As hopefully you already know, this Sunday we are holding the annual meetings of the congregation and corporation of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem immediately following the combined worship service at 10 a.m. in the Sanctuary.

As I mentioned in my newsletter article last week, the most Rev JC Austinimportant thing we will “do” is elect a new class of Elders, Deacons, and Trustees, as well as members of the Congregational Nominating Committee for next year. But before we talk about what else happens in these meetings, I want to explain briefly why we do these meetings at all and why there are actually two meetings in one day.

First, while we often talk about the “annual meeting” happening in January each year, it is actually plural: we hold the annual meetings of the congregation and corporation of the church. What does that mean? Well, the annual meeting of the congregation is pretty much what it sounds like: the Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is a crucial part of our church Constitution, requires the congregation to meet at least once a year, and so our practice here at First Presbyterian of Bethlehem is to do that around the end of January.

This allows the Congregational Nominating Committee to do its work in nominating new officers in the fall and present the slate for election at the beginning of the new calendar year. This is the primary purpose of the annual meeting of the congregation. In the Presbyterian Church, the congregation decides very few things directly apart from who is called to leadership in the congregation; the Session, made up of Elders serving in three-year terms, makes almost all of the decisions in the life of the church (the pastors, on the other hand, really only get to decide the content of the worship services on their own!). And so while the Session will make a report to the congregation in the meeting, the congregation will only very rarely be asked to take any action in response to that report.

So what is the “corporation,” then? Well, in the United States churches are religious communities, of course, but they are also corporate nonprofit organizations that have the legal power to own property, make investments in the financial markets, and so on. In the Presbyterian Form of Government, the Trustees of this corporation can be the Session itself, or the Trustees can be other individuals elected to serve by the congregation, but under the authority and direction of the Session.

In many ways, it is easiest to think of the Trustees as a sort of “super-committee” of the Session: the Session essentially delegates operational authority to the Trustees in terms of the management of the church property, endowments and other invested and reserve funds, insurance issues, some legal matters, etc., but the Session reviews their work and has the final say on it.

Thus, we will actually hold both meetings this Sunday, congregation and corporation. We will recess the congregational meeting temporarily in order to convene the corporation meeting, at which point the Board of Trustees will moderate the meeting for reports about their work. Then we will adjourn the corporation meeting and resume the congregational meeting once more. At that point, we’ll start talking about hopes and plans for 2023 and beyond as part of the Session report.

And finally, you will be asked to act on proposed changes to the terms of call for myself and Lindsey; while the Session has already reviewed compensation for non-ordained staff, only you as the congregation can act on that for installed pastors.

Throughout both meetings, after each report has been made, you will have opportunities to ask any questions about those reports, and we will do our best to answer those. I look forward to being with you this Sunday, either in-person or online!

Grace and peace,