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At St. John’s Windish ‘Prayers for Healing’

In response to the drama unfolding over the pending sale of three churches and a parking lot, a series of prayer vigils were held Jan. 17 at St. John’s Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church on East Fourth Street.

While folks were encouraged to stop in the church at any time, informal services with commentary were offered at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Several people from the community joined the church members attending the evening service.

“Where two or three are gathered in His name, God is indeed with us,” said Carol Henn, a media spokesperson for St. John’s, as she led “Prayers for Healing” Jan. 17 at the 10 a.m. session.

“Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us,” said Rev. Catherine Ziel as she offered up a prayer.

Henn did not provide updates on the situation, explaining the vigils were “Simply quiet, prayerful time with God.” In a press release, she wrote, “We did not want to jeopardize the pending sale in any way,” adding, “but, unfortunately, our hoped-for sale is now on hold.”

Three Bethlehem churches are in the process of merging. They decided to sell their properties and pool the funds to purchase a building in a location where they can all gather as members of a new entity, Blessed Trinity Lutheran Church.

Lehigh University outbid the City of Bethlehem by $200,000 on the package deal, consisting of St. John’s Windish Evangelical Church at 617 E. Fourth St., its parking lot at 616 E. Fourth St., St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church at 474 Vine St., and Light of Christ Lutheran Church at 202 Worthington Ave.

It has been reported in the Bethlehem Press that, “Two weeks after turning down the city’s bid in early December, the Bethlehem Parking Authority delivered a resolution for condemnation of the East Fourth Street lot and seizing it under eminent domain.” Mayor William Reynolds and city officials view the properties as potential sites for “community-driven use.”

Although the Parking Authority has apparently decided against pursuing eminent domain, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the real estate transaction.

The cold gray skies outside contrasted with the warm glow inside the historic church and its members, who themselves had long family histories tied to the building.

Between prayers and the reading of Bible verses, were memories.

Henn’s grandparents were among the earliest members. She and the others shared remembrances of Sunday school, “Grape Fests” and scampering up the narrow stairs leading up to the towering, decorative pulpit.

Although they were looking back, they were also looking forward to the day when the three congregations could worship together in their new home.

“I love my church, but we have to move forward,” said long-time St. John’s member Betty Sylva. “We’ve met wonderful people through this,” she said as she expressed joy at the merging of the three congregations.

At the conclusion of the morning session, Rev. Catherine Ziel ascended the narrow stairs to look out from St. John’s towering pulpit to the delight of the others. “I always wanted to climb up there,” she remarked with a smile.

PRESS PHOTO BY ED COURRIER Gray skies over St. John's Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church reflect the cloud hanging over the sale of St. John's, two other churches and St. John's parking lot (foreground). Inside, prayer vigils were held where congregants sought God's guidance.
The Rev. Catherine Ziel offers up a prayer near the altar rail at the front of St. John's.
To the delight of attendees, the Rev. Catherine Ziel ascends the narrow stairs to look out from St. John's towering pulpit. “I always wanted to climb up there,” she remarked.
At left, Carol Henn leads attendees in prayer during the “Prayers for Healing” morning vigil at St. John's Windish Jan. 17. At center, from left, are church members Betty Sylva and Kathy Remaly.