I am pleased to announce that the Session recently voted to recognize the Rev. Keith Brown’s extraordinary service as pastor to this congregation for decades by naming him Pastor Emeritus of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem. Keith’s gracious spirit, strong leadership, and deep faith are renowned, not simply in the life of this congregation but in the broader Presbyterian Church as well.
I remember people speaking of Keith as a model for pastoral leadership back when I was in seminary 20 years ago, particularly in terms of his emphasis on a faith that was not simply an intellectual exercise, but one grounded in deep spiritual commitment and personal engagement. Those values continue to carry weight for this congregation, and so I am excited that the Session has taken this step to celebrate Keith and bestow this honor upon him.
Before I say more about the day of celebration, though, I need to take a moment and explain exactly what it means (and does not mean) to be a “pastor emeritus” in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The title is an honor that the Session of a congregation may bestow on a living pastor who has demonstrated exceptional service and faithfulness during a significant tenure as pastor of that congregation. It is an honorary title, however, not a position!
I have learned that one of Keith’s well-known refrains as pastor was “well done, good and faithful servant.” This title is Session’s way of saying that back to him. But Keith is retired, and this title does not change that, so he will not be taking on any pastoral responsibilities (preaching, funerals, weddings, etc.) as a result of this recognition. In fact, PC(USA) church law does not permit retired pastors to take on such responsibilities, even if they are named pastor emeritus. It’s important that we are all clear about that, for Keith’s sake as much as anything! Instead, this is a particularly powerful way of thanking Keith for the many years of service that he has already given to this church.
With that clear, we are preparing to celebrate. Sunday, June 24 will be the day upon which this honor will be officially bestowed on Keith. There will be only one service, held at 9:45 AM in the Sanctuary, that day. With elements of both traditional and contemporary worship styles, we will recognize Keith during the service, following which we will have a light celebratory brunch for our fellowship time in the Kirk Center (which, unlike Fellowship Hall, is air-conditioned!).
I hope you will make a special effort to attend worship on June 24 and be a part of this celebration.
In Grace and Peace,