A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: On this journey together

This Sunday will mark the start of the ninth week that we’ve been a fully digital church. In that time, we’ve found ways to authentically worship together, including celebrating Communion; we’ve moved existing ministries of education and service online and started new ones; our Deacons have attempted to check in with every member of the congregation multiple times by phone; we’ve even held a congregational meeting online! It has been an extraordinary journey so far: filled with joy and sorrow, difficult losses and surprising blessings, bold decisions and happy accidents.

At this two-month mark, it is not clear when things will substantially change again for our life together. As you know, the Governor of Pennsylvania’s plan for “re-opening” the state includes three phases, coded by color. In the Lehigh Valley, we are in the red phase now, which means we are still under a stay-at-home order.

The yellow phase, moving from stay-at-home to “aggressive mitigation,” means that even in that phase, groups of more than 25 people at once could not gather, which obviously impacts all of our pre-pandemic Sunday worship services. In anticipation of that move, whenever it comes, the Session has already begun exploring the most faithful and responsible ways for us to respond to it, and there is much left to consider. But we are beginning now so that we will have a plan when the possibility of a change arrives.

However, there is at least one thing that is very clear. The last two months have proven that we can remain a faithful and impactful congregation under these extraordinary circumstances, continuing to fulfill our mission and living out our core values in profound and powerful ways through our worship, education, service, and life together as we adapt to our changing circumstances.

So I want to suggest three important ways that everyone can be exercising their own ministry as part of our congregation’s mission, regardless of the circumstances we are in:

  • Pray. Continue to pray for our community and world, for the essential workers who are shouldering such heavy and dangerous burdens, and for those who are particularly vulnerable in the fallout of this pandemic. And pray for the Session as they continually seek to discern God’s will for us in responding to this pandemic, and for our staff and volunteers who are serving so powerfully and well in so many ways in this moment.
  • Share. Social media is more powerful than ever right now as a tool for connection and support, and people are hungry for good news. So if you are on Facebook, please make a special effort to share our livestream worship feeds on your own page; on Sunday mornings, as well as our other Facebook posts. Make a comment when you do so, as this makes the post visible to more people under Facebook’s algorithms.If you are not on Facebook, consider joining, at least for the duration of the pandemic. If you’d like assistance with that, we can help you; just send a request to info@fpc-bethlehem.org and we will pair you with a “tech buddy” who can help you decide how much information you want to share in setting up your page so you do not feel like you’re taking unwanted risks.
  • Give. We have never been busier or more impactful as a congregation in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in word and action than we are right now, and that will continue to be the case. Your generous gifts of money, time, energy, and love are crucial to our ability to do that. You can continue to give financially through an electronic bank transfer (ACH), through a gift using our new online giving portal or simply by mailing in a check.You can give your time and energy by sending a message to info@fpc-bethlehem.org to either volunteer for a particular program, such as our Meal Ministry to those for whom shopping is dangerous or cooking is difficult, or simply to say, “I’d like to help, but I’m not sure how…”.And you can give your love simply by writing a note, picking up the phone, or suggesting a video meeting to others in the congregation or the larger community so you can ask them how they are, assure them you are praying for them, and tell them you look forward to seeing them in person as soon as that’s appropriate. Contact us at info@fpc-bethlehem.org if you need help setting up a video meeting – we’re glad to help!

It has been one of the great joys and privileges of my life and ministry to be your pastor as we have responded to this crisis together as a congregation with love, courage, compassion, and hope. Wherever the next steps lead us, I am grateful for us to be on this journey together, and I am certain that God will continue to bless us and lead us as we do so.

Grace and peace,