In January, the Session voted to become a Matthew 25 congregation, an initiative of the PCUSA focused on building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. Over the next few weeks, you’ll hear from members of our church about what this new opportunity means to them. To learn more about Matthew 25, click here.
“I am thrilled that the Session has approved the motion for First Presbyterian of Athens to become a Matthew 25 church! In a time of so much pain, suffering, and devastation, our community of Athens needs our help now more than ever. For me, becoming a Matthew 25 church is FPC Athens being not just a church institution, but a church movement. It is the whirling, swirling wild child that is the Holy Spirit spilling out of our sanctuary on Sunday mornings and filling Hancock Avenue with the sunshine that is hope. It is the empathy the lifts off the pages of the Holy Bible and floats into the air and into our lungs, giving us life and vitality. It is taking that life and vitality within ourselves and giving it to others who are without. It is telling a single mother that there will be food in the refrigerator. It is allowing a small child to receive necessary medical care. It is saving a family from losing the roof over their heads. Becoming a Matthew 25 church is taking the love in our hearts, the hope in our veins, and the progress in our mind and walking in the steps of Jesus Christ himself. While FPC Athens has been a presence in the community for a very long time, this next step as a Matthew 25 church makes our actions and presence more intentional. We are a congregation of big hearts and creative minds and I am proud and excited to see how we can spread the love of Christ throughout Athens.” – Courtney Pittman
“The greatest commandments are to love God and to love neighbor, as yourself. That’s what our calling boils down to. There are numerous other ways the Bible expresses particularly neighbor love, for example:
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (The Golden Rule)
- What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
- Go out into the world in peace. Have courage. Hold onto what is good. Return no one evil for evil. Support the weak. Strengthen the fainthearted. Help the suffering. Honor all people (from the Epistles)
- Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, (James 1:27)
Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 where the sheep feed, clothe, visit, and welcome “the least of these” strikes the same note, only in story form. By session action our church has signed on to our denomination’s initiative known as “Matthew 25” whose name is derived from the parable. The three pillars of this initiative address poverty, racism, and congregational vitality.
As we begin our third century of life as a congregation, we will be focusing on ways we can live out our calling to love God and others with Matthew 25 as our guide. Top on our agenda is discerning a significant, impactful project to fund with the $100,000 which the session has designated above and beyond our regular outreach and mission budget. If you have ideas, please contact me or Rob Haire, the Chair of the Outreach and Mission Commission.”
– Carol Strickland, Associate Pastor
“Matthew 25:31–46 calls all of us to actively engage in the world around us, so our faith comes alive and we wake up to new possibilities.” (www.pcusa.org/matthew25)
It has been one crazy year, and thankfully we are headed into a summer that looks to be healthier, safer, and hopefully one that will be filled with lots of smiles and fun. As we marked a year of Covid this past week, I have been thinking back through the past 365 days. It has not been easy, but thankfully my family has had everything we’ve needed to keep going and to hold onto hope. Our church is filled with families who have everything that we truly need, but as we move into year two of Covid there are still children and families in our community, state, country, and world who are suffering.
We are reminded in the Parable of the Good Shepherd that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and as his sheep he takes care of us. However, we are not just the sheep. God calls each of us to be good shepherds, good neighbors to one another. For 200 years, First Presbyterian Church of Athens has been a good shepherd in the community. By becoming a Matthew 25 Church, we have answered God’s call to learn even more ways to share God’s love and light with Athens and the world! I look forward to learning and working with all of you, especially our children, as we re-energize our faith and take action in this new year!”
– Natalie Bishop, Director of Children’s Ministries
“Some events make for memories and change the way we see, think, and do. One of my most powerful memories happened at First Presbyterian Church. Not in the Sanctuary, but in the Pit. Not with clergy or First Pres members but with a homeless woman. Sherlene was a single mom to two sweet, well behaved children. They were staying in our church for a Family Promise week. We were talking about how to arrange the van schedule for the following day. Sherlene worked full time. Her children were in school. She could not tell me what time she needed to leave for work the next morning—for she never got her schedule for the day until a couple of hours before she was to be there. But what about your children… how do manage if you must be at work before or after their school hours? “I have to get help,” she said. In that conversation I realized how little I know about the everyday problems of those who are poor. I cannot imagine how I would manage in Sherlene’s situation. One of the areas we will be focusing on as a Matthew 25 church (www.pcusa.org/matthew25) is poverty. Those who are poor face daily dilemmas such as Sherlens’s and worse.
I’m looking forward to our church being a Matthew 25 church because our actions will be intentional—we will consider the things we do through the lens of poverty, racism and congregational vitality. Ours is a generous church, thanks be to God, Yet we can strengthen our response to Christ’s call as described in Matthew 25:34-45 “for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…thirsty, a stranger, in need of clothes, sick, in prison…Lord, when did we see you hungry?” And Christ said “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” We can be the help for “the Sherlenes” in Athens and beyond. God has no hands and feet but ours. I am excited about the new ways we can extend the heart of Jesus by using our hands and feet in kindness and kinship to all those in need. May we see Christ in everyone we meet.”
– Kitty Donnan
“As a church we are at a very important crossroad poised to be key influencers in both shaping the conversation and being role models for how to achieve impactful and positive change in our community. As Disciples of Christ we are called upon to advocate and in our actions break down the systems, practices and thinking that underlie social and economic injustice against people of color and those marginalized by society. If I profess out loud that I am sharing the love of Christ with my neighbor then I am sharing this love with all of my neighbors and not just those who look like me.
2 Corinthians 5:14 is my favorite verse – Christ’s love should be the first and last word in all we do. It is our firm decision to work from this focused center.
If each of us in the act of discipleship choose to make Christ our focused center and if we demonstrate this love of Christ through our words and actions, then I truly believe our wonderful congregation can be change makers in the journey towards peace and reconciliation here in Athens. Each of us can be change makers from our seniors to our youth and children and here is the best part – we do not have to do it alone. As a Matthew 25 church, we as a congregation belong to a community of believers who will guide, encourage, pray and provide so that we are successful. And most importantly, this ministry will meet you where you are in this collective journey. Each step no matter how big or how small is to be celebrated. It is coming closer to God as He comes closer to us. Thanks be to God!”
– Jennifer Abbott