A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Signs of hope and renewal

This Sunday is the third Sunday of the season of Easter, which is fitting, because images and experiences of resurrection are all around us!

In the natural world, the trees and flowers are in full bloom as spring firmly takes hold in the earth and air. In our society, while there is still a long way to go, the opening of vaccinations to everyone 16 years old and older is a major milestone in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and the slow but steady rise in vaccination rates is cause for hope and anticipation that we can “return forward” to lives in which mitigating the risk of infection is not the defining dynamic of our interactions with others.

And in our congregation, the warmer months promise greater opportunities for us to safely gather in person outdoors for worship, community, and service. This Sunday, in fact, is our next Combined Outdoor Worship Service at 11 a.m. (with a livestream option, of course, for those who are not able to attend in person for whatever reason).

As we celebrate these signs of hope and renewal, as we move in and through this time of anticipation for the future, it is also a time of preparation to embrace that future when it arrives. The Session and the Board of Trustees, along with their committees and task forces, continue to be deeply engaged in strategizing and preparing for resuming activities inside our church facilities when the danger of the pandemic has abated sufficiently to do so both faithfully and responsibly.

At the same time, we are also looking to expand our ministries in and to and with the larger community of Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley, well beyond our facilities, which have also been curtailed for safety reasons during the pandemic.

The mission statement of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem calls us to exactly this sort of faithful, dynamic, and creative scope of ministries, both within our buildings and out in our community:

As a diverse and joyful community of Christ’s followers, we explore how God’s gracious love
gives meaning to our lives and faith and inspires us to address the needs of our world. Through
our worship, learning, and service, God fills us with purpose, compassion, courage, and hope.

That mission is perhaps more important than ever at this stage of the pandemic and in this time for our community and world: God fills us with purpose, compassion, courage, and hope not so we can possess them for ourselves, but so we can be strengthened in our life and ministry as individuals and as a congregation and share them with others.

Your own generosity of your financial and spiritual gifts is crucial to helping us fulfill that mission. As we enter the second quarter of 2021, there is much hope and much transition before us, and we want to enter that time as strong as we can be as a congregation. So, if you have already made a financial pledge to support this church’s mission in 2021, you should be receiving a quarterly statement of your giving record soon. Please take a moment to review it and make sure that our records match yours, and that your giving is on track to fulfill your pledge by the end of the year.

In addition, I want to ask you to consider whether, at this point in the year, you can increase your pledge to help us better meet the demands of preparing for the welcome transition into onsite and in-person ministry when the risk of the pandemic has sufficiently abated; your extra gifts now will have a major impact in making that not simply a smooth transition, but a powerful one in terms of the impact of our ministry.

And finally, if you have not yet made a pledge for your giving in 2021, I want to ask you to give that significant thought and prayer. We will be sending out pledge cards shortly to members who have not yet made a pledge for 2021, so you can be thinking about what that pledge should be now and return the pledge card promptly when you receive it.

In any case, thank you for your continued faithfulness to Jesus Christ in and through your ministry in this congregation. In this season of Easter, let us continue to proclaim that Christ is indeed risen, and to look for ways in which we can live out a resurrection faith together!

Grace and Peace,