A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Recap of Congregational Meeting and Town Hall

As you know, we held a Congregational Meeting last Sunday in which the congregation elected Polly Beste to an unexpired term on the Session and Sally Ross to an open term on the Congregational Nominating Committee. Please join me in thanking the two of them for accepting those calls and the Congregational Nominating Committee for its faithful work in nominating them!

We also changed the bylaws of the congregation to re-establish a Board of Trustees to manage various aspects of the congregation’s financial affairs; the Congregational Nominating Committee will be bringing a slate to nominate for the Trustees along with new Elders, Deacons, and the Nominating Committee membership itself at the Annual Congregational Meeting early in the new year.

In addition to that business, we held a Town Hall meeting in which I reported on some of what the Session, in particular, has been focusing on over the last six months, as our congregational life and mission continues to grow rapidly in this new era. So I thought I would recap some of that work here in case you were not able to attend the meeting, since we are striving for a congregational culture that prizes transparency and open communication from our leadership.

I started off by saying that I think we’ve moved definitively from the phase of “building the plane as we’re flying it” that characterized the first phase of our rebuilding work in the aftermath of the departure of those who left First Pres to form Grace Church Bethlehem in another denomination. Having newly articulated our Mission and Core Values and established a set of mission priorities for the next two-three years, the Session is focused on pursuing that vision strategically.

In fact, that is where the recommendation to re-establish a Board of Trustees came from, so that the Session could focus on the work of pursuing our mission strategy without being overly burdened by issues of institutional management. In doing so, this has allowed the Session to take up a focus on “engagement,” meaning how we reach out to people who aren’t engaged in the life and ministry of this church and help us to know who we are, what we do and stand for, and how they can deepen their own lives of faith by participating in the ministry of First Pres.

I then described some of the other special projects the Session has been working on through a collection of Task Forces. A Worship Task Force has completed its work and confirmed that we will continue our Sunday morning commitments to hold a 9 a.m. Contemporary Service and a 10:30 a.m. Traditional Service, and with four-five services a year that will combine elements of both into a single service. We are also exploring the possibilities of offering a different kind of worship experience during the week.

A Preschool Task Force has done excellent work in strengthening the connection between our Preschool and the larger church. A Branding Task Force is working on how to help us project our identity, mission, and values into the community. And a Facilities Usage Task Force is exploring how we can utilize the extraordinary resource of our building in ways that are both mission-focused and financially sustainable. It continues to be a time of extraordinary creativity and faithfulness here at First Pres as we seek to follow Christ into the future to which he is calling us!

I concluded by sharing four ways that every member and friend of First Pres can be focusing their own ministry right now:

  1. Generosity of prayer – keep the congregation and the Session in constant prayer so that we may be bold and faithful in everything we do to pursue Christ’s mission for us
  2. Generosity of time and hands – find (or help create!) at least one place in the life of the church where you can actively exercise your own ministry according to your own gifts and call
  3. Generosity of resources – fulfill the pledges you have already made; fulfill each member’s responsibility to support the larger mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) with your $36 gift; and consider whether you can make additional gifts in 2019 to ensure we finish this year strong in terms of our ministry and finances
  4. Generosity of spirit – continue to build up each other with love, support, and open communication as we live and serve together in this extraordinary community of faith

I am both honored and humbled to be called as pastor of this congregation, and I am constantly energized by the opportunities and possibilities that God has set before us to embody Christ’s love, justice, and peace in the world through our life together right here and now. Thanks be to God!

Grace and Peace,