Letter to the Congregation – 02/01/2021

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Greetings my dear friends, understanding the fact that some of you just received my Christmas letter I am hoping that you receive our other mailings in a little timelier manner. Please keep the workers at the Post Office in your prayers, they are under a lot of pressure these days.

On January 24, the Council met in a supplemental meeting. As always, we reviewed the church building closure, but the major discussion focused on St Andrew’s Nursery School. More specifically, the financial support of the nursery school teachers who have been laid off. There was concern from the Council that the teachers need some level of financial support. There was concern at the Council meeting that we might lose teachers to other jobs or nursery school programs.

To be totally fair the teachers were not complaining, rather Dori reported that the teachers understood why the Council closed the building.

The church applied for a PPP Loan from the government the first time that was made available to the public. We were successful in our application and the (approx. $32,000.00) loan turned into a grant. Knowing that we were blessed with that funding we wanted to support the Nursery School. To that end the nursery school was offered one month’s salary (approx. $8,500.00) as a way to help the teachers during a time that they had no income.

As your pastor I totally support helping our nursery school teachers during this difficult time. I believe the nursery school is a particularly important ministry that we sponsor here at St. Andrew’s.

I continue to be grateful for the resources that God has blessed us with that enable us to be a strong and vital ministry despite the pandemic, thank you and praise be to God!

Pastor Tom Neel

Letter to the Congregation – 01/21/2021

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The Congregation Council met on January 17th to primarily discuss the church closure, but we also discussed replacement of the worship space roof.

1) The Roof. Just to be clear, while there is some repair to the flat roof by the kitchen entrance, the roof that is being replaced is the roof over the worship space. The existing slate roof will be removed and replaced with a 50-year asphalt shingle. This includes replacing the slate that is on the base of the steeple. The work is planned for start on January 27 and is anticipated to last 5 days. If you drive by the church building you might see the roofer’s equipment on the small parking lot adjacent to Freemansburg Ave as well as dumpsters on either side of the worship space.
Farina & Farina will be doing the work and the cost is estimated to be $18,945.00. The money will come from the building fund.

2) The Nursery School. It was decided that St. Andrew’s Nursery School would reopen as of February 1st. All our teachers are scheduled to receive their vaccines and the same protocols that were practiced previously will still be in place when the school reopens in February.

3) In Person Worship. It was decided to put off opening the church for worship until at such time the pastor can receive the vaccine. Of course, that means that the pastor must receive the first and second dose of the vaccine. For those who are missing In Person Worship, the Council and the Pastor offer their apologies. This is a decision to try and keep everyone safe.
The good news is that the Pastor did receive the first vaccine on 01/20/2021 and is scheduled to receive the second vaccine on 02/16/2021. So please watch for updates.

Remember the Council meets on a more frequent schedule to discuss the church closure. All members are welcome to join Council meetings. Please access the Zoom log on info in the calendar here on the church website.

Letter to the Congregation – 01/12/2021

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The Congregation Council met on January 11 for their monthly meeting. This was the first time the Council met with eleven members; indeed it was a joy to have more input and energy in the Zoom room. What follows are some of the highlights from the meeting.

1. It was reported during the financial reports that the congregation ended 2020 in the black! This is very significant as we are all struggling through the pandemic and, as a rule, the first year a full-time pastor is back on staff, congregations can struggle to meet the budget due to the increased expense of paying a full-time pastor. Thank you for your financial support of St. Andrew’s!

2. Pastor Neel reported that our average worship attendance for 2020 was approximately 115 per Sunday. Again, this has been a different type of year, Council viewed this as a positive response from the congregation.

3. Please do not forget to attend the Annual meeting on February 7th, immediately following worship. The Annual reports will be e-mailed to those who have e-mail capability. For those who do not, paper copies of the reports will be ready by Monday, January 25 and can be picked up at Hope House.

4. Looking forward to Lent:
– If the church building is closed, we will hold only one service on Ash Wednesday at 7:00PM.
– For Wednesday in Lent everyone is asked to think about a “Question of Faith.” So, we are asking that you share any questions that you might have, concerning the Bible or Lutheran Theology, with Pastor or the church office. Pastor will compile your responses and the meditations on Wednesdays in Lent will address these questions.

5. The Roof: The Council has approved a proposal to replace the church roof and repair the roof by the church entrance at the kitchen. The cost is just under $19,000.00. The project will be paid for with the funds that we already have in the building fund, so there will be no need for a congregational appeal.

6. The Property Committee solicited multiple bids and this bid from Farina & Farina was the best. We have worked with Farina & Farina in the past and have been very pleased with the quality of their work.

7. A shout out to Chuck Bleice who did the Lion’s share of the leg work so that Property Committee could make its decision.

8. You will have opportunity to ask questions about this project at the Congregational Meeting on February 7th.

Letter to the Congregation – 01/04/2021

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Greetings to you, prayers and thoughts for a blessed 2021. We all have lots of hope that 2021 will be different than 2020. To be sure that a full and complete end of the pandemic would be great, 2021 won’t bring a magical end, but rather a gradual end. I ask for patience, because safety still must be a high priority, and I ask for respect as we will not all agree as how to more forward. But, just as God has been with us in 2020 God will be with us in 2021. We can depend on God and that is how we can move forward.

The Congregation Council met on January 3rd. A large part of the discussion centered around keeping the church closed or opening the church up for activities, namely Nursery School and Worship. Before that discussion we welcomed four new members to Council, It was absolutely wonderful to have a fuller Council table, welcome to Sharon, Nancy, Terry and Debbie!

So, when will we open the church building again? We still are not sure. But we did decide to keep the church building closed through and including the 31st of January. Not everyone will agree with that decision. That is understood, but please understand that the Council made the decision with the safety of the congregation and nursery children in mind.

While the Council is educated by what the school districts are doing, what other churches are doing and what the COVID-19 case numbers are looking like, in the end the decision is made from a core sense of what is safest.

You have our promise that we will continue to meet on a weekly basis to discuss this matter, and that you are welcome to join any of the Council meetings to express your concerns. (we meet by Zoom, please access the church website, go to the calendar and you will find a link to the meeting, or call the church office for help).

Wishing you God Peace
Pastor Neel and Your Congregation Council

Church Council Officers for 2021
April Shaheen – President
Blair Miers – Vice President
Jonathan Bleice -Treasurer
Sharon Wasmer – Secretary

Letter to the Congregation – 12/15/20

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At the December 14th Congregation Council meeting, the Council approved a recommendation from the Worship & Music Committee to allow “virtual” Communion until at such point that we have access to the church building again.

Please understand that this was not an easy decision because a Lutheran understanding of Communion assumes that we are celebrating the sacrament physically together as a family. However, because of the length of time that we have been apart, and because we are not anticipating being able to open the church building in the near future, it was decided that offering Communion (although it not be physically with the family) is very important to the spiritual health of the congregation.

Please know that as soon as we have access to the church building again we will review our use of “virtual” Communion. Keep in mind that no one is ever forced to receive Communion, if you feel you do not want to receive Communion you are encouraged not to participate in that part of worship.

To receive Communion, we are asking that each member of the congregation prepare one serving of bread (any type, St. Andrew’s uses pita bread) and one serving of the fruit of the vine (grape juice or wine) before the start of worship. Pastor will consecrate the elements of Communion during worship. It needs to be understood that ONLY a single portion of bread and wine that has been prepared for worship will be consecrated. You cannot save some for later.

The congregation will commune together at the Pastor’s direction.

We hope and pray that during this time, receiving Communion (although it be virtual) provides an increased level of connection to God and to your church family, providing us a level of strength that we all need during this time of COVID-19.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Pastor Neel.

Letter to the Congregation – 12/7/2020

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At the December 6th Meeting of the Congregation Council, it was decided to keep the church building closed thru and including January 10th. These are always difficult decisions as the Council is painfully aware of the impact that a closed church building has on those people who depend on the church building to support the ministries that they are involved in.
The January 10th date was chosen as it is approximately two weeks after the New Year’s Holiday. In addition, the Council will continue to meet very frequently to address this situation.
Nevertheless, we felt that with the virus continuing to spike, we wanted to act in a way that would promote the health and safety of all of those who might use the church building.
To that end there can be no access to the building. As we did back in March, the only people allowed in the church building are Dori and Pastor who are only entering to check the building and make sure everything is okay, otherwise the church building is not to be accessed.
You are most welcome to join us at Council. We will be meeting December 14 at 7:00 (Monday), December 20 at 7:30 (Sunday), NO meeting on December 27, January 3 at 7:30 (Sunday). Of course, we meet by Zoom.

I want to take a moment to express my thanks to St Andrew’s for showing up and supporting the congregation by taking part in the congregational meeting that dealt with the budget and the election of council members.
We can celebrate those who are joining the Council! We will be reaching 11 members on the Council! What a wonderful think to have that level of commitment to the leadership of St. Andrew’s.
It is also extraordinary that we had such a large attendance at the congregational meeting. Again, it was wonderful to see the level of support from the congregation for St. Andrew’s.
You continue to surprise me in so many positive ways, December 6 was just another positive surprise! Thank you
Pastor Neel

Congregational Meeting: December 6, 2020

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Our constitution requires that we have two congregational meetings in the course of the year. One on the first Sunday in December, and one in January. Our December meeting is to consider a budget for the coming year and to elect members to the Congregation Council. January is more of an open meeting when we celebrate the congregation’s ministries and discuss anything that anyone wants to talk about.
So, that means on December 6 we will be holding a meeting to address the budget for 2021 and elect Council Members. Please mark the date and plan to be a part of that meeting. It is very important that we come together and address these important topics in the life of St. Andrew’s.
This year, of course, will be different, because we are still in the throws of the Covid-19 pandemic. After much discussion at Council, it was decided that we will proceed in the following way:
• There will be one worship at 8:30 on December 6th and it will be a Zoom format.
• The Congregational meeting will take place after worship at 9:30 and it too will be a Zoom format.
• For those who must call in by phone, we will make sure that we record your vote by voice.
• For those who can be on Zoom you will have the ability to vote by using Zoom’s polling capability. (PLEASE DO NOT WORRY YOU WILL BE GUIDED THRU THAT PROCESS)
• The budget and the list of names will be given to you in advance. We encourage you to share your questions ahead of time so that we can address them at the meeting. While questions can be asked at the meeting, it will be easier if we know what the questions are ahead of time
• You will notice that the budget is lower than last year, that is primarily due to the fact that Pastor will be covered by his husband’s insurance. The church pays that cost but it is significantly cheaper for the same coverage.
Please make it a priority to join us for the Congregational meeting on December 6th, things will be a bit different, but together we will make this work.

Letter to the Congregation 11 18 2020

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The Council met on 11/17/2020 to discuss the possibility of closing the church building in the same fashion it was closed back in March. We had incorrectly believed that the Governor of Pennsylvania would go back to the red, yellow, and green system. We discovered that we were incorrect, and that the state is expecting churches to use guidelines that have been published to make decisions for themselves based on their home county’s COVID-19 case levels.
The Council made the following decision: TO CLOSE THE CHURCH BUILDING FOR ALL ACTIVITIES: (The Nursery School’s last day will be November 19th and the last Worship and Scheduled Eucharist will be on November 22nd). The following are the basis for Council’s decision
• Northampton County COVID-19 cases are rising quickly
• The ELCA does not recommend that church buildings remain open if the county in which you are located has rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.
• While there is no direct statement from Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod, they point us to the advice offered by the ELCA
• The Bethlehem Diocese (Episcopal Church) has directed their churches to close by Advent 1
• The Penn Northeast Conference (UCC) have recommended that their church buildings close.
• There is every indication that the Schools in Northampton County will close use of their buildings by Thanksgiving at the latest.
• The Council was concerned that we would be closed for a two week period after the Thanksgiving holiday
The Congregation Council has agreed to meet on a weekly basis to monitor the situation and will move to open the church building as soon as it is deemed safe to do so. To that end the building closure is in effect thru and including December 6th for Worship and Scheduled Eucharist and thru and including December 10th for the Nursery School. Again, the Council will meet and evaluate these closures on a weekly basis. Please stay tuned for further updates.
Of course, we will continue to offer Zoom Worship at 8:30 We decided against moving the time for Zoom worship as we did not want to interfere with Faith Builders, and we are hoping that this is not a prolonged closure. All of our other meetings will continue to meet with Zoom. We understand that Zoom is not the perfect answer, but we are grateful that we have Zoom to maintain some connection with each other. We will also continue to mail and e-mail the bulletins and other information to you on a weekly basis.

From the Council – 11/9/2020

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At the November 9, 2020 Congregation Council meeting, the Council discussed whether it would be appropriate to close the church building again, knowing that the Covid-19 rates are on the rise in Pennsylvania.
At this point the church building is being used in three ways:
1. St. Andrew’s Nursery School
2. 10:30 In Person Sunday Worship
3. Scheduled Eucharist
For Worship and Scheduled Eucharist the Council decided that if Northampton County goes back to yellow from green, or if someone who attends either 10:30 worship or Scheduled Eucharist contracts the virus, we would cease to use the building for those activities. It is important to note that Pastor, Warren, and Mark Jonkman would all have to quarantine for two weeks if someone would contract the virus and they attended the 10:30am worship service.
The Nursery School is a little more complex
• It is important to note that the Nursery School does NOT use the Worship Space or the Narthex area.
• They will close if Northampton County goes to yellow.
• If there is a case of the virus at the school, they will close for two weeks.
• If both elementary schools in Palmer Township close, the Nursery School will close.
• If the Easton Area School District closes, then the Nursery School will close.
To be sure these were exceedingly difficult decisions, but they were made with every effort to protect the safety and health of all people who use the church building. Please be assured that if we must close, the Council will monitor the situation closely and open the building as soon as it is safe to do so.

Pastor’s Message – 11/9/2020

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Advent 2020
Advent is just around the corner, even in the middle of a pandemic time still seems to fly by Never-the-less Advent arrives November 29th with the First Sunday in Advent. What follows are some worship details and opportunities for the season of Advent.
We are asking those who participate in the Zoom worship to round up four blue candles, as we will burn those candles during worship. I encourage you to use blue candles as blue is a symbol of hope. Hope, something we all need right now, hope is a God that loves us hope in a baby born in a manger. For those with children in your household I encourage you to help them create a wreath, maybe color a wreath that can be used with the candles, however it works for you, but this will be a time that as the St. Andrew’s family we will light the wreath of hope together.
We will be sharing worship with the good folks at St. John’s (Downtown Easton). Worship will be at 7:00pm and it will be Zoom based. These worship experiences will be meditative in nature. Be prepared to use an Advent wreath with blue candles that we will light at the beginning of worship. The first Wednesday (December 2) we meditate on “The Creative Breath” The second Wednesday (December 9) we consider “Light and Darkness”, and the third Wednesday we will focus on “Birth and Re-birth”. On the fourth Wednesday we will gather for “A Healing Christmas” The holidays are not always happy and joyous times for all of us. This worship takes that seriously and helps us to find hope when we are feeling sorrow.
Find the Zoom log on information below
Meeting ID: 840 0720 0910
Passcode: 661248
Dial by your location
+1 929 205 6099 US (New York)
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kd8kbtsP97
Please join us during Advent as we journey to the birth of the Christ Child
Pastor Neel