…sharing the love of Christ with Athens and the world!

Important Events and Messages


A Pastoral Letter from the Session of First Presbyterian Church

June 14, 2020

Dear friends in Christ,

These past few months have been a difficult time in our nation, our state, and indeed, here in Athens. We write to you as the Elders whom God has called through the voice of this congregation to lead the church and guide its witness to the sovereign activity of God in the world.

In times of turmoil, it is not uncommon for people and the institutions to which they belong to reexamine their shared values. In our Presbyterian way of being the church, our core values as a people of faith are expressed in Part 1 of our Constitution: The Book of Confessions. At the time of ordination and installation, every officer in every congregation in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) vows, among other things, “to sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church to be reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do” and promises to be instructed and led by the confessions as they lead the people of God.

As our nation, state, and community continue to struggle with the devastating effects of systemic racism which have been greatly magnified by the global pandemic, we have been both challenged and comforted by these words from The Confession of 1967. Although it is but one of the twelve confessions that guide our understanding of scripture, we believe it speaks a vital word of truth to all of us in this moment and in this place.  It reads, in part:

God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. In 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. (The Book of Confessions, The Confession of 1967, 9.44)

As we are instructed and led by scripture and the confessions, we stand in support of our members of color, our community leaders in Athens, and our nation. As officers in the church, each of us has affirmed a vow to pray for and serve the people of God with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. As Elders called to seek and represent the will of Christ for Christ’s church, we are mindful that we have much to learn and much work to do as we strive to combat racism in all its forms, and we are committed to doing the work. While we do not have all the right answers, we are here to learn, to listen, and to pray.

If you or your family needs assistance or prayer at this time, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We close with these instructions from the Lord from John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

May the peace of Christ be with you,

The Session of First Presbyterian Church

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A Word from the Session of First Presbyterian Church

May 21, 2020

Dear friends in Christ,

I hope this letter finds you well and that you are staying well. As you are aware, Governor Kemp has lifted some of the executive orders related to COVID-19, and many businesses and organizations in Georgia are beginning to reopen. However, at its stated meeting via video-conference on May 14, the Session of First Presbyterian Church of Athens extended our current emergency operating plan through June 30 (update: on June 11, the Session extended the emergency operating plan through July 31).

In making this decision, the Session relied upon the expertise and counsel of an ad-hoc committee convened to help us better understand how the virus is impacting Athens and our surrounding communities. The ad-hoc committee members are:

Dr. Matt Crim, Cardiologist, Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center
Mrs. Denise LaBoon, Registered Nurse, Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center
Hon. Lawton Stephens, Superior Court Western District of Georgia
Mrs. Sarah Bryan, MSW, Oconee County School District
Dr. Carol Strickland, Associate Pastor
Mr. Roger Burbage, Church Administrator
Mrs. Elaine Johnson, Weekday School Director
Dr. Ryan Baer, Senior Pastor

We remain hopeful that as the publicly available data becomes more clear here in Georgia, we will soon be able to begin phasing in a plan for a return to in-person church activities. As Elders, each of us has made a solemn vow “to watch over the people of God and provide for their worship, nurture, and service,” and the safety, health, and well-being of the people entrusted to our care will remain our top priority.

May the Lord watch between you and me while we are apart one from the other. (Genesis 31:49)

Peace be with you and yours,

Ryan Baer
Senior Pastor

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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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Helping the Local Community During COVID-19 Crisis

April 22, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

The worldwide pandemic calls us to great compassion to meet the great need. Many of you have wondered how you can help.

Of course, social distancing, handwashing, and wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) are crucial to stem the tide of the coronavirus. You can also pray for those whose health and/or livelihood are adversely affected by this crisis as well as those working extra hard to address its many ramifications.

Beyond safety measures and prayer, we encourage you to be generous. Perhaps you don’t need any or all of the forthcoming stimulus check or can give out of your own surplus.

Below you will find a list of organizations that our church has vetted and supports with an Outreach Grant. Invariably they are in the business of helping “the least of these, our brothers and sisters,” (Matt. 25:40) folks whose lives were already difficult before COVID-19. They all would welcome an online donation or check in the mail. Some have told us of other specific needs.

However, before making an over-and-above gift to other organizations in these dire times, please be sure you are honoring your 2020 financial commitment to First Presbyterian Church. After all, our entire budget, including the Outreach Grants and other benevolences we have pledged, depends upon the faithful giving of our members. So, assuming you are able*, please keep giving even though you cannot come to church. Thank you!

In faith,

Your Outreach and Mission Commission

*Should your financial situation change for better or worse, you are always able to adjust your pledge by contacting Roger Burbage, our Church Administrator, at rburbage@firstpresathens.org.

Athens Community Council on Aging
135 Hoyt Street, Athens, GA 30601

Funds will be used to purchase additional meals, as well as things like liquid laundry detergent, dish washing soap, hand soap and hand sanitizer, Lysol, Clorox, and toiletries.

Athens Nurses Clinic
P.O. Box 1732, Athens, GA 30603

To continue to provide medications and home-health-management kits.

Bethlehem Ministry
P.O. Box 48387, Athens, GA 30604

To buy hand-washing soap, which is sorely lacking in Haiti, from the economic development project which makes it from native jatropha trees.

Casa de Amistad
P.O. Box 841, Athens, GA 30603

To assist those in the underserved Hispanic community who have lost income due to the COVID-19.

Family Promise (formerly IHNA)
P. O. Box 581, Athens, GA 30603

To buy groceries for families to prepare breakfast/lunch (congregations are providing dinners). Also need paper towels, Windex, 409 cleaner, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer.

Our Daily Bread
Sponsored by Downtown Ministries
165 Pulaski Street, Athens, GA 30601

To provide grab-n-go sack lunches M-F at First Baptist Church.

Also need bottled water and “Blessing Bags,” which are 1 gallon Ziplock bag filled with baby wipes, bar soap, washcloth, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, 8 tampons/maxipads, 4 granola bars. Drop off at FBC lobby, Tues or Thurs, 9:00-10:00 a.m.

The Ark United Ministry Outreach Center
640 Barber Street, Athens, GA 30601

To pay rent/utilities assistance for workers whose jobs are impacted by COVID-19.

Additionally, many of our members are participating in the Facebook group, Mask Making for Athens. You can volunteer to sew, deliver, or donate supplies for protective face masks.

Also, the Red Cross needs donors. Go to redcrossblood.org to schedule an appointment.

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Zoom and Facebook 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:

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!


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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Subscribe to the new FPC YouTube Channel!

As we work to improve our online worship experience, we recently launched our YouTube channel! If you don’t have Facebook, this is a new 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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Summer Schedule at First Presbyterian Church

During the summer, we have one service broadcast live via Facebook and YouTube at 10:00 a.m. Sunday school is on break.

Sunday, July 12 Dr. Ryan Baer Preaching – Songs of Faith – Psalm 61

Sunday, July 19 Dr. Ryan Baer Preaching – Songs of Faith – Psalm 77

Sunday, July 26 Dr. Ryan Baer Preaching – Songs of Faith – Psalm 88

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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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. At the end of the challenge, we will gather in small groups on Zoom to share our reflections. For more information and to sign up, visit sites.google.com/view/fpcathenspit/21- day-challenge.

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Presbyterian Heritage Trip to Northern Ireland

Join the Presbyterian Heritage Trip to Northern Ireland this September! Information about the trip can be found here. For more information, please contact Sam Thomas. We are monitoring the pandemic situation and will inform if there are any changes made to the schedule.

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Montreat Women’s Conference Update

Due to safety concerns, we have decided to delay our FPC group housing and attendance of the Women’s Connection Conference until 2021.  Though conference registration is now open and individuals who wish to attend may do so “on their own,” it is likely the August 14 – 16 event will ultimately be cancelled.  Please contact Carol McKay or Carol Strickland with any questions.

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Ryan’s Reflections

Dear friends in Christ,

Marcus Stiggers was one of the best athletes I ever competed against. Marcus wasn’t particularly big or strong, and while he was fast, he wasn’t the fastest player on the field. But Marcus possessed almost super-human agility – the ability to appropriately and quickly change directions in response to rapidly changing conditions.

In early March, the church staff spent a full day at an off-site planning retreat mapping out the church calendar for the rest of 2020. We obviously didn’t plan that day for a global pandemic that would necessitate the suspension of all in-person church activities for months on end, but here we are. Nevertheless, I am so impressed with the agility that the staff and Session have displayed in response to rapidly changing conditions. To a person, they have continued to serve First Presbyterian Church of Athens with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love, and I am so honored to count them as colleagues in ministry.

As we continue to learn more about COVID-19 and its impact on faith communities, agility will continue to be of vital importance for the whole congregation. There will be many important decisions to be made in days to come, and your prayers and words of encouragement for the congregation’s leadership are needed now more than ever.

Remember, the church has never closed. Ordinarily, our building is a tremendous asset for our ministry and mission, but the pandemic has caused us to temporarily stop using it. But our ministry and mission have continued, much of it in new and innovative ways. In response to God’s grace, First Presbyterian Church continues to create community where people engage the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, rejoice in worship, and go forth sharing the love of Christ with Athens and the world.

However, none of it would happen without your generous support of this ministry. Your continued faithfulness is a witness to the good news of the gospel. Thank you for your continued generosity, and even more, thank God for you. May God watch between us while we are apart one from another.

Peace be with you,

Ryan, Senior Pastor

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A Message from Carol

Dear Church Friends,

“Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable,” (2 Timothy 4:2 NRSV) or “in season or out of season,” according to the translation I grew up on (RSV). This is a strange season — Quarantine — and certainly not favorable. Yet the ministry of the church carries on. Actually, it’s more needed than ever.

Mission and Outreach: While we have not sent volunteers to serve at Our Daily Bread soup kitchen, we have sent money to underwrite the meals we would have provided. Additionally, we supplied pizzas to the Homeless Day Center once a week for 10 weeks. The congregation has faithfully continued our monthly Food Sundays with food donation drop-off on the prior Friday. Our commission has taken responsibility for transporting twice-a-week food delivery from the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) to pick-up sites for its clients — 65 bags of groceries, 45 bags of fresh fruit, plus crates of milk, apples, and bread which fill the church van, a pick-up truck, and a car. To help with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we sent above-and-beyond gifts to ACCA ($3,000), the Athens Area Emergency Food Bank ($1,600), and Bethlehem Ministries in Haiti ($1,600). We also encouraged church members to give directly to our partners in ministry, i.e. local agencies we have vetted and support with Outreach Grants. We have received three special offerings: One Great Hour of Sharing ($1,265), Caring Hands for Presbyterian Homes of Georgia ($960), and the Pentecost Offering ($843). While not officially an FPC endeavor, Mask Making for Athens has been spearheaded by our own Melinda DeMaria, Amy Baer, and Margaret Davis and has produced over 13,000 masks! During our host week for Family Promise, we sent volunteers to provide meals and hospitality for the homeless families which are being housed at Athens Church of Christ during the pandemic.

Congregational Care: We have not been able to visit folks in person as lay callers, Stephen Ministers, flower deliverers, or pastors, so we have stepped up our pastoral care with phone calls and written notes. The Session has aided this ministry tremendously by checking in with each household in the congregation. (If you were not reached, please let the church know). The commission endorsed the erection of a prayer station in front of the church which I created with the help of several others. With a placard declaring, “Let justice roll down like waters” (Amos 5:24), it is an affirmation of our desire to stand for what is right and an invitation to the community to join us in prayer for change. Given the pandemic, economic stress, and racial strife, the commission scheduled a livestream prayer service for the congregation on June 17.

Fellowship: We had to forego many favorite fellowship and dining activities these last few months. But when we are able to resume, it will be with newly purchased tablecloths and flatware. To lift our spirits and get better acquainted, a churchwide game night via Zoom was held June 10, to the delight of all participants.

Grace and peace,

Carol Strickland, Associate Pastor

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Music Notes

When I first sat down to play the organ in our sanctuary, I noticed something unusual, a row of blank stops. When our Schantz organ was installed in 2002, there were plans in place to add an Antiphonal Organ (or Antiphonal Division, more on that below) at some point in the future. Thanks to a generous contribution from an individual, that addition is now taking place.

Our present organ is made up of or divided (hence the word “division”) into four “little” organs, each controlled by its own keyboard and a set of stops which, when pulled, make certain pipes in that division play. We have three keyboards for the hands and a big keyboard for the feet. Each stop controls a set of pipes that make a particular sound, like a flute or a trumpet. Stops can be used individually, or in combination with other stops. Each division can be played alone or coupled with others.

The word “antiphonal” basically means sound alternating back-and-forth from two different places by two groups of singers, instrumentalists, or in this case, organ pipes. A couple of years ago we had an organ and brass concert. For part of that concert, a brass group was in the balcony playing back-and-forth or antiphonally with the organ.

Our new Antiphonal Organ will be in the back of the sanctuary in two chambers (recessed into the walls) on either side of the balcony. The chambers are being built under the guidance of our own Smith Wilson, and the organ (pipes and other necessary parts) is being built by Schantz in Ohio. Once installed, it will be playable from the console we have now in the choir loft. It will have seven stops, including a majestic Trumpet Harmonique. The Antiphonal Organ will be used in alternation (back-and-forth) with our main organ, and it will also be coupled at times with the main organ giving the congregation a “surround sound.” This addition will add more choices of sound and color, and being in a different place, it will add a new dimension of sound to our already wonderful organ and sanctuary. Most importantly, when we are finally able to do so, it will enrich our congregational singing. More information will be coming out, including pictures and video as the project moves forward.

The Antiphonal Organ is given by Dr. William E. Barry in honor of The United States Military Academy.

Soli Deo Gloria  (To God alone be the Glory),
John Coble, Director of Music and Organist

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Godspeed Katherine Worsham!

In late 2019, Katherine Worsham joined FPC Athens as our Accounting Assistant. From day one, Katherine has done outstanding work and has been an invaluable colleague in ministry. Last week, Katherine informed us that she has accepted a full-time position with a local construction company and that June 29 will be her last day with us. While we are sad to see Katherine go, we are very grateful for the help that she has provided during her time with us. If you would like to send expressions of gratitude for her service, you may mail to her at 1070 Stone Shoals Lane, Watkinsville, GA, 30677 or e-mail her at Katherinew3@gmail.com.

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Bicentennial 2020

A number of events for the recognition of this 200th year have been on hold due to the pandemic. I am reminded of the phrase “that life happens while we are making other plans.” We are working to reschedule some of the events, with some possibly being held in 2021. The dedication of the Moses Waddel headstone marker will be on Tuesday, July 21, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. at Oconee Hill Cemetery (Update: this event is postponed to a later date). Dr. Ryan Baer will officiate the service. Since this will be held outside, this can take place with proper social distancing. Other details will follow for this and other Bicentennial activities as we consider safety above all else.
Diane Adams, Chair

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Stephen Ministry

In recent weeks our lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus. The degree of this negative impact varies from person to person. Do you have a friend, neighbor, co-worker or relative who has been struggling with life changes due to the virus, loss of a loved one, loneliness, cancer, a layoff, relocation, divorce, a spiritual crisis, recuperation, single parenthood, or any of countless other life changes? Our Stephen Ministers can provide them with the focused care, encouragement, and support they need to make it through the crisis. If anyone you know is hurting, talk with one of our Stephen Leaders.

They can talk with you about how we can connect the person you know with one of our Stephen Ministers. It’s a great way for you to show how much you care. First Presbyterian Stephen Ministers are ready to provide confidential, one-to-one Christian care. Male Stephen Ministers are always matched with men, and female Stephen Ministers are matched with women. Our Stephen Ministry team works with church members and non-members. If you or someone you know is struggling, find out more about Stephen Ministry by talking with one of our Stephen Leaders.

Bob Frisch: rpfrisch@aol.com, 914-262-1078

Dawn Frisch: dawnmfrisch@aol.com, 914-255-3447

Lisa Oelke: lisakoelke@gmail.com, 706-540-4251

Carol Strickland: cstrickland@firstpresathens.org, 706-765-7671

Our Stephen Ministers are here to care!

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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 that Dave Beck has joined our team of church photographers! Please visit his photo gallery where you can find his FPC album. Here are some of his recent pictures:

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
Festival of Lessons & Carols and Holiday Benevolence Market, December 15
Live Nativity, December 10
Christmas Pageant & Dinner, December 8

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Worship With Us

Worship Times

Sunday Worship: 8:45 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.

Sunday School
Sunday School Begins August 25, 9:45 – 10:40 a.m.

Children’s Sunday School
Youth Sunday School
Adult Sunday School

Contact Us