Friday, August 21, 2020 Newsletter


9:00 a.m. Contemporary 

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

A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: The Dog Days of Summer

We are in what is sometimes called “the dog days” of summer. I always assumed that was just a colloquial expression, probably from the American South, about the hottest part of summer because it drove dogs mad or something. 
On a whim I decided to look it up, though, and discovered that I was mostly wrong. Yes, there is an association with mad dogs, but that’s only a tiny part of it. It goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and it is specifically the season associated with the rise of Sirius, known as the Dog Star because it “follows” Orion, the constellation of the Hunter, through the sky. 

It’s also the brightest star in the night sky by a considerable margin, so it’s attracted a lot of attention from poets and astrologers and philosophers. 
Since its rise does generally accompany the hottest part of the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and since many ancient peoples believed that the stars influenced behavior, weather, fortunes, and circumstances, the season around Sirius’ rising became known not simply for its heat but for its disruptive nature, its tumultuousness: dogs going mad, yes, but also drought, thunderstorms, conflict, and so on.

While that kind of astrology is part of neither Christianity nor modern science, we still find ourselves in the dog days, of sorts. While the heat has blessedly been only intermittent, the tumult and disruption has not. Indeed, the flames of disruption, division, and conflict are rising throughout our social and political life as a nation, fanned by the pandemic, the presidential campaign, and now the confusion and debate over what school can and should look like for our children this fall.

So this Sunday, we at First Pres will consider what words of hope the gospel has for us in these difficult times by looking at one of the better known stories of Peter, Jesus’ disciple who so often stands in for all of us in trying to make sense of who Jesus is and what he is doing.

So, whether you are here in the Valley or away on vacation, I hope to be with you in digital worship this Sunday as I talk about “Building on Shaky Ground.”

Grace and Peace,

Scripture lesson:

Click the link to read online
·   This week's sermon: Building on Shaky Ground by Rev. J.C. Simmons

·     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 watch a video – available after the services have aired:

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

Whether you attend ‘live’ – in person on Sunday mornings, via Zoom - or watch our “Driveway Sunday School videos” (stories and music) online at your convenience, our Sunday School teachers have you covered with a meaningful experience each week.

The videos are on the church website.
To join the Zoom meeting from 10:15-10:45 a.m.:

Meeting ID: 928 9221 9682 / Password: 369116

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


As previously announced, we will experiment with an outdoor worship service by gathering on Sunday, Aug. 30 for a 10 a.m. Combined Worship service. It will be held outside the front of the church building.

The service will also be offered via livestream on Facebook Live and on our website (also via phone), as it is every week.
In the event of bad weather (rain or extreme heat/humidity), the outdoor portion will be postponed to Sunday, Sept. 13. The service will still be livestreamed. The cancellation announcement will be made via email and on the church website, Facebook page, and phone message.

We want to caution that this is the plan at this time. With the changes in the course of Covid-19, that decision could be changed at any time. So as of right now, these are our plans to go forward for a safe, meaningful gathering on that day:
All are welcome, however we only ask you to attend if you feel comfortable doing so, and do not have any symptoms of illness.
We have worked hard to establish the following protocols to ensure everyone'e safety. Everyone attending will abide by these protocols; anyone who refuses will be asked to leave.
All participants MUST adhere to the established protocols - see them here:
We would like to have an idea of how many plan to attend. Please complete this short online form with the number of people from your household who will be attending. We ask that each household complete its own form.

Please note that while all participants are required to wear masks at all times, some of the worship leaders will remove their masks when speaking, but will be maintaining a safe distance of at least 30 feet from where the congregation will be seated while doing so.

If the service is cancelled due to weather or other issues, the congregation will be notified on Saturday, Aug. 29 - that information will be shared via email, Facebook, on our website and a message on the office phone.

If you have any questions about any of these plans, please contact us at

Communities of faith and people across the nation are joining the movement to confront the sins of racism and white supremacy, as we here at First Pres have been doing. The Presbyterian Church (USA) as a denomination has joined in doing that work through General Assembly actions earlier this summer and through the ongoing work of our national ministry agencies, following directives from the General Assembly.

One such initiative is the Presbyterian Week of Action, Aug. 24–30, an endeavor to provide a public witness that facilitates education, visibility and action that reinforces our PC(USA) statements and policy that support eradicating systemic racism.

The week of action will include, among other events, these of particular interest:

Tuesday, August 25: PC(USA) Town Hall Gathering
This is an opportunity to engage with theologians, community activists, pastors and practitioners on the intersectional work of anti-racism, how the PC(USA) in all its expressions grapples with the legacy of white supremacy and racism in our history and theology, finds ways to do prophetic and renewing work in current moments for racial justice, and how we can listen to and come alongside community and national leaders to show up together for racial justice. 
This event will be facilitated by the Rev. Denise Anderson, former co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the PC(USA), coordinator of Racial and Intercultural Justice; Samantha Davis, founder and executive director of Black Swan Academy; the Rev. Kamal Hassan, pastor of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond, CA; Chanelle Helm, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Louisville; the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Helsel, associate professor of homiletics at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; and Dr. William Yoo, associate professor of American Religious and Cultural History at Columbia Theological Seminary. 

The event will begin at 1:30 p.m. via Zoom. You can register here:

You can also view the Town Hall on PCUSA’s Facebook page: A recording of the session will also be available on their Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 26: FPCB Follow-up Conversation

First Pres will offer an opportunity to converse about the information shared in the Tuesday Town Hall. Via Zoom, we'll gather to discuss the themes and how they resonate for us as individuals and as a congregation. This event will begin at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

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

If you are interested in additional resources for this topic:

If you are interested in lively discussion about social justice, what the Bible says to us, and thoughtful, meditative readings, then the adult education group Hearts N Minds might be for you.

Over the years, the group has studied many different writers and subjects and we will continue on that path of respectful exploration starting Sunday, September 13. We will be gathering via Zoom until further notice.
Discussion leaders throw out questions to discuss as a whole or in breakout groups. Our first book is Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (Nelson Books, 2018; ISBN - 978-0-7180-2231-0). It is available new in paperback for $17 or there are plenty of used copies to buy.

Evans was a newspaper columnist (and best-selling author) who challenged conservative Christianity and gave voice to a generation of wandering evangelicals wrestling with their faith, before she died last year at a tragically young age.
Our book choice headed the best seller list for many months. Evans’ colleague wrote, “... (Rachel) proclaimed a more just and expansive vision of God’s love, to encourage others, and to amplify voices that are typically marginalized in the Church and in the world.”

We will then pick up Peter Enns's  (Harper One, 2014; ISBN 978-0-06-227202-7). There are used hardback (preferred) and paperback copies available. 
From the dustjacket: “Christians have had it drilled into them that their job is to defend the bible against any challenge. But is this really God’s plan? What if God wants us to debate and wrestle with what we read in scripture? (In this book) you will find a revolutionary guide that will liberate Christians so they can truly engage with God’s Word.”

Both books examine the authors’ spiritual journeys. We are all on a spiritual journey and our hope is that these books can act as guideposts.

You may remember the work of "Mask Force 2000", a community group that has been coordinating volunteer sewers and materials to supply masks in the Lehigh Valley.
First Pres will once again serve as a pick-up materials/drop-off masks location. It will be open:

Wednesdays: Aug. 25, Sept. 2
1-3 p.m.

The efforts will focus on making masks with a clear vinyl insert that are easier for folks with communication challenges.
If you are interested in picking up kits to sew the masks, come to the front of church to come inside and pick up. If you have questions or concerns please direct them to

For the second time, "Team We Focus" emerged as champions of our Parking Lot Trivia NIght - another great evening of fun and fellowship!

Thanks to the Congregational Life team for offering this event, and to Joanne Kelhart for lending her talents as MC. Our tech team, Kyle Steele and Aaron Kapes, had the sound system running smoothly.

The next one is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 17: come early at 6 p.m. with your picnic supper, with the trivia beginning at 7 p.m.
The team of Joanne Kelhart (MC), Sue Bennetch and Ginny Shunk (tabulators) kept things rolling along.
Team We Focus - Donna Knepp, Kerry Costello and Bob Costello (center) - defended their title.
We also invite you to ‘like’ BIG’s new Facebook page
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**
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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
  • 10:15-10:45 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.

  • Sunday, Aug. 30 at 10 a.m.: We are currently planning a Combined Worship service that will be offered outdoors at the front of the church building, as well as livestreamed. Check this article for details, and a link to sign up to let us know if you're planning to come.

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;