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Important Events and Messages

Events

An update from the Session re: public health protocols at FPC

June 18, 2021

Dear friends in Christ,

On Thursday, June 17, the session held its first in-person meeting since March 12, 2020. It was a joyful occasion, and we began our time together in the sanctuary, where we mediated on Scripture and spent time together praying for the church, the world, and for you. We rejoice that local public health conditions continue to improve, and we pray that the end of the pandemic is near.

At the same time, we are mindful that Georgia’s Public Health State of Emergency declared by Governor Kemp remains in effect through June 29, and the Declaration of a Local Emergency declared by the Athens-Clarke County Commission remains in effect through July 9.

In view of these facts, the session has made the following changes to our public health protocols at First Presbyterian Church:

  • All capacity limits for indoor in-person gatherings are discontinued.
  • We rejoice that many of our FPC members and friends have been fully vaccinated.
  • We rejoice that the Centers for Disease Control advises that indoor gatherings where all participants are fully vaccinated may resume without COVID-19 mitigation protocols.
  • We are mindful that at present, children under the age of 12 and adults who have certain medical conditions are unable to be vaccinated, and we note the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the church to “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9)
  • Therefore, for services of worship and indoor gatherings where it is not possible or practical to ascertain the vaccination status of those present, we request that face masks continue to be worn until Athens-Clarke County is no longer under a public health emergency declaration. When the emergency orders expire or are rescinded, all remaining COVID-19 public health protocols will be lifted.

The elders, pastors, and staff continue to give thanks for your prayers and your patience as we draw ever closer to the end of the pandemic. As the writer of Ephesians exhorts us, let us continue to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3).

Peace be with you and yours,

Dr. Ryan Baer

Senior Pastor

May 14, 2021

Dear friends in Christ,

At the stated meeting on May 13, upon the recommendation of our FPC COVID-19 Task Force, the Session adopted the following changes to our church protocols:

  • Just before our meeting was called to order, we received the joyful news that the Centers for Disease Control has declared that fully vaccinated persons can now safely gather indoors without masks. However, the CDC also directs all persons to follow the advice and directions of local officials. On April 30, Governor Kemp issued an executive order in which he recommended that all residents and visitors to Georgia to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing through May 30. On May 4, the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government extended the local declaration of emergency and mask ordinance through June 13. While opinions about masks vary widely, we do not claim a bona fide religious objection to wearing a mask, so we will continue to request that all persons wear masks while inside the building so long as the local mask ordinance remains in effect.
  • Capacity for in-person activities in the building has been raised from 100 to 200 (approximately 50% of sanctuary capacity), and the advance reservation requirement for in-person worship is discontinued. The ushers will count as worshipers arrive, and if the 200 limit is reached, ushers will direct latecomers to overflow seating in Atrium and/or Fellowship Hall Breakout Room.
  • Post-worship coffee and refreshments will resume on the front porch of the atrium, weather permitting.
  • Contactless passing of the peace, offering plates, and communion will continue for now.
  • Indoor vocal ensembles and indoor congregational singing will remain suspended for now, pending more information and advice from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Choral Directors’ Association. We know that singing is a vital part of our communal worship life, and we hope to resume it again as soon as it is reasonably safe to do so.
  • Nursery care will reopen June 6 for infants through age 3, with appropriate safety protocols in place. As always, children of all ages are welcomed and encouraged to be in worship.

The situation remains fluid, and the elders, pastors, and staff continue to give thanks for your prayers and your patience as we draw closer to the end of the pandemic. As the writer of Ephesians exhorts us, let us continue to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3).

Peace be with you and yours,

Dr. Ryan Baer
Senior Pastor

April 16, 2021

Dear friends in Christ,

Yesterday evening (April 15, 2021), the Session received and approved a recommendation from the FPC COVID Task Force to make some adjustments to our public health emergency protocols effective immediately.

  • The maximum size for indoor gatherings in the church has been raised from 50 to 100 people. For now, the reservation system for in-person attendance at worship services will continue.
  • Temperature checks have been discontinued.
  • The request to refrain from participating in liturgical responses has been lifted.
  • In-person meetings for both internal and external groups may resume upon receiving scheduling clearance via the church office.

While we are all overjoyed that we have reached the point in the public health emergency that we can make these changes, some public health protocols will remain in place for now.

  • In compliance with the most recent Athens-Clarke County Unified Government emergency order, all persons must wear masks while inside the building and continue to practice appropriate distancing measures.
  • Worshipers are still asked to refrain from singing, and vocal ensembles remain temporarily suspended.
  • Our 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning worship time will remain in effect through the remainder of the spring and summer. We are targeting Sunday, August 22, for the resumption of the 8:45 and 11:00 a.m. worship services.

The elders, pastors, and staff continue to give thanks for your prayers and your patience as we draw closer to the end of the pandemic. As the writer of Ephesians exhorts us, let us continue to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3).

Peace be with you and yours,

Dr. Ryan Baer
Senior Pastor

October 14, 2020

Dear friends in Christ,

The session has been closely monitoring the latest available public health data and relying upon recommendations from our own COVID-19 Task Force. Based on the latest available information, the session has approved a plan for resuming in-person worship on a limited basis beginning Sunday, November 8.

It’s important to note that Governor Kemp’s public health emergency orders remain in effect statewide, and until the emergency passes, in-person worship will necessarily be different. The current plans are as follows:

  • Anyone who is feeling ill, has been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 in the previous 14 days, or is considered to be at high-risk from adverse effects of COVID-19 should continue participating in the life of the church online until the public health emergency has passed.
  • Governor Kemp’s latest emergency orders limit indoor gatherings to a capacity of 50, and while religious organizations are exempt from this limit, we will abide by it. Should there be high demand for in-person worship in the month of November, the session will consider adjusting the schedule for December.
  • Each week, online registration for in-person worship will open at 9:00 a.m. on the prior Monday morning and will close at 10:00 a.m. on the prior Saturday morning. Every attendee must pre-register.
  • All persons except for infants and toddlers are required to wear a mask over the nose and mouth while on church property. (Worship leaders may be exempt from this policy at the discretion of the Senior Pastor.)
  • Children of all ages are welcome, but nursery care and children’s church are suspended until the public health emergency has passed.
  • While the parking decks along Dougherty Street will be open, all attendees must enter and exit the church through the Hancock Avenue entrance, where greeters will check in your party and conduct temperature checks.
  • While on church property, all persons are required to practice appropriate physical distancing from anyone who is not a member of their immediate household. To ensure appropriate distancing, the balcony and some pews will be closed.
  • In-person attendees are asked to refrain from singing and participating in responsive readings.

We close with these words of encouragement from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be know to everyone. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4-5)

May the peace of Christ be with you and yours,

The Session of First Presbyterian Church of Athens

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Summer 2021 Pastoral Letter from Dr. Ryan Baer

May 2021

Dear friends in Christ,

The month of May marks the anniversary of my ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. I don’t remember the sermon or the prayers that were said that day, although I’m sure they were thoughtful and eloquent. What I remember so vividly is the sensation of the weight of the hands upon my head and shoulders.

In our Presbyterian way of being the church, whenever women and men are ordained to the offices of Deacon, Elder, or the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, they are invited to come forward and kneel while those previously ordained gather around them and lay their hands upon them, symbolizing the apostolic ministry of the Church. Then, the whole congregation prays for the Spirit’s wisdom to guide and sustain those being ordained in their ministry.

When we ordain women and men to the offices of the church, it’s not solely an act of the local congregation; it’s an act of the whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). When we ordain people at First Presbyterian Church, those in the sanctuary are acting on behalf of well over a million Presbyterians across the nation.

I will never forget the feeling of both the warmth and the weight of those hands upon my head and shoulders as I knelt and the congregation prayed over me. After the prayer was concluded, I stood up, and then a colleague in ministry charged me to be always on the lookout for God’s “fingerprints,” and to point them out to people wherever and whenever I came across them.

Within the pages of this edition of Summer@First, you will learn more about the Matthew 25 initiative of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in which the entire Church is called to come together around three missional foci: building congregational vitality, eradicating systemic poverty, and dismantling structural racism.

As I think about the critical theological, moral, and ethical tasks before the Church in the coming years, it strikes me that God is already in the world doing these things. God is in the business of building vital congregations. God is in the business of eradicating poverty. God is in the business of tearing down the dividing walls of racism. As Presbyterians, we believe that God moves in the world, and we respond. Matthew 25’s foci aren’t “new initiatives” so much as they are places where Presbyterians across the nation have seen the evidence of God’s “fingerprints” already at work in the world, and we are joining our hands and hearts together as one Church in the work that God is already doing.

I’m prayerful that you will engage thoughtfully and prayerfully with the bible study materials provided within these pages. Bible study is best done in community in “real time,” but such is life in the waning days of the pandemic. As you read, should you have questions or insights as you engage with the material, I’d welcome the chance to have a conversation with you.

Peace be with you and yours,

Ryan Baer,
Senior Pastor

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Livestream Calendar

Upcoming services:

June 27 – Acts 5:27-42
An angel released the apostles from prison. Gamaliel advised, “Leave these men alone.”
Service will be live-streamed via Facebook and YouTube. For instructions on how to follow services through our Facebook page, click here. For YouTube, click here

July 4 – Acts 6:1-7
The disciples chose seven men to distribute food.

July 11 – Acts 8:26-40
Philip baptized an Ethiopian official.

July 18 – Acts 9:1-22
Saul went to arrest the believers. Jesus said, “Why do you persecute me?” Saul was baptized and began preaching.

July 25 – Acts 10:23-48
Cornelius sent for Peter. The Lord said to Peter, “Do not call them unclean.” Peter preached to the Gentiles and the Spirit fell.

August 1 – Acts 15:1-29
Some men taught circumcision for the Gentiles. Peter said, “God gave the Spirit with no distinction.”

August 8 – Acts 17:16-33
In Athens Paul said, “I proclaim the God who gives life to all. He will judge the world.”

August 15 – Acts 19:23-41
Paul laid his hands on the disciples at Ephesus to receive the Holy Spirit. Demetrius, a silversmith, started a riot in the city.

In response to the crisis that has unfolded, services will be live-streamed via the church Facebook and YouTube. Members and friends are encouraged in the strongest possible terms to stay home and worship online.

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Summer@First Worship Schedule

June 27 – Acts 5:27-42
An angel released the apostles from prison. Gamaliel advised, “Leave these men alone.”

July 4 – Acts 6:1-7
The disciples chose seven men to distribute food.

July 11 – Acts 8:26-40
Philip baptized an Ethiopian official.

July 18 – Acts 9:1-22
Saul went to arrest the believers. Jesus said, “Why do you persecute me?” Saul was baptized and began preaching.

July 25 – Acts 10:23-48
Cornelius sent for Peter. The Lord said to Peter, “Do not call them unclean.” Peter preached to the Gentiles and the Spirit fell.

August 1 – Acts 15:1-29
Some men taught circumcision for the Gentiles. Peter said, “God gave the Spirit with no distinction.”

August 8 – Acts 17:16-33
In Athens Paul said, “I proclaim the God who gives life to all. He will judge the world.”

August 15 – Acts 19:23-41
Paul laid his hands on the disciples at Ephesus to receive the Holy Spirit. Demetrius, a silversmith, started a riot in the city.

In response to the crisis that has unfolded, services will be live-streamed via the church Facebook and YouTube. Members and friends are encouraged in the strongest possible terms to stay home and worship online.

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Chair Yoga

Join Mel Berzack for a Yoga practice via Zoom on Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. You will need a practical chair (preferably no arm rests or side restrictions) and (if you have one) a mat for a small amount of standing poses. The practice will be around one hour-long. All are welcome.
Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. via Zoom
Zoom ID: 558-324-3907 (New PW: 6136)

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Family Promise Host Week Volunteers Needed!

Family Promise families returned to First Presbyterian last Sunday (June 13) and will be staying in The Pit area for two consecutive weeks. The First Presbyterian/CCI Family Promise team is still in need of volunteers to fill several openings. There are multiple preventive safety measures in place that include volunteers being stationed and sleeping in a separate church area, using a separate entrance, and other protocols. If you can help out, please sign up here or contact Susan Boatwright or Jean Bock.

Thank you for your continued support of Family Promise!

Susan Boatwright and Jean Bock
Family Promise Coordinators.

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Community Conversations on Matthew 25
Sundays beginning June 6 at 7:00 p.m. via Zoom (ID: 706-543-4338)

In January 2021, First Presbyterian Church joined the Matthew 25 initiative, a denomination-wide effort focused on building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. This summer, we invite the congregation to learn more about Matthew 25 through weekly reading and reflection. On Sunday nights, starting today, June 6, we’ll host a community conversation using the study materials in the Summer@First program guide mailed earlier this spring. The Summer Study will be the foundation for more opportunities to learn and grow together beginning in the fall when we are back together again in person.

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Montreat Women’s Connection Conference, August 13-15

Sign up to stay at the Georgia Lodge extended to July 15

Two nights at Georgia Lodge: $65

Women Connection Conference Registration: $237 before June 28 and $262 after

Allee, allee, oxen free! Come out, come out, wherever you are. We’re calling all First Presbyterian women to come out from sequestering from the pandemic, from the rigors of everyday life during this unsettling and perilous year. Join with other women at a wonderful retreat at Montreat—the Women’s Connection Conference. Invite your friends and family. They don’t need to be Presbyterian to attend.

Those of us who attended the Women’s Connection Conference at Montreat in 2018 and 2019 found our time in the mountains with like-minded women stimulating, relaxing, and rewarding. This year the keynoter is Jen Hatmaker, a dynamic speaker who is popular with young and older women alike.

Montreat is encouraging all attendees to be vaccinated. They are observing CDC and NC state policy on mask wearing and other safety precautions.

Again this year we have reserved the Georgia Lodge for any of our members and their guests who would like to go to the conference. In 2019 we shared the Georgia Lodge with another congregation. We would like to have enough people sign up to use the entire lodge ourselves this year. In order to meet our goal, we have extended the sign-up date to July 15.

Meals will be a combination of eating out and taking food for Saturday lunch. You can sign up to stay at the Georgia Lodge here. Registration and information for the Women’s Connection Conference can be found at https://montreat.org/events/wc2021.

Please email Carol McKay at carol_mckay@att.net if you have any questions. Click here for a flyer with additional information.

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Bereavement Group

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Mt 5:4) Are you doing the hard work of processing grief following the death of a loved one? Let us walk that road together. We are mindful that bereavement has been uniquely challenging for those whose loved ones have died amidst the pandemic. We also know there is no neat timeline for processing grief, so we welcome all who grieve, no matter how long it has been. If you are interested in receiving additional group/individual support in processing such a loss, please contact Rev. Margaret Davis. Once we know who is interested, we’ll consult together on the ideal format, via some combination of phone, zoom, and socially distanced masked outdoor visits.

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Messages

Sabbatical

I am excited and grateful for the sabbatical leave the Session approved for me this summer. In his book, Planning Sabbaticals: A Guide for Congregations and Their Pastors, Robert C. Saler states that a pastoral sabbatical is “an extended period of time in which the pastor is away from the congregation pursuing a variety of intentionally renewing activities.” (p. 4). He contrasts pastoral sabbaticals, which are about regaining energy and focus and connection to inner spiritual resources, with academic sabbaticals which are product-oriented (like writing a book or undertaking research).

Alas, the pandemic has clipped my initial plan to travel to Iona, Scotland. That trip will have to wait for another time. Instead, my base camp will be our new mountain house in Meadows of Dan, located in beautiful, rural, southwestern Virginia. I have planned excursions to visit family and friends and enrolled in classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. Also, I hope to draw and paint, tapping into the creativity the Great Creator calls forth, as well as enjoy Nature, God’s marvelous creation, plus read some good books.

I will be away from First Presbyterian June 7 – September 7. What a loving gift! Many heartfelt thanks to the congregation and staff for this time of renewal.

Carol Strickland, Associate Pastor

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21 Day Challenge

Feeling overwhelmed with the state of our world? Unsure how to help? Don’t know where to start? You are invited to participate in a 21 Day Challenge to raise your awareness of race, power, and privilege. You will be introduced to voices and perspectives different than your own through articles, videos, and podcasts. Each day you will choose one way of engagement and reflect in a journal. From the countless resources available, we have pulled together a list of 50 options, with additional resources listed at the bottom of the site. For more information and to sign up, visit sites.google.com/view/fpcathenspit/21- day-challenge.

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Resources for Such a Time as This

Reconciliation:  The Heart of the Gospel
What Our Church Affirms

In the Presbyterian Church (USA) we are guided by our confessions, i,e, historical statements of faith which make up part of our constitution.  Below are excerpts from “The Confession of 1967”* which speak to and for us in this current time.

In each time and place, there are particular problems and crises through which God calls the church to act. The church, guided by the Spirit, humbled by its own complicity and instructed by all attainable knowledge, seeks to discern the will of God and learn how to obey in these concrete situations. The following are particularly urgent at the present time.

God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. In his reconciling love, God overcomes the barriers between sisters and brothers and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary. The church is called to bring all people to receive and uphold one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights. Therefore, the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it. Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians who exclude, dominate, or patronize others, however subtly, resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess.

God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ embraces the whole of human life: social and cultural, economic and political, scientific and technological, individual and corporate. It includes the natural environment as exploited and despoiled by sin. It is the will of God that the divine purpose for human life shall be fulfilled under the rule of Christ and all evil be banished from creation.

Biblical visions and images of the rule of Christ, such as a heavenly city, the household of God, a new heaven and earth, a marriage feast, and an unending day culminate in the image of the kingdom. The kingdom represents God’s triumph over all that resists the divine will and disrupts God’s creation. Already God’s reign is present as a ferment in the world, stirring hope in all people, and preparing the world to receive its ultimate judgment and redemption.

With an urgency born of this hope, the church applies itself to present tasks and strives for a better world. It does not identify limited progress with the kingdom of God on earth, nor does it despair in the face of disappointment and defeat. In steadfast hope, the church looks beyond all partial achievement to the final triumph of God.

*Sections 9.43, 9.44, 9.53, 9.54, 9.55 quoted from “The Inclusive Language Text of The Confession of 1967.”

Other resources: A Prayer, a Hymn, and other Resources from PC(USA)

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Zoom Instructions

Zoom is a web-based audio and video conferencing tool that can be used through desktop computers, laptops and smartphones.

If you’ve never joined a Zoom meeting before, please click here to learn how:
https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362193-Joining-a-Meeting.

To join the conversation, shortly before the starting time of the event, please go to www.zoom.us/j/7065434338 (password 185185). You can either watch from your computer, laptop, or install the app on your smartphone.

If you are using your smartphone, please download the app “ZOOM Cloud Meetings.” Once you click in the link to access the event (www.zoom.us/j/7065434338, password 185185), you will be directed to the meeting in the app. Follow the instructions in your screen to activate your camera or microphone and you are all set!

If you have any questions, please e-mail Paulo Santos.

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Facebook Instructions

1. If you don’t already have a Facebook account, please join.

2. Like & follow First Presbyterian Church of Athens.

3. On Sunday, just before 11:00 a.m., you should receive a notification saying that we’re live. Click on the notification and you will be taken straight to the video. If this doesn’t work for any reason, go to our Facebook page and there should be a post. Click the arrow to play the video.

4. Like, leave a comment, and let us know that you are online!

Past services will be archived on our First Presbyterian Church of Athens Facebook page and on our website Sermon Archive. If you don’t have Facebook, you can find in the Sermon Archive the links to previous services. Please note that once you click the link (or copy and paste to your navigator), a window will pop up asking you to log in or create a Facebook account. If you click in “Not Now,” which is below in blue, you should be prompted to the video.

If you have any questions, please e-mail Paulo Santos.

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FPC YouTube Channel

As we work to improve our online worship experience, we launched a YouTube channel. If you don’t have Facebook, this is a way for you to follow worship live.

Please Subscribe to our Channel: click here to access the channel and click “Subscribe.” If you have any questions, please contact Paulo Santos.

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Our Church Family – Photo Gallery

We are blessed to have wonderful photographers in our church! We miss Rick Simpson, who has moved away, but who took beautiful photographs of church services, volunteer programs, and other FPC activities for many years. You can visit his photo gallery to find an album with pictures from our church.

We are also happy to have Dave Beck in our team of church photographers! Please visit his photo gallery where you can find his FPC album. Here are some of his recent pictures:

FPC 200th Drive-by Celebration, December 20
Live Nativity Drive-by, December 8
New Member Introduction and Reception, March 8
The Wayne F. Middendorf Memorial Concert Series presents “Through the Church the Song Goes On”, February 16
Youth Sunday, February 9
Stephen Ministers’ Commissioning and Reception, February 2
Annual Congregational Meeting and Lunch, January 26
Ordination of New Elders, January 12
Bicentennial Celebration Ringing of the Bell, January 12

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Worship With Us

Worship Times

Sunday Worship Livestream: 10:00 a.m. (Facebook and YouTube)

Sunday School
Click below for more information about Sunday School:

Children’s Sunday School
Youth Sunday School
Adult Sunday School

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