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

Important Events and Messages


Limited in-person worship to resume November 8

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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Fall 2020 Pastoral Letter from Dr. Ryan Baer

Dear friends in Christ,

I hope this note finds you well and that you are staying well! I write to bring you some important updates regarding the ongoing mission and ministry of First Presbyterian Church.

We are eagerly anticipating the day when we can return to in-person worship, faith formation, and fellowship in our beautiful building. Since the public health emergency began, the Session has been evaluating the situation on a month-by-month basis while relying on expert advice from an ad-hoc advisory panel made up of Matt Crim, Denise Laboon, Lawton Stephens, Sarah Bryan, Madeline Van Dyck, and senior church staff.

Based on the latest available public health data and the recommendation of the advisory panel, at the September 10 stated meeting, the Session extended the suspension of church-wide in-person activities through October 31. While we know this news is disappointing, as Elders, we take seriously our vows to watch over the people of God and provide for their nurture, worship, and service. To that end, I hope you’ve had a look at our new publication Fall@First, which outlines all the opportunities for worship, faith formation, and fellowship at First Presbyterian Church in the weeks ahead. While we may be temporarily limited in the use of the building, the church is not and has not been closed; we are learning to be the church in new ways!

In January, one of the 2020 goals the Session set was to engage in conversations about race and its impact on our church and community, and events that have unfolded in our nation and community this year highlighted the importance and urgency of those conversations. Over the course of the summer, as part of our continuing education as faith leaders, the Session and staff watched a three-part documentary from PBS called Race: The Power of an Illusion and spent some time debriefing it together. All three episodes and a discussion guide are available here, and I commend them to you: https://mem.intervarsity.org/resources/race-power-illusion-documentary

As we continue to think about how to live out the part of our church mission statement that calls us to share the love of Christ with Athens and the world, I give thanks for the generosity our congregation shows our community in so many ways. As we prepare to begin our third century, I’m encouraging our church’s leaders to think about how our congregation might enhance the justice aspects of our missional efforts.

The word “justice” has become a loaded term in this season of intense partisanship, but it need not be so for us. The prophet Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you but that you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus admonishes the Pharisees to remember the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”

Here is but one example of the “doing justice” aspect of the church’s mission: at least one in every four students in the Clarke County School District are classified as “food insecure.” In addition to generous support of food banks, what might God be calling First Presbyterian Church of Athens to do to identify and address the deeper roots of this problem in our community?

I have invited a group of six Elders to help us begin thinking strategically about justice issues, and one of the initial steps will be for the group to represent our church at Montreat Conference Center’s Crossroads Antiracism Training Conference next month (link here). Registration for this virtual conference is open to all.

While it may yet be some time before we can all be together in person again, I give thanks that First Presbyterian Church of Athens has never “closed.” You continue to be the church, creating a community where people encounter the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, rejoice in worship, and go forth sharing the love of Christ with Athens and the world. Thank you for being the church, and even more, thank God for you.

May God watch between us while we are apart one from another.

Dr. Ryan Baer
Senior Pastor

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Fall Worship Schedule at First Presbyterian Church

In our worship life this Fall, we’ll be following a schedule of readings called the Narrative Lectionary, a schedule of readings that seeks to present the broad arc of the biblical story over the course of nine months. This Fall, we’ll be reading and preaching stories from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). From Christmas through Easter we’ll read and preach through the Gospel of Luke, and from Easter to Pentecost we’ll read and preach through Acts and Galatians.

Sunday, September 27 – Gen. 37:3-8, 17-34; 50:15-21 – Dr. Carol Strickland – “Forgiven”

Saturday, October 3 – Dr. Carol Strickland – Blessing of the Animals – FPC Courtyard, 10:00 a.m.

Sunday, October 4 – Ex. 12:1-13, 13:1-8 – Dr. Ryan Baer – “Out of Egypt” – World Communion Sunday, Food Sunday

Sunday, October 11 – Ex. 32:1-14 – Dr. Ryan Baer – “The Intercessor”

Sunday, October 18 – 1 Sam. 1:9-11, 19-20, 2:1-10 – Dr. Ryan Baer – “Upside Down”

Sunday, October 25 – 2 Sam. 7:1-17 – Dr. Ryan Baer – “Promises” – Confirmation Sunday

Sunday, November 1 – 1 Kings 17:1-16 – Dr. Ryan Baer – “The Gift of Hospitality” – All Saints’ Sunday, Communion, Food Sunday

Sunday, November 3 – Micah 6:6-8 – Election Day Prayer Service, 12:00 noon

Sunday, November 8 – Jonah 1:1-17; 3:1-10, 4:1-11 – Dr. Ryan Baer – “Follow the Directions”

Sunday, November 15 – Isaiah 6:1-8 – Dr. Ryan Baer – “Whom Shall I Send?”

Sunday, November 22 – Jer. 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28; 31:31-34 – Dr. Ryan Baer – “A New Covenant” – Stewardship Dedication Sunday – Interfaith Thanksgiving Worship Service Livestream, 4:00 p.m.

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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“Sunday Conversations”

Join Dr. Ryan Baer for “Sunday Conversations” as we reflect on the morning worship service and take a deeper dive into the Bible texts read and proclaimed from the pulpit.

Sundays at 11:30 a.m., September 13 – November 22
Zoom ID: 706-543-4338 – Password: 185185
Led by Dr. Ryan Baer

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Parent Support Circle

An informal Zoom gathering for parents of children and youth. Join Natalie Bishop and Kim Ness for a time to check in, share resources and lift each up in prayer.

Next Dates: 8:00 p.m. on October 26, November 16
Zoom ID: 825-5502-5512
For more information, contact Natalie Bishop or Kim Ness

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Athens Community Council on Aging Food Pickup & Delivery

Would you like to help deliver food for those who are homebound? Athens Community Council on Aging is requesting help from First Presbyterian on Tuesdays at 1:00 p.m. You will load multiple bags of groceries into your vehicle at the Cotton Press at 149 Oneta St. and unload them at the Columbia Brookside office. The route takes no more than 1 hour. There is very little contact, and masks are worn for each pickup and delivery. A large SUV or truck is helpful. If you are interested, contact Sally Vandiver at sally.vandiver@gmail.com and she will put you on the schedule.

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Book Study: Strength to Love, MLK Jr.
Tuesdays at noon

Martin Luther King‘s sermons seem as relevant today as they’ve ever been. Each week we will discuss one or more of his sermons that deal directly with racial justice, reflecting on what his words call us to do. Join for one or all sessions.
Tuesdays: 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
Zoom ID: 894-7644-7825
For more information, contact Erik Ness or Carol Strickland.

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First Things, October 25, 4:00 p.m.

Are you, or someone you know, interested in finding our more about FPC membership? “First Things,” a class to introduce you to the mission and ministry of our church, will be held 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. via Zoom on Sunday afternoon, October 25. Led by our pastor, Dr. Ryan Baer, you will meet our program staff as well as other newcomers and have a chance to ask questions about our church. Those who wish to join the church will meet with our governing board (Session) the following Sunday afternoon, also via Zoom. Please notify the church office (706-543-4338) if you would like to sign up for “First Things,” or email Lucy Bell Johnson.

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Holiday Meals on Wheels Delivery

In these strange times many things have changed, but one thing is the same–Seniors need meals and especially during holidays need to know someone cares about them. Will you be that someone? For many years First Presbyterian members and friends have delivered meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. It makes such a difference to our neighbors–and to those who deliver! It is a great intergenerational activity. Bring your children or grandchildren. The only requirement is that all wear masks.

Like many other things, this year will be a bit different. The protocols have changed to keep the volunteers and recipients safe. Please help if you can. To sign up contact contact Kitty Donnan at kittydavedonnan@gmail.com or call the church office 706-543-4338.

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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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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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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

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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

Contact Us