Bob Stauffer named National Director of Church Health

 

Bob Stauffer

Bob Stauffer, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, has been named the EPC’s National Director of Church Health. This new role at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando will oversee the denomination’s strategic priority of Church Revitalization.

“I am excited to serve the EPC in this capacity of helping churches better understand how they can be healthy congregations,” Stauffer said. “We are already developing plans for a church health structure both nationally and within each Presbytery to give the entire process ‘rails to run on’ in the areas of evangelism, church health, and transitional pastorates.”

A member of the EPC’s first ordination class in 1982, Stauffer has served in a wide variety of roles in his 40 years of ministry. Among these are Associate Pastor of NorthPark EPC in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Planting Pastor of Carmel Valley EPC in San Diego, Calif.; Pastor of Tabernacle EPC in Youngstown, Ohio; Planting Pastor of Gateway EPC in Slippery Rock, Pa.; and several transitional pastorates. He also served as the EPC’s National Outreach Director; Church Development Coordinator for the Presbytery of the Alleghenies; a Church Health leader for Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic’s GO Center; and Regional Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. For the past 34 years he also has served as a high school baseball and strength and conditioning coach.

“I am thrilled that Bob is leading this critical effort in the life of the EPC,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “Those who know Bob know that his passion for the local church to be everything God has called her to be as the Bride of Christ is infectious. In addition, his vast experience helping churches all across the EPC through the revitalization process will be a tremendous benefit to the entire denomination.”

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Stauffer is a graduate of Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., and Pittsburgh (Pa.) Theological Seminary. He also holds a doctorate from Reformed Theological Seminary.

He and his wife, Debbie, have been married for 42 years and have three children—all involved in ministry—and eight grandchildren.

Hurricane Ida relief continues; EPC leaders survey recovery efforts

 

Surveying recovery efforts in Thibodaux, La., on September 13 are (left to right) Whitney Alexander, Brandon Queen, Dean Weaver, and Bill Crawford.

As recovery continues in South Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Ida’s destructive wind, rain, and storm surge, EPC Stated Clerk Weaver traveled to Thibodaux, La., to see how donations to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund are being put to work.

He joined Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux and First Presbyterian Church of Houma; Brandon Queen, Ruling Elder for the Thibodaux congregation; and Whitney Alexander, Associate Pastor of Missions for First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge, La., to survey relief efforts.

“In the past three weeks we served over 550 people directly with material support that Presbyterians from all over the Gulf region provided.” Crawford said. “We’ve given out $3,000 to people in need thanks to generous giving from the EPC, churches in our Presbytery, and private individuals.”

Queen said some of the funds were used to purchase generators and portable air conditioning units.

“We provided a generator for one lady whose unit was stolen, and for another elderly woman who lives in a more damaged area of the parish,” said Queen, who serves as a Detective with the LaFourche Parish Sheriff’s Office. “Helping others is what we are called to do—serving the less fortunate.”

He said generators also were provided to other parish deputies and staff so they can continue to serve the community. Weaver noted the importance of assisting first responders so they can better serve their communities.

“I want to help the people that are helping others,” he said.

The homes of two widows from Crawford’s congregations are a total loss.

Crawford said that between his two congregations, five households—including several widows—experienced “total loss.”

“Pray for these households,” Crawford said. “Our initial focus is to get them as far forward as we can carry them. We begin by packing what remains, throwing the rest to the street, and tearing the interior to the studs. It’s a brutal process for the homeowner, but a reminder of the call to support the widows of the church. We are trying to help the most vulnerable first, but we hope to help others as well. We’ve all suffered damage and loss, but many have suffered more.”

He added that relief teams from Houma, New Orleans, and Baton Rouge have “done significant recovery work” in three homes.

“We have been able to move from relief to recovery by working through volunteer teams from all over the Gulf Coast and Baton Rouge,” he said. “These have been day trips where teams drive in, work 4-6 hours, and then drive home. Next week we are hoping to host our first multi-day volunteer team.”

“The work of the EPC has been significant,” he added. “My car is in the shop indefinitely due to the storm, so they purchased a truck so I can lead teams. The Presbytery has sent thousands of dollars of relief in the form of supplies and cash. First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge has done the same, along with sending logistical, planning, and personal support. Whitney Alexander has been down here at least a dozen times. We are coordinating with churches in the Presbytery to help rebuild homes and restart lives. We thank God for their support.”

Crawford said he expects the work to continue at least through the rest of this year.

“As we move forward into the mission field there will be opportunities for much of next year,” he noted.

Secure online donations to help with recovery efforts can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

On September 12, Weaver delivered a message of encouragement from Psalm 41 to the combined Thibodaux and Houma congregations.

As Louisiana continues to recover from Hurricane Ida, Hurricane Nicholas brought additional rain and storm surge to the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coasts in mid-September. EPC congregations were largely unaffected by that storm.

“Compared to what Bill Crawford has been going through in Thibodaux, Nicholas is nothing,” said Alan Trafford, Pastor of Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Lake Jackson, Texas. “The church is unscathed except for a few tree limbs. Neighbors were helping one another, and by lunchtime some of the more intrepid were mowing their lawns.”

Hurricane Ida leaves communities, EPC churches in state of ‘relief, recovery, rebuild’

 

by Bill Crawford
Pastor, First Presbyterian Churches of Houma, La., and Thibodaux, La.

Bill Crawford

It’s been an amazing, intense, depressing, and glorious two weeks. Sunday, August 29, will sit in a long history of devastating storms as one of the most catastrophic storms ever recorded. I know as my family and I watched from the windows of First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux. I could see the power of the storm, but I had no concept of the scope. As we woke up and walked out on the streets of Thibodaux it was like people walking into Oz. We discovered that the loud noise we heard in the night was the collapse of a brick building downtown. Eventually we traveled home to find our home surrounded by broken trees but mostly intact.

It was typical of Thibodaux that we immediately started clearing trees. We spent an hour cutting a hole through my neighbor’s driveway so he could evacuate. That began the slow process of coming to grip with the truth that it wasn’t just us. Thibodaux and Houma are at the heart of a storm that left a trail of power outages from Morgan City—35 miles west of us—to Mobile, Ala.—200 miles east of us.

Yet, to our amazement the assistance began to roll in from those who were also without power. I can’t mention every church and person who dove in and helped us, but First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge—in the person of TE Whitney Alexander—has been steadfast. We know he represents the whole staff and congregation.

The churches of the entire Gulf Coast have been amazing. Help poured in from Houston; Monroe, Covington, and New Orleans, La.; a nonprofit called Advancing the Call Together (ACT) from Ohio; the EPC Office of the General Assembly in Orlando; and from individuals from several states outside Louisiana. Pastors came with lay people like Korey Duncan organizing trips, and Nathan Edwards crawling in the dirt to fix our pipes. Will Shirley, Parks Lanier, and others came representing so many congregations. We were blessed to see brothers and sisters in the Methodist and even Catholic believers. Our cup runs over.

Damage from Hurricane Ida in Thibodaux, La. (Photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

The last two weeks have been a joint effort of those above, a small group of volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux, community leaders, and—simply put—personal friends old and new. We have seen God move through the generosity of the Presbytery, local people, friends, family, and strangers from across the country.

Many individuals and congregations have made contributions for us to make sure we could meet expenses and meet needs. Thank you! By your gifts we’ve been able to do some amazing things.

We’ve paid to tarp three homes that had no available person to do it. Through a food pantry at First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux (FPCT) we have served 150 distinct households representing 554 people—in just the first 10 days after the storm. With the work of ACT we have helped serve 1,500 hot meals in Point Aux Chene (about an hour south of Thibodaux in the bayou)—where with your donations we set up a satellite relief warehouse larger than the one in Thibodaux. We’ve given food, water, and gasoline to hundreds of residents in the Point Aux Chene area, and built connections with the Dardar Indians and the local Fire Department.

I have to share one heartbreaking story. One of our deacons has an adult son with special needs. We discovered one of her son’s friends, who also has special needs, a few days ago. He was home alone with his dog, where he rode out the storm in a closet because his caretakers had abandoned him. Our deacon is currently housing both young men in her two-bedroom home, and we are providing some funds so she can buy enough groceries.

In addition to financial support, volunteers have helped clean out two houses and moved members’ furniture into First Presbyterian Church of Houma. The church facility is currently closed due to its own damage and loss of power and water, so we are using it as temporary storage.

Today (Monday, September 13) we are helping two widows pack up anything salvageable before we rip their homes to the studs. We are in a race against time with Tropical Storm Nicholas bearing down on us with the potential for heavy rain over the next few days.

Relief, Recovery, Rebuild

So what is next? The three Rs of a disaster are Relief (meet the basic needs of daily survival), Recovery (save the valuables that cannot be replaced and mitigate further damage), and Rebuild (help people rebuild their lives).

Damage from Hurricane Ida is providing an almost unlimited avenue for ministry in South Louisiana. (Photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

We are wrapping up the relief phase, which I have never seen happen so quickly. We have more than enough water. We have more than enough food (although hot food is a value). Gasoline has gone from a one-hour wait to almost no lines in Thibodaux. But further south, those down the bayou are catching up. By your gifts we have delivered more than 200 gallons of gas into Point Aux Chene. We have used about that in Houma and Thibodaux.

Recovery is going to be a heavy lift. As we say, “We’re all in the pot.” My home is still without power, and I am living at my neighbor’s house. I put the cook team in my house this week thanks to a generator generously provided from folks in west Louisiana. I might move home next week. But literally everyone has damage. We have only two members in the two congregations who have power. Several moved home, their generators failed, and they’ve moved back out. The damage is just astounding. I can drive for three hours in one direction without leaving this zone. As I go south it just gets worse and worse.

As you try to help us, please be patient. We can likely only handle one group at a time for now. Saturdays may be the best time, but we can’t handle all of you at once! There’s plenty of work—we’re literally surrounded by it—but knowing where to point you takes time and planning. It’s a 50-mile congregational parish and we’re all in the pot!

Further out is the next phase to help rebuild several homes. We will need skilled labor for that work. It will have to be a collaborative effort and will require an entrepreneurial attitude and an adventurous spirit.

I don’t even know what else is going on in the world, but for the last two weeks we’ve been living in the eye of the storm. We are grateful that the Eye of the Lord is on the sparrow and that He watches us to the point that He knows the hairs of our heads!

This is a long report, but it is written out of a sense of amazement and joy. There is so much work to do; so many stories to tell. Each day full and each night restful. Clarity comes in the storm. What matters most is made crystal clear. But clarity comes and grows each day as we experience relief, recovery, and are rebuilt by the Holy Spirit.

God bless you all—we love you and we thank you.

TE Bill Crawford

Secure online donations to help with recovery efforts can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

Prayer requested for COVID-stricken Georgia church

 

“Hear our prayers, O Lord, and raise up our brother and sister for the glory of Jesus our Lord.”

Walter Turner

Please pray for the congregation at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Rome, Ga. A member of the Session contracted COVID-19 and died last week. Covenant’s Pastor, Walter Turner, has COVID and is on a ventilator in a Rome hospital. His wife, Margaret, also has COVID and is resting at home.

Let us join hearts and voices in prayer for the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church, and for Walter and Margaret Turner.

Louisiana EPC church members suffer ‘total loss’ from Hurricane Ida

 

Hurricane Ida left downtown Thibodaux, La., strewn with bricks and rubble. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Reports of damage to EPC church buildings and congregation members’ homes resulting from Hurricane Ida continue to emerge in the days following the storm’s August 29 landfall in Louisiana.

Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux, La., said several families in the congregation suffered “total losses.”

“One of our losses is just crippling,” he said. “She in her 50s, uninsured, and her husband died in December. Another family lives out in the bayou and it’s really bad.”

Crawford reported that he and his family were staying in the home of a church member who had evacuated and has a generator.

“My home has two trees that have fallen over the fence and are hanging on the neighbor’s power line, so I’m leaving them alone,” he said. “My roof has shingles missing everywhere, the garage roof is leaking, and the tarp I put over the damage is leaking. Thankfully it’s only over the garage, and so many people here are dealing with much worse. Some of these folks are just beside themselves trying to figure out what’s next.”

This home of a church member suffered significant damage. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Crawford said the church building escaped major damage.

“Structurally, the church building in Thibodaux is sound. The building has always had leaking issues, but they have been mitigated and we are good there,” he reported, adding that he and his family are using the church as a makeshift relief center.

“We are set up for relief and giving out supplies in the dark—but what’s how we roll around here,” he said. “For now it’s me and my family because the members of the church are dealing with stuff too. We have received an initial load of supplies from the Presbytery, and even though we are not advertising we’ve had about 30 households come through and pick up bottled water, tarps, and other things.”

Crawford also serves as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Houma, La., about 15 miles south of Thibodaux.

Bill Crawford

“The ridge cap blew off the roof of the church building on Houma, and there are leaks all over,” he said. “Bricks are on the roof, but they are not our bricks. If I can’t get the insurance folks over I’ll have to figure something out. As for our members, everyone is just coping. For the most part, people either evacuated or are in serious trouble. The big problem we are going to face is mildew—this is South Louisiana, so we are literally in a swamp.”

He said one family who lives in a trailer home “has a hole in their roof and no tarp” while another was “completely flooded when water overtopped the levee. Another family lost everything—they are in Florida now.”

The courtyard entrance for First Presbyterian Church in Houma was littered with roofing shingles and other debris. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Amid the devastation, Crawford noted that the area is “one of the most churched places in America. There are so many good Christians here jumping in to help—we are blessed.”

Northeast flooding

The news is better in the Presbytery of the East, where the remnants of Ida delivered heavy rains, flooding, and tornadoes across a wide area of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

Glenn Marshall, Pastor of Park Avenue Community Church in Somerdale, N.J., said his congregation escaped significant damage.

“We are all fine,” Marshall reported. “We had storms all around us. One family who lives in Mantua Township had a tornado close to them, but they are thankfully unscathed.”

Mantua Township is about 4 miles from Mullica Hill, N.J., where a confirmed EF-3 tornado with 150 mph top winds destroyed numerous houses on September 1.

About 80 miles north in Kearny, N.J., Pastor Valdir Reis said the Closer to God Evangelical Presbyterian Church building’s basement flooded, but the members of the congregation fared well.

“Thankfully, so far no one has reported any loss or anything serious following the storm,” Reis reported by email on September 3. “There were members with minor leaks but that was all taken care of and everyone is healthy as far as we know.”

In the northern portion of Brooklyn, N.Y., Pastor Jamison Galt said many parishioners of Resurrection Clinton Hill had flooded basements, “but nothing worse. We are grateful.”

About 5 miles south, Brian Steadman said parishioners of his congregation had their homes elevated as part of their recovery from Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge in 2012, and only experienced minor issues. Steadman is Pastor of Resurrection Park Slope in Brooklyn.

Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk, said he has been in contact with church and Presbytery leaders across the affected areas.

“Several churches in the Presbytery of the Gulf South are coordinating relief efforts and work teams,” Weaver said. “As they assess the situation and start to be able to host volunteers, we will get that information out. In the meantime, we are accepting donations to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund to help with immediate needs. We’ve been told the most pressing items are fuel, tarps, bottled water, and Gatorade.”

Secure online donations can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

Back in Louisiana, Crawford said they would continue to distribute relief supplies as they are delivered and looks forward to hosting work teams as soon as they can.

“At this point, we are just chugging along and accomplishing tasks,” he said. “We are a really small congregation and it’s a bit overwhelming. I can’t imagine how those with a large group are keeping up with everyone. Just knowing our EPC friends are praying for us and that they care is a huge comfort.”

EPC Pastors report widespread damage from Hurricane Ida

 

Hurricane Ida tore a path through the Presbytery of the Gulf South, where EPC churches are marked with red icons.

Following Hurricane Ida’s landfall on August 29 in Louisiana and slow march northeast through Mississippi, reports are emerging about how the storm affected EPC congregations in the region.

Bill Crawford, Pastor of the yoked congregations First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux, La., and First Presbyterian Church in Houma, La., rode out the hurricane in the Thibodaux church building. Houma and Thibodaux—about 15 miles apart—are the closest EPC congregations to where the storm came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds. Crawford was interviewed by WWL-TV Channel 4 News in New Orleans. Crawford said he watched roof tiles “flying away.”

Brandon Queen, a Ruling Elder for the Thibodaux congregation and a Juvenile Detective with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, said the most extensive damage he has seen is in the southern areas of the Parish.

“Some areas look like Third World countries,” Queen said. “Our church in Thibodaux has some leaks, and the members I’ve talked to have roof shingles off and fences blown down. I am told that the church in Houma did not fare so well, and I’ve heard that some church members in Houma had significant damage to their homes.”

On the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain north of New Orleans, Hunter Gray reported by email that there are “lots of trees on houses” in Covington and Mandeville. “We’re cutting them out and putting tarps on.” Gray is Pastor of New Covenant EPC in Mandeville, La.

He noted that the electricity was out and likely would be for several weeks.

“We’re good; just lacking comfort,” Gray wrote.

Approximately 75 miles west in Baton Rouge, Jane Cooper—a Ruling Elder for First Presbyterian Church—also reported that power was out “with no predictions or promises” for restoration.

“Although some church families have had property damage, no one was injured,” she added.

On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Kory Duncan reported by email that “all is good in Ocean Springs” and that volunteers were “gearing up to help our sister churches in Louisiana.” Duncan serves as Associate Pastor of Missions and Congregational Care for First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs.

Michael Herrin, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South, reported by email on August 31 that ten of the Presbytery’s churches have gathered an initial load of supplies and will be transporting it to New Covenant EPC on Wednesday, September 1. These include such items as chainsaws, generators, gasoline, tarps, duct tape, bottled water, batteries, trash bags, cleaning supplies, and more.

“That’s only the beginning. In the weeks and months to come, many more supplies will be needed,” Herrin wrote. “Once power is restored, work teams will be welcome to help with debris removal.”

He added that First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux will be able to host volunteers soon, but first needs an experienced plumber to help them get their showers operational.

“We’ll continue to have opportunities to show the love of Christ in practical ways to the people of South Louisiana for quite some time,” Herrin concluded. “Let’s pray for those who are in need, and then let’s get to work!”

To aid in relief efforts, the EPC Emergency Relief Fund will distribute funds to EPC congregations in the region for identified needs. Secure online donations can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief.

“As we all realize, this is an unprecedented time of seemingly endless tragedies,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “Our Emergency Relief Fund provides us with maximum flexibility to respond to this, as well as previous and ongoing situations.”

Spaces still available for October pastor-spouse retreat

 

Twenty spots remain available for the October pastor-spouse retreat for EPC pastors who serve in Presbyteries that are not hosting their own renewal retreat this fall or winter. The retreats will be held October 18-22 at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Southwest Pennsylvania, and February 14-18, 2022, at the Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center in Central Florida.

The retreats are offered at no cost to the pastor and his or her spouse—singles are welcome— and registration for each is limited to 50 couples.

For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/pastorspouseretreat.

Prayers requested for Louisiana as Hurricane Ida approaches

 

As Hurricane Ida approaches Louisiana with 150 mph winds, please join EPC leadership in prayer for those in its path. Several EPC churches in Louisiana are in the path of the storm:

  • First Presbyterian Church in Thibodeaux (Pastor: Bill Crawford)
  • First Presbyterian Church in Houma (Pastor: Bill Crawford)
  • Woodland Church in New Orleans (Pastor: Joseph McDaniels)
  • Church of the Resurrection in New Orleans (Pastor: Ben Cunningham)
  • New Covenant EPC in Mandeville (Pastor: Hunter Gray)
  • Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington (Pastor: Jason Wood)
  • River Community Church in Prairieville (without a Pastor, but Whitney Alexander is Moderator of Session).
  • First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge (Pastor: Gerrit Dawson).

Pray that God’s grace and protective hand will sustain those who have not been able to evacuate. Pray also for each of these Pastors and their staff and leaders as they care for their congregations and communities today and in the days to come.

Deerfield EPC celebrates sanctuary’s 250th anniversary

 

There are only a handful of churches that can claim they worship in a sanctuary built five years before the American Revolution.

When the Jersey Sandstone building of Deerfield Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton, N.J., was constructed in 1771, the “Founding Fathers” were young men. George Washington was 39 years old. John Adams was 36. Thomas Jefferson was 28. James Madison was 20. Alexander Hamilton was 16.

As it has for the past 250 years, the building stands as a testament of its members’ faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Though Deerfield’s sanctuary was built in 1771, the church has been part of the surrounding community since its founding in 1737 by Scottish immigrants. The church—which celebrates its 284th anniversary this year—is about 50 miles south of Philadelphia, Pa.

On August 8, about 90 current and past members gathered to celebrate God’s work through the church over nearly three centuries. The occasion also marked the completion of repairs and upgrades to the building that included a laborious restoration of the sandstone exterior, a new cedar-shingle roof, lightning protection, and other projects.

Ken Larter, Deerfield’s pastor since 2002 and the church’s longest-serving minister, said the congregation originally met in a log cabin near the site of the existing sanctuary. Led by the church’s second pastor, Enoch Green, the congregation completed the sandstone sanctuary shortly before the Revolutionary War. Larter added that in addition to being a pastor, Green “was instrumental in getting the congregation behind the revolutionary cause. In a sermon that he preached from our sanctuary, he was basically recruiting men for the revolutionary army.”

Ken Larter

Larter said Green served as a chaplain with the men who were recruited.

“Unfortunately, he caught camp fever when he was with George Washington’s troops and came back ill to this area, dying fairly young.” Camp fever—or Toxoplasmosis—is an infection that usually occurs by eating undercooked, contaminated meat.

Another notable Deerfield pastor was John Brainerd, brother of celebrated missionary David Brainerd.

“David Brainerd, if you remember your Colonial church history, was a missionary to the Native American Indians,” Larter said. “Unfortunately, he contracted tuberculosis and died quite young in the home of Jonathan Edwards. John Brainerd, his brother, was able to carry on David’s work and was minister at Deerfield for three years before he died in 1781.”

John Brainerd, Enoch Green, and a third minister from the era, Simeon Hyde, are buried side-by-side just outside Deerfield’s sanctuary.

Larter explained that in the 1700s, a deceased minister would sometimes be laid to rest under the sanctuary. This was done for Green and Brainerd, but their remains were later reinterred on either side of Hyde just outside the church building.

“In the very oldest part of the graveyard, in the space occupied by the old log cabin church, burials go back to the early 1700s. Then, directly across the street from the sanctuary, there are graves primarily from the 19th and 20th centuries. And a tenth of a mile away, in what is called the triangle, are 20th and 21st-century burials. So the church is surrounded by those who have belonged to us in times past,” he said.

As for the present and future, Larter noted that Deerfield remains committed to the authority of Scripture and the truth of the gospel.

“I think what is important is the very fact the congregation has survived for going on 300 years. That survival is ultimately tied to its commitment to the authority of Scripture and the historic Christian gospel,” Larter said. “Churches in so many places have compromised again and again on the essentials of the faith, but the theological heritage of the church remains solidly Bible-based and evangelical. I believe that is why the Lord has allowed us to stay here for so long.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

World Outreach webinar to address Afghanistan crisis, opportunity

 

In response to the crisis in Afghanistan, EPC World Outreach is hosting a free webinar on Wednesday, August 25, at 3:30 p.m. (Eastern). “Afghanistan Crisis and Opportunity: How Your Church Can Respond” will provide answers to the questions of how followers of Jesus can respond to the Afghan crisis and refugees coming to the U.S.

“We will talk about God’s heart for the refugees, how to be in prayer for Afghanistan and God’s Kingdom there, and how we in the EPC can reach out in practical ways to Afghan refugees that are coming to the U.S.” said Gabriel de Guia, Executive Director of World Outreach.

To register for the webinar, go to www.epc.org/afghanistancrisisopportunity

“We want to give specific ways for people to be praying for the situation in Afghanistan,” de Guia added. “One of our workers who is intimately involved in that region and among those people sent us the prayer points below. All of us in World Outreach encourage our EPC brothers and sisters to join us in prayer in the coming days and weeks for God’s glory to be revealed in Afghanistan and among the Afghan refugees.”

Prayers from a World Outreach global worker

  1. Peace of heart. Too many people are crowding the airport and making rash decisions, including believers—albeit they have reason for concern. God is in control and has higher authority than the Taliban.
  2. Relief to internally displaced people. Thousands of Afghans fled their homes to flock to Kabul, only to get caught there now but they are without much food, water, or money. No one is there to help them that we know about.
  3. Civil government. God ordains rulers and kings. The new rulers have the task of running a civil government and society that is stable and peaceful. Even if it is along lines we do not prefer, such laws have not stopped the Church in the past nor will it now.
  4. Protection from fear and boldness of believers. Evacuation is not the best route for every believer nor all Afghans. Looking to the West has become an idol. God is able to protect them and make the Good News to those around them now and protect them even unto death.
  5. Opportunity for Christian workers to Afghanistan. Once there is order there will be a huge need for humanitarian/Christian aid organizations to return. We worked under them before and will likely do so again.
  6. God’s Kingdom to come to Afghanistan. There are no human solutions. Not armies, nor money, nor training, etc. have been able to change their hearts, the real root of the problem. Only God can do that through Jesus.

Call to prayer in the EPC

 

The National Leadership Team of the EPC issued a call to prayer on August 18, 2021, in response to numerous situations around the world, including wildfires in the Western U.S. and Canada, the August 14 earthquake in Haiti, the fall of Afghanistan, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Central Presbyterian Church models ‘parent, partner, patron’ in church planting efforts

 

The goal of the EPC Church Planting Team is “to cultivate a culture where church planting is embraced, encouraged, and celebrated by all EPC churches.” Central Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Ala., has embraced this goal and believes that the heart of church planting is making new disciples.

Randy Jenkins

Randy Jenkins serves as Central’s Pastor, and also leads the church planting network for the Presbytery of the Central South. What began as a committee for church planting has grown into a network of people and churches who are passionate about church planting and see it as an indicator of the future.

“When people see church planting and understand it, it is very, very exciting,” Jenkins said. “Church planters are the tip of the spear of the EPC. They are on the cutting edge of doing new ministries in a different way and helping the rest of us learn what it means and how to apply it.”

The EPC’s church planting strategy has been a combination of recruiting and leadership diagnostics. The church planting networks are trying to develop a pipeline of church planters that they then mentor, assist with fundraising, and support through the process.

“I am the guy who facilitates church planters and helps them raise money,” Jenkins said, explaining his role in the process. “Because they are our investment, we are trying hard to pick the right people.”

He recalled that when CPC joined the EPC in 2007, his new colleagues stressed the importance of church planting. Jenkins knew church planting was not his specific calling, but that did not lessen his excitement.

“I like success,” Jenkins admitted, “and if I can’t do it, then I want someone else to do it. And we’re talking about the Kingdom. I want to see them achieve for the Kingdom.”

As he began talking with the congregation about church planting, they expressed a willingness to invest. They started by partnering with existing church plants. Eventually, Central became a parent of Chelsea Presbyterian Church in suburban Birmingham, about 100 miles south of Huntsville.

Returns on investment

James and Larissa Daniels

James Daniels was a “parachute drop” into Chelsea. Daniels came from the education field and didn’t have years of experience as a pastor. Yet as CPC began to see Daniels’ vision for the community, they also began to see the realization of their investment of time and money in the process that started years earlier.

“We didn’t really understand what it means to be a parent, but that is exactly what it is,” Jenkins said. “It’s like delivering a baby who at first spends most of its time eating and sleeping. But one day it wakes up and needs lots of care and lots of time and supervision.”

While CPC continues to play an active role in the strategy of planting churches, it also provides structure that is crucial to existing church planters in a variety of ways.

Kirk Adkisson, planting pastor of All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., said his relationship with Jenkins and CPC has been “nothing short of amazing.”

Kirk and Deb Adkisson

“Under Randy’s leadership, CPC stepped in and provides accounting and bookkeeping services for us. I can’t overstate what a gift this is,” Adkisson said. “This gives us the freedom from some of the basic financial tasks and more time for other essential components of church planting.”

Jenkins noted that financial tasks, including fund raising, are a key factor in a plant’s success—with undercapitalization as the biggest hindrance to church planting. Without the funds in place, church planters must balance their time between fundraising and ministry. This is where the networks step in with more structure.

“We encourage our church planters to have $100,000 in the bank before doing anything else, Jenkins explained. “If your energies are spent on making sure you have enough money to exist, then that is a problem. CPC is very generous financially and always ready to be involved when it comes to giving to a church plant.”

Tom Ricks, leader of EPC Church Planting Team, ascribes CPC’s generosity to Jenkins.

“Some people are that influential with their congregation, and Randy has a great track record with his people,” Ricks said. “He has led them in a Christlike manner. When he stands in the pulpit and says that we have a great opportunity here, his people listen and follow. The relational capital that he has with his congregation has been put to use for church planting.”

Wide geographic reach

In addition to Chelsea and All Souls, CPC partners with Quest Church in New Braunfels, Texas; The Table in Little Rock, Ark.; The Table Project in Denver, Colo.; and a non-EPC plant, St. Patrick Church in Cedar Park, Texas. These church plants cover a wide range of geography and demographics—from suburban “Bible Belt” to suburban/urban transitional, to western suburban where religion does not play a prominent role in the community.

Tom Ricks

Ricks loves that CPC is willing to support church plants outside its own Presbytery.

“I love the diversity of the church plants that CPC is supporting” Ricks said. “They couldn’t be more different, and I love that. We need more of that diversity.”

CPC’s generosity and connection involves much more than finances. Each of the church planters that Central partners with highlighted the importance of the spiritual support they have received.

In Nashville, sent a mission team to assist with clean-up and distributing supplies to the neighborhood residents after a March 2020 tornado hit the largely under-resourced community that All Souls serves.

In Chelsea, CPC members routinely dropped in to attend worship services prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Some from CPC stop and visit as they are passing through to lend moral support—sometimes physical support—and to see what God is doing here,” Daniels said.

Mark and Stacey Grapengater

Mark Grapengater, Pastor of The Table Project in Denver, described Central as having “a real Kingdom mindset.”

“Their ministry for church planting extends well beyond Huntsville,” he said. “That posture is key for us as church planters. Randy and the church always make sure we have everything we need.”

Investing where God is moving

Central dedicated 8 percent of its total budget to church planting in 2020—evidence that the congregation shares Jenkins’ enthusiasm.

“If your mission is only within your own four walls, you won’t be there very long,” Jenkins warned. “If you see the vision for the gospel moving forward both locally and in other areas, you want to invest where God is moving. God is moving in church planters.”

Jenkins acknowledged that church planting can be lonely and stressful, and emphasized that CPC wants to “walk alongside the planters” and remove as much of that burden as possible so they can be caring, welcoming, and opening doors to relationships.

“Church planters are taking people from that secular point, with no knowledge of Christianity, and speaking simply to them so that they will understand,” he noted. “Church planters love to see eyes open, and people begin to believe and grow in faith. If we can help make this happen, we want to help them any way we can.”

Ricks said the denomination’s goal is that every EPC congregation is involved in some aspect of church planting. He said he will “continually be shooting for every church, no matter the size, to participate in being a parent, partner, or patron.”

“Randy and CPC exemplify a congregation that gets this, and the congregation gets it because Randy gets it,” Ricks said., “If I could have a ‘poster child’ for what I believe is a great attitude for church planting, it would be Randy.”

For more information about EPC church planting, see www.epc.org/churchplanting or contact Ricks at tom@greentreechurch.com.

by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath
EPConnection correspondent

Registration open for EPC pastor-spouse retreats

 

The Office of the General Assembly is hosting two pastor-spouse retreats for EPC pastors who serve in Presbyteries that are not hosting their own renewal retreat this fall or winter. The retreats will be held October 18-22 at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Southwest Pennsylvania, and February 14-18, 2022, at the Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center in Central Florida.

“We believe that the health of our churches correlates directly with the wellbeing of our pastors—who are at the point of the spear on the front lines of the advancement of the gospel,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “These five-day getaways are designed to provide our pastors and their spouse with refreshment, renewal, and recharge.”

Based on the theme, “Moving out of the COVID Wilderness: Working through Trauma and Transition,” the two gatherings will feature Bible studies and prayer times led by Jim and Shari Hobby of the Anglican Church in North America. Christian psychologist Tara Gunther will be available for counseling sessions, and plenty of free time is built into the schedule for exploring the retreat centers’ amenities or local attractions.

Each of these retreats is offered at no cost to the pastor and his or her spouse, and registration for each is limited to 50 couples.

“The pastor’s Presbytery, congregation, and/or Session is encouraged to express care for their pastor and spouse by providing transportation costs as well as childcare options, since childcare is not provided,” Weaver noted. “A limited number of scholarships are available to help defray travel and childcare costs if needed.”

For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/pastorspouseretreat.

Michael Davis named EPC Chief Collaborative Officer

 

Michael Davis

Michael Davis, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Central South, has been named the EPC’s Chief Collaborative Officer. This new role at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando encompasses strategic leadership with particular emphasis on strategic priorities and senior leaders; collaborative networking at all levels of the denomination; and development and innovation with a focus on missional “best practices.” Davis begins his responsibilities on August 2.

“Michael’s primary responsibilities will be to identify where God is at work inside and outside of the EPC, and help connect and network ministries, Presbyteries, and congregations to the missio dei in order that we might fulfill the EPC’s mission,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk.

Since 2017, Davis has served as Associate Teaching Pastor for Downtown Church in Memphis, Tenn. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor for Memphis City Seminary. He previously served as an adjunct instructor for the Memphis Center of Urban Theological Studies, Assistant Pastor to Young Adults at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, and Chaplain for Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis.

“I am incredibly energized and excited to be the Chief Collaborative Officer for our denomination,” Davis said. “This potential for innovation and collaboration will cultivate a thriving, gospel-driven denomination that will see fruit for years to come. God has provided our denomination with an abundance of opportunities that will benefit our communities, nation, and the world all for the glory of God. It is an amazing honor to serve in this capacity.”

Davis is a graduate of the University of Missouri in Columbia and Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He has served as the Board Chairman for Advance Memphis since 2015, and also is on the Boards of a variety of Memphis-area ministries, including Service Over Self, Presbyterian Day School, The Center for Executive Leadership, and Memphis City Seminary. He has served on the EPC’s Church Planting Team, Next Generation Ministries Council, and Presbytery of the Central South Ministerial Committee.

He and his wife, Serena, have two children. Their third child is due in late November.

June EPC budget report: PMA contributions finish FY21 ahead of budget, over FY20 total

 

At the June 30 close of the EPC’s fiscal year, Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions to the EPC totaled $2,402,378. The amount is $348,166 (16.9 percent) more than the PMA support projection to fund the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

Fiscal year 2021 (FY21) PMA support was $12,507 more than the $2,389,871 contributed over the same period in FY20. The EPC’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. In addition, June PMA support of $213,296 brought the 12-month rolling average for monthly PMA contributions to $201,198. The rolling average is 0.4 percent above the 12-month rolling average as of June 2020.

“God is so good,” said Stated Clerk Dean Weaver. “We ended the fiscal year in a strong financial position, which can only be attributed to His faithfulness to our churches. I am grateful that our leaders understand the value in contributing to the global movement of Evangelical Presbyterian churches that is the EPC. I want to especially recognize the five churches with the highest PMA contributions last year: Hope Church (Memphis, Tenn.); Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis; Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville (Tenn.); Lake Forest Church (Huntersville, N.C.); and Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City.”

Of the $2,402,378 received, $480,548 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, the Office of the General Assembly received $5,579,940 in designated gifts in FY21. This total was $226,233 (4 percent) less than the $5,806,173 in designated gifts received in FY20. Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s holiday offerings.

Of the total, $5,426,889 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $153,051 was designated for EPC projects. These amounts only reflect gifts received and distributed by the Office of the General Assembly, and do not reflect donations given directly to WO global workers or other projects.

As noted in previous monthly reports, the decline in the total from FY20 is largely attributed to an anonymous $250,000 gift for church planting in December 2019 and more than $375,000 donated to the Emergency Relief Fund in 2019-2020 in response to Hurricane Dorian and the spring 2020 tornado outbreak.

“If we don’t consider any donations to church planting or emergency relief, giving to our global workers and designated funds is up more than $400,000 over last (fiscal) year,” Weaver said. “More than $360,000 of that was to support our World Outreach global workers. Who would have imagined when we closed the books on 2020 a year ago in the midst of the pandemic shutdown that a year later we would report this level of giving? God is so good!”

Reaping a harvest: Ward Church family befriends with apples

 

Jen and Mike List

This summer, Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Northville, Mich., is learning how to engage and befriend the people God has placed in its path. But turning neighbors into friends feels like it’s becoming a lost art. In people’s hectic lives, the last thing many want to do is try and cultivate any kind of relationship with those living on the other side of the privacy fence. And yet, that’s exactly what Mike and Jen List set out to do when they moved on to Harrison Street in Livonia, Mich., in 2014.

It may seem like that kind of neighborhood community now only lives in sitcoms and the memories of an older generation. But the Lists are proving that all it takes for authentic community to exist between neighbors is good food, warm hospitality, and a willingness to invite some intimacy and vulnerability into your lives.

It all started with apples.

The Lists’ home is situated on a full acre of land, and with that came a half a dozen or more apple trees. The apple harvest was plentiful in 2015, so they had an idea—invite the neighbors to help bring in the harvest, and then stick around and enjoy some of the fruits of their labors (pun intended). It wasn’t an entirely mercenary scheme. Jen had grown up in a close-knit neighborhood where everyone knew each other, and life easily flowed between homes. She wanted that again, especially for her two young daughters.

Mike List and his helpers grind freshly picked apples into cider.

“Neighbors were a big part of my life. We did everything with them,” Jen said. “So, when we moved here in Livonia, for me it was important to meet our neighbors.”

Even before they moved into their home, they came trick-or-treating in the neighborhood in hopes of meeting new people and establishing relationships. The harvest party was a natural next step for them in meeting more people. They printed flyers and went door to door, inviting everyone to their inaugural List Family Harvest Party.

“I like the quote, ‘If you’ve been blessed, build a bigger table, not a higher fence,” Mike said. “We thought it would be cool to have this Harvest Party. And we really did have a lot of apples.”

That first year, the turnout was modest, but the Lists started building friendships with those who came—especially two young families who lived nearby. Year after year, the harvest party grew. More families came. A chili cook-off was added, as well as doughnut taste-testing as people brought fresh doughnuts from cider mills around the state. The Harrison Street community grew with it.

“This is your community, whether you like it or not,” Jen said. “Regardless, you are sharing life with your neighbors so you might as well make the most of it.”

The Lists have hosted people from across the cultural spectrum. Musician friends, neighbor friends, work friends, church friends; people who would not necessarily hang out together have met at the List Family Harvest Party.

“Then you find out that random people know each other, or know someone who knows someone else, it shows just how small the world really is,” Jen said.

Article author Kelly Skarritt-Williams

This is where my family and I come in. We also moved onto Harrison Street in 2014. We lived a further down the road from the Lists, so didn’t meet them or learn about the annual harvest party until another life event threw us in their path. We met at the corner bus stop when our son and the Lists’ daughter were in kindergarten together. It’s amazing the conversations you have when you are waiting 15 minutes for the bus to show up. Soon, the Lists invited us to one of their “neighbor dinners” that they host throughout the year for young families living in and around Harrison Street.

To say that knowing them—and the other people we’ve met on our street—has been a blessing would be an understatement. I grew up not knowing my neighbors in any intimate way, but I had always longed for that. In fact, I had been praying for nearly three years to meet some families in the neighborhood with whom we could do life together.

For those of us in this neighbor friend group, we’ve seen the potential for spiritual conversations to emerge—even when not all the friends are Christians. Having a trusted relationship has opened doors to conversations and questions.

“Inviting people over was never about a mission or a project, but just a way to make friends,” Mike said. “However, conversations naturally come out of that because you are already a community.”

The community has grown to neighborhood text chains and sharing of resources. Tools, equipment, food—you name it, we share it. In addition to being a gardener, tree farmer, and musician, Mike also is a beekeeper, barista, and baker. Every once and a while we find baskets of bread and honey on our doorstep. My daughter has dubbed him the “bread fairy.”

In addition to summertime neighbor dinners, we plan holiday parties, birthday parties, camping trips, and bonfires. When my daughter was in the hospital for a few days in 2019, we came home to the neighborhood guys raking all the leaves in our yard.

“I feel like our neighborhood community has become one of the strongest communities we are a part of,” Jen said.

This community of friends and neighbors on Harrison Street exists today thanks to a family who didn’t wait for people to reach out to them. They reached out to others, opened their home, and allowed those seeds to produce a harvest of friendship.

More ideas for reaching your neighborhood

Want to start building a community in your neighborhood but not sure where to start? Do what comes naturally to you! Here are some ideas to start with. Just start reaching out. You never know who you might meet or what friendships might emerge!

  • Make cookies and drop off on doorsteps with a note.
  • Hang out in your front yard.
  • Hand out free lemonade to people walking by.
  • Plan a neighborhood bonfire.
  • Do a Rake and Run, or help with yard work or snow removal (e.g., clean the sidewalks after a big snow).
  • Build a little free library or use that space as a small food pantry.
  • Plan a neighborhood potluck and cookout.
  • Walk your neighborhood and stop and chat with people you pass (just be open to conversations that might happen spontaneously).
  • Be a curious person and genuinely interested in the people and things you might see around your neighborhood.
  • Take it upon yourself to keep your neighborhood clean, such as picking up any litter you find.
  • Be present and pay attention to the needs of your neighborhood. Is there a neighbor who seems like they might need a hand with something? Offer your help, but not in a pushy way.

by Kelly Skarritt-Williams
Ward Church Director of Digital Marketing and Communications

Jeff Jeremiah elected Stated Clerk Emeritus, honored at celebration dinner with testimonies, RTS fellowship space

 

Jeff Jeremiah

The 41st General Assembly unanimously elected outgoing Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah as Stated Clerk Emeritus on June 25. Jeremiah served as Stated Clerk of the EPC since 2006 and retired from the role upon completion of his fifth three-year term in June 2021.

“I am so very thankful that the Lord allowed me to serve Him and His Church as Stated Clerk for the past 15 years,” Jeremiah said. “Just the fact the He used me is humbling, and for the EPC to honor me in this way goes beyond anything I would have thought when I accepted this call. It has not always been easy, but it has been a labor of love.”

Recommendation 41-09 from the National Leadership Team (NLT) was approved 375 to 0, and marked the only unanimous vote across the past two Assemblies in which ballots were cast electronically.

“After our fully virtual 40th General Assembly when Commissioners voted by Zoom, I thought we would never have another unanimous vote—I am thankful to have been proved wrong,” Jeremiah quipped.

Celebration Dinner

During the “Jeff and Cindy Jeremiah Celebration Dinner” program on June 24 hosted by Bill Dudley, several EPC colleagues shared remembrances of the Jeremiahs’ impact on their lives over the years.

“I had only been in the EPC a short time when I developed a medical issue,” said Dudley, Moderator of the 33rd General Assembly. He related to the audience that he had been in intensive care for more than a week.

“I had just been rolled that morning from intensive care to my room,” Dudley recalled. “I felt horrible. There came a knock on my door, and there was Jeff Jeremiah. That day, I was prayed for by a pastor who came to visit me and to care for me. He sat there an entire day while a snowstorm just kept blowing across Chattanooga. He did that for a pastor that needed care.”

Norine and Andrew Brunson spoke about Jeff Jeremiah’s impact during his two-year imprisonment in Turkey.

Andrew Brunson, EPC Teaching Elder who was imprisoned in Turkey from October 2016 through October 2018, recapped how Jeremiah leveraged contacts in Washington, D.C., made through 14 years of ministry at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Md., on the Brunsons’ behalf—including then-Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“How remarkable what Jeff did for someone he had never met, and never even talked to,” Brunson said. “We were known to very few people in the EPC, and Jeff changed that for someone he didn’t know. So many people prayed for me in the EPC … Jeff was the one that God was really using to raise this prayer up in the EPC.”

Brunson concluded by stated that he has known Jeff “for a lot less time than most of you in this room, but I don’t think there’s anybody who owes more to Jeff than I do.”

Other speakers at the dinner included Brunson’s wife, Norine; John Adamson, Moderator of the 12th General Assembly and a member of the 2006 Stated Clerk Search Committee; Dean Weaver, Moderator of the 37th General Assembly and Jeremiah’s successor as Stated Clerk; Nancy Duff, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest and former member of the National Leadership Team; Case Thorp, Moderator of the 39th General Assembly; and Mary Griffin, wife of Scott Griffin, Moderator of the 36th General Assembly. A video of the 80-minute program is available below.

Jeremiah Patio

Thorp, a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean, announced the construction of the “Jeremiah Patio” on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS)’s Orlando campus. The project is a joint effort between RTS and the presbyteries of Florida and the Caribbean, East, Gulf South, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and West.

The Jeremiah Patio at Reformed Theological Seminary’s Orlando campus is slated for the open area through the “loggia” under the clock tower at the school’s main entrance.

“We’ve always dreamed of having an outdoor fellowship space,” said Leigh Swanson, RTS Vice President of Community Relations. “The center of community activity on our campus is an area we call ‘the loggia,’ which is directly beyond our main entrance under the clock tower. Our students enjoy congregating on the green spaces just off the loggia, and the patio on that spot will be an immeasurable addition to campus life.”

Swanson said “the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean offered the lead gift to honor Jeff and Cindy this way, and everyone at RTS was thrilled with the idea. Five other presbyteries quickly joined the effort.”

When complete, the 32-by-16-foot patio will feature seating for up to 20 students, lighting, and two woodburning fire pits with removable tabletops. A dedication service is planned for this fall, Swanson said.

“RTS is honored to provide something for our students that recognizes long and faithful service to Christ and His church,” she added. “Jeff and Cindy have served Christ faithfully—and well—for so many years. Having their name on this outdoor gathering space where our students hang out every day is an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.”

#epc2021ga

Brad Strait elected Moderator of 41st General Assembly

 

Brad Strait, Senior Pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colo., was elected Moderator of the EPC’s 41st General Assembly on June 23.

In his opening remarks, Strait noted that as a teenager he became a Christian in “one of the very first EPC churches as the EPC was being formed.”

“I grew up really not knowing anything but the fact that there is this denomination called the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which stands for something,” he said. Later as a young businessman, Strait began serving in volunteer ministry leadership roles at the urging of Irv Rinehart, Moderator of the EPC’s second General Assembly.

Brad Strait (left) receives the Moderator’s cross and stole from Glenn Meyers, Moderator of the 40th General Assembly. (photo credit: Scott Wiest)

“I said yes, and that became a piece of what I did,” he said. “God blessed the whole church, and some of that excess flowed into our ministry. Eventually I was asked to leave the business world and become a pastor.”

He reported to the Assembly that he and his wife, Cathy, spent a week in fasting and prayer over the decision. “We heard nothing from God,” Strait confessed. “So as a step of faith I said, ‘let’s start walking this out and see what God tells us.’ He confirmed it, and the fact that the path has led here is completely overwhelming.”

Strait led the Assembly in a recitation of Psalm 119:68, “God, you are good. All you do is good. Show us your way.”

“I believe God is good, and everything He does is good,” Strait declared. “Which means the last year is good. And the next year will be good. And even if there is great difficulty and struggle and suffering ahead of us—and my brothers and sisters, I believe the world is going to get harder, not easier—the key is: will we find His way? Lord, show us what it is that you are doing that is good. That is my hope for the future. And that is my hope for the EPC.”

Strait has more than 30 years of pastoral experience, and also teaches at Denver Theological Seminary in both Leadership and Spiritual Formation. He served as a grief counselor following the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the Aurora Theater tragedy in 2012, and the 2004 tsunami in south India. He has taught the Bible around the world and worked in refugee camps of Central America, South America, Africa, and Asia. He also has served as Chaplain for the Colorado House of Representatives, the Denver Rescue Mission, and several police and fire departments. He is a former Chairman of the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee and was part of the team that produced the EPC’s Leadership Training Guide: A Resource for Pastors, Elders, and Churches.

He and his wife, Cathy, have been married for 39 years. They have three daughters and three granddaughters.

#epc2021ga

41st General Assembly recordings available

 

Video recordings of the 41st General Assembly are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/ga2021recordings. Included are the Leadership Institute plenary sessions, worship service messages, committee verbal reports, dinner programs, and more.

The videos feature Ligon Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss.; D.A. Carson, Emeritus Professor of New Testament for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill..; George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.; Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Memphis, Tenn.; Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk; Glenn Meyers, Moderator of the 40th General Assembly; and more.

In addition, audio recordings of the Leadership Institute seminars “Chaplains Workshop,” “Creating Church Planting Networks and Partnerships,” and “The Israel of God” are available. These also are available in podcast form on the EPC’s podcast channel at www.podcast.epc.org as well as Spotify and iTunes—search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”

Audio recordings of numerous Networking Lunches will be available soon.

#epc2021ga

2021 Leadership Institute: Chaplains Workshop

 

In the 2021 Chaplains Workshop, Mark Ingles encouraged the Chaplains to remember their calling in settings that are often difficult.

“It’s hard to be a Chaplain,” Ingles said. “Every Chaplain who is doing their ‘ministry of presence’ is on the front lines, regardless of your military rank or where you fit in the hierarchy of your civilian institution or organization. You may get the idea—or actually be told—that you are only there to fulfill an organizational responsibility. But always remember, the people you minister to and support know your value. As does God, who is ultimately who we serve.”

Ingles also led the Chaplains in round-table discussions of how COVID-19 has impacted their ministries over the past 15 months.

“We were all impacted in one form or another,” Ingles said.

Ingles is the EPC Chaplain Endorser and is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the West.

The Chaplains Workshop is part of the Leadership Institute, an equipping component of the annual General Assembly Meeting.

#epc2021ga

2021 Leadership Institute: The Israel of God

 

In the 2021 Leadership Institute seminar The Israel of God, Mike Kuhn examined an array of passages from both the Old and New Testaments in light of the question, “how we should understand ‘Israel’ biblically?” He also considered three implications regarding the current state of Israel:

First, the identity boundaries of Israel were never ethnic but covenantal.

“The sign of the covenant was the identity marker,” he said.

Second, the Old Testament anticipates what the New Testament teaches—an expansion of those boundaries in terms of both land and people.

Third, all nations are included in the Israel of God—people—and the promised land is a renewal of all creation.

“Jesus, in word and action, gave sufficient indication that the true people of God are those people who believe the testimony about Him and join themselves to him to become one with Him,” Kuhn said. “Jesus is the spiritual progenitor of a new people, a new nation consisting of both Jews and Gentiles.”

Kuhn emphasized that this new nation is the inclusive and expansive continuation of Old Testament Israel.

“The difference is that now the anointed prophet, priest, and king has appeared—God’s eternal purpose for His people is fulfilled in Christ,” he said. “To use the language of Hebrews, the shadow has now given way to the reality. In Christ, God’s purposes are not merely proclaimed, but achieved. Christ is the Israel of God.”

Kuhn serves as Missional Theology Specialist for EPC World Outreach’s International Theological Education Network (ITEN). For more than 28 years, he lived in three different Arab countries: Morocco, Egypt, and Lebanon, where he served as Professor of Biblical Theology and Discipleship at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut from 2012-2018.

The Leadership Institute is an equipping component of the annual General Assembly meeting.

#epc2021ga

2021 Leadership Institute: Creating Church Planting Networks

 

In the 2021 Leadership Institute seminar Creating Church Planting Networks and Partnerships, Shane Sunn discussed three bottlenecks for starting a new church.

“First is having the right planter—an available, properly assessed church planter,” Sunn said. “We always want to have planters in the pipeline.”

He noted that the other two potential bottlenecks for planting a church are funding and location.

“We know where we want to go next, and it’s not always a city,” Sunn said. “We just planted a church in Kansas in a community of 2,500 people. But we always want to have a variety of options available—we don’t fully know how the Holy Spirit is working in the planter’s life.”

Sunn is Director of the Aspen Grove Church Planting Network in Denver, Colo.

The Leadership Institute is an equipping component of the annual General Assembly meeting.

#epc2021ga

General Assembly check-in is underway

 

Commissioner check-in for the 41st General Assembly has begun in earnest on Tuesday morning, June 22. The Assembly is June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. From left, registration staff Marti Ratcliff, Vanessa Mullendore, Rachel Joseph, and Cassie Shultz assist commissioners with their registration packets.

General Assembly kicks off on Tuesday, June 25, with the Leadership Institute. The plenary sessions, as well as Assembly business and worship services, are available via live stream at www.epc.org/ga2021livestream. More information on the 41st General Assemly, including a complete schedule of activities, is available at www.epc.org/ga2021.

#epc2021ga

#epc2021ga the official General Assembly hashtag

 

Add your voice to the proceedings of the 41st General Assembly by including the hashtag #epc2021ga on your social media posts. Connect your message with others on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms.

If you are not attending the Assembly, you can watch the live stream and monitor the social media feed at the same time at www.epc.org/ga2021livestream. The Leadership Institute plenary sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, the worship services, and the business sessions will be available on the stream. Audio recordings of select Leadership Institute workshops and Networking Lunches will be available following the Assembly.

Start talking!

#epc2021ga