Friday, October 30, 2020 Newsletter



9:00 a.m. Contemporary
11:00 a.m. Traditional (also available on our website and via phone)

Last Sunday, we gathered for our most recent “hybrid” worship service, in which we not only combined worship styles as we do periodically (incorporating both traditional and contemporary worship elements into one service), but also combined in-person, outdoor worship with digital worship through our livestream.

You all hopefully knew that from our communications about it ahead of time, and there was a good turnout in person despite the unusually cold temperatures at 11 a.m. for this time of year (below 50 degrees!).

What I didn’t mention in the advance communications about that Sunday is that it was the first Sunday after my 20th “ordiversary.” That’s a word that pastors have made up to celebrate the day they were ordained to pastoral ministry; I was ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament by the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on October 20, 2000. 
As the date was approaching, I was thinking about all the ways in which I had no real idea what that ministry would involve when I was ordained. Some things were very dramatic: it never occurred to me that, less than a year later, I might be leading a congregation through the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, in the hardest hit ZIP code in the city in terms of deaths, while the senior pastor was trapped in California for ten days and unable to return because of travel restrictions!
Some things were just very unlikely, such as getting involved in Middle East peacemaking both in Israel/Palestine and between advocacy factions for Israelis and Palestinians in conflict within the Presbyterian Church (USA).

But I’d have to say that the last seven months surpass both of those; terrorist attacks are improbable but not unforeseeable, and ministry takes you into all kinds of situations and activities that you never thought about before they start happening. But spending month after month worshipping, ministering, and serving during a pandemic quarantine is definitely in its own league when it comes to unforeseen circumstances!

So all of that was on my mind as we gathered for worship last Sunday when we had another set of unforeseen circumstances happen: the electrical system in the church shorted out right as the opening music was coming to an end, and we lost all power for the worship service for almost 40 minutes: no microphones, no power to the musical instruments, no power to the digital camera for the livestream; nothing.

Subsequent investigation is that the most likely explanation was some longstanding deterioration in the electrical system itself; the worship setup itself was well within the parameters that the system should have been able to handle. Our facilities team has already been working with electricians and has restored our functionality, which allows us to safely return to normal usage while we consider the long-term needs of the building as a whole.

But in the moment last Sunday, nobody knew any of that; we just knew that the electricity was out and could not be quickly restored. Yet both our congregation and staff responded not with panic or frustration or anything else negative. Our tech team went into calm and focused problem-solving that was worthy of NASA on a tough day.

And those who were there to worship in the chilly air simply turned to one another and made the most of the time, drawing close to one another in spirit and conversation while maintaining appropriate physical distancing. Eventually, we were able to restore enough power to run a portable sound system, we reconvened in worship, and finished the service together.

In reflecting on all this afterwards, I found myself thinking that this was both a fitting celebration for my “ordiversary” and a beautiful testament to the strength and resilience of this congregation’s character and mission. Clearly, none of us expected to be living through the challenges of this pandemic, whether our calling to ministry is specifically as Ministers or Elders or Deacons, or the highest and most important calling in Christian ministry: to following Jesus Christ through the power of our Baptisms.

The question, though, is how we respond to such unexpected circumstances, and we are doing so with faith, hope, and love. This is not to say that we don’t also feel anxiety, despondency, and fear; but they are not governing our actions or our identity in this time. Instead, we are following Paul’s directions to the Thessalonians: “Live in peace with each other… always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5, selected verses).

It’s always important to remember Paul did NOT say, “give thanks for all circumstances;” he said, “give thanks in all circumstances.” And that has a new power and resonance for me these days, as I hope it does for you, because I do give thanks in these unexpected circumstances for the gift of this calling and mission that we share in this congregation, and for the beauty and grace and love of our life and ministry together, in these circumstances more than ever. Thanks be to God!

Grace and Peace,

was interrupted by the power outage. We did, however, get a video of the remainder of the service, after the first musical selections. This video, and written and audio versions of the sermon, are available on the church website.

Scripture lesson:

Click the link to read online
·   This week's sermon: Hardly Getting Over It 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

Sunday is All Saints Day...

If there are people you know (or even know of) who died from the virus that you want to remember on Sunday, please submit their names to by Saturday at noon and we will include their names in the Sunday services.

And we encourage you to share this opportunity with neighbors and friends, wherever they may be, if they would like us to remember someone dear to them on their behalf.
FOR THIS SUNDAY: Our Services are “Live” on Facebook
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 watch a video – available after the services have aired: Visit our website

We will offer the TRADITIONAL WORSHIP 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.

The Session has called a Special Prayer Service for National Healing the day after next Tuesday, Election Day: Wednesday, November 4 at 6 p.m. This will be a nonpartisan worship service; our unity as a congregation of Christ’s disciples is not in the unity of our political affiliations but in our unity in Jesus Christ through our faith and baptisms.

But regardless of the election results, the deep partisan divisions and political and social concerns in our nation will not disappear, so whether we have definitive election results or not, there will be a need to pray for healing in our nation.

This service will be a “hybrid” service, meaning that you can participate either by coming in-person to the service taking place outdoors with the same protocols we have used for our outdoor Sunday services, or by joining the livestream on Facebook Live from the church Facebook page or on the church website; also available for audio only (see below).

If weather does not permit an in-person gathering that day, we will shift to a “digital-only” format and proceed accordingly. Check our website and Facebook for any updates.

If you’re coming to the outdoor service, please help us with our planning by completing this online form.

To listen on the phone (audio only): Call 929-205-6099; when prompted enter the Meeting ID: 849 7564 0479 followed by the # key. You will be asked for the participant ID – press the # key again.
Wednesdays at 11-11:30 a.m.
Via Zoom

Join Rev. Austin for a casual, drop-in-anytime-during-the-hour time for coffee and conversation (or your beverage of choice).

To join the Zoom Meeting online:
Meeting ID: 8403 994 5735
To listen on the phone (audio only): Call 929-205-6099; when prompted enter the Meeting ID: 840 3994 5735 followed by the # key. You will be asked for the participant ID – simply press the # key again.

The word is getting out about our exciting new Sunday School program! There are two options: to attend a Sunday morning Zoom gathering from 10:15-10:45 a.m. Each week we also provide a prerecorded series of videos and related resources that you can access when convenient.
This week's story focus is on 1 Thessalonians 5:18: give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Thanks for helping us spread the word - and consider joining us for the Sunday morning Zoom session; to access the prerecorded videos look for the Sunday School logo on the church's homepage.
To join the Zoom meeting from 10:15-10:45 a.m.:
Meeting ID: 928 9221 9682 
Password: 369116

Our adult ed class, Hearts N Minds, continues its weekly discussion about social justice, what the Bible says to us, and thoughtful, meditative readings. Everyone is welcome and you can join at any time. We meet every Sunday at 9 a.m. via Zoom. The first book is Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans.
Reading for this week: pages 81-111.  

Meeting ID: 811 8422 0450

To listen on the phone (audio only): Call 929-205-6099; when prompted enter the Meeting ID: 811 8422 0450, followed by the # key. You will be asked for the participant ID – simply press the # key again.
Thanks to those who attended our recent three-part session, led by The Rev. Dr. Steve Simmons. Recordings were made of the first and third sessions; these are available to view here.
The Congregational Life team is sponsoring a collection of full-size personal care products for our neighbors participating in the programs at Northeast Ministries and Meals on Wheels. You can do a contactless, drive-through drop off at the church building on Saturday, November 7 from 10 a.m.-noon.

There is also a large covered tub outside the South entrance you can use.
Please consider donating: shampoo, conditioner, hair products, soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brushes and combs. 
Looking for a bargain? We're clearing out some old yard equipment - perhaps you can be the lucky bidder on these 'as is' items. NOTE: we have added one more item, a power washer.

First, check this list of what we have available. Submit your best offer today, either online on this secure form or in a sealed bid. The sealed bids can be given mailed/dropped off to Rebecca Angione, Facilities Manager, at the church.

as we are still taking donations through the end of the month for the annual CROP Walk for Hunger.

At this point our First Pres team has collected $1910, putting us in first place among Bethlehem teams – that’s pretty cool! Let’s see if we can better that total: you can donate online or send a check with “CWS/CROP” in the memo line, and mail or drop off to: FPCB, Attn: CROP Walk, 2344 Center Street, Bethlehem, PA 18017.
To get you in the Halloween spirit...
Here's the FPCB entry into last Sunday's "virtual" Halloween parade for Bethlehem:
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 any prayer requests to or call 610-867-5865 and leave a message.
Send us your news and photos to share:
**Deadline for next week's newsletter: Wednesday at noon**
* * *
And follow us on Facebook: @FirstPresBethlehem
Your likes / comments / shares help us spread the word about First Pres!

“FALL BACK” – Turn your clocks back one hour before you go to bed on Saturday night!

  • 9:00 a.m.: Hearts N Minds adult education class (see more information above)
  • 9:00 a.m.: Contemporary Worship Service – see instructions in blue box, above, to join us online
  • 10:15 a.m.: Sunday School for K-5, via Zoom (see more information above)
  • 11:00 a.m.: Combined Worship Service - see instructions in blue box, above, to join us online, and in the yellow box to join us via phone
*If you would like to participate in Communion, please prepare your elements beforehand: a simple bread or gluten-free substitute (cracker, pita, bagel, bread, roll, etc.) and grape juice, wine or water.

  • NEW TIME: 11:00-11:30 a.m.: Pastor’s Coffee Hour via Zoom (see above for details)
  • 7 p.m.: Special Prayer Service for National Healing; offered both outdoors and via Facebook Live and audio-only (see above for details and to RSVP)
  • 7 p.m.: Overcomer’s Outreach Christian 12 Step Recovery Group weekly meeting, via Zoom (Meeting # 380 435 9056 / Password: overcomer)

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;

Marianne Zarillo, Business Manager: email:

Cindy Matthews, Bookkeeper: email:

Carol Burns, Communications Manager; ext. 248;

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