Friday, May 15, 2020 Newsletter


9:00 a.m. Contemporary 

NEW TIME! 11:00 a.m. Traditional
(also available to hear it via phone - see below)

A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Beautiful Questions to Explore

One of our congregation’s four Core Values is having “An Inquiring Faith.” In elaborating on that value, we have said: “Following Christ’s example in Scripture, we believe that curiosity and questioning are essential practices of faith, and that some of our most important work as a congregation is helping each other to ask better questions about faith and life, and to seek more faithful answers together.”

In a sermon series on our Core Values that I preached last June, I quoted the poet
e.e. cummings as we explored what it means to have an inquiring faith. In one of his best poems, cummings says, “always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question,” and I used that to describe what it means to be “faithfully inquiring and inquiringly faithful.” 
That quote, though, raises a question in itself: what is a beautiful question? Well, we could spend years debating the meaning of beauty, but I’m going to argue that at least two aspects are crucial, especially for us in this moment we’re in. 
First, beauty requires truth, as another poet (John Keats) memorably stated: “beauty is truth, truth beauty.” And second, beauty cannot be fully described or explained; it contains a degree of mystery or elusiveness. A beautiful question, then, is both grounded in truth and seeking it out; this is part of how it leads to a more beautiful answer, because it is not content with answers that provide the comfort of conforming to our expectations or desires, but shy away from uncomfortable truths.

And a beautiful question does not expect a beautiful answer to answer everything ; it recognizes that the question itself opens us up to a beauty that cannot necessarily be fully defined, but still lead us into greater truth and understanding.

I say all this because I think the art of inquiring well, of asking “beautiful questions,” is more important than ever to our life and faith right now. This is partly because there are some ugly questions being asked by some Christians right now, questions like: “why is God punishing us with this plague?”

That, unsurprisingly, has led them to ugly answers that assign blame to the familiar scapegoats of various minorities (e.g., Asian people, LGBTQ+ people, etc.). And it’s important for us to reject those questions and those answers as contrary to what it means to follow Christ’s example in Scripture of using questions to lead us into greater love and faithfulness as his disciples.

But more importantly, I want to encourage all of us to be asking more beautiful questions about what it does mean to live with greater love and faithfulness as Christ’s disciples in the midst of this pandemic. The Session is actually framing its strategic leadership right now around this very theme: what are the questions we need to be asking to help us respond more faithfully to this pandemic as a congregation of Christ’s disciples?

But I want to encourage all of us to be doing that as well. So, to get your started, here are a few questions that you might begin exploring in your own prayer life and spiritual reflections:

  • What am I not missing (perhaps even surprisingly so) from pre-pandemic life?
  • What am I really grieving from pre-pandemic life right now?
  • Where am I personally/directly seeing God at work right now?
  • How can I be sharing Christ’s love when I can’t get physically close to anyone?
  • What does it mean to follow Christ in these anxious and uncertain times?

What questions would you add? Let me know!

Grace and peace,

Scripture lesson: Phillipians 2:5-11

Click the link to read online
·     This week's sermon: Unbound Grief 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
  • NEW TIME! 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 for a link to view the service
  • Please check in with a comment so we know you’ve joined us!

To watch a video – available after the services have aired:
  • Visit our website and look for the link on the homepage

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
SUNDAY SCHOOL for this week

This week’s Sunday School experience will be a combination of a live Zoom gathering on Sunday morning from 10:15-10:45 a.m. AND pre-recorded videos that you can access at your convenience.

The videos are on the church website ; scroll to the bottom of the homepage.
To join the Zoom meeting from 10:15-10:45 a.m.:

Meeting ID: 859 8632 3119
A FUN SERVICE PROJECT – for all ages!
During this Sunday’s Zoom gathering, our Sunday School kids will be encouraged to find rocks and paint encouraging messages on
them. We’ll ask them to put on the porch/in the yard of a friend or neighbor, or maybe along a walking trail - the idea is to brighten a little corner of the world with a random act of kindness!
This is a great idea to share with your kids, grandkids and young friends as well.
Please send us photos of your completed rocks and where/with whom you shared them: .
For all of you who are longing to get outdoors and your hands in the dirt: the FPCB CommUNITY garden officially opens today – going forward we will normally meet at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays to work in the garden.
We have put in heavy duty plastic around the vegetables so that weeding will be easier than in the past. Due to the virus, we will be doing things differently this year: we will have only two to three people per week working in the garden. Volunteers will need to wear masks and work in different parts of the garden. 

If you would like to sign up for a week, please contact Leslie Pohl at by Monday of that week. You can also leave her a message at 610-867-5865.

Our Session (the group of elders who direct the workings of the church) has been busy. Click here for a report of their actions since November. Part 2 with a report covering since March will be coming shortly.

The Kingdom of God in Song and Symbol – a two-part series

Wednesdays – May 20 & 27 – from 7-8 p.m. on Zoom
Led by Rev. Dr. Steve Simmons

These presentations are a continuation of the Lenten 2019 supper series. You need not have participated in those to enjoy these new presentations.
Most of Jesus’s parables begin, “The kingdom of God is like…”, and in many ways this was the core theme of his life and ministry. For more than twenty centuries, Christians have taken the Kingdom to mean everything from a virtual identification of “Church and Crown” to the promise of a future reign of justice, mercy, and peace, where God’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.” On two Wednesday evenings, we will explore the concept of the Kingdom as manifested in two particular American setting.
READ MORE ABOUT THESE PRESENTATIONS... (this webpage also has videos of our previous Discipleship presentations)
Hearts N Minds Adult Education
This is the last week for Hearts N Minds to meet. They will discuss three poems
by Mary Oliver , and the last chapter of Sister Joan Chittister’s book,
For Everything a Season.
You do not have to have read the book to join in the discussion!

Meeting ID: 831 165 912

Or you can join via phone (audio only): 929-205-6099 and enter the Meeting ID
After a brief hiatus, our Optimism 101 group is back on Wednesdays at noon, via Zoom.

This group is available to provide support and friendship to anyone challenged by depression, or who cares for someone who is.
To join the Zoom meeting: / Meeting ID: 881 8442 8633

To participate by phone only: call 929-205-6099 and enter Meeting ID when prompted.

Questions? Please contact us at
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
  • 9:00 a.m.: Hearts N Minds adult education (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

*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.

  • noon - 1 p.m.: Optimism 101 support group via Zoom (see details above)

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;