Category Archives: Church News

“In All Things” podcast episode 97 informs the audience of Benefits Resources, Inc. (BRI), a wholly owned subsidiary of EPC, Inc., which provides health care and retirement benefits to members of the EPC family. This includes not only pastors but can also extend to employees of the EPC. The new Director of BRI, Carolee Richendollar, is our guest in today’s podcast where she introduces herself and gives important information about the program.


Episode 97 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” Carolee Richendollar, the new Director of Benefits Resources, Inc. (BRI), gives some of her history within the healthcare industry and gives details about the variety of benefits available to recipients of the program.

Host Dean Weaver and Carolee Richendollar, discuss not only the details of BRI and the benefits available to EPC pastors and EPC employees, but also the reason the denomination created this system from the beginning.  This podcast engages the idea that if leaders of the church are going to care well for others they must be sure to care also for themselves.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at

South Carolina chicken farmers hatch EPC church plant


Pete Roman (dark shirt with guitar) leads worship and serves as Pastor of The Village Church at St. George, an EPC church plant in rural St. George, S.C.

Which came first—the chicken or the church plant? For Pete and Renee Roman, the two were hatched together.

“Our first official service for The Village Church at St. George was under some oak trees on our farm,” Pete said. “We started at eight in the morning because it was summer, and we needed to meet before it got unbearably hot.”

A shady spot under some oaks trees was the first “Sanctuary” of The Village Church at St. George.

After serving in Bulgaria for seven years, in 2017 the Romans returned to South Carolina with their three daughters. Their plan was to make a go of small-scale farming alongside his parents and to plant a rural church in St. George, a community about 50 miles northwest of Charleston.

“One thing that intrigued us in Bulgaria,” Pete said, “is that while it was hard to make connections in the city, when we’d travel with visiting teams to the villages it was easy to talk to people and build relationships.”

The Romans believe those same principles apply in rural America, and set out to create a warm, relational, community church environment. They started inviting neighbors to join them for a Sunday evening Bible study, but soon realized that small-town traditions are hard to break.

“We discovered that in the South, church happens at 10 o’clock on Sunday mornings,” he said. “Even though we had over 20 people who regularly attended our evening Bible study, they all had other churches they went to on Sunday mornings.”

When COVID hit and everyone pivoted to online church, it soon became evident that their home group had dissolved.

“We had three people attending, and two of us were related,” laughed Renee.

They decided to try hosting an in-person service but hold it outdoors to comply with COVID restrictions. People started coming right away—many of whom had been starved for relationships over the months and were seeking community. The church now has about 32 regular attenders, including several children and youth. Most of the attendees are previously unchurched or travel from other communities in the area.

Pete Roman involves all ages in the life of the church.

Renee says there is one young family with two little boys that has been a highlight on their journey.

“The wife started coming to our home group, but the husband was a paramedic so could not make it on Sundays,” she said. “She was really introverted and quiet, and as time went by she came less and less often.”

The Romans continued to see her around town and would always greet her warmly. Then one morning the entire family showed up. The husband had quit his job as an EMT and opened a tire shop, which freed him to come to church.

By this time, winter had arrived and the outdoor service had moved indoors.

Wood stove worship service

“It was the middle of winter, and was getting cold,” Renee said. “We had started meeting in the room where we process chickens, huddled around a wood stove.”

The setting did not deter the young family.

“Once they started coming again, they were all in,” Renee said. “God had been working the whole time. The husband now invites the customers at his store to come to church—and has become quite the evangelist. We have even held our Sunday service at his tire shop.”

Pete added that “it has been exciting to see the hunger that he and several others have to know more. We have a group of five or six guys who meet regularly together for coffee. God just keeps opening doors.”

As they laid the groundwork for the church, Pete contacted the EPC’s then-Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and talked to Bucky Hunsicker, who was serving as missional executive director.

“He told us they had been praying for someone to spark a rural church planting movement,” Pete said, noting that Hunsicker’s response mirrored his and Renee’s ministry vision.

Family and community are Pete and Renee Roman’s vision for The Village Church at St. George.

“We want to be a small, intentional church that reflects the community we live in,” he said.

Renee said they have “an amazing group of people” who are hungry for the gospel and to learn the Bible, and who have a heart for the community and serving.

“Yet they are normal, messed-up sinners like the rest of us,” she said.

“The people who are coming are not looking for stellar preaching and amazing music—they are coming because it’s a family and community, and they are getting the truth,” Pete added.

The Romans live by a motto adopted from the life of 18th century Moravian reformer Nikolaus Ludwig, count von Zinzendorf.

“His most famous quote is ‘preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten,’” Pete said. “I’ve heard leaders on the mission field talk about their legacy and how they want to be remembered. But if our church stays the size it is … if no one ever knows the name Pete Roman … that’s fine with me. I just want to be faithful to God, preach the gospel, and let the Holy Spirit do His work.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

Disability ministry conference returns to Cleveland, Ohio, EPC church


Bay Presbyterian Church in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, will host Disability & The Church 2023 on Friday and Saturday, April 28-29. The event is the largest annual disability ministry conference in North America and is presented by Key Ministry in collaboration with the Tim Tebow Foundation.

Topics of this year’s conference include:

  • Inspired ideas and strategies for outreach.
  • Approaches to mental health inclusion/ministry.
  • Engaging lead pastors in promotion and implementation of disability ministry.
  • Innovative community partnerships.
  • Ministry with persons impacted by trauma.
  • Underserved populations in the disability community.
  • New and impactful family support models.
  • Disability, gender, and biblical sexuality.
  • Research on ministry best practices.
  • Inclusion in Christian schools, colleges, and universities.
  • Ministry with persons experiencing disabilities of aging.
  • Advancing ministry through use of technology and social media.

On Thursday, April 27, an optional, pre-conference slate of Ministry Intensives includes three options:

  • Mental Health Ministry Intensive: Every Church Can Do Something More.
  • Creating a Trauma-Informed Children’s or Youth Ministry.
  • Disability Ministry 101.

Disability & The Church is designed for pastors, leadership teams, care teams, and children’s/student ministry leaders. Cost is $129 per person (through April 21; $159 on April 22 and later. EPC members are eligible for a 20 percent discount by using the code EPC23 at registration. The Thursday add-on is $69 per person (through April 21; $79 on April 22 and later).

“I have known the Key Ministry staff for many years, and I wholeheartedly endorse their efforts,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “If your church has a disability ministry—or you are praying about starting one—you should attend this conference.”

For more information, see

Tornado strikes Selma, Ala.; EPC congregation affected


A large tornado descends on Selma, Ala., in this still image from a storm chaser video. Photo courtesy of the Selma Sun.

A tornado described by the National Weather Service as “large and dangerous” tracked across Selma, Ala., on January 12. The tornado was part of a larger outbreak across the South.

Steve Burton, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Selma, reported minor damage to the church property, but “complete devastation” in residential areas approximately 100 yards away. He added that several members of the congregation have lost their homes, though his house was not damaged.

In an email immediately after the storm to Ken Van Kampen, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Central South, Burton noted that a school with 360 students was near the church. At the time he sent the email, he was not able to access the area but said the school was “an utmost priority” for him and others and he would help in any way he could.

“Pray for the emergency workers in the immediate hours ahead and the clean-up work in the days to come,” Van Kampen said. “Pray that every parent in town will be reunited with their children this afternoon and that all displaced families will find their physical needs met today, as well as their spiritual and emotional needs in the future. Finally, pray for Cornerstone EPC and the churches in Selma as they minister in very practical ways in the name of our Lord.”

The EPC Domestic Emergency Relief Fund is accepting donations to assist in disaster areas with identified needs. To contribute, go to


Mississippi EPC church featured in Atlas Obscura


First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson, Miss., received an entry on the website Atlas Obscura on December 20. Atlas Obscura bills itself as “The definitive guide to the world’s wonders.”

The entry, “First Presbyterian Church Golden Hand” explains the background behind the church’s unusual steeple topper. It honors the congregation’s first installed pastor, Zebulun Butler, who served from 1828 until his death in 1860. He punctuated his sermons by pointing up as if to heaven.

“Our ‘golden hand’ is indeed one of the best-known tourist attractions in our area,” said Michael Herrin, current Pastor who also serves as Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South.

“So many people know and love it that the last time we had the hand regilded, fully one-third of the cost was paid for by people who are not members of the congregation,” he added. “But I like to think that it does what all steeples are supposed to do: to point us away from ourselves to God, reminding us that Jesus is the only way to the Father. The hand just puts an exclamation point on that important truth.”

Atlas Obscura is an award-winning media and travel company with a platform for discovering the world’s hidden wonders. Its first book, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, was a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon and in The New York Times.

“In All Things” podcast episode 52: EPC church planter Sean Boone’s journey from gang life to pastor


Sean Boone, Pastor of Woke Bridge Community Church in Ferguson, Mo., is the guest for episode 52 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things.”

This week, host Dean Weaver and Boone discuss his personal journey from gang life and prison to freedom in Christ, and from an independent, historically Black church to planting a Southern Baptist church, to planting Woke Bridge in the EPC. Boone explains how Woke Bridge Community Church got its name, and his vision for how the gospel can transform Ferguson and grow a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural congregation.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at

Fort Myers pastors provide Hurricane Ian update, donations sought for EPC Emergency Relief Fund


The pastors of the two EPC churches in Fort Myers, Fla., are reporting that Hurricane Ian had a devastating impact on their congregations. The storm came ashore in southwest Florida September 28 with 150 mph winds.

“Overall, it’s just a disaster zone,” said Mike Jones, Associate Pastor of New Hope Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers. “The further south and west the more profound the destruction. The further east, with the exception of the flooding it’s not as noticeable.”

Both Jones and Paul de Jong, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, reported at least 25 families in their respective congregations lost everything.

“One of our members was rescued at 5:00 a.m. by Miami EMS to get him out of the attic with his wife, son, and 80-year-old mother-in-law,” Jones said, adding that the homes of at least two New Hope staff members are “a total loss.”

The EPC Domestic Emergency Relief Fund is accepting donations to assist EPC churches in these and other disaster areas with identified needs. To contribute, see

Hurricane Ian blasts Fort Myers, Fla., EPC congregations


Members of the two EPC congregations nearest the Florida landfall of Hurricane Ian suffered significant effects from the near-category 5 storm.

“Many of our congregation have suffered severe and total loss of home, cars, and property,” Mike Jones, Associate Pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, said by email on September 29. “At this point, I am not aware of any loss of life or health, but I know some were evacuated by boat at 5:00 a.m. (Thursday).”

He also noted that there was no power, water, or internet and most of the roads in his neighborhood were “impassable.”

Paul de Jong, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, reported on September 30 that “everyone appears to be safe and accounted for. But with no power and spotty cell service I haven’t been able to contact everyone—only maybe 10 percent of our congregants.”

Flood waters rose to just below the light switches in the home of a widowed member of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers before receding. (Photo courtesy of Paul de Jong)

“One who I did talk to had several feet of water in their home,” de Jong said. “Another elderly lady who lives by herself had 5 feet of water in her house. Her piano ended up upside down, and her refrigerator was in her living room. So for many people, they lost all their worldly possessions and their homes will unlivable for months.”

He reported only minor damage to the church property.

“The church has a few broken windows, a few leaks here and there, and the steeple will need some TLC,” he said, noting that the storm surge stopped about 200 yards from the building. “The church sits in a flood zone, but it’s very well built by incredibly faithful Christians in the 1950s who recognized that one day a hurricane would come.”

He added that though the church building was not an official shelter, “quite a few homeless people were knocking on the door as the storm approached. We absolutely wouldn’t turn them away, so we let them in, fed them, and took care of them as best as we could. We held a brief worship service and of course I spoke on God being our shelter in the storm. One of the men said we gave him the best meal he had had in a long time, and I hope we were able to minister him spiritually as well. My biggest job was to try to keep people’s spirits up because you could just feel the anxiety.”

First Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers suffered several broken windows. (Photo courtesy of Paul de Jong)

Both de Jong and Jones said their homes received only minor damage, and the New Hope campus “was spared any real damage,” Jones said.

“In my neighborhood, every home sustained some damage—some major and some minor,” de Jong said. “Our house has damage but nothing that can’t be fixed.”

He added that both First and New Hope plan to hold worship services on Sunday.

“Though without power for the sound system I will have to project like Spurgeon back in the day,” de Jong quipped.

Damage reports from other Florida pastors

Elsewhere across Florida, EPC churches were largely spared significant effects during Ian’s slow trek northeast.

“All is well here in Tampa,” said Mark Farrell, Pastor of Tampa Covenant Church on September 29. “The church is intact, with just a few felled tree branches and accumulated water in the parking lot. Thanking God for His grace on our churches at this time. May He continue to do so as we all recover.”

David Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, said “the First Pres buildings are all good—and our staff has fared well.”

Robert Olszewski, Pastor of GracePoint Church in Plant City, reported that some of the members of his congregation suffered minor damage and power outages.

“We are reaching out to folks in our community who need help and providing a hot meal today at the church,” he said by email on September 29.

Doug Walker, Pastor of River City Church in DeBary, reported minor damage to the church property. “And it appears our parishioners are doing OK,” he said by email.

Dillon Thornton, Pastor of Faith Community Church in Seminole, said his congregation “weathered the storm well. Our church campus and our members suffered only minor damage.”

Greg Gunn, Lead Pastor at Providence Church in Spring Hill, said “all is well at Providence Church and with the flock. We are praying for our friends in Ft. Myers.”

After leaving Florida as a tropical storm late Thursday and entering the Atlantic Ocean north of Cape Canaveral, Ian regained hurricane strength with sustained winds of 75 m.p.h. A hurricane warning is in effect for coastal South Carolina. Ian’s storm surge is forecast to bring five feet of water into coastal areas in Georgia and the Carolinas. As it moves north across South Carolina and into North Carolina and Virginia, rainfall of up to eight inches could bring flooding to inland areas.

The EPC Domestic Emergency Relief Fund is accepting donations to assist EPC churches in these and other disaster areas with identified needs. To contribute, see

Boats carried by Hurricane Ian’s storm surge were stranded on dry land a few blocks from First Presbyterian Church in downtown Fort Myers.

Prayer requested as Hurricane Ian approaches Florida


The projected path of Hurricane Ian, with the locations of EPC churches in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

Hurricane Ian neared Category 5 status with sustained winds of 155 mph on Wednesday morning, September 28, as it bears down on Florida. At 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, the center of the storm was located about 75 miles southwest of Fort Myers, home of two EPC congregations—First Presbyterian Church (Paul de Jong, Pastor) and New Hope Presbyterian Church (Mike Jones, Pastor).

“Please pray for our churches and communities in Florida as Ian approaches,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “We do not have any negative reports so far, but of course the worst is yet to come. Pray also for the staff of the Office of the General Assembly and their families, as Orlando is directly in the projected path of the storm.”

Other churches potentially in the path of Ian’s effects include Community Presbyterian Church in Clewiston (William Slager, Pastor); Faith Presbyterian Church in Brooksville (Joe Tolin, Pastor); Faith Presbyterian Church in Seminole (Dillon Thornton, Pastor); First Presbyterian Church in Orlando (David Swanson, Pastor); GracePoint in Plant City (Robert Olszewski, Pastor); Nación Santa in Haines City (Luis Quiñones, Pastor); New Covenant EPC in Pompano Beach (Adam Greenfield, Pastor); Providence Church in Spring Hill (Greg Gunn, Pastor); River City Church in DeBary (Doug Walker, Pastor); Seaside Church in Vilano Beach (Brady Haynes, Pastor); and Tampa Covenant Church in Tampa (Mark Farrell, Pastor).

Hurricane Ian is projected to cut northeast through Florida, emerge in the Atlantic off the northeast Florida coast near Jacksonville, then make landfall again in southeast Georgia or South Carolina and move north.

The EPC Domestic Emergency Relief Fund is accepting donations to assist churches in disaster areas with identified needs. To contribute, go to

A daughter comes home: 1980s Ward Church plant merges with parent to become second campus


Several work days at Grace Chapel in Farmington Hills, Mich., helped prepare the facility for its merger with Ward Church in Northville, which planted Grace Chapel about 8 miles north of Ward’s campus in 1983. Following the October 9 launch service, the Farmington Hills campus will host a neighborhood party with food trucks, lawn games, and live music.

As a former standup comedian, Scott McKee is quick to point out that a church merger is no laughing matter. It requires a lot of prayer, planning, and hard work.

More than 18 months of planning and work will come to fruition on October 9 as Ward Church in Northville, Mich., and Grace Chapel in Farmington Hills, Mich., hold their first services together as a merged congregation—Ward Church in two campuses. McKee, Senior Pastor of Ward Church said the historic connection between the two congregations made the merger easier.

Scott McKee

“Grace Chapel is our daughter church,” McKee said. “Ward Church started Grace Chapel 40 years ago, so it’s an adult daughter. There was a family affection to say a daughter wants to come home. I don’t think it would have worked any other way. It’s a church we know. It’s a church we love. It had been without a pastor for four years, and our staff had already been out there helping them fill the pulpit. This is not a stranger. This is not a cold business decision. It is totally out of a relationship.”

It was out of that relationship McKee said the leadership of Grace Chapel originally approached Ward Church leadership asking for a “tighter partnership.”

“When they said, ‘We would like a tighter partnership,’ it didn’t initially mean multi-site. We talked about we could keep filling the pulpit for a while, how we could provide a video feed of our sermons, help with curriculum, and do bookkeeping,” McKee recalled. “So, we could on one end help fill the pulpit, or on the other end do a full-blown church adoption as a multi-site. Surprisingly, they went there pretty quickly.”

He added that Ward Church has been exploring multi-site ministry for some time, but the time “never seemed right” until now.

For such a time as this

“We have studied the multi-site model over the years, and thought about it, prayed about it, read books about it, but have never pulled the trigger,” McKee said. “There are reasons for that, and then Grace Chapel approached us. This is admittedly passive leadership. They came to us and said they would like a stronger partnership.”

Roy Yanke, Executive Director of PIR Ministries who served Grace Chapel as a Ruling Elder and Transitional Pastor, said the merger will assist the Farmington Hills congregation as it continues to reach its mission field for Jesus Christ.

Roy Yanke

“One of the challenges that Grace Chapel experienced over the last few years is that we became a far more ‘drive-in’ church than what it had been when planted 40 years ago,” Yanke said. “The adoption back into the Ward family will mean that there will be new energy and a larger pool of believers to engage in reaching people for Jesus. The mission field for Grace has always included our annual outreach to Appalachia, and that has been folded into the overall work of the Ward family—which is exciting.”

Yanke said one of several factors leading Grace Chapel to approach Ward about merging was the struggle to find a permanent pastor.

“I know that many churches have experienced the same thing, which certainly contributes to the instability of a congregation over the long haul,” Yanke said. “I am absolutely convinced that the other factors that led to Grace needing to merge with Ward—all of the challenges the evangelical church has been dealing with for the last two and a half years—were very typical but could also be a very good thing in the long run.”

He added that much of the Farmington Hills congregation has committed to the church’s new chapter, though some have not.

From necessity to opportunity

“This is new territory for all of us, and the church cultures are very different. But those who are engaged are praying and working hard for a successful relaunch. This was initially a move out of necessity that became an opportunity for fresh ministry. We are trusting that the Lord will help us navigate the grief and loss of the particular expression of church as the Grace family, while at the same time ignite our hope for what He will do going forward.”

During a staff work day in August, (left to right) Karol Gee, Jane Black, and Alan Fisk pitch in to help prepare the Grace Chapel facility for its merger with Ward Church. Gee has served as Grace Chapel’s Administrative Assistant for 20 years. Black is Ward’s Student Ministry Administrative Assistant. Fisk is a Ruling Elder for Grace Chapel.

McKee noted that multi-campus ministry—though new to his tenure—is part of Ward’s history. When Bart Hess served as Ward’s pastor, the church had campuses in Detroit and Livonia. Hess served both churches simultaneously for 12 years, and during that time the Livonia campus grew to 5,000 members.

“Dr. Hess would give the sermon in Detroit, and then his wife, Margaret, would drive him out to the suburbs where he would give the sermon a second time. We were one church in two locations in 1956. No one had ever heard of that. We have history to draw upon.”

Yanke, who served as a pastor before leading PIR, brings a different kind of experience to the merger.

“In my own pastoral days I led a redevelopment-relaunch, and our mantra was a quote from Oswald Chambers: ‘Beware of harkening back to what you once were, when God wants you to be something you have never been before.’ A timely word for us all.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Staff and elders of both Ward Church and Grace Chapel spruced up Grace’s Farmington Hills campus inside and out in preparation for the October 9 launch of Ward Church Farmington Hills.

Hurricane Fiona slams Puerto Rico, EPC churches spared major damage


Hurricane Fiona, which made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 18, delivered flooding rains and an island-wide power outage. While two deaths on the island are attributed to the storm, the EPC churches on the island experienced no casualties. Those congregations are Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster (Westminster Presbyterian Church) in Bayamón, Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica en Añasco (Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Añasco), and Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica Mayagüez (Mayagüez Evangelical Presbyterian Church).

By September 22, power had been restored to about two-thirds of the U.S. territory.

“Our church in Bayamón is up and running,” Enid Flores, Westminster Ruling Elder said by email on September 22. “Añasco has no power as of yesterday, but they were good with no casualties. Mayagüez has been cleaning the falling trees which affected some houses, streets, and the Retreat Center, but they are in good hands and their building has power and water.”

Flores reported that power is still out in her area of Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan, but water service had been restored.

“The devastation is pretty serious at the south and center of the island,” she said. “But in God we trust, and I know He has a purpose.”

Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk, asked “our entire EPC family to pray for our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters as they minister to their communities in the aftermath of Fiona, even as they face their own recovery.”

The EPC Domestic Emergency Relief Fund is accepting donations to assist churches in disaster areas with identified needs. To contribute, go to

George Robertson offer words of hope to Memphis congregation in midst of tragic week


George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., addressed a week of tragedy in Memphis on September 11 that included the abduction and murder of church member Eliza Fletcher and a September 7 city-wide shooting rampage that left four dead.

His sermon from Lamentations 3, “Four things to do when tragedy strikes,” offered four biblical responses to the shock and grief of the week’s events:

  1. Pour out your feelings to the Lord (Lamentations 3:1-20).
  2. Profess the faith of your fathers and mothers (Lamentations 3:22-27).
  3. Pursue the peace of the King to come (Lamentations 3:28-29).
  4. Pray with Jesus’ prayers.


43rd General Assembly planning underway


Leaders of the EPC Office of the General Assembly and Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo., met at Cherry Hills on September 6 to begin planning for the denomination’s 43rd General Assembly. The suburban Denver church will host the annual meeting June 20-23, 2023.

The theme of the 43rd Assembly is “Sharpen” based on Ephesians 4:12, “… to equip the saints for building up the body of Christ, ….” For more information, see

Update: EPC church member abducted, suspect arrested


Eliza Fletcher

Eliza Fletcher, a member of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., was abducted while jogging on Friday morning, September 2. In a statement issued by Memphis police, the 34-year-old mother of two was approached by a man in a dark SUV who forced her into the vehicle after a brief struggle. Fletcher was running on the University of Memphis campus, about a block from the church.

“I know the family well from my time serving as Assistant Pastor at Second,” said Michael Davis, EPC Assistant Stated Clerk. “Please pray for Eliza’s safety, and for her husband, Richie, and their two children. May God bring peace to all today and lead law enforcement as they work the situation. Pray also for the entire Second Pres family as they wait for answers.”

More information is available at

September 4 update:

On Sunday morning, the Memphis Police Department released the affidavit in support of arresting Cleotha Abston, 38, in Fletcher’s disappearance.

According to the affidavit:

  • Fletcher was last seen at approximately 4:20 a.m. on Friday, September 2, jogging near the University of Memphis campus about one block from Second Presbyterian Church.
  • A dark-colored GMC Terrain SUV was seen 24 minutes before the abduction surveillance footage.
  • A surveillance camera captured a man “violently and quickly” approach Fletcher, then forced her into the passenger side of a dark-colored GMC Terrain with damage to the right rear tail light.
  • “A male exited the black GMC Terrain, ran aggressively toward the victim, and then forced the victim Eliza Fletcher into the passenger’s side of the vehicle,” the affidavit read. “During this abduction, there appeared to be a struggle.”
  • Investigators found a pair of slide sandals at the scene. Police said DNA from the footwear matched Abston, based on a sample taken from a previous conviction. Other surveillance video showed Abston wearing similar sandals days earlier.
  • Abston’s cellphone placed him near the abduction site around the time Fletcher disappeared.
  • U.S. Marshals found the GMC Terrain on Saturday at an apartment complex in southeast Memphis.
  • Police ended an interview with Abston still not knowing where Fletcher is.
  • Fletcher is believed to have been seriously injured during her abduction.
  • Abston spent just more than 22 years in state prison after being convicted of kidnapping an attorney. He was released from prison in November 2020.

Additional information is available at

As of September 4, Fletcher is still missing.

This story will be updated as information emerges.

“In All Things” podcast episode 41 features regional ministry, faith-work integration with Case Thorp


Case Thorp, Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Fla., (FPCO) is the guest for episode 41 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things.”

This week, host Dean Weaver and Thorp discuss his spiritual roots in evangelistic camp meetings in Georgia, FPCO’s church planting efforts and commitment to urban community outreach, and his ministry in Orlando through missions, evangelism, and leadership of The Collaborative—designed to help people bridge the secular-sacred divide by integrating their faith and their work.

Thorp also previews the World Reformed Fellowship’s sixth General Assembly, to be held October 27-30 at FPCO, and The Collaborative’s podcast, “Nuance,” launching in mid-September.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at

‘Hoax bombs’ discovered at West Virginia EPC church, local Federal courthouse


Washington Street in front of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bluefield, W.Va. (right) was cordoned off by law enforcement following a bomb scare on August 22. (photo credit: WVNS-TV 59News, Beckley-Bluefield-Lewisburg.)

A bomb threat in Bluefield, W.Va., on Monday, August 22, involved the EPC’s Westminster Presbyterian Church. Bluefield is at the southern tip of West Virginia, bordering Virginia.

Federal, state, and local law enforcement responded to a call at the Elizabeth Kee Federal Building in downtown Bluefield at approximately 9:30 a.m. Police reported that a man entered the federal building early Monday morning and claimed that he had an explosive device and had left another in the bushes outside the church. Westminster is about one mile south of the courthouse.

Much of the downtown Bluefield area was evacuated. Approximately two hours later, the first device was destroyed in a controlled detonation. The Bluefield Police Department deemed the situation “under control” at 12:00 p.m. Authorities X-rayed the device at the church and determined that another controlled detonation was unnecessary.

“We are all grateful to God that tragedy was avoided today and that these were not actual bombs,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “Westminster’s pastor, Jonathan Rockness, and I communicated today. He is very thankful that the situation ended up having much less impact than initially feared, and for the excellent collaborative work of law enforcement and other first responders. He and the Clerk of Session, Rod Gillespie, were also very thankful for the prayers of so many people around the country as the news of the day unfolded.”

The suspect, a 50-year-old local resident, is in custody and charged with two counts of possession of a hoax bomb in commission of a felony, one count of false reports concerning bombs or explosive devices, and two counts of threats of terroristic acts.

First Presbyterian Church, Orlando, to host World Reformed Fellowship General Assembly


First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Fla., is hosting the sixth General Assembly of the World Reformed Fellowship (WRF) October 27-30, 2022. Held once every four years, the theme of this year’s meeting is “The Nature and Mission of the Church.”

“This inspirational gathering of Reformed believers from all over the world will include daily worship, a Friday evening outreach concert, workshops on a multitude of important topics, and plenty of time for relationship-building and fellowship,” said David Swanson, FPCO Senior Pastor. “Come to Orlando and join us for what promises to be a very significant time together. With so much upheaval and pain in our world, we need to be together prayerfully for the gospel.”

The Moderator of the Assembly is Rob Norris, Teaching Pastor for the EPC’s Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Md.

On Friday, October 28, EPC Stated Clerk Dean Weaver will participate in an 11:00 a.m. panel discussion, “The Church Under Pressure from the State.” Case Thorp, Moderator of the EPC’s 39th General Assembly, will lead a 4:00 p.m. seminar on Friday, “Made to Flourish: Faith and Work.”

Swanson will preach the concluding worship service on Sunday, October 30.

Among the variety of other speakers are Michael Aitcheson, Senior Pastor of Christ United Fellowship (PCA) in Orlando; Michael Allen, Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando; Gerald Bray, Research Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.; Davi Gomes, WRF International Director and former head of the Andrew Jumper Presbyterian Graduate School of Theology of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil; and Andrew McGowan, Director of the Rutherford Centre for Reformed Theology in Dingwall, Scotland.

Leaders from several EPC World Outreach partner ministries also will appear, including Richard Pratt, President of Third Millennium Ministries, and Steve Curtis, International Director of the Timothy Two Project International.

For more information and to register, see

Diversity fuels mission of newly localized Tennessee church plant


The congregation of The Avenue Community Church in Memphis, following the service of localization held on March 20, 2022, at Highland Heights Baptist Church in Memphis.

Embracing diversity has fueled the mission and growth of The Avenue Community Church (TACC) in Memphis—leading to achieving local church status in the Presbytery of the Central South in March. Local church status means a congregation is self-governing with its own elected and installed officers, including Ruling Elders and Deacons.

“We know from Scripture that God’s true church is diverse, from every nation, tribe, tongue,” said Lead Pastor Tim Johnson. “So as the local church, we strive to be diverse as well.”

Tim Johnson

Johnson noted that TACC’s goal is to be not only multi-ethnic, but also multi-class and multi-generational.

“We have to seek to reach people from all types of backgrounds,” he said. “Our heart is to do what every other faithful church has been doing since its inception, and that is to be working for the God of the Bible reverently, passionately, and faithfully. There’s a blueprint to the church that the Lord left us and that’s what we want to fulfill. We want to witness, we want to worship, we want to edify the body until He comes back.”

TACC has been focused on the community in and around—and is named for—Summer Avenue since its launch in September 2018. Running east-west on the north side of central Memphis, Summer Avenue is one of the most diverse areas of the city. In fulfillment of Johnson’s vision for ministry in the community, TACC acquired and is renovating the old Highland Heights United Methodist Church property on Summer and hopes to hold its worship services in the historic Gothic structure within the next year or so. TACC has met at a local school for the past three and a half years.

“The new location places us right in between two communities we would love to wed and be a bridge and bring together,” Johnson said. “One has the highest dollar amount per square foot, and the other is a very multiracial, lower-middle-class. We strategically have always prayed to be on the Avenue. Now that we are officially on Summer Avenue, we can truly be The Avenue sitting right in the middle of all the intersection of all the people who are doing business on our streets.”

The Summer Avenue corridor in central Memphis is the focus of The Avenue Community Church’s ministry.

Johnson and TACC are accomplishing the work that Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis envisioned in the pre-pandemic days of 2017, according to Dan Burns, Second’s World Missions Pastor.

“We were dreaming and praying about how to help plant a diverse, multi-ethnic church in one of our ‘edge’ neighborhoods,” Burns explained. “There are many dividing lines in Memphis where economic and racial patterns tend to divide the community. We were praying about launching a church ‘on the line’ that could serve the community on both sides and draw them into a common fellowship.”

Burns said Johnson has both the vision and passion to pursue this vision.

“He sensed the Lord lead him and his core team to Summer Avenue, immediately got engaged in the community through youth work and community connections, and launched The Avenue a year later,” Burns said. “The Lord soon gave them energy, direction, and resources to launch—and they weathered the pandemic and racial tension of 2020 with gospel grace.”

And the gospel ministry of TACC will now reach literally around the world.

“I was overjoyed to see the first couple from The Avenue commissioned at the 2022 EPC General Assembly to serve as World Outreach global workers in the Middle East,” Burns said.

Johnson said the journey to local church status wasn’t as encumbering as he anticipated.

“The administrative commission from Second Presbyterian and the delegates from the Presbytery just really made it seem more relational, and that we are brothers and sisters and that we’re excited about this process,” he said. “It did not feel like an interrogation—like with the hope that you would fail—but was a discovery and birthing of a new relationship and friendship. That was quite refreshing.”

Tim Foster, Senior Pastor of Highland Heights Presbyterian Church in Memphis, prays over Tim Johnson during the service of localization held March 20, 2022.

Seeing God’s hand in the formation of TACC and its success led to a “marvelous day of God’s grace” when TACC was constituted as a local congregation, said Ken Van Kampen, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Central South.

“It was, in one sense, the climax and closing of one chapter and the opening of another chapter in the life of the church,” he said, explaining that the timing of TACC’s localization was evidence of God’s blessing.

“The Lord graciously upheld the congregation during COVID,” Van Kampen said. “It was during this time that the leadership of The Avenue—who were ordained and installed as the initial class of Elders and Deacons on March 20—was raised up and trained. In the midst of this it was clear that the Lord prepared the congregation for localization. It was all the power and grace of the Lord.”

Johnson said he has been humbled to see God work through TACC from the very beginning.

“We believe the nations are literally in our backyard: Black, white, Hispanic, rich, poor. We believe that God has placed us uniquely and strategically in the middle of all those people,” he said. “And we think He has placed us in the middle of all those people to preach the gospel, to preach it faithfully, and to preach it indiscriminately to whomever we encounter.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Middle Sandy Presbyterian Church celebrates bicentennial


On Sunday, June 5, Middle Sandy Presbyterian Church in Homeworth, Ohio, will celebrate its 200th anniversary. The bicentennial occurred in April 2021, but church leaders postponed the celebration to this month due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity that the Lord has given us because there were so many people having to close their churches and not having attendance, and we are still able to go on,” Ruling Elder Dorothy Burbick told the Canton (Ohio) Repository in an article published on May 28.

Middle Sandy— so named because it sat on the edge of Middle Sandy Creek—was first recognized in 1816. The congregation was first mentioned in Presbytery records in 1820. The first log cabin church building was built in 1825. The current sanctuary was constructed in 1963.

Marc Shefelton serves as Middle Sandy’s Pastor. The church is in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Knox Presbyterian Church ministers amidst Buffalo shooting tragedy


The Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, N.Y.

Five miles north of the Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, N.Y., Knox Evangelical Presbyterian Church Pastor Justin Olivetti is comforting a community jolted by the May 14 shooting that took 10 lives.

“Everyone here is a bit shaken up,” Olivetti said. “We had some members who had relatives who worked there or some other community connections to the area and the store, but none of the casualties were among them.”

Justin Olivetti

Olivetti added that the congregation prayed in the Sunday morning worship service for the families of those involved. He also attended a multi-church prayer meeting that was held on Sunday afternoon around the block from the store.

EPC Stated Clerk Dean Weaver served as Knox EPC’s Pastor from 1995-2006. He also is a former member of the Board of Directors for Urban Christian Ministries in Buffalo, which is located a few blocks from the site of the shooting.

“I am just devastated,” Weaver said. “The security guard who was killed was a friend of one of my closest friends from our years there.”

Olivetti said he and his congregation are praying for a revival and healing.

“It was definitely designed to inflame racial tensions,” he said. “So I’ve been counseling people that our job as Christ’s ambassadors is to bring His love and grace in where others bring hate.”

Natrona Heights pastor Rick Harbaugh profiled in local media


Rick Harbaugh, Pastor of Natrona Heights Presbyterian Church in suburban Pittsburgh, Pa., was featured in Trib Total Media on April 18.

The article, “Faces in the Valley: New pastor of Natrona Heights Presbyterian brings experience, energy to leadership role,” profiles Harbaugh in his first pastorate following 11 years on staff with The Presbyterian Church of Portersville (Pa.). Both churches are in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Trib Total Media serves Allegheny, Westmoreland, Armstrong, and Butler counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Click here to read the article.

Ohio EPC church to host nation’s largest disability ministry conference


Bay Presbyterian Church in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, will host Inclusion Fusion Live (IFL2022) on Friday and Saturday, April 29-30. IFL2022, the largest annual disability ministry conference in the country, is hosted by Key Ministry in collaboration with the Tim Tebow Foundation.

Topics of this year’s conference include:

  • Supporting outreach and reintegration into church of persons impacted by disability after the pandemic.
  • Finding, empowering, and resourcing individuals with disabilities and families impacted by disability to launch and lead ministry.
  • Growing mental health ministry.
  • Innovative disability ministry strategies.
  • Impacts of trauma upon disability.

IFL2022 is designed for pastors, leadership teams, care teams, and children’s/student ministry leaders. Cost is $99 per person, and EPC members are eligible for a $22 discount by using the code EPC22 at registration.

“If your church has a disability ministry—or you are praying about starting one—this event should be on your annual calendar,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “My dear friend Beth Golik leads the Special Needs Ministry at Bay Pres, and also is on staff with Key Ministry. This conference will be a blessing to many people.”

For more information about the event, see

Colorado family finds hope after suicide through Cherry Hills’ Alpha ministry


On the first Saturday evening in September 2019, Will and Maria Bales slipped into the back of the room at an Alpha meeting at Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo. They weren’t sure they really wanted to be there.

Tyler Grissom

“I noticed them sitting off by themselves,” said Tyler Grissom, Evangelism Director at Cherry Hills who leads the church’s Alpha Course—interactive discussions that explore the basics of the Christian faith in an open and informal environment. “So I went and sat with them. They slowly began to open up. Then the tears started flowing.”

Grissom learned that the eldest of the Bales’ two sons, Nick, had taken his life almost a year earlier. He was only 17.

Their grief hit close to home for Grissom, who also is the father of two boys and lost his father in a tragic accident a few years before. He went through weeks of counseling afterward to find healing.

“I was able to share my own story with them, which helped,” Grissom said. “It enabled me to connect with them in a way I could not have if I had not experienced loss myself.” Most of all, though, Grissom just listened.

Friendship evangelism

He learned that the Bales—who did not have a church home—came to the Alpha meeting at the invitation of a friend.

“I will never forget that day,” said Ashley Gonzales, who attends Cherry Hills. “There were eight of us who knew Maria from playing tennis together. When we heard about Nick all of a sudden there was this chain of phone calls and we were all there.”

The women, who came from all different backgrounds and had never even had a spiritual conversation, did the one thing they could think of to do in the moment. They joined hands and started to pray.

“After the funeral, we wanted to continue to support Maria so we decided to meet every Friday for prayer at her house,” Gonzales said. “We didn’t even really know what to do, so we’d read a devotion from Jesus Calling, then pray and see where it would lead. Sometimes we ended up having deep conversations about life and faith.”

Nick and Maria Bales. (photo courtesy of the Bales family)

The women started calling themselves “The Prayer Warriors” and soon began to grow closer to God and to each other. Occasionally Will also would come in and listen.

“That’s when I got the idea to invite Will and Maria to Alpha,” Gonzales said. “Pastor Tyler had just announced that Alpha would be starting up again. Another friend in the prayer group had been through Alpha at her church, and we both thought it was worth mentioning to them.”

Gonzales had her doubts that they would say yes. But she knew that Alpha could provide some tools that the Bales needed to work through the grief, so she was willing to take a chance.

“I remember walking in that first night of Alpha, so anxious about whether or not they would show up. I realized this was my one opportunity, so I sent a text to Maria during worship saying, ‘I hope you can come.’”

Maria said their initial experience with the Alpha group was both “a good and bad experience,” but they returned the next week. At that meeting, they asked Grissom if he would speak at the remembrance ceremony for Nick in the Bales’ back yard on Sunday, September 29, which was the anniversary of his death.

A divine appointment

At Alpha two weeks later—on the night before the ceremony—Maria raised her hand during an invitation to say “yes” to Jesus. Her hope and peace were now in Christ, strengthened by learning from a relative that Nick had opened up his heart to Jesus before he died.

“I know that I’m going to see Nick again,” Maria said. “As much as I want to have him here, I am thankful to God for taking care of him. There’s no better place to be than in heaven.”

On the day of the ceremony, Grissom pulled into the neighborhood and saw cars stretched down the block, lining both sides of the street.

“There were a lot of people,” Gonzales said. “Young kids and families all there to support the Bales. I was praying hard for Pastor Tyler. I knew he wanted to acknowledge and celebrate Nick’s life, but also use the opportunity to share the gospel.”

Grissom delivered a powerful message, and when he asked if anyone would like to receive Christ, hands shot up all across the yard.

A few weeks earlier, Maria and some friends were in the mountains west of Denver when they were suddenly surrounded by a swarm of white butterflies. Maria said she knew at the time that it was a sign from Nick, so she ordered 1,000 butterflies in individual boxes for guests to release at the end of the remembrance ceremony. As dozens of people made the decision to begin a new life in Christ, the sky above the Bales’ home filled with butterflies rising toward the heavens.

“I believe God creates miracles every day,” Maria said. “Nick had a mission here—to be a light among all of his friends. Losing him was hard, but he has brought so much hope to other kids. I know that was Nick’s purpose.”

Nick Bales

When he was 9, Nick lost a friend to suicide. Three more friends took their lives later. His own battle with anxiety and depression started in the 6th grade.

When he was a 15-year-old sophomore, he launched an apparel company called Brought to Reality (BTR). He designed the T-shirts and hoodies to send a positive message, and he donated 10 percent of his profits to mental health efforts. He shared the story of his friend’s death on his website, and wrote these words to his peers: “My message is that life is precious, and I want to live every day to the fullest by being present, being myself, and following my dreams.”

But he started to isolate himself again early in his junior year and grew increasingly agitated. He even pushed away his brother, Tyler, which broke Maria’s heart because the two had always been close. One day after a heated argument, she exclaimed, “I don’t know who you are anymore!”

The pain in Nick’s eyes told her he did not either.

“I will never forget that moment,” Maria said. “The look he gave me was one of desperation.”

She threw herself into the fight to pull her son through his illness.

“It’s like a cancer,” she said. “Their brain is lying to them. It’s real, physical, brain pain. I can’t tell you how awful it is to watch your child suffer.”

As Nick started his senior year the next fall, he seemed to have turned the corner. He was doing well academically, playing on the hockey and lacrosse teams, and planning a Spring Break trip with his friends.


But on Friday night, September 28, he went to a football game, then texted his mom to let her know that he would be getting home late. Maria, who normally would have texted back a quick “Thanks for letting me know. I love you!” was particularly tired that night and fell asleep without responding. A friend brought him home a few minutes later.

The next morning the Bales found Nick’s lifeless body.

“Nick was a really good kid,” Maria said. “Mindful and sweet, athletic, energetic, so full of life. He was kind to everyone, and they all loved him. He was as comfortable with adults as he was with his peers and would talk to everyone in the room. He always liked to make sure people were included.”

Grissom emphasized that the Bales’ grief journey did not end at the remembrance ceremony, and more than two years later continue to walk a difficult road. Yet he noted that the tragedy of suicide is not beyond God’s redemptive work.

“What happened at the remembrance ceremony was all about the things that Alpha is built around—prayer and dependency on the Holy Spirit,” Grissom said. “God is unfolding His plan and allowing us to be a part of it. Only He could write a story like this.”

He hopes that Alpha will continue to be a place where families like the Bales can ask honest questions and find hope in Christ.

“Jesus was asked 183 questions in the New Testament,” Grissom said, “And He only answered three directly. Even His way of ministering to people—especially those outside—was to ask questions and let people wrestle with the answer until they came to a place of receiving the truth.”

The Bales family now runs BTR as a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called the Nick Bales BTR Foundation. The Foundation continues to produce “Street Wear for a Cause” and supports teens suffering from mental health issues and aiding in the prevention of teen suicide.

“All the proceeds go to helping pay for therapies for those less fortunate,” Maria said. “We don’t ever want young adults to make a permanent decision because they could not afford therapy.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) is a free, 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons and those around them with support, information, and local resources.

Colonial Presbyterian Church member Sandra Revelle weaves stories of reconciliation and hope


Colonial Presbyterian Church (Kansas City) member Sandra Revelle shared the stories behind her tapestry art on the four Sundays in February.

Simple stitches, ragged edges, and contrasting fabrics. Wrapped from start to finish in prayer.

That’s how Sandra Revelle—artist, storyteller, and member of Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City—brings the buried narratives of former slaves to life using machine- and hand-sewn panels vividly illustrated with scenes from the past.

“I see my characters as the lesser-known stars in the vast heavens of Black history,” said Revelle, who researches Depression-era archived interviews that Federal Writers’ Project journalists conducted with former slaves and turns them into historical fiction.

Revelle then takes those stories and stitches together fabrics, textures, and patterns to illustrate scenes from the lives of her characters.

Sandra Revelle with her 29″ x 25″ piece, “If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Could Ride.” When a much younger Sandra wished for a change requiring patience and insight she did not yet possess, this quote would roll from her mother’s tongue.

“These were ordinary people, just like you and me—people who endured unimaginable hardships but kept hoping and persevering in spite of the losses,” Revelle reflected. “That’s why it’s so important to tell their stories.”

During February, Revelle shared her art exhibit with Colonial’s two campuses as part of a “Kingdom Oneness” initiative that the congregation held in conjunction with Black History Month.

“I always try to insert a character in my stories who encourages from a Christian standpoint,” Revelle said. For example, in one of her stories a young man helps ferry escaping slaves across a river—risking his life to help others find freedom. “Although that young man is not particularly spiritual, the person who encourages him to take that step of faith is a believer.”

Jim West, Colonial’s Lead Pastor, believes it’s important for the church to hear these stories.

“God’s given Sandra a gift of being able to share a difficult history in a way that doesn’t shame anyone, but rather elevates our awe and respect and reverence for what people had to endure,” he said. “How they kept their faith in God amidst great suffering and injustice is a beautiful part of Black history that is not often told.”

Jim West

West acknowledges both the history of (and the current) racial tension in the United States. He says the church cannot ignore it.

“The redemption work of God has to start in the church,” he said. “I feel it happening slowly in our church and in other churches—particularly within the EPC.”

Through the Kingdom Oneness initiative, Colonial is intentionally seeking to hear and understand each other’s stories, champion diversity, and promote unity. Church leaders are building on efforts of a group called “the Bootstraps” that started organically within the congregation.

Rosie Bettis, a Colonial Ruling Elder and founding member of the Bootstraps group, said discussing issues of equality and racial differences “goes a long way” in promoting unity.

“We have Kingdom Oneness conversations every Wednesday, and that will continue past Black History Month,” she said. “We use a curriculum based on some of Tony Evans’ race relations material, which talks about how it’s not a ‘Black thing’ or a ‘white thing’—it’s a ‘Kingdom thing.’” The group is led each week by Greg Ealey, Campus Pastor for Colonial’s South Kansas City campus.

Bettis said Colonial also promoted specific events to acknowledge Black History Month. When a local theater put on a dance production telling the history and heroics of the Underground Railroad, the church purchased tickets and encouraged church members to attend. Bettis also went on a trip with five other women from the Bootstraps group to visit the Greenwood Rising and Cultural Museum in Tulsa, which tells the story of Black Wall Street and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. When they returned, they shared the story with the whole congregation.

Bettis says the trip was “uplifting,” “convicting,” “eye-opening,” but that the greatest benefit was the relationships forged among the women who participated. The experience had such an impact on the group that they have scheduled an overnight bus trip to the museum in April, and anyone in the church can attend.

A bumpy road

But the road to Kingdom Oneness at Colonial has not always been easy.

When Bootstraps originally launched, “Be the Bridge” groups were formed to bring people together to talk about race in light of the gospel. The meetings were so well-received that Colonial soon invited local African American congregations to join the conversation. Relationships were formed, groups grew rapidly, and the congregation seemed eager to truly “be the bridge” to racial reconciliation.

Then came the pandemic, followed by police incidents around the country that provoked racial tension. Suddenly the divide seemed wider than ever.

The rift impacted the church.

“It reached a point where you could not mention reconciliation without someone getting triggered,” West recalled. “It was so painful to my heart as a pastor.”

The 24″ x 18″ work “Sidney ‘Charity’ Still” portrays a runaway slave-mother who left two young sons in bondage. She persisted in prayer for years over her boys. Forty years later, one son came through the doors of her youngest child, William Still, a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Peter was reunited with his parents. A mother’s prayers were answered.

When Revelle joined the church and was willing to share her gifts with her new church family, it was like a breath of fresh air.

“When she starts out by saying ‘I joined Colonial in November of 2021’ it takes all of the political angst away from the conversation,” West noted. “She’s part of our family. She chose us. That’s our sister telling us about her gift and her passion and her heart for this, and it endears us to her immediately. So we hear it from a whole new perspective—from her perspective.”

Revelle says that she is still amazed at how her work has been received.

“When I first started writing and when God first impressed on me to make the themes for the panels, I started thinking, ‘Lord, who’s going to want to see this?’ But I just kept creating them. I wasn’t sure what people would think. It’s been completely from the Lord. I just stepped out in obedience.”

Her exhibit—originally planned for two Sundays in February—ended up showing on all four weekends. One participant left this comment: “Amazing doesn’t describe the gifts and talents that this Woman of God has. Thank you so much for blessing and sharing your beautiful journey with us!”

“So many people at both campuses loved her art and hearing her story and getting to know her as a person,” West said. “She’s a storyteller who captures the pain of the slaves and Black history, but she’s so full of grace. Her heart just comes out.”

A place to call home

Revelle said she knew from the first time she visited Colonial that she had found her home. Bettis had the same experience years earlier.

“I joined the church because I heard the word of God,” Bettis said. “Those beliefs are the same throughout. The word of God is final. The word of God is the benchmark.”

Both women hope the conversations around race will soon be embraced more readily.

“It’s difficult for some people to talk about,” Bettis acknowledged. “Like if we avoid the conversation, then the tension doesn’t exist. In Bootstraps we use the term Imago Dei—we are all made in the image of God. I don’t want to be defined by the color of my skin. I want my friends to say, ‘All I see is Rosie.’”

Revelle said that having her artwork on display has helped spark conversation.

“My first desire is Kingdom,” she said. “If we can all just learn to walk as Jesus walked and keep our hearts pure before the Lord, He’ll show us where we are diverging from the truth and bring us back into unity.”

For more about Revelle’s art, see

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

“In All Things” podcast episode 9 features EPC inner-city church planter Brian Evans


Episode 9 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Brian Evans, Pastor of 5point7 Community Church in Detroit, Mich., and member of the EPC National Leadership Team. This week, host Dean Weaver and Evans discuss the importance of the local church in effective inner-city ministry, as well as Evans’ background growing up in the same underserved neighborhood he now serves.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at