If you are someone who is trying to decide how to respond to the recent developments in the aftermath of the court ruling on the property of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, this message is to you. First and foremost, I want to invite you to a Town Hall meeting in Fellowship Hall after the 10:30 am worship service on Sunday, February 11, where you can hear about some of the exciting things happening in the life of this congregation and ask any questions you may have about the congregation or the PC(USA) denomination in terms of mission, theology, and ministry, or anything else.
We’ve called this Town Hall meeting, and I am sending you this message, because this is a time of both great excitement and some confusion, and there are many people who have worshipped and served here at 2344 Center Street that are still trying to decide where to make their church home. If you are one of those people, I want to encourage you to give yourself the grace of time for discernment.
It has been suggested that the PC(USA) leadership has asked that people who are participating in the life of the ECO congregation write us to remove themselves from our membership rolls and communications. That is incorrect. Now, it is true that if you have made a firm and final decision to affiliate exclusively with ECO, you can do that if you choose to and we will respond to it. The same is true if you have made a firm decision to join us and wish to be removed from ECO’s rolls. But if you are like so many people who are just trying to make sense of all this and see what seems like the best church home for you, we would actually encourage you not to rush to a decision. The question of how you can best follow Jesus is a large and important question; take the time to answer it well, and I know the Holy Spirit will make your path clear.
Obviously, I hope that the Spirit will bring you back here! There are extraordinary things happening rapidly in the life of the PC(USA) congregation now that we have access to the space necessary for a flourishing church. A new contemporary service began just last week at 9 am on Sundays; hundreds of people are coming to our traditional service now that it is at 10:30 am; Sunday School for children is already rolling out; middle and high school youth ministries will be launched soon. And much more is on the way. So, I hope you will “come and see,” as Philip encourages Nathanael in the first chapter of John. But if you’re uncertain yet where the Spirit is leading you, then I encourage you to see what is happening in the life of the ECO congregation, as well; I am sure they have stories for you to hear and opportunities for you to consider, and you should do so. I am confident that, with time and prayer, the Spirit will lead you wherever you should go.
If you have specific questions, or you simply want to talk about this congregation or the PC(USA) as a denomination, let me know! Email is the best way to reach me (JAustin@FPC-Bethlehem.org) because I am often not at my desk, but you can also try me at 610-867-5865, extension 213. However, I hope you will make a special effort to attend the Town Hall meeting in Fellowship Hall after the 10:30 am worship service on Sunday, February 11; I encourage you to bring your questions, your family, and your friends to that gathering so that you can hear not only the answers to your questions, but those of others that you haven’t thought to ask!
In the meantime, I ask that you keep both congregations in your prayers, and I hope to meet you soon when you come and see what is happening now at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. J.C. Austin, Pastor/Head of Staff
First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem