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Pastor’s Message: Oct. 16, 2020

A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: RESPONDING AS A CONGREGATION

It has been said that any budget is a “moral document,” meaning that it articulates the moral priorities and values of those who created and administrate that budget. Jesus agreed with that idea when he taught that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). We invest in the things that matter most to us, in other words, whether it is a family budget, a church budget, or a governmental one.

In fact, for the church, I would argue that the budget is not only a moral document, but also a theological statement of faith: it describes what and how we feel called to respond to God’s gracious love through our mission as congregation and our life and ministry together and in service to others in the world.

Even so, it’s also important to understand what that statement reflects; what moral commitments they actually describe. Like most churches, the two largest “buckets” of expenses in our church budget are our facilities and our staff. But we do not invest in either of them simply to have beautiful buildings or a quality staff; rather, both are invaluable assets and crucial resources for us to utilize in accomplishing our mission as a congregation.

We have an intentionally “lean” staff model, and not just because of costs. Rather, one of the first and clearest messages I heard when I arrived as pastor was that First Pres wants to be a “member-driven” church in terms of its ministry, and so we don’t hire or call people to do the ministry of the church, but rather to provide particular expertise and labor to inform, equip, empower, support and catalyze the ministry of our members and our congregation as a whole.

Similarly, as much as we love the facilities that we have at 2344 Center Street, we do not possess and maintain them as an end to themselves, but rather as a resource that helps us support our mission through our ministries of worship, learning, community-building, and service. Ironically, this has been more visible than ever during the pandemic, in which the buildings have largely been shut down but from which we have continued to reach out in love and support.

Some of these ways include our livestream worship, our hosting of groups like MaskForce 2020 responding to urgent needs for Personal Protective Equipment in the pandemic, and outdoor gathering space for worship, community-building activities like the summer Trivia Nights, the Preschool and Extended Care program, and even to serve our community through projects like the recent virtual CROP Hunger Walk and Blessing of the Animals.

If you have not already received it, you will shortly be receiving an update on your financial pledge to support the mission and ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem for 2020. These updates show what the church has recorded in terms of your gifts for 2020, and what remains on your pledge for 2020.

As you review those documents, first check for any discrepancies between your records and ours, and let our Business Manager, Marianne Zarillo, know by emailing her or calling the Church Office and leaving a message. Second, make a plan for catching up on your pledge if you are behind from the summer months; we are behind budget on expected income from pledges at this point, and we want to end the year strong so that we can begin 2021 from a position of strength as well.

Alternatively, if something has happened that requires you to revise your pledge, please let the church office know. Your change will be held in confidence, but we know that some of you have seen your income cut or lost as a result of the recession that has accompanied the pandemic, and if that has happened to you, your pledge should change also, and that helps us to budget for the remainder of
the year.

And finally, many of you have not suffered an income loss during the pandemic, and in fact, those whose income comes primarily from investments may even find themselves in better shape than they expected at the beginning of the year as a reflection of the stock market. If that is the case, an additional gift above your pledge would make a significant impact on our church’s vitality in this final quarter of 2020, literally shouldering the burdens of others in the church who have found their resources cut back because of the pandemic.

Wherever and however you find yourself economically at this point, thank you for your ministry and support of our mission as a congregation. I believe we are living out a powerful witness together to Christ’s love, compassion, justice, and peace. Though we are living through challenging times, we are responding as a congregation with resilience, creativity, concern, and hope. I look forward to seeing the fruit our ministry continues to bear through the end of 2020, and to the fruit that will follow from the seeds we are already planting now!

Grace and peace,
JC

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