things that need to be tended to. But my invitation to all of us, in whatever expression of the Church we find ourselves in, that we never let those things cause us to neglect our true purpose as followers of Jesus: the sharing of the Good News that brings life and healing to the world.

To God be the glory!