Friday, June 26, 2020 Newsletter


9:00 a.m. Contemporary 

11:00 a.m. Traditional
(also available on our website and via phone - see below)

As you probably have heard, Northampton and Lehigh counties have been designated by the governor of Pennsylvania to move to the “green” phase of the state’s Process to Re-Open Pennsylvania today, June 26.

That move is significant in that it allows for gatherings of up to 250 people, while the yellow phase only allowed for 25 or less. That, in turn, means that we could conceivably hold worship services at our pre-pandemic levels of attendance, which rarely exceeded 250 people in a given service except for special occasions. 
The Session, the Worship Committee, and the Board of Trustees have been monitoring these issues closely, so I want to use this column this week to explain a bit more of where we are in terms of thinking and process. While everyone is longing for the chance for us to gather again in-person, we are also sobered by how religious services are consistently ranked as one of the highest-risk activities possible in terms of transmission of COVID-19, and how many of the worst hotspots of the pandemic so far have been centered around church services of one kind or another.
Some of those services have been shockingly indifferent to physical distancing precautions that are still necessary even in the green phase (e.g., wearing face masks, maintaining a distance of 6-10 feet between people, etc.). But some of them claim to have been diligently following such precautions but have still seen significant infection outbreaks. 
Accordingly, there are several actions that are either in process or have already been taken that will guide our response to this new development.

  • First, the Session has already decided that there will be no changes to the status quo for the church’s ministries for at least a month after Lehigh and Northampton counties go green, which means the earliest possible date for any return to the building would be July 26. This action was taken to protect against getting caught in a potential surge of new infections once many of the restrictions of the yellow phase are lifted.

  • Second, the Worship Committee has been working on some ideas about when and how to resume any form of in-person worship, which might include experimenting with an outdoor service if they (and ultimately the Session) can be convinced that we can do so well, in terms of both the quality of the worship service and mitigating the risk of the virus. That is still in process and may not ultimately be deemed prudent, but it seems appropriate for the congregation to know that this is at least being considered in light of the changes in the state restrictions.

In the meantime, we are establishing a Building Reopening Task Force comprised of people with expertise in public health, medicine, biological science, and property management. They will be making recommendations to the Board of Trustees and the Session on what criteria should be used to consider any resumption of in-person activity in the church buildings, as well as how we might do so in terms of stages, limits, and protocols, should it be deemed reasonably safe to do so at all. You will be hearing more about this as their work develops.

I want to close by reiterating that while we all would love to be able to come together in-person, it is clear that the church leadership is being guided by a sense of deep responsibility for the well-being of our members and friends, and that responsibility will govern not only how but whether we can consider resuming worship or other activities in-person.

I also want to say that, regardless of when we get back to in-person worship, livestreaming our worship is here to stay, and so that will always be an option whether you are traveling for summer vacation or simply are unable or unwilling to return to worship or other church activities once it is possible to do so. (Previous services are available for viewing at ).

Please continue to pray for our congregation, our members and friends, our community and especially the “essential workers” who continue to serve in such profound and humbling ways, and our nation and world as the pandemic remains very much present and active for all of us.

Grace and peace,

PS – Please remember our “ Sermon Response ” sessions available via Zoom, after each service on Sunday: an opportunity to reflect on the message with others. Details are below.

Scripture lesson:

Click the link to read online
·     This week's sermon: A Command Performance by Rev. J.C. Austin

·       We post each week’s sermon
(audio and text) on our website:
TO DOWNLOAD AND PRINT on 8.5" x 11" paper

FOR THIS SUNDAY: Both Services “Live” on Facebook

SERVICES : We invite you to join either (or both!) of our services via Facebook to watch “live”:
  • 9:00 a.m. – Contemporary service
  • 11:00 a.m. – Traditional service

To watch “live”- as it happens:
  • Visit our Facebook page and look for the post with our live feed
  • If you don’t have a Facebook account, go to our website to view the service
  • Please check in with a comment so we know you’ve joined us!
  • NEW: Captions will now be available on our livestream, for those who would like to use that feature

To join the ‘Sermon Response’ Zoom Meeting after each service: / Meeting ID: 955 325 387

To listen on the phone (audio only): Call 929-205-6099 ; when prompted enter the Meeting ID: 955 325 387 , followed by the # key. You will be asked for the participant ID – simply press the # key again.

To watch a video – available after the services have aired:
IF YOU DO NOT HAVE INTERNET ACCESS – OR PREFER TO “LISTEN IN” ON SUNDAY ON YOUR PHONE. Stay on the call for the ‘Sermon Response’ discussion (12-12:30 p.m.)

We will offer the TRADITIONAL SERVICE (at 11 a.m. on Sunday) with an ‘audio-only’ option so you can listen to it on your phone.

Call 929-205-6099 ; when prompted enter the Meeting ID: 955 325 387 followed by the # key. You will be asked for the participant ID – simply press the # key again.
SUNDAY SCHOOL for this week

The kids who attend our Sunday School sessions each week have a great time, and they’d love to have you join them! You can join live on Sunday mornings via Zoom – or watch our “Driveway Sunday School videos” (stories and music) online at your convenience.
The videos are on the church website (

To join the Zoom meeting from 10:15-10:45 a.m.: (note this is a new link)
Meeting ID: 928 9221 9682 / Password: 369116

Please consider sharing this information with the young ones in your life!

We are so blessed to welcome guest soloists to our Sunday services. This week we will hear from baritone Chet Brown during our Traditional service.
Chet has been a part of the music scene in Philadelphia his entire life. As a child, he sang gospel in church and studied piano, trumpet and other instruments. As a young adult, he was involved in teaching at Lighthouse Arts and Music Camp in Pottsville.

He has been a member of numerous bands, singing everything from jazz to popular music in Philadelphia area venues; he was signed by and recorded an album in 1978 with Polydor Records. 
Chet works as a studio vocalist and voice over talent in the Philadelphia area, and is a member of The James Gerard Orchestra, with whom he has performed at such events as Vice President Biden’s Inaugural Ball. He performs regularly in the Lehigh Valley with the Last Thursday Band and is a frequent guest performer with the Allentown Band. Chet is recently retired as a vocal instructor at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts but continues to work as the outreach coordinator.  

Rev. J.C. Austin offered “Faith in Living Color: Race, Racism, and Christian Discipleship” as one of the first ways that we as a congregation are responding to the national debate about systemic racial injustice. This was offered as a series of three interactive online sessions (see link below to access videos).

Watch for announcements for follow-up events.

We asked two of the people who attended these sessions, and here’s what they had to say:

From Kristen Benway:
“My heart and mind have been so heavy around the discrimination and racism blazing across our television screens and social media feeds. I keep asking myself: How can this be? What should I do? What can I do? W hy haven’t I done more before?
“The ‘Faith in Living Color’ series gave me a necessary space to reflect, learn, and discuss so I can feel confident to faithfully move forward in action. A surprising sense of unity was brought through small group discussions in which we vulnerably shared mistakes, stories, and our own implicit bias around race solemnly, yet hopefully, embracing that life is about learning and growing through our mistakes and experiences.”
And from Froy Thompson:

“The main thing that I’ve learned is that you can teach an ‘old’ dog new tricks. The ‘hated’ computer is now my best friend and church can be exciting and nourishing even when we can’t gather in person. And that goodness can come out of devastating times. The country is waking up to the divides between rich and poor, black and white, young and old, homeless etc. and there seems to be a movement to address some of these inequities and I, in my privileged state, must learn and do more.”   

If you missed these sessions, you can view the videos here . There is a lot of valuable information and action steps that you can learn from the videos, and we hope you will take advantage of this resource!

The Congregational Life team has planned an outdoor “Parking Lot” Trivia Night for Thursday, July 9 (rain date: Thursday, July 16). 
Here’s the set up:

  • Each party’s vehicle will be directed to park in a designated parking space in the back (east) parking lot. There will be a vacant space adjacent to it – this is your space to use for lawn chairs, to hang out outside your car if you like.
  • Masks are required, as is physical distancing of at least six feet.

  • You are invited to gather, starting at 6 p.m. for BYOF (bring your own food). Bring along your dinner or snacks; there will be no grills and no tables, so plan accordingly!

  • The trivia will begin at 7 p.m. We will have an emcee who will read the questions over a loudspeaker. Each team (vehicle) will confer on the answer, then submit their answer to the official tabulator – the teams with the correct answer will be announced.

  • Points will be awarded – the winner gets bragging rights!

In case of rain, we will postpone the event to Thursday, July 16 and put the announcement on our website ( and on our Facebook page.

Our friends at AARP have provided this update for those of you who have your taxes prepared by them:

 Bethlehem AARP Tax Aides will not resume the 2019 Tax preparation season for the foreseeable future. We do not meet the recommendations from AARP National.  
If you do not owe any taxes or expect a refund, you have three years to file 2019, and that can be done whenever we are permitted to open next year.  Every year we file returns for those who have not filed for past years. You may be charged interest/penalty on any amount owed.
If you know you owe Federal tax, you can file form 4868 by July 15, 2020, with a deposit of an estimate of what is due for 2019. This is a one-page sheet that can be found at .

For PA1000 Property Tax or Rent Rebate, contact local PA representative, Steve Samuelson, at 104 E. Broad Street, Bethlehem 18018 or 610-867-3890. He will accept drop off documents at his office.

Next season will be the same as always. We have no phone service, so clients will need to get an appointment.
We would like to know when our members are entering the hospital. Please tell the hospital that your church ID is 724 and they will contact us. You can also contact Phil Fair at to keep us up to date.
Send us your news and photos to share:
**Deadline for next week's newsletter: Wednesday at noon**
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Your likes / comments / shares help us spread the word about First Pres!

THIS SUNDAY (print bulletins, above)

  • 9:00 a.m.: Contemporary Service – join us on our Facebook page for the live service
  • 10-10:30 a.m.: "Sermon Response" - via Zoom (see details, above)
  • 10:15-10:45 a.m.: Sunday School via Zoom (see details, above)*
  • 11:00 a.m.: Traditional Service - see instructions in blue box, above, to join us online, and in the yellow box to join us via phone
  • 12-12:30 p.m.: "Sermon Response" - via Zoom (see details, above)

*NOTE: There will also be an online, pre-recorded video Sunday School lesson available on our website beginning on Saturday.
  • 12:00 – 12:30 p.m.: Midday Reflection (led by one of our pastors – a short time of reflection and prayer via Zoom: /Meeting ID: 335 481 050; via phone: call 929-205-6099 and enter the Meeting ID when prompted, followed by the # key. You will be asked for the participant ID – simply press the # key again)
  • noon - 1 p.m.: Optimism 101 support group via Zoom

ALL OTHER PUBLIC EVENTS AND GATHERINGS ARE CANCELLED AT THIS TIME unless offered online (see listings on our Facebook page under “Events”)

CHURCH OFFICE AND BUILDING INFO: The office staff is working remotely and checking email and voicemail daily. The answering service (610-778-7003) can take your urgent pastoral concerns, 24 hours a day.
CARE CONCERNS AND HOSPITAL VISITS : If members of the FPCB congregation are hospitalized and would welcome pastoral and hospital ministrant visitors and/or prayers, please contact: Phil Fair, Prayer Ministrant ( ).

First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, 2344 Center Street, Bethlehem, PA 18017 610-867-5865 |

The Rev. J.C. Austin , Pastor/Head of Staff: ext. 213,

The Rev. Sue Bennetch , Pastoral Associate: ext. 209;

David Macbeth , Music Director: ext. 202;

Cristy Mette, Administrative Operations Manager: ext. 228;

Rebecca Angione, Facilities Manager: ext. 210;

Carol Burns, Communications Manager; ext. 238;

Andrea Barbehenn , Preschool Director; phone: 610-867-2956;