Friday, December 4, 2020 Newsletter



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

Presbyterians have not historically done “testimonials” as a common element of our worship tradition. I think that’s partly because we’ve tended to equate them with a sort of spirituality that can tend towards a one-upmanship about who has the most dramatic story of personal faith, and our tradition has tended to stress humility in such things.

But at least as much as that, I think Presbyterians have simply been afraid of it: afraid of the power of personal stories, afraid of the vulnerability of telling them ourselves and listening to those of others. Yet this practice is actually one of the most ancient traditions in Christian worship, going back to stories in the New Testament itself of people telling others about how Jesus has transformed their lives.

Some are dramatic and some are subtle; some are one key moment, others experiences over time. But all are important witnesses of faith, and their variety itself is an important message about the breadth and diversity of ways in which God’s grace moves.
If you’ve been in worship over the last month or so here at First Pres, you’ve heard a number of testimonials about how people have experienced God at work in their lives and through this church. We had a series of such testimonials in Sunday worship, and several as part of the Thanksgiving Eve service.
Some have been funny, some have been moving, but all have been powerful in their own way of telling the story of God’s grace in concrete ways through particular people in our congregation, and of the gratitude that the people offering them have felt for how they have seen and felt God at work.

And together, these testimonies have been the foundation of how we have anchored our ministries of stewardship and giving here at First Pres in gratitude and generosity: that we give to support Christ’s mission in and through this congregation not out of a sense of obligation but gratitude for all that God has done for us, and generosity as a sign of that gratitude for God’s generous grace towards us.

Like everything else in 2020, our ministries of stewardship and giving have been a bit disrupted by the dynamics and impact of the pandemic, so we have not yet had our Stewardship Dedication Sunday.

But I am pleased to let you know that you should be receiving your pledge cards in the mail in the next few days, and we are going to do something different to both celebrate and dedicate your generous gifts to support our crucial work as a congregation.

So next Sunday, December 13, the Third Sunday of Advent, we will have a “Gratitude Drive-Through” in front of the church between 3-5 p.m.! If you come by during that time via the circular driveway in front of the church, you will find people waiting for you. You can stay in your car the whole time, and someone will approach your window with a basket (we do ask you to wear a mask for these few moments, as the volunteer will be wearing one, out of an abundance of caution).

You can drop your pledge card in its envelope in a basket that will be offered to you. We also invite you to bring a card or note that offers at least one “testimonial” of gratitude: something, anything, that you consider a gift from God that you have received or seen in your life, the church, or the world (feel free to offer more than one!). These will be collected and displayed in the church building and on Facebook (feel free to sign your name or offer it anonymously, whichever you prefer).

And finally, we’ll ask you to pop your trunk or open your back door so someone (wearing gloves) can place a gift of gratitude there for you, as well: a candle for use on Christmas Eve, whether you come to the in-person service at 5 p.m. or any of the digital services, and a special savory treat prepared personally by me (more on that next week…) as a sign of my own gratitude for you, your generosity, and your ministry as part of First Presbyterian of Bethlehem. 

So: I hope to see you driving through on Sunday, December 13* as we celebrate God’s generosity to us and dedicate our gifts of gratitude to God! (And if, for whatever reason, you want to drop off your pledge and receive your gift at another time, email me at and we’ll work it out.) And if you simply want to mail in your pledge instead, you always have that option!

Grace and peace,

*You may want to consider coming to the Gratitude Drive-Through and then staying for our Spiral Advent Walk, offered between 4-6 p.m. on that Sunday, December 13 (and the following Sunday as well). See more information below.

Scripture lesson:

Click the link to read online
·   This week's sermon: Lifting the Valley 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

As the first Sunday in December, this Sunday we will celebrate Communion in both services. If you would like to participate, please prepare your elements beforehand: a bread or bread-like item (cracker, bagel, pita, roll, etc.) and grape juice, wine or water.
We love to see photos of your ‘at home’ Communion – please consider sharing them; send to!
As we enter the season of Advent, the Discipleship Committee invites you to join with them in experiencing anew the anticipation of Christ's birth.    
This past Sunday, about 25 participants enjoyed the first week of our illuminated Spiral Advent Walk, offered between 4-6 p.m. For those who are interested and able, it will be offered again on December 6, 13 and 20.

A journal, pen, LED candle (and flashlight if needed) will be available for you, as well as guides for any additional assistance. 
Following the liturgical calendar, the first Sunday's focus was Hope, with Peace, Joy and Love to follow.

For the week beginning Sunday, December 6, the reflection will be on "peace". The scripture, meditation and questions are available here, which you can use as your Advent devotional. This week’s Spotlight newsletter has an article about the walk’s first week, and more information for you.


We have planned an Advent “Midpoint Connection” Zoom gathering on Wednesday, December 9 from 7-7:30 p.m., as a point of connection during this sacred time. 

Meeting ID: 844 0300 5557

To listen on the phone (audio only): Call 929-205-6099when 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.

Join us, reflect with us, and celebrate the meaning of the birth of Christ. 

The Congregational Life team asks you to consider making donations that will be shared with organizations in our community. Each week will feature a different category; we ask that you help as you are able – you can make one delivery with any of these items, or make them during their designated week.
The weeks will begin on Sundays. If you are attending the Advent Spiral Walk on Sundays (see above), there will be collection bins available near the Memorial Garden during that time. You can also deliver to collection bins that will be outside the South Entrance of the building; please do not come into the building.
For your convenience, we have created a list of the requested items that you can print. Thank you for considering this opportunity to support our neighbors!

The Congregational Life Team offers this opportunity to serve, as you are able. This will be outdoors so please dress accordingly; let us know if you plan to help by sending us an email to or leave us a message at
610-867-5865. Thank you for considering!

  • Saturday, Dec. 12 from 4-5 p.m.: Meet at the front entrance to the building grounds to help put out prepared luminarias along the church property, fronting on Center Street. FPCB is participating in the city’s 23rd Annual Luminaria Night.
“Advent of the Spirit”
Sundays at 9:00 a.m. via Zoom

For Advent, we are going to turn our hearts and minds to a more contemplative mode, using a series of lectures created by the late Richard O’Donnell, teacher, counselor, former priest, and a true Renaissance man. 

One of the many things Richard did was to conduct series of lectures and discussions, known as the Hortensius Academy, over dinners in his Allentown home. His lectures reflect his gentle spirit and expansive intellect, his humor and wide reading, and offer insights into human spirituality that are most appropriate to consider at this time as we await the incarnation.

Richard's education took him from Villanova University to the Gregorian University in Rome to Fordham University, Catholic University in DC, and Columbia. In Lehigh and Northampton counties, Richard's work centered around drug and alcohol counseling and teaching, reflecting his life-long commitment to education and service. "Spirituality was the milieu in which he lived and breathed" ( 10, 2019).

The four lectures are available to listen to, on our church website.* You will need to devote about an hour a week to listen to each lecture, each "soliloquy," either in pieces or all at once and to take notes, if you're so inclined, or listen more than once. You could consider listening to a segment each day as a daily devotional but please note, you do not need to listen to the lectures to attend class.

Meeting ID: 811 8422 0450

To listen on the phone (audio only): Call 929-205-6099when 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.

If you don’t have access to the website, we will play the first lecture via Zoom’s “phone only” option this Saturday, December 5 at 4 p.m. Here is the information on how to listen to the first lecture:

To listen on the phone (audio only): Call 929-205-6099; when prompted enter the Meeting ID: 816 9518 5238 followed by the # key. You will be asked for the participant ID – press the # key again.

You can make our Sunday School program work for your family’s schedule with our two options: attend a Sunday morning Zoom gathering from 10:15-10:45 a.m. - or - each week we provide a prerecorded series of videos and related resources that you can access when convenient.
The real meaning of Christmas is simple: we celebrate Jesus, God’s greatest gift.
We can find hope, joy, love, and peace when we remember that God sent Jesus to be our Savior. This week we visit Isaiah 9:6: Jesus is Promised.We can have Hope because God keeps his promises.
Consider joining us for the Sunday morning Zoom session; to access the prerecorded videos look for the Sunday School logo on the homepage.

NOTE: No Zoom Sunday School on Sunday, December 13 so we can all participate in the church-wide Christmas Carol Sing on Zoom! (see below, "Looking Ahead")

To join the Zoom meeting from 10:15-10:45 a.m.:
Meeting ID: 928 9221 9682 
Password: 369116

The third annual Giving Tree will be in place through Thursday, December 24 - virtually for this year.

As last year, you can purchase everything from famine relief food vouchers to winter heating fuel for refugees around the world. 
People who have given in the past will have received a catalog from which they can choose items. You can also view the catalog online at

If you did not receive a catalog, there will be extras at the church office (South) entrance or on the Spiral Walks on Sunday (we can also drop one in the mail to you; contact us at 

On the order form, people can request gift cards. Payment can be by check or credit card. Do not make the check out to FPCB. You can designate the church affiliation, if you desire. 

Send the check and the order form in the enclosed envelope (from the catalog) directly to PCUSA. Remember people overseas are also in need in the time of COVID.

Visit BN.COM/bookfairs between

Tuesday, December 8 – Sunday, December 13

and enter this code at checkout: BOOKFAIR ID# 12601704

Virtual/Online Only (no in-store sales)

Sunday, December 13: Christmas Carol Sing
10-10:30 a.m. via Zoom
More details to come – join us for a community sing-along! (NOTE: We will not offer Sunday School via Zoom on this day)

Wednesday, December 16: Longest Night Service
6:30 p.m. via Zoom

Thursday, December 24 – Christmas Eve Services (all offered via Facebook Live)
5:00 – 5:30 p.m.: Intergenerational Service (outdoors at front of church building)
7:00 p.m.: Traditional Candlelight Service
11:00 p.m.: Candlelit Communion Service
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!

  • 9:00 a.m.: Contemporary Worship Service - see instructions in blue box, below, to join us online
  • 10:15 a.m.: Sunday School for K-5, via Zoom (see more information above)
  • 11:00 a.m.: Traditional Worship Service - see instructions in blue box, below, to join us online, and in the yellow box to join us via phone 
  • 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.: Spiral Advent Walk, Memorial Garden (see more information above)

*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.
FOR THIS SUNDAY: : Worship with us “Live” on Facebook
9 a.m. - Contemporary Worship Service
11 a.m. - Traditional Worship 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 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.
  • 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;