May 26, 2020

Dear Beloved in Christ,

It’s been eleven weeks since the Church Council and I made the difficult yet necessary decision to cease our in-person gatherings and move worship and other community activities online. Looking back, it was a faithful decision, one that placed care for the vulnerable at the heart of who we are and how we live, even when it’s costly.

In some ways, looking back over the last two months, it feels like a lot of things came to a sharp halt, primarily our weekly programming. But, in so many other ways, this time has been full of innovation, care, and incredible discoveries of what is indeed possible for being the church in our digital age. Here’s just a quick snapshot:

  • We quickly adjusted to worshiping online and have found ways to involve many disciples in each liturgy.

  • We have covered the Fox River Valley with over 130 yard signs that infuse messages of love into our neighborhoods!

  • We have been intentional about reaching out to those who are most isolated and alone.

  • We have found meaningful ways to support the most vulnerable; last weekend, we rallied behind an emergency food drive for our neighbors in West Chicago.

  • And we can now say that we’ve even held an annual congregational meeting virtually!

I am heartened by the care and flexibility that you all have demonstrated as a community, and I pray that we will continue to practice grace with one another as we move forward together.

At our congregational meeting this past Sunday, I shared with those in attendance that the Church Council and I have decided that we will not be hosting any in-person gatherings in our building until at least September 2020. At that point, we will reassess the situation and make a new recommendation. We were led to this decision by our core values as a congregation, and by the information available to us at this time from public health experts. While we grieve this reality, we believe that this is the faithful call of the church in this time and place.

Let me unpack a bit here what informed this decision:

  • We follow Jesus and Jesus showed us that love of God is demonstrated in the way in which we love our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. This global crisis is calling on us to put that love into action, even when it means giving up for a time some of the things we hold most dear.

  • In-person worship, as we know it, is not currently safe. Churches are considered “super-spreaders” because we gather people together indoors for an extended amount of time. When we worship, we breathe, sing, pray aloud, commune, share the peace, hold a hymnal, and pass the offering plate – all behaviors that are believed to increase likelihood of transmission. We simply do not want to facilitate a space that carries with it this level of risk.

  • The extent to which our rituals and liturgies will need to be re-thought, before we can consider gathering together for worship in any capacity, is substantial. I encourage you to read the material that has been prepared for us by the Metropolitan Chicago Synod. Please refer to this material to get a sense for the level of detail that accompanies these recommendations and protocols around in-person gatherings. (website link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zTRJAnv8Wgc7kQIJs5iXrAuqbx9RxAmr/view)

  • There could be legal risks and/or insurance implications for congregations that use their buildings for in-person corporate worship, especially if safety protocols were not honored, or if someone became infected by participating.

  • Limbo is taxing. Our planning and creative thinking are impeded when it feels like any day we might have to change course. We believe it will serve our staff and community well to have shared clarity about this piece of our life together, at least through the summer.

I know this is difficult. I grieve all that has not come to be during this time, and all that we are having to go without, even as I believe this is the right and faithful decision for our community. Please know that, while this virus feels like it’s taking over, we will not let it keep us from being church. We are alive and open, being called even more deeply to live out the faith that dwells within us. Also, be assured that your church is here for you. I am available by phone or virtual pastoral care meetings. Pastor Jean is also available to talk by phone. We hope you’re participating in worship with us every weekend and are lifted up by that time together. If you are not able to access our worship online, please let us know. We are finding creative ways to help even those with no internet access receive our virtual worship!

Finally, while this letter brings an element of clarity, I know a lot of questions remain. Below I will do my best to respond to the questions I anticipate rising up at this time. Please read this through, and do not hesitate to be in touch with me or any Church Council member as you have questions or concerns (contact info for each Council member is at the end of this letter).

Above all, know that you are loved! You are never alone. Thank you for being the church wherever you go. Thank you for your commitment to our community and to our neighbors. May the miracle of this time be that our time apart draws us even closer to God and to one another.

With you in the wilderness,

Pastor Sarah Rohde, along with Deacon Heather Feltman, Pastor Jean Duran, and Bethlehem Church Council


Responses to Anticipated Questions
Please be mindful that all answers below are based upon, God-willing, no regression to Illinois’ Phase 1 or Phase 2 recovery status after June 1.

How will funerals be done during the summer?
Our recommendation at this time is to honor the life of someone who has died through a graveside service outdoors, which will be limited to 10 people or less. While gathered around the grave, we will practice physical distancing and encourage the wearing of masks.

How will baptisms be done this summer?
We plan to celebrate baptisms outdoors this summer. Each family will be allowed 10 people or less. Pastor Sarah will arrange this with each family. We will include a picture of the baptism in our weekend worship and invite at that time the support of the faith community.

How will weddings be done this summer?
Pastor Sarah is working closely with couples planning to be married at BLC this summer. If couples want to move forward with their planned date, we will come up with a plan that complies with these parameters. 

Why are small group gatherings (10 people or less) not allowed during Phase 3?
Allowing any small group gatherings inside our building will add managerial and custodial responsibilities for church staff, and may also add additional liabilities. While we will not be taking on that responsibility at this time, we do encourage small groups to get creative – gather online (contact Deacon Heather if you’d like access to our church zoom account!), or gather in driveways or backyards as you’re comfortable.

Was outdoor or drive-in worship considered as an option for this summer?
Yes! We decided against outdoor worship for a few key reasons: the size of our congregation makes it logistically challenging, as outdoor gatherings are held to a maximum of ten people during phase 3. We were also concerned about the extent to which we could enforce physical distancing, especially with children. Drive-in worship is a potential option, and something we will still look into. Again, the coordinating efforts would be considerable, but not impossible! One final aspect to consider as we weigh the pros and cons of these alternative ideas is that we believe that we need to offer a digital option for worship for those who cannot attend any kind of in-person/outdoor/drive-in gathering, so it also becomes a matter of bandwidth for church staff and leadership.

What if our region of IL moves into Phase 4 before September 1? Will that cause us to change plans?
No, we will continue to stick with this plan, based on the rationale above.

What will happen if we experience a drop in giving?
The Financial Health Resiliency Team has explored possible scenarios, should we experience a significant decrease in giving in the coming months. Thanks be to God, our giving remains strong at this point. With the congregation’s continued generosity, we are more than able to take care of ourselves and take care of our neighbors.

What about fall programming like Sunday School, Choir, Women’s Circles, etc.?
Based on how quickly and drastically life is changing these days, we are not able to know at this time what our fall programming will look like. We will communicate with you on these plans as soon as we are clear about this.

When can we anticipate a decision being made regarding in-person gatherings in the fall?
BLC Council and rostered leadership plan to make a decision by early August.

How long does BLC plan to offer online worship? 
For a long time! Digital worship is not going away any time soon; in fact, we think this will be part of our offerings going forward. We are currently researching, and are planning to put in place, livestreaming capability in our worship spaces so that, even when we’re able to gather in-person in our building, we can still share our worship virtually.  

Is the church building remaining closed during this time?
Yes, with the exception of our Preschool, which is opening June 1 as an Emergency Daycare Center. The Preschool will follow special safety protocols with reduced class sizes. BLC staff are also coming and going as needed, and are following recommended safety protocols while in the building, as approved by the BLC Church Council.

Are staff continuing to work from home?
Yes, staff will largely work from home this summer. All church staff are reachable via phone (please leave a message in the staff person’s voicemail – 630.584.2199) or email (all are listed on the church website).

How do I contact a Council member?
Judy Hanson – juyo46@gmail.com                             
Craig Collins – craigtcollins88@gmail.com
Rob Blount – Rob@blount-family.com                       
Chad Carlson – ccarlson81@gmail.com
Michelle Kovar – mkovar918@gmail.com                 
Pete Elza – pete.elza@gmail.com
Cheryl Martines – cherylmartines@gmail.com         
Emily Palmer – emilypalmer82gmail.com
John Volkening – johnvolkening@yahoo.com