May 29, 2020
Dear Bethlehem Church Family,

The last two months of staying at home have been difficult and many of us are longing to connect with each other. I know we all have a desire to worship once again with our Church Family.

The Leadership Board at Bethlehem has considered the options for in person worship. We have talked about the possibility of returning to the sanctuary for worship as well as having an outdoor service.

Even though we long for that in person experience, the consensus of the board is that it is in Bethlehem’s best interest to continue online only through the month of June. We made this decision based on several different factors.

First, we looked at the guidelines offered to us by the state of Minnesota and realized that we could not adequately comply with all of these guidelines. To meet now would mean that there would be areas that we would either ignore or take shortcuts around. We believe that it is important for us to comply with what our authorities ask us to do, as long as the authorities are not asking us to compromise our faith.

Second, we talked about people’s comfortability with meeting together in person. We discovered that a good percentage of people, for a variety of reasons, are more comfortable continuing services online. While it is possible to have two services, online and in person, it takes extra work to do them well. We thought it was best to put our efforts right now into doing an online service and doing what we can to open for in person worship at a later date.

Third, we talked about the current spike of Covid-19 happening right now in Mower county. Many people have been prudent about staying away to avoid exposure to the virus, and we don’t want to undo all the diligence people have done during this time. The surest way we can support people in their desire to stay healthy is to continue online.

I want to remind you that while Bethlehem’s building remains closed, there are other ways for us to find connection with one another during this time. Utilize the technology available to us to reach out to people. Write a letter, send an email, make a phone call, or send a text message to let people know that you miss them and are praying for them.

Within the guidelines given by Governor Walz, it is possible to meet together in small groups. If you are comfortable with meeting with people consider having them over to have a time of singing and prayer around a fire or to drink coffee and watch worship online together on Sunday morning. Be creative in thinking of different ways to interact with other people.

As Bethlehem’s leadership we are also thinking of ways for small groups to meet and use the building. We want to do it in ways that are both inline with guidelines we have received from the state and are beneficial to the people meeting together.

We realize that for those without the internet it can feel isolating and I am willing to make copies of the sermon for those who would like to receive them. Please call me or let the church office know. We want to continue to support one another.

I know this is disappointing news for some of you. Please contact me if you have any questions or thoughts about our decision.

Thank you for being part of Bethlehem.

God bless,
Pastor Paul

April 22, 2020

We are still in the midst of the Stay at Home Order that we have received from Governor Walz. I hope that you are doing well. When we spend so much time at home with limited opportunity to get out it provides a challenge for all of us. Hopefully, in the next few weeks we can start easing back into a more social life.

I wanted to update you on what is happening with Bethlehem.

For at least the next 3 weeks our worship will be held exclusively online on our Facebook page and on our YouTube channel. Calvin Munger, along with our worship teams, have been doing a terrific job at making this happen. My hope is that we can start to look at Sunday, May 17 as the day we begin to reopen Bethlehem. This is a tentative date and will depend on the recommendations given to us by Governor Walz.

I am currently creating a plan for reopening our church building. Please be prepared for things to be different as we return. My assumption is that we will be limited to groups of 50 at least through the summer. That means we are looking at multiple services and an online service so everyone has the ability to be part of our worship experience.

Thank you for your generosity through this time. I know for some of you giving is a real sacrifice right now, and I appreciate your support of our ministry in this difficult time. Remember, you are able to give online here.
bethlehemchurchaustin.com/give

As we continue to be at home I want to encourage you to take care of yourselves. The reality is that being at home and the uncertainty of what is going on with Covid-19 can cause worry, fear, anger, and depression to come into our lives. One of the best ways to combat this is to take care of your entire person: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

I want to offer a few reminders about taking care of yourself:

  • Physical
    • Practice good hygiene
    • Get adequate sleep
    • Find ways to be active
  • Mental and Emotional
    • Connect with friends and family
    • Be productive with a project or hobby
    • Unplug from social media each day
    • Limit intake of news and politics
  • Spiritual
    • Make a list of blessings
    • Read Scripture and additional devotional material
    • Listen to worship music
    • Pray

The writer of Hebrews wrote:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-2; NLT)

May we continue to keep our eyes on Jesus so we can have the endurance and strength we need.

I continue to pray for you. Let me know if there is anyway I can be of service to you.

God bless,

Pastor Paul

 

March 30, 2020

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” ~ 1 Peter 1:3-5; ESV

In these strange times of isolation that is caused by social distancing and sheltering in place, I want to encourage us to remember the reason we have hope: the resurrection of Jesus! You and I enjoy a living hope because Jesus rose from the dead. We are looking forward to that day when Jesus returns and makes everything right. Don’t lose sight of that hope.

What is happening at Bethlehem right now?

In light of Governor Walz’s stay at home order I decided to close the church building. In compliance with Governor Walz ’s  the order, our Administrative Coordinator Susan Downey will be at the church office from 9am-12pm each day to check the mail, answer the phone, and produce content for communication. I am asking that if you need anything, don’t stop by the church, but to call the office, Dan, or myself.

We will continue to do our worship services online through the month of April. When making these decisions about worship I am taking my cues from the school district, and since Austin Public Schools are doing distance learning through the month of April, I think it is prudent that we follow suit. I know this is difficult, since we would much rather meet in person, but in this case, I think it sends message of understanding and love to the greater community of Austin by following this standard.

Our society meeting that was scheduled for April 26 is now on hold. I believe it is best to wait until we can meet normally to have a church wide meeting rather than trying to do something online.

In this time this is what I am asking you to do.

  1. Please stay home. No matter our age or health, we should remain at home unless there is an essential reason to be out. By staying home we are doing our part to slow the spread of the virus and it also shows our community that we take this situation as seriously as they do. I believe these next two weeks are crucial that we do our part by staying home.
  2. Find time to exercise. God designed us to move, that means the more active we are the better we feel. It will also help lessen the monotony of being at home. When it is nice outside, take a walk and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. When the weather is nasty find other ways to be active inside.
  3. Be part of our online worship time. During this time of being apart, joining worship together allows us to experience it together, even if it is virtually. Here are the links so you can join us: Facebook and Youtube.
  4. Take time away from electronics. Our phones, tablets, and computers offer the illusion of being connected to the outside world, so there will be a constant pull to check what is happening. Instead, spend time with your family, read a book, find a project to do, or work on a hobby. Filling your time with things other than screen time is essential in maintaining a positive outlook on life.
  5. Give. Please continue to give your tithes and offerings. This is an important aspect of worship and demonstrates our faith in God to provide. It also allows us to continue to do ministry as a church family, which includes our giving to the missionaries that we support.

Thank you for being part of Bethlehem. Even though we can’t be a Christian community in person, we can continue to represent Jesus on a daily basis. This is how we can continue to be a Christian community that glorifies God as we stay at home.

I am praying for you!

God Bless,

Pastor Paul

 

March 25, 2020

Dear Bethlehem Family,

I want to thank you for being part of Bethlehem. It is a blessing to be part of this Christian community and to know that there are people praying for and serving one another all the time. May we continue to be the church.

Here is the latest update on how Covid-19 is effecting Bethlehem. I decided that until further notice we are going to move our worship service to an entirely on-line format. The service will stream at 10:30am on Sundays.

Here is how to do that:

  1. Go to our Facebook page or YouTube channel (search Bethlehem Church Austin, MN), and then find the livestream link).
  2. This service will be shorter, knowing that it is not the same as being together in person. We will have: announcements, songs, sermon, prayer time, and a closing song. I encourage you to take time to find other elements to your family worship time such as more singing and communion.
  3. As much as is possible, our goal is to help you keep Sunday morning a priority by having our church worship together, only online.
  4. Nightly prayers are at 8pm on our Facebook page, please join me as we pray together.

All regularly scheduled and special activities at Bethlehem Church that occur throughout the week are cancelled until further notice. The church building will be closed but contact us by phone or email.

What will church look like going forward? Expect to see increased contact from us. We will be sending you emails with updates, links to Pastor Paul’s ponderings, and prayer requests . Expect to see more video content. Some meetings will be held using Zoom, as well as some fellowship groups and small groups. Our goal has always been getting the gospel into the community.

Your role during this time is critical. Be the hands and feet of the church. Ask your neighbors how they are doing. Remember, many of them are going through a severe time of uncertainty and confusion, only they are doing so without the hope of Christ.

Additionally, should you or someone you know in the church experience financial hardship or personal difficulty during this health crisis, we want to be aware of your need so that we can help. Please know that you can contact myself or Dan from the church to discuss your need.

Reach out to your brothers and sisters in our Christian community. Ask them how they are doing, what they are reading, and if they need prayers. Make time to call, text, and encourage each other. If you are faithful to do that, I’m confident that the Lord will bring our church through this trial in a better position even than we would have been without it.

I also want to address the issue of “giving.” While we will be striving to have a worship experience  on-line, we also have to remember that giving is part of worship. Bethlehem has the option to give online at bethlehemchurchaustin.com/give, or you may mail your offering to the church.

I want to thank you for your faithfulness to Jesus and Bethlehem. While we are deeply concerned about the effects of a world-wide pandemic, our greater concern are for the souls who are lost and in need of the saving knowledge of Christ. This could be the time when God uses Bethlehem Church in a greater way to invest in the community of Austin.

At a time when some might now describe as the “worst of times,” God is providing us with a unique opportunity to bear the image of Jesus. May we accept this challenge to make Him known; so that in years to come, we might look back on all that He did through us and describe it as “the best of times!”

In closing, I encourage you to be mindful of the encouraging and comforting words of our Lord, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20; NLT)

God Bless,

Pastor Paul

March 17, 2020

Bethlehem Church will be moving to online only Worship Service for March 22 and 29. We will evaluate things after that to make sure we are doing what is best for our community.

MidWeek is also canceled for the rest of March. We encourage you to stay home and be with family. If you need food, or know of families that need food, here is information about what is available in Austin: Austin Public Schools  and The Salvation Army.

Remember we are a Christian community that glorifies God. In this time of social distancing we need be intentional in how we maintain our community. We are God’s people, may we continue to live like it.

March 14, 2020

Bethlehem Church will have our regular Sunday Morning Worship at 10:30 on March 15. During this time of uncertainty it is good to have some normalcy.

In order to create a safe and welcoming community there are a few modifications we will make to our service.

  1. We will not have a greeting time. You are encouraged to wave, smile, and say hello to people, but we also want to maintain a distance barrier.
  2. We will not pass the offering plate, rather there will be two baskets in the back of the for your tithes and offerings.
  3. We will have a few bottles of hand sanitizer available for people to clean their hands.
  4. We will leave the doors open for people so there is one less common area for people to touch.
  5. 9:00 Coffee time will be canceled, but we will still have Sunday School at 9:30. The women will be able to use the Fellowship Hall and the men will be able to use the Sanctuary, this way people will have more room.

Before you attend worship on Sunday, I am asking you to:

1. Stay home if you are sick. While we do not know of any cases of COVID-19 in Austin, we want to make sure that we are doing what we can to keep one another healthy. If you stay home, you can watch the sermon via Facebook.
2. Wash your hands.
3. Give one another space.

Bethlehem Church is part of bigger fellowship of churches called the Free Methodist Church. Here is the official statement from the FMC: Convid-19 Statement 

We also want to stay up to date with what is happening with this virus. Here is the link to the Minnesota Department of Health information: Minnesota Department of Health

Jesus told us, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1; NLT)

These are troubling times, yet through it all we continue to trust in Jesus. That means we continue to love and create community. That means we don’t get caught up in all hype, but continue to pray as we focus on what God has called us to this day. Most of all, we don’t live in fear, but we live by faith.

Since we are are Christian community that glorifies God, we need to do what we can to take care of one another. One way we will do this is to continue to meet in small groups. These form the back bone of our community, and that is why we want to encourage people to attend as long as they are healthy. A second way is to make the effort to check up with each other, so that people know they are not alone.

Thank you for being part of Bethlehem.

Pastors Paul and Jenny Steele and the Leadership Team