First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem has announced that it will celebrate the long and faithful leadership of the Rev. Keith Brown by naming him Pastor Emeritus. It is the first designation of its kind in the more than 140-year history of the church.
The church’s session declared that it was creating the honorary position to “recognize a special man who shepherded and served this congregation with honor, integrity, and bountiful love. Bestowing the title of Pastor Emeritus is a way to demonstrate our respect and gratitude for Keith Brown’s pastoral ministry.”
A special worship service has been scheduled for Sunday, June 24, at 9:45 a.m., during which the title of Pastor Emeritus will be bestowed. There will be only one service that day and a light brunch will follow. Anyone who has ever been touched by Keith Brown’s preaching or ministry is encouraged to attend.
As part of this celebration, a special memory album will be presented to Rev. Brown. Contributions of items for the album–cards, notes, or photographs–will be accepted at the church’s office until June 15.
Keith Brown’s ministry at First Pres began in September 1969, when he was named Pastor of Adult Education, under Senior Pastor Lloyd Ogilvie.
When Rev. Ogilvie was called to the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California, as well as ministries in television and in the United States Senate, a nationwide pastoral search began to find his replacement. The Search Committee reviewed hundreds of potential candidates but also heard the voices of hundreds of members of the congregation calling attention to the special wisdom, humility, and maturity of Keith Brown’s preaching.
Initially, the Search Committee’s desire to add Keith Brown’s name as a candidate for Senior Pastor was adamantly refused by the young pastor, who pleaded that he lacked the required ability and experience for the position.
Finally, after much prayer and a unanimous decision by the Search Committee, Rev. Brown accepted the call and was installed as Senior Pastor in September 1972.
He has often told the story: “I was a wreck. My hands were shaking and my knees were knocking. But, I made a deal with God. I said ‘I will accept this call if You will surround me with people with enough talent, care, and love to help me succeed.’ And did He ever!”
In the next few years, an extraordinary staff including Thomas Tewell, Mary Faith Carson, David Dorst, Greg Funfgeld, Bonnie Agard, Dick Ferguson, and many others joined Rev. Brown and helped him oversee a period of remarkable growth and spiritual development at the church.
Rev. Brown’s ministry at FPCB spanned more than 30 years (1969-2000).
His pastoral leadership of the church–including a 9-year period when he shared co-pastorship with Rev. Gareth Icenogle–spanned 27 years, a tenure matched in the history of the church only by the service of Rev. James Robinson in the early 1900s.
His years of service to the church were distinguished by a deepened commitment to relational theology and koinonia, a concept of Christian fellowship that encourages honest, substantive relationships and a devotion to the spiritual growth of the community.
In announcing the Pastor Emeritus position, Pastor J.C. Austin stressed that the title was one of honor and gratitude for Rev. Brown’s service, without any obligations on the retired pastor.
Repeating a quote from the Gospel of Matthew to underscore the purpose of the honor, Rev. Austin said that it means “as one of Keith’s favorite verses says, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!'”