Rev. J.C. Austin

New Year’s greetings from First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, PCUSA! There has been a lot happening since we received word of Judge Baratta’s decision regarding the ownership of our church property at 2344 Center Street, and we want to continue to keep you informed as developments progress.

As you may have seen, last Thursday I reported in my weekly newsletter article that we had an initial transition planning meeting with members of the ECO congregation’s leadership to work on various transition issues. We spent several hours discussing various aspects of a space-sharing agreement that would last through at least Easter and be more mutually equitable than the arrangement that governed us from the split in June 2016 until the court ruling.

By the end of the meeting, we had resolved many issues, including that the Nursery School would continue to operate under PC(USA) oversight as it had for decades before the split, but that the building staff had decided to remain ECO employees. However, there were also several important questions that were still open, including the question of cost allocation, so we mutually agreed to meet again on January 16 and February 6 to continue working on the unresolved questions.

Two days after that meeting, ECO announced their plans to lease another church property for their midweek ministries, and this past Tuesday announced that they would be vacating the church property entirely after their services on Sunday, January 14. Before their Tuesday evening meeting, we fully expected to be hosting their Sunday worship services and administrative offices through at least Easter. Nevertheless, we have been making arrangements to secure the staff and systems necessary to oversee the usage and finances of the building, and on Tuesday, January 16, we will be back in full operational control of the property, with our staff back in the main office suite by the South Building entrance (the church property is closed on Monday, January 15, in observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday).

We have been trying to communicate with the various external groups that have been using the facilities since the new year to reassure them that we hope they will continue to utilize our space as they have been. If you are affiliated with such a group and have any questions, or know someone who does, please contact me at jc.austin@fpcb-pcusa.org.

Let me also remind you that we announced last week that this Sunday, January 14, our traditional worship service will move to its new starting time of 10:30 AM on Sundays in the Sanctuary. Childcare will be available for infants through age 4 in the Kirk Center during the service. Sunday School for pre-K through 5th grade (at the same time) will not begin until February 18, however. And for those who prefer a contemporary worship service, we have been making preparations to launch a new service, and will have more to say about that very soon. We thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue to live into this exciting and challenging time in the life of our church and we ask that you continue to keep those on both sides of this conflict in your prayers.

Finally, I want to extend a very special invitation to anybody who has ever considered themselves to be a member or friend of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem. Come to worship at 10:30 a.m. this Sunday! This is an extraordinary moment in the life of our congregation. For over 140 years, this congregation has been a faithful and energetic witness for Christ in Bethlehem and well beyond as part of the Presbyterian Church (USA). As we begin this next chapter of mission and ministry together, now is the perfect time to once again “come and see” all the good things that Christ is up to in this congregation. I hope to see you on Sunday!

Grace and Peace,