Dear people of Bethlehem,
Grace to you and peace this day. Wherever you are as you read these words, may you feel the prayers of your pastors for you. We look forward to the day when we will be together again, but until then know that you are in our hearts and that together we are sheltered in God’s grace. In this unique time, the heart of our ministry is unchanged, and yet much is being done in new ways. We give thanks for you and for the strength and grace of our beloved community, even in our separation. St. Paul writes to the church in Rome, “For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Romans 1:11-12 This is indeed a deeply challenging time for us all. But this is no time for despair. There is hope here too. There is grace here too. No force on earth can diminish the hope of the resurrection and the last of Paul’s words carry that grace. We are indeed encouraged by each other’s faith. Encouraged by text and email and zoom and taped worship and “peace be with you’s” sent out each Sunday. We are encouraged by masks sewn, and monies given to the most vulnerable. We are encouraged by every expression of hope and faith and grace and tears we share as a community linked together on this common journey.
The intention of this letter is to update you on all these things. We have so much we want to share with you, both joys and challenges. In these unprecedented times when we cannot meet in person, there is still so much going on at Bethlehem. Our way of working has changed dramatically, but the hours, effort and heart of the church staff has not diminished at all. If anything, it has increased, both in terms of hours as well as creativity. We are worshiping in new ways, giving in new ways, connecting in new ways. We continue to be so grateful for you and we treasure the community we share all the more strongly in this time of separation.
Financial Impact of COVID-19
- Offerings: Specifics on offerings are coming in a treasurer’s report that will be available to you all. Thank you for your continued generosity. Many have switched to online giving and many are sending checks in faithfully. Our deep thanks to you for your faithful stewardship. You are allowing us to meet unprecedented need in unprecedented times, particularly as offerings decline. Some of you are facing job insecurity or job loss. Know that our prayers are with you and we are here to help in any way we can. We have a Bethlehem Cares fund with some financial resources if emergency help is needed. Others of you have accelerated your giving in this time when the need is great. That extraordinary stewardship has blessed us all.
- Preschools: Our preschools have been closed since mid-March and remain closed at this time. This is a loss on so many levels. Our preschool is our strongest and largest ministry. We serve 250 children and their families with a staff of almost 20 teachers and aids. The preschool also contributes a good deal to the operating budget. With a heavy heart and deep regret, the council was forced to vote to lay off all preschool staff with the exception of the directors as of April 30, so that our teachers could apply for unemployment through the CARES Act. We intend to reopen, possibly first at a reduced capacity as soon as it is safe and right to do so.
- Paycheck Protection Program: We have good news. As a congregation, we applied for the Paycheck Protection Program of the CARES Act, the first day applications were accepted. We just received news, May 4, that the loan was granted. We are now able to rehire and pay our dedicated preschool teachers with this forgivable loan as well as support payroll for our church staff. We are overjoyed. We ask your prayers for Gail Winterbourne as well. Gail directs our half-day program and after decades of faithful work had made the decision to retire at the end of this school year. She has graciously agreed to continue in her position and shepherd us through this difficult time until September 1st. Gail, thank you for your dedication and service to Bethlehem and to the children of Encinitas.
- Other Financial Steps Taken: We have asked for and received 3 months of mortgage deferment. We have renewed and increased our line of credit in case it is needed in the future. Our landscaping and janitorial costs have both been redacted by 50%.
Our Stephen Ministers are making phone calls to all our members in an effort to check in and see how everyone is doing. If you have any needs that we might be able to help with, please let us know. Our goal is to make certain we have reached everyone, at least once. If you have not heard from us, it is likely that we do not have a correct phone number for you. If you feel this might be you, please contact Judy Foland in the church office with a good phone number for you. 760-753-1026 or email@example.com
Cancelled Events — Many of our spring and summer events are sadly cancelled.
- Women’s Retreat, May 1-3
- Synod Assembly, May 28-30
- Vacation Bible School, June 29 – July 2
- Summer Trip, August 1-8
- Tanzania Trip, August 27 – Sept. 3
Some Good News — We are a people of Good News and there is much to share.
- Navajo Support: As a congregation we voted at our annual meeting to send $3000 dollars with our students to support the Navajo reservation. Summer trip has been postponed until 2021, but there is great need on the reservation at this time. Their rates of coronavirus infection are 6 times higher than the rest of New Mexico with limited medical resources. We sent the $3000 dollars this week, that it might help and heal.
- Protective Masks: The sewers of Bethlehem and around San Diego County have made upwards of 5000 masks to be given to medical professionals and all those on the front lines in this trying time. The fabric, once used to make quilts to keep people warm and feel remembered, is now going out as masks to protect life. Thanks to all those who have sewn and sent grace out into the world.
- Ocean Knoll: We have raised over $3000 dollars to support food need for vulnerable elementary school students and their families. Thank you for the money you have sent and the compassion you have offered.
Worship, Devotions and Education
- Sunday Morning Worship: We have been overjoyed to provide worship to you each Sunday morning. As pastors it is our greatest joy each week, and our music staff feels the same. Thank you for your kind comments and the “Peace be with you” that echoes throughout North County. Worship is certainly one of the common things holding us all up. Currently, there are only 5 of us in the sanctuary recording worship and our safety protocol is very strict. As restrictions and protocol change, worship will change, until we can all be together again. Meanwhile we can feel the Spirit move through it all.
- Wednesday Evening Devotion: Beginning Wednesday, May 6 we will be offering a short evening devotion to gather us all mid-week. It will be hosted on Zoom and the link will be provided in a separate e-blast. This devotion will be followed by Bethlehem Cafe, an opportunity to see each other’s faces and connect in small breakout groups.
- Theology on Tap: Beginning Monday, May 11th through Monday June 1st, we will begin a virtual Theology on Tap. You are invited to bring your own beverage of choice. The theme of the class will be Lutheranism 101. This will be an opportunity to connect with each other and ask important faith questions at the same time.
- Family Ministry: Constance hosts regular Zoom meetings with confirmation, high school, and college students. She is also providing Learning Circle educational resources and story time for elementary school students.
Opportunities to Engage and Be Fed
- Centering Prayer: If you would like to join in Centering Prayer on Mondays from 4:30 – 6 pm by Zoom, please contact the church office: firstname.lastname@example.org You will be able to join online from your computer, tablet or smart phone. Centering prayer is an opportunity for group guided meditation and prayer with a skilled facilitator. Everyone is welcome.
- Qigong/Tai chi: The weekly Qigong/Tai chi practices at our church will be available by Zoom. You will be able to join online from your computer on Wednesdays at 6 pm. Also, Chacha is having a Friday at 9 am practice by Zoom. These practices are moving meditation practices that focus on relaxation, breath, and visualization while carrying out gentle movements. Everyone is welcome, no previous experience is necessary. If you are interested in joining please e-mail Chacha at email@example.com. Please let her know which of the practices or if you would like to be invited to both practices. She will send an e-mail invitation with the zoom link.
- Learn American Sign Language: The Westmoreland family is hosting Zoom meetings where you can learn and practice American Sign Language. If you would like to join the fun, contact Suzi at firstname.lastname@example.org
Opportunities to Give and Serve
- Bethlehem Cares Fund: We have an existing fund to help members of Bethlehem with unexpected financial need. During this pandemic we are experiencing an increased need for these funds. If you would like to contribute, please contact Judy Foland in the church office or donate through the contribute link on the website.
- Enclosed Envelope: We thank you for your faithful support of this congregation. Please give whatever you can at this time.
- Navajo Nation: If you would like to contribute additional funds to help the Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission and the work they are doing on the Navajo reservation, please contact Judy Foland in the church office or donate through the contribute link on the website.
- Ocean Knoll: We are continuing to receive funds to support food need for vulnerable elementary school students and their families. Please contact Judy Foland in the church office or donate through the contribute link on the website.
We are truly learning anew, what it means to be the church in this new and unprecedented time. While this has definitely been challenging, it has also been a blessing, allowing us to connect in new and creative ways. Bethlehem is such a blessed, vibrant, unique, generous, and caring community and it is our absolute joy to serve as your pastors. The world today is a confusing, and paradoxical mix of both joys and sorrows. A blend of Good Friday solemnity, Easter joy, and probably most of all, Holy Saturday vigiling. Wherever you might find yourselves, know that God walks the road with you. Know that your community is here to help in any way we can, to hold you up in your trials and celebrate with you in your victories. We have been called by the Holy Spirit to be the body of Christ here on earth, and that is a community that spans both time and space. As you have blessed our lives, we would like to close with these words of blessing. May God shelter you in grace, and comfort you in the pain you bear. May the light of every dawn bring with it the gentle reminder of God’s love. May God find you this and every day.
With resurrection hope,
Pastor Laura and Pastor Sam