Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, [or pandemic!], or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35, 37-39)

As I write this update to you, I urge you to take a deep breath and cling to the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God. That is always our starting point.
As we continue to learn more about COVID-19 and what we can do to help stop its spread, church leadership met today to discuss plans we can put in place that will best support the health and safety of our congregation and the wider community to which we belong. After prayerful discernment, the unanimous support of the Church Council, and ultimately our deepest calling as Christians to love God and neighbor, we have decided to   suspend in-person worship and weekday activities at Bethlehem beginning Friday, March 13 th at 5:00PM until at least April 1 st , at which point we will re-evaluate how to move forward.

This decision has not been made lightly, and it doesn't mean we aren't church together. It means we are placing at the center of our discernment the counsel we are receiving from public health professionals and government leaders to practice social distancing and cancel any non-essential group gatherings for the sake of the common good. I believe this is the right and faithful thing to do as we learn more about the particular properties of this virus and the role each of us can play in flattening the virus’ growth curve and, therefore, supporting the health of those around us.

I know this will be hard news to digest, as this disrupts a part of our weekly rhythm that many of us turn to for sustenance in the midst of the tumult. For as devastating and disappointing as this may be, I also trust there to be opportunities that rise from this, primarily opportunities to care for one another and check in with each other in ways we perhaps haven’t done before. I hope we’ll tap into God’s imagination and get creative in how we can offer care – through devotions and prayers on our online facebook page, or grocery delivery to someone who’s isolated, or gift cards to someone who may lose a job because of this. I hope this is a time that truly reveals the extent of our care and connectedness, even as we are apart from one another for a time.

Be assured that we are looking into options for providing virtual opportunities for community worship and prayer. Watch for these on social media and through email over the coming weeks. And while we are putting in place a number of phone trees in order to connect with those who are not online, please, if you know of Bethlehem households who do not have access to email, help us by reaching out to them to share this update. 

I’ve put below my best answers to the questions that I anticipate at this time. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, or Deacon Heather, or a member of the Church Council, during this difficult time. We are in this together, and we are available to listen, to pray, to walk with you through this.

Finally, a word of empowerment to the call of the church during this time:

A pandemic of this magnitude is an opportunity to ask ourselves: What is the true function of community? Does a community function to meet together, or does it function to serve one another, to put one another first? If a community is based solely on seeing one another weekly, that’s more of a meet-up group than a community. There’s an opportunity, and an invitation, for growth into a more dynamic, loving group of people who share one another’s burdens financially and emotionally, who are willing to disrupt their own routines and make sacrifices to prioritize the health of someone else, and who will fight for one another in both the short and long term. When we shift into this perspective of community, not only are we mutually nourished by both giving and receiving support, but the tight grip on routine begins to loosen in favor of sacrifice for one another. Our priorities shift. In an pandemic, this priority shift is extremely important. (From sojo.net)

My prayers are with you all,
Pr. Sarah

Will the church office be open?
Yes, the church office will remain open. Office hours for our Administrative Assistant, Allie, remain 8:30am-2:30pm until further notice. Staff will be working their normal hours during this time, at times remotely. All staff will check their voicemails daily.

How do I stay up to date with new information and decisions?
We will post updates to our church website, our community facebook page, our group texting service, and our BLC community email group as often as we have them. If you have not signed up for these groups or lists, please do!
·          To be put on our church email list: email Allie at allie@bethlehemluth.org
·          To join the private community facebook group, search “Bethlehem Lutheran Community Page” and request to be added to the group.
·          To be added to the text group, text “BLC” to 630.409.1350.

How are members who don’t have internet kept up to date?
By all of us working together! We are putting in place several phone trees to do our best to reach those who do not communicate digitally, but it’s going to take all of us working together to get the news out there. Please help!

What is the preschool doing?
Pong is working closely with the Kane County Health Department to determine next steps for the all-day program. If D303 closes, the half-day program will likely close.

If I need help with errands because I can’t leave my home – what do I do?
Please call the church office or post on our c ommunity facebook page if there is something your siblings in Christ can help with. We can support one another best if we know the needs that are out there.

What do I do with my offering?
I am very aware of the economic impact this is having on many. I am thankful for your generosity and encourage you to continue to give as you are able. If you and your family should experience hardship, there are some funds available for assistance through the pastors’ discretionary fund. Please contact me for assistance. And if you find yourself with some extra money to give, I encourage you to contribute to that fund.

One of the implications of cancelling Sunday morning worship is that our regular offering will not be received. It’s essential to support our staff and keep current with our responsibilities. Please mail your offering to the church or give electronically (access to this at www.bethlehemluth.org ). Knowing that our income could be impacted, we invite those with extra resources to consider making a special gift.

What if there’s a funeral?
Pastor Sarah will work with any family that experiences a death during this time to decide the best way to move forward.

What about AA?
We will allow AA to continue to meet in our building throughout the week. Please pray for our friends in recovery, as this is a very trying time for many in that community.

How do I reach Pastor Sarah?
One of your rostered leaders - Pastor Sarah, Pastor Jean, or Deacon Heather – will remain on-call at all times, so please do not hesitate to reach out with any pastoral needs or emergencies by calling the office and following the prompts to our voicemails.

What can I do to help?
Stay home as much as possible. Avoid gathering in large groups. Wash your hands. And join all of God’s people in prayer. I ask you to pray at this time in particular for the sick, the frightened, and the fragile. I ask you to pray for health care workers, for public health workers, for police, EMTs, and other public safety workers. Pray for our school systems as they grapple with how to care for children and families who depend on school being there to feed their children and provide a safe place for them to be most of the week. For employees who have no safety net. And for delivery drivers, grocery store workers, everyone who is doing their best to keep life going for the rest of us.