Category Archives: Church News

Nine churches join EPC, three church plants become local churches in 2018–2019

 

A total of 12 churches joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church as local churches in the reporting period of May 31, 2018, through June 1, 2019. Of the nine new congregations, eight transferred from the Presbyterian Church (USA). One was previously an independent Presbyterian church. In addition, four church plants attained local church status.

These newest members of the EPC family of churches are:

Antioch Presbyterian Church (Jacksonville, N.C.)
Pastor currently vacant
www.antiochpresbyterian.weebly.com
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Church of the Redeemer (Maryville, Tenn.)
Dave Strunk, Pastor
www.churchotr.com
Presbytery of the Southeast

Deerfield EPC (Bridgeton, N.J.)
Kenneth Larter, Pastor
www.deerfieldpres.org
Presbytery of the East

First Presbyterian Church (Martinsburg, W.Va.)
Rufus Burton, Pastor
www.fpcmartinsbgwv.org
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

First Presbyterian Church of Stanton (Stanton, Ky.)
Lucas Waters, Pastor
www.fpcstanton.com
Presbytery of the Southeast

Grace Brevard EPC (Brevard, N.C.)
Brian Land, Pastor
www.gracebrevardchurch.org
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Grove Presbyterian Church EPC (Dunn, N.C.)
Michael Weaver, Pastor
www.grovechurchofdunn.com
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Langhorne Presbyterian Church (Langhorne, Pa.)
Bill Teague, Pastor
www.langhornepres.org
Presbytery of the East

Nación Santa (Haines City, Fla.)
Luis Quiñones, Pastor
www.nacionsantaflorida.com
Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean

New Albany EPC (New Albany, Ohio)
David Milroy, Pastor
www.newalbanypresbyterian.org
Presbytery of the Alleghenies

Stow Presbyterian Church (Stow, Ohio)
Bob Stanley, Pastor
www.stowpres.church
Presbytery of the Alleghenies

The Table (San Francisco, Calif.)
Troy Wilson, Pastor
www.thetablesf.com
Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest

Woodlands Presbyterian Church (Hot Springs Village, Ark.)
Randy Carstens, Pastor
www.woodlandschurchhsv.org
Presbytery of the Central South

#epc2019ga

Hope Church: Building a Multiethnic Church in Memphis

 

Reprinted courtesy of Outreach magazine. ©2019 Outreach Inc.

HopeChurch

From left, Rufus Smith (Senior Pastor), Eli Morris (Senior Associate Pastor), Craig Strickland (Founding Pastor). 

The prevailing wisdom is simple: If you want to grow a church, your watchword is “same.”

Choose a demographic. Age, skin color, wealth, recreational interest, education, or preferred coffee brewing method—like cleaves to like. In the last part of the 20th century, this observation was given a seminary worthy name (“the homogenous unit principle”) and taught nearly as gospel in pastoral classes. It’s hard to think of any concept (besides the parking lot) that did more for church growth between the 1980s and now.

By many metrics, this sameness is understandable. It is pragmatic, efficient, predictable, and, in many ways, sustainable. But how are we to understand church models of homogeneity in light of the still-haunting lament of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that Sunday at 11:00 a.m. is the most segregated hour in America? Put more directly, what does one do if one believes the gospel of reconciliation runs counter to “same”?

Memphis, Tenn., is no stranger to racial tensions. The very city, remember, is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Memphis is still fraught with divisions. They may rarely boil over. But they simmer.

So consider this: The largest white Presbyterian church in the country, Hope Church, has transitioned over the past eight years from an overwhelmingly white congregation to one that is thoroughly multiethnic—and continuing to diversify in genuine, long-term, and heartfelt ways. The catalyst in this change? A remarkable succession from founding pastor Craig Strickland, who is white, to Rufus Smith, an African-American, brought on as senior pastor in 2010. While the years since Smith’s hiring haven’t necessarily been easy, Hope’s transition has been one of remarkable beauty and success, into a multiethnic congregation that Hope calls a “mosaic,” reminiscent of art made from many small and colorful individual pieces.

Outreach Magazine editor-at-large Paul J. Pastor spoke with three of Hope’s key staff for this unique story: Smith, Senior Pastor; Strickland, Founding Pastor; and Eli Morris, Senior Associate Pastor. Believing that their only hope to live the gospel in a changing neighborhood was to change with it, Hope’s story is one of honesty, collaboration, patience, and vision.

Craig, let’s start with you. Tell us the story of Hope’s founding and early years.

Craig: I had been on staff at another church here in Memphis for about 10 years, and began to feel the call of God to start a new church specifically for the unchurched. Here in the South, I’d noticed a trend: Christians bounced between churches frequently, but it seemed the unchurched simply weren’t being reached. Few new fish were being added to the bowl. Our best efforts of outreach weren’t working. So with my home church’s financial and spiritual support, my wife and I struck out to plant a new church along with two other couples.

That was in 1988. Back then, the hot new thing was to use a telemarketing campaign and mass mailings to get the word out about a church plant. So we did it, sending thousands of pieces of mail, ending in an invite to our launch. We targeted only those responders who weren’t already members of a local church.

All that to say we started Hope distinctly for people who had given up on church, but not on God, and that’s helpful to remember as we begin the story.

The plant was successful, and grew. I was friends with Eli, who was working on the urban staff of Young Life at the time, and he soon joined our staff, bringing his skill and passion for urban ministry to our suburban context. As the years began to pass, we went through most of the markers of a thriving young church: outgrowing our rented spaces, eventually finding our own building, which allowed for a whole new season of growth.

Eli, what about Hope’s early vision caught your eye?

Eli: Well, my passion for urban ministry and Young Life meant I was already passionate about many kids who were holding the faith at arm’s length—young people who didn’t know about or think much of church.

I’d grown up in pretty conservative Bible church circles, and had never really seen a church that reached out to unchurched people. But at Hope, I saw much of what I was doing in a secular context of a high school with Young Life playing out in a local church.

From the beginning, it was clear that we needed to connect Hope with the city, though. And one of the reasons that we’ve been successful with this move to mosaic multiethnic ministry is that our church DNA was bigger than the confines of just “our neighborhood” or “our church.” For all our limitations in terms of demographics in those early days, there was a connection to something bigger. If you have those values from the beginning, you’ll have a much easier transition. That doesn’t mean that you’re stuck if you don’t—but that openness helped our process to multiethnic ministry.

Pastor Rufus, where were you in 1988 as Hope was being founded?

Rufus: Houston, Texas. I was in the last couple years of working in the business world, and beginning to move toward full time pastoral ministry. I took my first senior pastor role in 1990. It ended in disaster a year and a half later—I think from my youthful arrogance. I left pastoral ministry after that to return to business.

But every step along the way would prove to be important in my ministry. In 1996, I got into nonprofit sector ministry, then in 1998 took a church in Houston called City of Refuge. It was an Evangelical Presbyterian church that wanted to look like their neighborhood, a group of people who had originally formed out of a rather conservative congregation, with an eye to be a church that reached people on the margins. They also wanted to become multiethnic but didn’t know how to do that.

By the time I met them in 1998, the church was on life support—about 40 people, 39 of them white. “We don’t know what we’re doing,” they said, “but we have a heart for more. Before we give up, would you consider being our pastor?”

Now something was going on in me between ’92 and ’98. The painful separation from my first congregation—a middle-class, African-American Baptist church—had been used by the Lord to move my heart toward mosaic ministry and thinking about the beauty and possibilities of church as a multiethnic community. I had been primed to want this, partly through some pain.

Ironically, the church I’d had that painful separation from extended me a call to return as pastor at the same time City of Refuge invited me. But by that point, even though the other church was much larger, I knew that the multiethnic ministry I had begun to feel called to would be better if I started with a smaller group. I also felt that it would be easier for a majority Caucasian church to transition to a mosaic than for a majority African-American church. (Based on my study at the time, I knew that the most difficult churches to integrate were African-American or Korean congregations.) City of Refuge it was.

During that time, what were some of your influences or learning experiences?

Rufus: Well, God had been leading me since I was young toward understanding the dynamics of integrated racial settings. Starting in the fifth grade, I was bussed for three years to a nearly all-white school as a sort of test case for our school district, which was my first exposure to an all-white environment. In sixth grade I was elected as student body president, and the whole experience taught me a lot about white culture and about racial relationships. From eighth grade on, I was back in an all-black school in a poorer district of Houston, so I had both of those experiences to help shape me. I had a new frame of reference.

As I moved into business, many formative experiences there shaped my thinking too. I simply had to become comfortable walking across demographic divides.

In addition, my pastor and mentor would frequently preach cross-culturally. One week he sent me to a preaching opportunity that slowly led to many other invitations to speak in both African-American and Caucasian churches. All these dynamics contributed.

Let’s talk about Memphis. What’s the specific context that Hope was planted in?

Craig: Eli and I both grew up in Memphis and know the city well. Racism in Memphis never went away, it just went underground. Every now and then it pops its ugly head up. Invariably politicians or the sheriff are blamed when it does, or an industry or a similar institution. And all of them have responsibilities of course. But racial reconciliation, I believe, is the responsibility of the local church. I have preached that here for 40 years.

There are great divides in Memphis, and always have been. Some shifts are happening, but in general the city breaks down into neighborhoods based on race and income. The “haves” are stereotypically white and suburban. The “have-nots” are stereotypically African-American and urban. So from the beginning, Eli’s work in the city helped connect our white, suburban church to people and needs different than what we encountered on a daily basis out in the community we had planted Hope in.

Eli: Church leaders have a remarkable opportunity to impact culture, don’t they? You can encourage a culture of service, compassion, and acceptance, or a culture of rigidity and all sorts of things that are negative. Involving people throughout the city for years helped lay the groundwork for what God had in mind for our church to become.

It sounds like even though Hope was essentially all white at that point, you were cultivating an open church.

Eli: Yes. But the problem was that we were operating under a church-growth model that was a philosophy of being homogeneous. Birds of a feather, right? The strategy was really clear: Find a neighborhood that is booming (which probably means “all white”) and get in there and grow. There was never a serious discussion of being multiracial in that traditional church-growth model.

Craig: Yes, that tug to be diverse complicated things for us. It’s so much easier not to seek community with people who are different than you are. Part of the complication was that we had this incredible urban ministry with hundreds of volunteers. We were known for it in the city. Still are. But that did not translate into any of those people we were serving coming to our church. Largely, that was because of access—they were in other parts of town. If you’re from urban Memphis, getting out of the city center to go to a thriving, white, rich suburb doesn’t feel accessible.

So what changed?

Craig: The neighborhood. [Laughs] Over the years, the demographics around us changed. It had been virtually all-white when we planted Hope. But within 10 years that wasn’t as true anymore, and after 15? We recognized that we no longer were reflecting our physical neighborhood on a Sunday morning.

Eli: Today, our neighborhood is about one-third African-American.

Craig: So Eli and I had to do some real soul-searching. We had said that we were a church for our community. But what were we really doing to accomplish that? MLK’s famous quote still rang true: Our Sunday morning at 11:00 was part of the most segregated hour in America.

We began to slowly make intentional steps toward a more diverse staff and leadership. We brought on a youth pastor, worship staff, and eventually deacons and elders who were African-American. We began to find ways to integrate the church to better reflect our neighborhood. For us, those decisions felt very slow to implement but very strategic. We had to remind ourselves that this was not going to be an easy overnight change. It was too important for that.

In the middle of that, our staff committee came to the realization that our church, like many large churches, was very vulnerable to something happening to me as pastor. If I went down for any reason—health, moral failing, or what have you—the church likely would not survive. We realized that we needed to act early to plan for me to retire one day and to build resilience in now for our congregation. They came to me and asked me to put together a succession plan.

After about six months of reading, studying, and praying, I had one. My plan was to bring someone on gradually to replace me, allowing me to ease them in, and then for me to remain as a member of the church once they were the senior pastor. I would be out of his hair, with no formal responsibilities, but if there’s a crisis or he needs me, I could help. They thought that this was a brilliant idea. But the clincher was yet to come.

“One other thing,” I said. “He needs to be African-American.”

Now this is Memphis, Tennessee. This is where Dr. King was assassinated. Man, their eyes got big.

“Just pray about it,” I said. And they did.

A couple months later we revisited it, and to the person, they decided it was the right direction for the church. Then we took it to our session, which also unanimously agreed, and so we began to search for the right fit.

Rufus, when the invitation from Hope came, you weren’t eager to leave City of Refuge, were you?

Rufus: Not at all! It was unimaginable. I had been there just shy of 12 years, and the church was doing very well. We were growing, having created a strong culture. We had ups and downs like any congregation, but those 40 people bought into the vision of being a community that looked like our neighborhood in Houston. We were meeting in a homeless shelter, which lent itself to ministry on the margins, and then bought a piece of property in a slightly more affluent neighborhood. Over time, the church grew to about 400, and we were very active in the community, including through a Christian school for low-income kids and a community development center.

So connect the dots between City of Refuge and Hope.

Rufus: Craig, Eli, and I had a relationship since 1998, when I was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor. About 2003, I asked Craig to come down and visit in a consulting role with our staff and leaders. I considered him to be an excellent exegete of a community. His insights on our building and development plans were important.

But when Craig first called with the invitation, things were going well. I was not interested in leaving. The church was growing in size, diversity, and impact. I was just seeing the fruit of hard work—I didn’t want to have to start over again! There was no way I was going to say yes.

… Until you did.

Rufus: [Laughs] Exactly. Craig was persistent. He called back and stayed in touch, at one point asking, “Rufus, why is it that we only consider the call of God when we’re either failing or burnt out? Why can’t we consider the call of God when things are going well?” That convicted me.

I didn’t even tell my wife about the invitation until a few months after Craig’s first call—I wasn’t going anywhere, right? But finally I did, and she reminded me that this was my second invitation to a church in Memphis. I’d completely forgotten, but another church had reached out a few years earlier, also with an invitation that had multiethnic ministry as its heartbeat. “Maybe we ought to pray about it,” she said. And so we did.

I was impressed during conversations with Craig and Eli, with the fact that they stayed in the conversation with me. Since I didn’t plan on seriously considering the opportunity, I asked the hard heart questions with complete freedom—didn’t try to soften or talk around anything. My goal at that point was to try to help them think of everything that could go wrong with that kind of transition in leadership, and of all the possibilities. One of those questions threw the whole conversation into sharp relief.

“Why would you, the largest Presbyterian church in the country, want to take this risk?” I asked. And Eli replied, hardly skipping a beat, “It would be a worse risk if we didn’t do this.”

Making a long story short, the rest was history. By September 2010, I was here in Memphis.

Eli, what specifically was that “worse risk” you referred to?

Eli: Well, besides the gospel heartbeat at the core of mosaic ministry, the truth was that the neighborhood was changing. Our church would survive for a while out of its current health, but it could not survive long-term as the demographics changed in the neighborhood. So anything less than a strategic transition was just stalling an eventual decision to either move or close the church. You can see churches all through the United States destroyed by demographic changes that could be bringing them new life. I’m 63—so I wouldn’t have to live through the church’s demise. But my kids would. My grandkids would. The smart thing, we saw, was to make the transition now. There would never be a better time. We’d be idiots not to do this.

Fast-forward to now—give us a snapshot of where Hope is today.

Rufus: We’re a congregation that is about 70 percent Caucasian and about 26 percent African-American, and about 4 percent other. We are a church that has started to move from acculturation to assimilation. We use the 20 percent model that sociologists point to as a tipping point for a group: Get past 20 percent and you won’t just have African-Americans coming to Hope and acculturating to the existing culture, but you have real assimilation, which is much more reciprocal. They aren’t just adapting to the culture—they are changing it.

You’ll feel that during the musical worship—sometimes you will even feel tension in the room as we sing, because there is nearly always someone in the room who is encountering something culturally unfamiliar in a given song. If you visit, you’ll feel that we’re a congregation finding a third way. We’re struggling to be a third way—not white, not black, but something bigger than both. That’s a tension. It’s also a joy.

We think of this as a three-step process. Congregations moving toward integration go through three stages: toleration → appreciation → celebration.

We are at the stage of genuine appreciation. But we’re not at that third one of celebration yet. It takes time. But we have definitely moved from toleration to appreciation in our church.

Eli: Rufus is right in saying that about 26 percent of our worship gathering is African-American. But if you go to our new members classes to see what our future is going to look like, they are at least 50 percent African-American. The numbers are moving more rapidly than I ever thought they would.

And that is a remarkable victory. This transition, in terms of the work and care involved, is about as difficult as church planting—more so, in some ways. It is one complicated thing. You need more than token faces on stage. You need leaders at every level of the staff and team.

It requires so much awareness and intentionality. You must be open-minded. You must set aside a lot of preferences that you didn’t know you had.

That difficulty undoubtedly holds many congregations back. Craig, what did it take behind the scenes to ensure that Rufus would be welcomed?

Craig: In my experience, the single biggest factor that indicates any succession is the outgoing pastor’s ability to set their ego aside. We made this transition slowly—it took over two-and-a-half years. Our goal was to eventually have shifted every single thing to Rufus so that when we finally made the announcement that I was stepping back and he was stepping in, we could enthusiastically reply, “Nothing!” when people asked, “What’s going to change?” The change, in terms of leadership, had been incremental and was essentially completed by the time awareness about it was really surfacing.

So we phased everything to Rufus—slowly. Meetings held in my office gradually shifted to his. One by one, I quietly stepped down from leading various committees and he stepped up.

One moment that stands out as a tipping point was when we were trying to figure out the logistics of our office, having brought on a new staff member, and the layout just wasn’t working. A group of us spent about three hours brainstorming, until it finally dawned on me. “I need to move out of my office and give it to Rufus,” I said. We all knew that we weren’t just talking about a building at that point. Rufus looked at me, and said, “Craig, do you think that you can make that move OK?” “I think I can,” I replied. “But we’ll just have to see.” So we found a great little space for me, and I moved out. That symbolized to all the staff that I wasn’t in charge anymore.

That thought—I think I can do this, but we’ll have to see—came to me probably 20 times throughout the transition. I think I can preach less. I think I can go to fewer key meetings. I think I can yield to Rufus’ authority when we have a disagreement.

For senior pastors, that will always be the most important factor for success or failure in a succession. It took incredible trust on Rufus’ part, and it took incredible trust on my part. We only have had a few times where we seriously disagreed on an important issue. Most of those times, I swallowed hard, and said, “OK. This is your decision. I’ll live with it. I won’t be a baby about it. I’ll accept it like any staff member should.” There was only one exception to that, one hill that I was not willing to let go. In that case, Rufus let it go, proving that this was a two-way street.

That mutual humility and care has been what has allowed this to get a strong start. The spirit of compromise is essential for this to ever work. I continue to preach a couple times a year, at Rufus’ request. I’m still available should he need me. But we have entered a new season.

Rufus, anything to add to that?

Rufus: It helped that we knew each other and had very frank conversations before I got here. It also helped to get a range of perspectives. We did study, talked to people who went through similar transitions, and paid special attention to dissect models that had failed to not repeat the mistakes of others.

I especially appreciated Craig’s humility in giving me key decisions—such as staff hiring—from Day 1, knowing that they would affect me, and for his openness to my leadership style, which was much more collaborative. (As a church planter you need more directive leadership, but my style is very collaborative.)

Let’s talk about the tensions present as a church searches for the “third way” you mentioned earlier. Rufus, what does it demand of a pastor to lead a church toward mosaic ministry?

Rufus: Well, many of the lessons that I learned through previous ministry paid off after coming to Hope. God had been gracious in letting me learn through some mistakes.

What kind of mistakes?

Rufus: The first mistake that I’d made was not having patience with people. The biblical principle of being a mosaic congregation like the first church in antiquity is a gospel imperative. But that doesn’t mean that people will automatically accept it.

In my previous church leadership, I see now that I did not give people time to digest the principles that we needed to live out. You can’t assume that a church, even if they’re open to becoming a mosaic congregation, is going to automatically accept anything. It takes a lot of time and a lot of incremental changes. In Houston, I pushed the envelope too quickly.

I also learned the importance of giving people a voice even if they don’t have ultimate choice. It’s hard to get people to buy into a change if they don’t feel heard. One example of this in Houston had been in our children’s classes. There was a sharp divide between kids with strong biblical knowledge and those without. It just happened that the breakdown there was between more privileged, largely white families (who’d attended church and often private Christian schools) and the newer African-American families who’d begun attending. Understandably, those with more biblical knowledge felt that Sunday school was being “dumbed down,” and there was frustration. I made certain decisions to keep the teaching friendly to those hearing the stories for the first time. What I should have done sooner was simply get everyone in the room and talk about it. Even if we’d ended in the same ultimate strategy, there would have been greater consensus and a sense of unity. That’s just respecting people.

How did you teach to encourage this third way?

Rufus: I learned in Houston to keep the biblical example of Jews and Gentiles foremost in people’s minds. Ethnic divisions in the church are not a new problem. The Holy Spirit has tackled this issue before, right? And he won. Frustration forced me to seek out that biblical blueprint. The Jewish Christians, who were exclusive, “chosen,” arrogant and stuck in their thinking were used to reach out to a Gentile world quite different than they were. How in the world did they make that work?

I decided to teach Scripture on this point, without making any explicit reference to the brown/white racial tensions of our day. I was just teaching on the Jews and Gentiles, right? We saw the spirit of reconciliation at work in them, without ever overtly connecting it to our setting. That gave people the necessary distance to ease into thinking about how they were being exclusive without directly threatening their social context.

I remember going to a large Barna convention in Houston in 1998. At the end, I went up to George Barna with a question. “Dr. Barna,” I said, “I am leading a church that wants to become multiethnic. Can you give me information on models?”

I’ll never forget his reply: “Young man, when you find out what works, you let me know. It’s not even a blip on our radar.” That was just over 20 years ago.

I simply didn’t have a blueprint. I’m sure there was one somewhere, but I didn’t know where to look. Eventually I discovered The Brooklyn Tabernacle and went in 1999 to spend four days with that church behind the scenes. But that was the first model of a church like that that I’d seen in practice, and even then there were many gaps that I had to fill in for our context.

But it’s the biblical example presented carefully that breaks down walls. When people really hear what Paul taught—that there is neither Jew nor Greek (race), bond nor free (class), male or female (gender)—when they really see that and how the Spirit of God led the church in the Bible 2,000 years ago—it’s different than them feeling accused. They begin to see the joy and hope of it.

What other principles about the transition can you share?

Rufus: Well, let me just be totally transparent about everything that feels relevant here.

It took about two-and-a-half years to complete the succession plan, and about six-and-a-half to go from 1 percent African-American to that tipping point of 20 percent. We did suffer a total membership loss of about 700 people, and a financial loss of about a $1 million. We have not made it a habit over the last eight years to discuss race except during one short sermon series per year. We believe that more is caught than taught. It’s also important to state that we do not deify or idolize multiethnicity.

Go deeper here. Talk to us about the reconciliation aspect of this kind of ministry.

Rufus: Language is important for us here. We think the biblical approach starts with spiritual reconciliation rather than racial reconciliation. The term “racial reconciliation” is great, but it draws our attention to the surface issue of skin whereas the term “spiritual reconciliation” calls us to focus on the deeper issue of sin, which lies at the roots of our racial history and pain. Go to the root—spiritual reconciliation (harmony between God and humankind) must address racial inequity, but racial reconciliation (harmony between human being and human being) does not usually address spiritual reconciliation.

Racial reconciliation is often driven by law and guilt. Spiritual reconciliation, while encompassing all that racial reconciliation does, is motivated by love and sincerity of heart. Racial reconciliation looks to the greater good and what is seen, which is wonderful, but spiritual reconciliation looks to the Kingdom and the unseen soul. Racial reconciliation is empowered by the human will, which will weary over time, but spiritual reconciliation is emboldened by the Holy Spirit, whose power never wanes. Racial reconciliation is important, but spiritual reconciliation is indispensable if a divided people want to go beyond mere coexistence to enriched living. Government policies have gone as far as they can go; only when spiritual reconciliation is practiced can we perfect our churches, cities, or our country’s union.

Let’s return to your earlier triad: toleration → appreciation → celebration. You say that Hope is at the “appreciation” phase. What did it take to get from toleration to appreciation?

Rufus: Well, besides simple visibility—diverse faces sharing the stage and social media, that kind of thing—there are three principles that we’ve learned that have gotten us to appreciation: conviction, conversation, and community.

First, it takes a conviction that mosaic ministry is a gospel imperative. It’s not extra. It’s related to the core of the faith.

The second principle is conversation. Fellowship is how you move forward. You get people together to converse, centered on the Word of God.

Finally, community. Get people together. Create spaces for civil, candid, Christ-centered conversations. Make it about the Bible, not just cultural or political views.

We do this through a program called Ethnos, which is our multigenerational, multiethnic small group ministry. We get people together—six people to a table, 24 people in a room. They spend 10 weeks together, eating meals together and studying the Bible. Then the group does three “spiritual adventures” together, which takes them outside. Friendships grow there, and we conclude the time by having people invite people they know to take part in the next cohort. We now have about 400 graduates of this, and the impact has been incredible. Those people have become the grassroots culture of diverse friendships.

What will it take to get to celebration?

Rufus: A growing culture of diverse relationships. We want our congregation to all be able to name at least two real friends who are different from them, generationally or racially. As well, we look forward to the day when our music is a real symbol of who we are—when no one is complaining about their preferences, but our mixed mosaic congregation can worship freely together in all sorts of styles. We’re getting closer and closer to that. But it’s not complete celebration yet.

We’re just now getting to the place where we don’t need quotas any more. In the past, we have had to count key volunteers—“How many elders or deacons are white? How many are brown?” We don’t like that and are glad to be past that stage.

One interesting dynamic is that moving to be more multiethnic has side benefits—for example, we are more multigenerational now. We are addressing that formally in our mission statement to reach our unchurched neighbors of every age or ethnicity. Mosaic encourages the mosaic.

Younger people are the ones who must get this. They are realizing that they are not part of the post-racial society that they thought they were, and they understand that every generation must work hard for unity. But they want to sustain it. All of this plays into the celebration of the differences that God’s made us with.

We learned a long time ago that this is the Lord’s church. He gave us the example of what a worshiping community is supposed to be. We just have to be faithful to that vision and the hard work of preserving it in a culture that works to separate us according to human divisions of age, gender, race, and class. The true gospel of Jesus creates a community that’s more like a salad bowl than a melting pot. I use that example all the time. We maintain our distinctions and celebrate them. We don’t leave all our cultural differences behind to become homogenous. Our individual differences and identities contribute beautifully to the larger whole that God is building.

That’s not easy. But it is so worth it.

 

www.OutreachMagazine.com

www.outreachmagazine.com/features/41640-hope-church-a-mosaic-in-the-heart-of-memphis-part-1.html

www.outreachmagazine.com/interviews/41652-hope-church-from-toleration-to-celebration-part-2.html

Westminster Presbyterian Church (Enid, Okla.) merges with local congregation to form new Westminster Church

 
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Westminster Presbyterian Church in Enid, Okla., purchased the building and grounds of West Willow Community Church. The two congregations merged to form the new Westminster Church. (Photo credit: Bonnie Vculek / Enid News & Eagle)

Westminster Presbyterian Church of Enid, Okla., recently purchased the building and grounds of West Willow Community Church in Enid, providing a new home to the Westminster members and joining both congregations into the newly formed Westminster Church. Westminster pastor Tim Palmer said his congregation completed the purchase in March, and has moved into the West Willow Community Church location.

Since joining the EPC in October 2011, Westminster has been held its worship services in the sanctuary of the Enid Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Palmer said his congregants are looking forward to having a permanent church home.

“They’re excited,” Palmer said with a laugh. “They like to talk about how they’ve spent time wandering in the wilderness.”

But, they’re not simply buying a church building. It’s more a merger of the two congregations, said Don Tines, pastor of West Willow, who is staying on as administrative pastor. Palmer will be lead pastor of the new congregation, and Tines said the majority of the approximately 60 members of West Willow are joining the 130 members of Westminster Presbyterian to form the new, larger congregation of Westminster Church.

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Tim Palmer (right) is Lead Pastor of Westminster Church. Don Tines (left) is the former pastor of West Willow Community Church and now is Westminster’s Associate Pastor.

Tines, originally from Detroit, has been the pastor at West Willow since he came to Enid in 1983. Palmer, originally from Franklin, Tenn., graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., in 2013. He came to Enid last July to pastor Westminster.

The newly-formed congregation has deep roots in Enid, going back to 1921, when the West Willow congregation formed as the Frisco Mission Church. The congregation incorporated as an independent Bible church in 1935, and in 1992 relocated to its current location and took its new name on West Willow.

Palmer said the Westminster members want to build on that history and continue to build on two strong congregations that can be stronger together.

“We’re two churches that have different strengths and great people,” Palmer said, “and our two churches are much more powerful working together.”

Tines said it was a natural fit for Palmer to take the lead role in Westminster Church.

“I’m much closer to the end of my career than he is,” Tines said, “and we’re hoping and praying he will have a long and successful ministry here.”

Tines said he’s served as a consultant with Westminster since its split from First Presbyterian, and the merger of the two congregations has been a work long in progress. “This is like a marriage that is taking place after a long courtship,” he said.

That new “marriage” has advantages for both congregations, Tines said.

“This is the greatest opportunity, for both congregations, I think we could have imagined,” Tines said. “They get a very nice facility, turn-key, and we get a boost in influence and opportunity.”

Tines said the desire to sell the West Willow church building and merge with Westminster wasn’t born of finances or size of their congregation. “The motive is to do something bigger for the gospel,” Tines said.

He cited the number and size of Enid churches—more than 130 churches, with about 100 of them having congregations smaller than 50 people—as evidence of the need to merge like-minded congregations to effect greater Christian impact in the community.

“The message and the influence wanes because of how many churches we’ve split into,” Tines said, “and it breaks my heart that this community is so splintered.”

Tines said many congregations are split more by personality than by doctrine or denomination. He said those lines were no impediment to joining West Willow and Westminster.

“We don’t have to change much of anything, because we’re both of the same persuasion,” Tines said. “Obviously, we’re very excited about it.”

Palmer said Westminster Church still will be aligned with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but will serve as a congregation open to varied backgrounds.

“We have a Presbyterian heritage that we’re proud of,” Palmer said. “We’ll always be proud of our background and heritage, but we’re a place where people can come from all different backgrounds to experience the grace of God.”

Palmer said he wants people to view Westminster not as a church for a certain denomination, but as a neighborhood church.

“We want to be the neighborhood church for all the people who live within the circle of this church, and it doesn’t matter if they grew up Presbyterian, or Baptist, or Methodist, or whatever,” Palmer said. “All that matters is that they love Jesus, they want to be a part of a great church family and spread the gospel. We want people to feel like this church is for everybody, and it’s just right down the street.”

Palmer said the new congregation is looking forward to moving forward as one, made possible by strong lay leaders that have been brought into both congregations over the last year.

“God has put the perfect people in place, and we feel like this is the next step God has for us,” Palmer said. “There’s no telling what’s in store with the path we’re on. We have a very bright future.”

Reprinted courtesy of Enid News & Eagle.

https://www.enidnews.com/news/local_news/westminster-west-willow-community-churches-merge-to-form-new-congregation/article_356619fe-e568-5554-838e-bcc1e6cbdd1d.html

 

Don Galardi retires following 39-year pastorate of Community EPC in Owosso, Mich.

 
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Don Galardi (right) received a plaque from the Session of Community EPC commemorating his 39 years of ministry. RE Russ Wing presented the plaque on behalf of the Session (pictured left to right): RE Ron DeHaas, RE Emeritus Gordon Parkinson, RE Scott Hammersley, RE Lyle Pratt, RE Collin Rose (behind Wing), TE Jason Steele, and TE Jim Rose (behind Galardi).

Longtime EPC Pastor Don Galardi retired after nearly 40 years of ministry at Community Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Owosso, Mich., in March 2019. He has served as pastor of the Owosso congregation since 1980, and led the church into the EPC’s Presbytery of the Midwest in 1982.

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah noted that Galardi is the last active EPC pastor who attended the first General Assembly in 1981.

“He retires as the longest-serving pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church,” Jeremiah told those gathered for the retirement service on March 16 at the D’Mar Banquet and Conference Center in Owosso. “What Don has done in serving you for almost 40 years is rare and extraordinary. I know of only one other pastor who has served in the same church for his entire ministry career.”

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State Rep. Ben Frederick (right) presented Galardi a congratulatory document signed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

In addition to his pastorate, Galardi was instrumental in starting a local pregnancy resource center; began the first community food bank; joined with other local groups in outreach events; and taught pastors in Bolivia, Colombia, and Siberia. He is a former Moderator of the Presbytery of the Midwest, and served on the EPC’s Committee on Administration and Permanent Judicial Commission.

In 2015, he published Corrective Church Discipline: What Every Christian Should Know About the Third Mark of the Church which was based on his 2006 dissertation for the Doctor of Religious Studies degree from Trinity Theological Seminary. He also holds a M.A.T.S. degree from Reformed Theological Seminary.

Also in attendance at the ceremony was Michigan State Rep. Ben Frederick, who presented a congratulatory document signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

March Jeremiah Journal highlights Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

 

In the March 2019 edition of the Jeremiah Journal, Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri and Juan Rivera, Pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, describe how some of the donations to the EPC’s Hurricane Maria Emergency Relief Fund were put to use in Puerto Rico.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

EPC church members safe following Alabama tornado outbreak

 
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Debris litters a yard the day after a deadly tornado damaged a home in Beauregard, Ala., Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

First Presbyterian Church of Opelika, Ala., escaped damage during the March 3 tornado outbreak that devastated portions of southern Alabama. As of March 5, 23 people had lost their lives in Beauregard, a rural community about 10 miles south of Opelika.

“No one in our congregation had major damage or injury,” said Josh Yates, Assistant Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, “though some of our long-time members knew some of the victims.”

Yates reported that numerous aid organizations were in the area, but the authorities are asking people to stay out of the affected area until all residents are accounted for. News outlets are reporting as many as several dozen people are still considered missing.

“We are in a holding pattern right now as far as relief goes,” Yates said. “Since things are still in a search-and-rescue mode, cleanup efforts would probably not occur until next week. Plus, area residents have donated so much in the way of dry goods and supplies that right now we have more than we need.”

Yates noted that the church expects numerous opportunities to minister as the recovery continues.

“We are very thankful that all of our church members were spared,” he said, “but pray for us that we would share the gospel during all of this, and for wisdom to provide the right kind of help when and where it’s needed.”

Fund established for Andrew Brunson recuperation/recovery

 

WelcomeBackAndrewFundThe EPC has established a fund to assist Andrew and Norine Brunson in their recovery from their two-year ordeal in Turkey. Andrew will serve as Missionary-in-Residence at Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C., for one year, and gifts to the fund—dubbed the “Welcome Back, Andrew! Fund”—will be sent to the church to finance the position. Christ Community Church is the Brunsons’ home congregation.

Richard White, Pastor of Christ Community Church, said the role was designed and created specifically for Andrew and Norine.

“With the challenges of resettling back in the U.S. after 25 years in Turkey—plus the crush of requests we knew he’d receive—we wanted to provide Andrew and Norine the opportunity of a safe place to rest and recover,” he said. “Andrew’s primary responsibility as our Missionary-in-Residence will be to heal, and then to discern God’s direction for their future.”

In addition to compensation and benefits, donations to the fund will cover court costs Andrew incurred with his conviction in Turkey of terrorism charges; relocation expenses; a travel allowance to help the Brunsons reconnect with their adult children (who live in three different parts of the U.S.); and seek the medical and spiritual help they will need in the months ahead.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said the goal is to raise $160,000 and the fund will be closed when the target is reached.

“Throughout Andrew’s 25 months of unjust incarceration in Turkey, churches and individuals constantly contacted our office asking if they could provide financial help to the Brunsons,” he said. “Our response up to now has been that the time had not yet come, but we will be ready when it does. Now is that time.”

The fund was authorized by the EPC National Leadership Team. The Session of Christ Community Church approved the position on October 22, and Andrew accepted the offer on October 27.

“Let’s build on the memorable prayer, fasting, and advocacy efforts we made for Andrew and Norine by supporting the Missionary-in-Residence position at Christ Community Church,” Jeremiah added.

Click here to donate to the Welcome Back, Andrew! Fund.

Mid-Atlantic church leaders assess damage from Hurricane Florence

 
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Flooding from Hurricane Florence inundated the parking area of Myrtle Grove EPC in Wilmington, N.C., but by September 19 had not entered the church building.

As flooding from Hurricane Florence continues to affect the Carolinas, pastors of EPC churches in the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic continue to assess storm damage and prepare for further flooding from rain-swollen rivers.

At least 37 deaths in three states have been confirmed as a result of the storm, which dumped as much as three feet of rain in parts of North Carolina. More than 10,000 residents remain displaced.

Stacey Miller, Pastor of Myrtle Grove Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, N.C., reported via email on September 17 that the primary difficulty is that flooding has isolated Wilmington. The city of 120,000 is on the Atlantic coast in southeastern North Carolina, just north of the South Carolina border and was still mostly surrounded by floodwaters on September 19.

“Flood waters are blocking roads and highways in every direction,” Miller wrote. “As the inland creeks recede, the rivers are rising and are expected to crest at record levels. So it may be quite some time before routes are clear for people to be able to drive in and out of the city.”

He said about half of the church members and staff evacuated before the storm and are currently unable to return.

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Flood waters covering Interstate 40 outside Wilmington, N.C.

“One of our elderly members is in ICU and her daughters can’t get to Wilmington to be with her,” he wrote. “In the community at-large, we have heard some sobering stories of total destruction of property, and flood damage with no flood insurance. Once all of our members return to Wilmington and assess their property, we may hear of other major losses within our own flock as well.”

Miller noted that he has been able to contact many church members, including some who stayed as well as some who evacuated before the storm hit.

“I know of two members who had trees come through the roof,” he wrote. “Otherwise, most have had trees down in yards, roof leaks, and other relatively minor issues. There have been few reports of major damage for our folks who stayed. As we have heard from members of our congregation, the prevailing theme is that God has been gracious to us.”

He said the church roof lost some shingles, resulting in some minor water damage. “Otherwise, there appears to be very minimal damage to our property,” he said.

Keith Cobb, Pastor of Hollywood Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Greenville, N.C., reported a “significant leak around our steeple, and water under several doors throughout the building. This, of course, is minimal in comparison to what is going on around us.” He noted that since the Tar River flows through Greenville, “we have every reason to suspect that we— like Goldsboro, Kinston, Tarboro, and Rocky Mount—will shortly have many opportunities to help flood victims in our community in the coming days and weeks.”

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Flooding in Leland, N.C., a western suburb of Wilmington.

Greenville is in eastern North Carolina, approximately 120 miles north of Wilmington. The metro area has a population of approximately 175,000.

Kevin Cauley, Pastor of Darlington (S.C.) Presbyterian Church, said extensive flooding is hampering a full assessment.

“Everyone is waiting for flood waters subside to be able to assess damage and have a plan,” he said via email on September 19. “Unfortunately, there is more flooding expected over the next 24 hours.”

Darlington is in northeastern South Carolina, approximately 130 miles west of Wilmington, N.C.

Matt Walton, Pastor of Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Florence, S.C., said a tree fell through the roof of a church member’s house, and his sister’s home in Wilmington, N.C., suffered significant water damage.

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Damage to Matt Walton’s sister’s home in Wilmington, N.C. Walton is Pastor of Trinity EPC in Florence, S.C.

“We will soon see our rivers swollen from water from North Carolina trickling down,” he added,” so pray that that will not cause flooding over the next few days.”

Walton noted that the church property emerged largely unscathed, though a break-in occurred during the storm and some items were stolen.

Florence, S.C., is about 10 miles southeast of Darlington and is home to approximately 40,000 people.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said donations to the EPC’s Hurricane Florence Emergency Relief Fund would be disbursed as quickly as possible.

“As we saw with the hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria last year—and the recent wildfires in California—when there is a need, our churches step up and demonstrate the sacrificial love of Christ. We will get those funds to where they are needed as soon as we can.”

In collaboration with the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, donations to the fund will be sent to EPC churches affected by the storm. Click here to donate online (Choose “Emergency Relief” from the first pulldown menu and “Hurricane Florence Relief (283)” from the second pulldown menu,) or make check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church and designated “Hurricane Florence Relief,” and send to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822

To help publicize the EPC’s Hurricane Florence Emergency Relief Fund, a bulletin insert is available for download in printable, pdf format at www.epc.org/emergencyrelief. The insert is designed to be printed on standard, 8.5×11 paper and cut in half vertically or horizontally.

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Red flags mark EPC churches within 150 miles of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., where Hurricane Florence made landfall on September 14. Wrightsville Beach is 6 miles east of Wilmington, N.C.

Bart Hess Award presented to Restoration Church (Munford, Tenn.)

 
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Mike Gibson (right), Pastor of Restoration Church, receives the Bart Hess Award from Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly, on June 22 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Restoration Church in Munford, Tenn., is the recipient of the 2018 Bartlett L. Hess Award for church revitalization. The award was announced on June 22 at the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

“Receiving this award came as a shock,” Pastor Mike Gibson told the Assembly. “When I found we would be receiving this, I asked God, ‘What I am supposed to do with this award when I am supposed to be cultivating humility?’ because I can have some trouble in that area. I believe He told me ‘This is to encourage and inspire churches who have been where you’ve been, to know that I am in this and you can go forward.’ There were so many times I was ready to give up, thinking the ministry was never going to take off and have an impact in our community. But I know something like this—or bigger—can happen in any church.”

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said Restoration Church received the 2018 award because its leadership was not only willing to ask hard questions about its health and ministry to its community, but also was willing to make changes in response to the answers they received.

“Launched in 1911 as Munford Presbyterian Church, they have a rich history and beautiful sanctuary,” Jeremiah said. “However, they were in decline. But under Mike’s leadership, that decline was reversed. To reach the unchurched in their community they changed their name and their image, and the Lord brought them scores of new people. Lives are being redeemed, revived, and restored through the ministry of Restoration Church, and I am thrilled that their hard work has been recognized by the entire EPC.”

Jeremiah will present the award to the congregation on Sunday, August 19.

The Hess Award is given annually to the EPC church that has demonstrated the most innovative approach to church growth or revitalization. Church growth—in both its spiritual and numerical aspects—is an essential part of the mission of the church. The award provides a vehicle by which positive, reproducible innovation is encouraged and shared with others in the EPC. It is named for Bart Hess, founding pastor of Ward Church in suburban Detroit, who was instrumental in the establishment of the EPC in 1981.

#epc2018ga

EPC adds seven churches in 2017–2018

 

Seven churches joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the reporting period of May 23, 2017, through June 1, 2018. The new EPC churches were announced on June 22 at the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Ken Roberts, Moderator of the 32nd EPC General Assembly, prayed for the new churches.

“You already know every person who will be attending all these churches,” Roberts said in his prayer. “You know their needs, joys, hurts, and hearts. We pray for each staff member who will be ministering to each person in these congregations. As we commit these churches to you, may You be gloried in the worship and business of each church, and in each heart.”

These newest members of the EPC family of churches are:

Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (Leawood, Kan.)
Sheldon MacGillivray, Pastor
www.cornerstoneks.org
Presbytery of the Great Plains

First Presbyterian Church (Malden, Mo.)
Derek Evans, Commissioned Pastor
www.facebook.com/Malden-Presbyterian-Church-144604838944152/
Presbytery of the Central South

Hendersonville Presbyterian Church (Hendersonville, N.C.)
Bill Campbell, Pastor
www.hendersonvillepc.org
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

New Life Gathering (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Scott Jackson, Pastor
www.newlifeknoxville.org
Presbytery of the Southeast

Walkersville Presbyterian Church (Waxhaw, N.C.)
Eric Bartel, Pastor
www.facebook.com/pages/Walkersville-Presbyterian-Church/117441554948378
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Wayside Presbyterian Church (Sanford, N.C.)
Robert Johnson, Pastor
www.facebook.com/pages/Wayside-Presbyterian-Church/464287536951632
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Wylliesburg Evangelical Presbyterian Church (Wylliesburg, Va.)
David Wood, Stated Supply Pastor
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Each of the new churches was a previous congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

#epc2018ga

Hollywood EPC (Greenville, N.C.) celebrates 75th anniversary

 

Hollywood Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Greenville, N.C., celebrated its 75th anniversary on Sunday, May 6. The church started as a Sunday school in the 1920s, and became a particularized church in 1943.

WITN News in Greenville aired a story about the day’s festivities:

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Keith Cobb is the Pastor, and the congregation joined the EPC in 2015.

First Presbyterian Church (Orlando, Fla.) ministry to homeless sees results, garners recognition

 

Lead Homelessness, a national initiative formed to fight the causes and effects of homelessness in the United States, has named David Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, one of the “11 Most Important Leaders Needed to Solve Homelessness in Orlando.” Others named to the list include Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer; Linda Gonzalez, Vice President of Social Responsibility for the Orlando Magic of the National Basketball Association (NBA); and Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

In a video presentation produced by Lead Homelessness, Swanson said that in his 13 years as pastor at the downtown Orlando church, “the primary need I have faced, since day one, has been how to deal with the countless numbers of homeless people that have been on our steps, that are in our church on Sunday mornings, that are coming seeking money, shelter, and all the different needs that they have. It has been a constant challenge.”

Under his leadership, First Presbyterian Church has spent $1.5 million serving the homeless population of Central Florida. However, he emphasized that while those efforts helped people, they did not address the systemic issues that caused homelessness. In a partnership with the Central Florida Regional Commission on Homelessness and the Lead Homelessness initiative, efforts are now focused on securing permanent supportive housing, in addition to meeting felt needs.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, noted that homelessness in the United States is a ministry opportunity for every city-center church, and many suburban and rural congregations as well.

“The emphasis that First Orlando is involved with in helping secure housing for the homeless is having a major impact in a major city,” he said. “What this church is doing can be a real model for all our EPC city-center churches.”

Swanson emphasized that ministry to the homeless, while not always easy, can have long-term significance in many ways.

“One of the Church’s most effective witnesses is the manner in which she serves the larger community,” he said. “Being actively engaged with community leaders, civil servants, non-profit leaders, and elected officials builds positive relationships while also addressing larger social issues. It is often a winsome and positive way to intrepret the gospel to a city.  This has been the case for us as it has engaged us with the city of Orlando in the area of homelessness.”

Donations to EPC hurricane relief funds top $860,000

 
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Dead shrubs and stained walls provide evidence of the extent of flooding in Houston, Texas, as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

As of November 20, more than $860,000 has been donated to the EPC’s emergency relief funds for hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The fund for Hurricane Harvey has received $575,541.54 toward relief efforts in Texas; the Hurricane Irma fund for relief in Florida has received $159,250.67; and the Hurricane Maria fund for Puerto Rico recovery has received $126,862.25.

In addition, $21,000 has been donated to the Mexico Earthquake emergency relief fund, which was set up at the request of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. The Mexican body is a fraternal partner of the EPC.

“In this week that we celebrate God’s generosity, I praise the Lord for the magnificent generosity demonstrated in support of our hurricane disaster relief funds this fall,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “We continue to work closely with the EPC churches in areas affected by the hurricanes to ensure we can get these funds to them as quickly as possible.”

Recovery efforts in southeast Texas continue, with Christ Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Houston serving as the resource center for Samaritan’s Purse in the area. Pastor Richard Harris said that Samaritan’s Purse has hosted more than 2,800 volunteers at the church during the recovery effort.

“That is a Samaritan’s Purse record for disaster relief work,” he said.

Brad Starner, Director of Church Finance for New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Fla., expressed gratitude for the donations to the Hurricane Irma fund.

“We thank God and the EPC for the goodness of His people through our denominational family,” he said.  “Almost all of us in Southwest Florida lost trees, electricity, water, internet, and lots of little things from our homes. However, some of us lost considerably more due to flooding and wind damage. In particular, we have families with extensive damage to their homes and property which will require months of rebuilding and repair.”

Starner noted that Immokalee, a largely migrant agricultural community southeast of Fort Myers, was hit especially hard by the storm.

“Immokalee was devastated,” he said. “In partnership with First Baptist Church of Immokalee, we sent teams of volunteers and supplies to those in need—many who simply could not live in their homes due to flooding and wind damage,” he said. “We continue to support those relief efforts directed by our Missions Council, which is taking an active role in caring for those effected by the storm.”

On November 20, the Office of the General Assembly received a check and note from a member of the New Hope congregation, which read,

Please accept the enclosed donations for Hurricane Maria Relief. My daughter, Lily, had a birthday party and collected donations instead of gifts. She also sold brownies and lemonade to add to the donations.

“While it is certainly a blessing to see the amount of money given to these relief funds,” Jeremiah said, “the spirit (and act) of generosity displayed by Lily—who turned 12—and her friends touched me in a way that is hard to describe.”

Each of these emergency relief funds remain open for donations. Gifts can be made online (Choose “Emergency Relief” from the first pulldown menu and the specific fund from the second pulldown menu,) or checks made payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church with the appropriate fund noted on the memo line and sent to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822

“We have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving,” Jeremiah said. “Thank you for your generous, sacrificial response in helping those in need in the EPC.”

Hope Church Memphis featured in The Gospel Coalition

 

HopeChurchTGCThe Gospel Coalition’s lead story on November 2, “How the Country’s Largest White Presbyterian Church Became Multiethnic,” tells the story of Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn. Planted in 1988 in a predominately white suburban area, within 20 years the congregation was the largest in Memphis—but with less than 1 percent of its 7,000 attendees African American.

The EPC’s largest congregation is now more than 20 percent African American, including the senior pastor, Rufus Smith.

Hope Church will host the 38th EPC General Assembly in June 2018.

Click here for the full story.

The Gospel Coalition is a network of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition, and was founded by Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and D.A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.

Hurricane Maria fund receives $3250; EPC relief efforts on temporary hold

 
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Members of Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster (Westminster Presbyterian Church) in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, gathered for worship on September 24 in an open-air parking garage.

As of September 28, $3,255 has been contributed to the EPC’s Hurricane Maria emergency relief fund. However, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said further efforts to assist the three EPC congregations in Puerto Rico are in a “wait and pray” mode.

“The recovery and reconstruction of the infrastructure on Puerto Rico has gone painfully slow since Maria swept through,” Jeremiah said. “Because electrical power and cell phone service has not yet been restored, our text and phone contacts with leadership of Westminster-Bayamon have been infrequent—though we have learned that Anasco and Mayaguez are doing OK. But the loss of infrastructure has made life difficult.”

On Sunday, September 24, Pastor Juan Rivera led the Westminster congregation in worship at a local multi-level parking garage. Ruling Elder Alfredo Aponte said “Prayers were offered, the Word was read and preached and God was given His rightful place—first place and above all.”

Don Mason, retired pastor of GracePoint Church in Plant City, Fla., and a key leader in the effort to bring the Puerto Rican churches into the EPC, said recovery efforts are limited by the extensive damage on the island.

“Until the infrastructure is restored, all we can do is wait and pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ and their neighbors,” Mason said.

As an example of the challenges facing the recovery effort, many of the relief supplies that have reached the island are sitting in port in San Juan due to a shortage of truck drivers, gasoline, and diesel—as well as a large number of roads that still are blocked by storm debris.

Jeremiah noted that the Office of the General Assembly has received many inquiries about how the EPC can help.

“For now, it falls to the U.S. military, FEMA, and other government agencies to rebuild the island infrastructure before our relief efforts can begin,” he said.

“As soon as we are confident we can successfully get relief support to our churches in Puerto Rico, we will promote the Maria emergency relief fund again, as well as opportunities for our churches to send relief work teams to the island.”

Hurricane Harvey and Irma relief funds raise more than $343,000

 

As of September 28, a total of $343,072.19 has been contributed to the EPC’s Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma emergency relief funds.

“The ‘above and beyond’ giving of our churches and members has been amazing,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I’m so thankful for the generosity they’ve demonstrated. We’re also overwhelmed with other offers to help, especially churches who want to send work teams to these affected areas.”

Hurricane Harvey

HurricaneFundAllocationHouston

In Texas, $262,000 of the $303,030.94 contributed to the Hurricane Harvey fund as of September 28 has already been distributed to six EPC churches in the area affected by Harvey:

On September 26, these six pastors met with Jeremiah via conference call to allocate up to $196,000.

“Our pastors expressed gratitude for this outpouring of support from the EPC,” Jeremiah noted. “As they discussed relief needs in their church and community, they acknowledged that while the need is overwhelming, they are still in a ‘cleanup and dry out phase’ and don’t yet know what actual costs will be for those affected by Harvey.”

Jeremiah said the group decided that those with damaged homes who do not have flood insurance would be “first in line” to receive aid.

“Those with flood insurance can receive up to $250,000,” he said. “But those without flood insurance are only eligible for up to $33,000—and only if FEMA determines the damaged home is inhabitable.

The following allocations were made:

  • EPC Chaplain Aaron Laenger, whose single-level home was flooded with more than seven feet of water for a week, received $10,000.
  • Vietnamese Christian Fellowship pastor Daniel Nguyen, whose home also suffered significant damage, received $10,000.
  • Edna pastor Michel Yonts reported that his congregation and community were recovering well and needed just $10,000.
  • The remaining $166,000 was equally divided among the remaining four churches—each of which committed to reporting how these funds were used in relief work.

Jeremiah said the pastors described the unusual and immense burden of responsibility to their congregation and community each was carrying.

“Many are getting by on as little as three hours of sleep a night as they minister to the victims of Harvey,” Jeremiah said. “Please pray that they would get the rest they need and are protected from illness in this extraordinary time.”

In a previous conference call on September 5, these church leaders discussed with Jeremiah how to distribute the $66,000 that had been received in the Harvey fund up to then.

“It was decide to allocate $10,000 to each church to help with the immediate costs of members whose homes were no longer habitable,” Jermiah said. In addition, Laenger received $6,000 to help cover immediate living costs.

“In most cases, these homes had sustained flooding for seven days or more,” Jeremiah added.

“An example of a family that was helped is a retired couple who will have to replace their roof,” he said. “Being on a fixed income, covering the insurance deductible as well as their short-term living expenses was going to be a major challenge.”

Hurricane Irma

HurricaneFundAllocationFlorida

In Florida, $36,000 of the $40,041.25 contributed to the Hurricane Irma fund as of September 28 has been distributed to the three EPC churches in the disaster area:

On September 26, Jeremiah and these pastors met via conference call to discuss ways the contributions could help meet needs in their congregations and communities.

Jeremiah noted that the pastors in Florida echoed the appreciation offered by the pastors in Texas, and also expressed concern for our churches in Puerto Rico—where Hurricane Maria made landfall with widespread impact 10 days after Irma lashed Florida.

“While each pastor reported they were still learning about the needs in their congregations, with some exceptions it appeared as if they escaped with relatively minor damage,” Jeremiah said.

He reported that the group decided to focus aid effort on church members whose homes had been damaged by the storm. New Hope received $8,000; First Orlando received $5,000; and Faith received $23,000—of the three congregations, Brooksville had the greatest number of homes that were damaged. Each church committed to report how these relief funds were used.

During the storm, New Hope and Faith served as shelters for their communities. Spencer said New Hope had “a memorable worship service on September 10 with about 100 people, 16 dogs, 4 cats and a rabbit.” First Orlando had offered their facility as a storm shelter, but it was not needed.

In addition, New Hope is raising funds locally to help the relief work in Immokalee, an under-resourced, largely agricultural community about 30 miles southeast of Fort Myers with a large migrant worker population and many trailer homes.