Category Archives: Church News

Caldwell (Idaho) EPC celebrates new home, personal revitalization

 
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Caldwell Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s new property is a formerly neglected recreation center the congregation purchased from the local Roman Catholic diocese in 2019.

On November 22, Caldwell Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, Idaho, will hold a dedication and celebration service for its new building. The church had been renting a series of locations since joining the EPC in 2013, and purchased a former Roman Catholic property earlier this year. Yet the celebration is about much more than a building—it is a celebration of God’s faithfulness, truth, and power for personal spiritual revitalization.

When the Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, Idaho, began to discuss leaving the mainline denomination in 2012, Scott and Connie Hoover weren’t quite sure what to believe. They had been members of the congregation for more than 40 years and as a result had deep relationships in both the church and the community. Yet they knew there were rumblings among many in the church about their denomination.

“When the issues started coming out, I was on Session,” Connie said. “In the first meeting where we addressed the concerns, I agreed more with my friends who were in favor of gay ordination and that kind of thing. I was on that side of the issue, and others were on the other side.”

For his part, Scott was concerned about what he thought were the mainline denomination’s “unbiblical political stances.”

“I was wondering, ‘do I really want to belong to the Presbyterian church?’” he said. “But when the issue of same-sex ordination came up, I started reading the Bible more and realized I was as much a cultural Christian as I was a believer all these years.”

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Scott and Connie Hoover

Connie noted that her walk with Christ to that point largely mirrored that of her husband’s.

“I was an active church participant, but I wouldn’t say I had a deep walk with Christ,” she confessed. The Hoovers realized that the decision facing the congregation was bringing Scott and her to a personal turning point.

“Through that whole situation I realized that the basic issue was the truth of the Bible, and some of my opinions had to change to line up with biblical truth,” she said. “I remember praying that this decision had to be made by His will and His Word, not the opinions of me and my friends.”

The Hoovers—and the Session—soon realized that the congregation needed to leave its denomination. The transition to a new home would not be easy.

“The more we as a Session prayed that we would align with biblical truth, the more we were criticized,” Connie recalled. “And the more we were criticized, the more I relied on Him and strengthened my relationship with Him. And I was not alone—God drew a lot of us to Him.”

When the congregation cast its vote, 75 percent chose to depart and join the EPC. The 25 percent who voted against the disaffiliation left and began meeting elsewhere. However, they soon filed a lawsuit to gain possession of the church property they had vacated. After more than a year in the courts, followed by a negotiated settlement, the EPC congregation left the property and began renting space from the local Seventh-Day Adventist church.

“I can’t say enough about how gracious the Adventists were,” Connie noted. “And the rent we paid them helped them pay off some debt, so it was good for everyone. They were so kind and encouraging to us, even across some pretty substantial theological divisions.”

Aaron Beaty was the pastor during the congregation’s transition to the EPC.

“I witnessed nothing short of the miraculous work the Holy Spirit in uniting what had previously been a congregation of varied convictions and backgrounds,” said Beaty, who now serves as pastor of Peace Memorial EPC in Klamath Falls, Ore. “The unity was in the Word, the Spirit, and the Body. Ultimately this unity in Christ was expressed when the fellowship chose to turn the building and $300,000 of investments over to their former denomination instead of engaging in a lengthy court battle and appeals process. For a congregation that was deeply rooted in that place, the move demonstrated the work God’s Spirit had done in them.”

Later, the congregation began renting the neglected gym and educational annex of a church property owned by the local Roman Catholic diocese. With the approval of their landlords, members of the congregation began gutting and renovating. They held their first services in the facility in early 2017.

“The Catholic ladies who saw how we fixed it up started crying at how good it looked, and that was still going to be used as a church,” Scott said.

“The Lord activated the gifts of many of our members,” Beaty recalled. “The congregation came together and spent five to six nights a week transforming a musty, run-down education hall into a fresh, roomy worship center with fellowship, office, and classroom space.”

Caldwell EPC ultimately negotiated with the diocese to purchase the property.

“I remember praying, ‘God, this is a great place to preach the Word and minister to the world,’” Beaty recalled. “God said to me, ‘Not for you.’ While shocking, I didn’t take it as a rebuke but as an assurance—that my pastorate had come to an end and God had prepared another for their next stage.”

Following Beaty’s departure to Peace Memorial EPC in 2017, Ehud Garcia served as Transitional Pastor for Caldwell EPC until Dave Moody was installed as pastor in April 2017.

“Ehud and his wife, Neiva, were significant in the life of the church,” Moody said. “For nearly two years he faithfully preached God’s Word, helped the church set up a pastoral search committee, and walked with the congregation through the decision to purchase the building.”

Through the entire process, the congregation came to understand that the church is not bricks and mortar.

“Due to God’s leading them through difficult and refining times,” Moody said, “they understand the church is the people, not the building, and He has brought them here for a revitalized faithfulness to Jesus and His mission.”

Scott Hoover agreed.

“What opened our eyes through the whole thing was that the building really wasn’t important,” he said. “It’s a tool, but it’s not the church. It’s simply a place to expand out from. The whole experience also showed me that I had to understand what the Bible says and I needed to align myself with it. It pushed me to think about what I believed, and to read the Bible—which I really hadn’t done since I was a kid.”

A turnaround story: Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church

 

ChapelHillASpencer Hutchins is 33 now, but he was three years old when he first met Mark Toone, Senior Pastor of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor, Wash. Hutchins grew up in the church, and now he’s helping to lead it as chair of the elder board.

“It says a great deal about Mark that he trusts me, a child of the church he knew as a toddler, with this position of authority,” Hutchins says. “At Chapel Hill, we are blessed with a senior pastor who both leads and follows. He acts with humility and respect for our church governance. Our pastor takes very seriously the burden of responsibility on him but knows he does not carry it alone.”

Toone’s humility and his close relationship with church elders (and the rest of the congregation) have been on full display the past year and a half or so, as the church has doubled down on reversing a 14-year-old trend of declining membership. In March 2018, the church hired Tony Morgan of The Unstuck Group to help them rearticulate their ministry and realign their structures.

“It was a point of existential crisis for me,” Toone says. “I reached the point where I felt we either had to find a way, by God’s grace, to turn this around, or I needed to take early retirement and see if someone else could do something. I had 30 years of accumulated chips, and I decided I would push all of them onto the table. Hard decisions that might wound me could kill my successor, but I wanted to do everything I could to prepare Chapel Hill for a future even greater than its past.”

Because Toone had so much relational equity with church members, he was able to implement some risky changes.

ChapelHillB

Associate Pastor Ellis White (left) and Ruling Elder David Derr administer the sacrament of baptism at Chapel Hill’s annual outdoor “Harbor Baptisms” service each summer.

“We began thinking about worship services as our front door rather than our living room, which changed the way we planned, aimed, talked, decorated, and followed up,” Toone says.

Perhaps that was most obvious in a simple but important decision that turned out to be symbolic of all the sacrificial change (and resulting growth) the church has seen in the past year: closing the balcony during all services. Prior to that, many people preferred to worship from the balcony, leaving the main floor feeling uncomfortably empty for visitors. That decision, Toone says, not only set off the most grumbling, but it coincided with a positive turnaround in attendance.

“I’ve never had more complaints about a single issue in my 30 years of ministry than we did over closing the stupid balcony,” Toone says. “Frankly, the more it went on, the more I was determined we wouldn’t open that balcony if it killed me, because I felt like there was a spiritual issue at play. It became almost a parable of the journey of change we were engaged in, where we were calling on people to sacrifice comfort and preference for the sake of the greater good of the body and of those who had yet to walk through our doors.”

Focusing on the unchurched was a huge shift for Chapel Hill.

“Our mission statement had to do with presenting everyone mature in Christ, and, in a sense, we had accomplished that,” Toone says. “But in the process, we had begun to close the door to the outsider. So we became more intentional about our worship services not just being a training time for seasoned veterans but really a welcoming, open front door for [newcomers].”

That not only meant introducing a contemporary service in addition to the long-standing traditional one, but also having a much clearer discipleship plan in place for new believers.

“Instead of weekends just being about putting together a great worship service, we were far more intentional about equipping our members to invite their friends,” Associate Pastor Ellis White says, “and then creating an experience for those people that’s engaging, where they feel welcomed, where they have the opportunity to profess faith, and where they can then be baptized and make a concrete next step in their faith.”

Above all of these things, though, the greatest catalyst for growth has been the Holy Spirit, Hutchins says.

“We do not seek increased attendance as an end in and of itself,” he says. “We desire to grow, both in numbers and in faith, as an expression of the vibrancy of the Holy Spirit in and among us.”

Toone echoes that sentiment.

“I love the fact that the Lord has seen fit to entrust more people to us,” Toone says. “This is a movement of the Spirit.”

 

Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church was named to the “Outreach 100” list for 2019 of the fastest-growing churches in the United States. Article reprinted courtesy of Outreach magazine. ©2019 Outreach Inc. Photos courtesy of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church.

www.OutreachMagazine.com

https://outreachmagazine.com/ideas/church-profiles/45842-a-turnaround-story-chapel-hill-presbyterian-church.html

Lake Forest Church (N.C.) launches Spanish-language church through Mexico partnership

 
ElBuenSamaritanoA

Victor Leal, Pastor of El Buen Samaritano, preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan at the congregation’s launch service on September 8, 2019 (Photos courtesy of Lake Forest Church).

The EPC’s newest Spanish-speaking congregation launched in Huntersville, N.C., on Sunday, September 8. Iglesia Lake Forest: El Buen Samaritano is a plant of the Lake Forest family of churches and is led by Victor Leal and his wife, Rosmi.

ElBuenSamaritanoB

Rosmi and Victor Leal

The congregation, whose name translates to “Lake Forest Church: The Good Samaritan” is fruit of the partnership between the EPC and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (La Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana de México or INPM), and a financial church-planting partnership between Lake Forest Church and the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic.

“We consider El Buen Samaritano an example of the EPC’s ‘Revelation 7:9’ vision for serving every tribe and language in our own country with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Mike Moses, Lead Pastor of Lake Forest Church-Huntersville and Moderator of the EPC’s 35th General Assembly.

The Leals came to Lake Forest in 2016 from Seminario Teológico Presbiteriano de México (the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of Mexico) in Mexico City.

“They have been living in the fast-growing Latino immigrant community of north Charlotte for more than a year, building relationships and leading the ministry of the resource center that our Lake Forest opened in 2017 in the key neighborhood of this population,” Moses noted. “The resource center—Centro de Recursos—is a platform for tutoring ministries, immigration law counseling, community police meetings, and much more. Victor and Rosmi have built trust in the neighborhood by actively caring for the physical and social needs of local families, and now they are trusted to lead people spiritually.”

On Launch Sunday, Rosmi led worship and Victor preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10.

“The theme was powerful,” Moses said. “Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, the immigrant community in the U.S. today may feel as though they are suspect and objects of disrespect. However, Jesus emphasized that they are in fact as capable as anyone of exemplifying God’s Kingdom and God’s will by reaching out to serve others. And of course, Victor spoke the gospel—that Jesus is all of our ‘Good Samaritan’ who meets our deepest needs and pays the price for our healing through the cross and the resurrection.”

El Buen Samaritano is the fourth member of the Lake Forest family of churches, which includes congregations in Davidson, Huntersville, and Westlake, N.C. Lake Forest seeks to plant one new congregation every two to three years.

ElBuenSamaritanoC

Outreach Magazine names three EPC churches to “Outreach 100” list

 

Outreach100-2019Outreach Magazine has recognized Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor, Wash.; Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo.; and Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova, Tenn., in its annual feature on the largest and fastest-growing churches in the United States.

Among the fastest-growing churches, Chapel Hill was a newcomer to the list this year. The congregation led by Pastor Mark Toone ranked 92nd, with 17 percent growth over the past year to an average attendance of 1,319.

Hope Church also made the fastest-growing list in 100th place, with six percent growth (417 new attenders) to a current average attendance of 6,815. This is the first year Hope has landed on the Outreach list of fastest-growing congregations.

Hope Church also is ranked in the Largest Churches category at 65th, and appears on the Outreach list for fifth consecutive year. The congregation was ranked 83rd in 2015, 69th in 2016, 79th in 2017, and 80th in 2018. Rufus Smith is the Senior Pastor.

Cherry Hills also appears on list of largest churches for the fifth year. Led by Senior Pastor Shane Farmer, the congregation was ranked 95th this year, with an average attendance of 4,707. Cherry Hills has been on Outreach’s list of largest congregations every year since 2015.

The Outreach 100—a ranking of the 100 largest, fastest-growing, and reproducing  churches in the United States—is an annual collaboration between Outreach Magazine, Lifeway Research, and Exponential. While not exhaustive, the list is based on self-reported surveys from about 30,000 congregations that were contacted for participation. For more information, see www.outreach100.com/about.

Bart Hess Award presented to Covenant EPC of Monroe, La.

 
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Jeff Jeremiah presents the 2019 Bart Hess Award to John Mabray, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La., on June 20 at the 2019 General Assembly. To Mabray’s right are Associate Pastor Jonathan Wagner and Ruling Elder Wayne Smith.

Covenant Presbyterian Church (EPC) of Monroe, La., is the recipient of the 2019 Bartlett L. Hess Award for church revitalization. The award was presented to the congregation on August 18.

“The revitalization of Covenant Monroe is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes,” Pastor John Mabray told the 39th General Assembly when the award was announced on June 20.

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said Covenant EPC received the 2019 award “because of its outstanding work in church revitalization.”

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.

EPC hurricane relief efforts in Bahamas underway as casualties reported

 
BahamasChurchesDorian

The Bahamas are home to three EPC churches; two of which were in the path of Hurricane Dorian (noted with red line).

Among the reported casualties in Marsh Harbor, Bahamas, as a result of Hurricane Dorian are two individuals connected to EPC churches. Bryn MacPhail, Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, reported that a member of Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor and a cousin of a St. Andrews Ruling Elder are among the casualties.

As of September 9, more than 40 deaths in the Bahamas have been attributed to the storm, with hundreds of people still missing.

Of the three EPC churches in the Bahamas, two are located in areas directly affected by the storm: Kirk of the Pines (Abaco), and Lucaya Presbyterian Church in Freeport (Grand Bahama). Nassau received little effect from the storm, so St. Andrew’s is the staging point for the EPC’s relief work in Marsh Harbor.

In response to the storm’s destructive impact on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, more than $73,000 has been donated to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund as of September 9. The request for donations was issued on September 2.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said that he has been in daily contact with MacPhail and Gabe Swing, Pastor of Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor.

“Gabe and his family were in Tennessee when Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas,” Jeremiah noted. “His return has been delayed twice, but he hopes to arrive in Nassau this Wednesday. The challenge the Swings face when they return to Marsh Harbor is that their home has been described as unlivable.”

Lack of power and wifi connectivity in Freeport since the storm prevented contact with Ken Lane, Pastor of Lucaya Presbyterian Church, until Saturday, September 7.

“Ken reports that the island of Grand Bahama also received significant wind and flooding, although not as extensive and devastating as on Abaco,” Jeremiah said. “The good news is that the Lucaya building did not endure flooding and suffered only minor exterior damage. When the banks in Freeport re-open in the coming week, EPC emergency relief funds will be sent as requested from Ken, who is still assessing the needs this weekend with his leadership.”

MacPhail reported that the recently constructed Kirk of the Pines building received minor damage, but is “standing strong on the main road” of Marsh Harbor—one of only a few structures in Marsh Harbor still intact. An estimated 13,000 homes in the immediate area of the church have been destroyed, including the homes of many Kirk of the Pines families.

Initially planned as a center for EPC relief efforts in Marsh Harbor, MacPhail noted that a pending mandatory evacuation order has put those plans for the Kirk of the Pines facility on hold.

“Sending supplies to Marsh Harbor appears to no longer be prudent at the moment,” MacPhail said via email. “Receiving teams to help rebuild also seems like something that will need to wait until we hear what the government intends for the city.”

MacPhail also noted that many of those evacuees are coming to Nassau.

“Two of our Sunday School classrooms have been converted into temporary lodging. Bedding, towels, and other necessities have been purchased and church members have supplied groceries.” At least eleven Marsh Harbor evacuees will be housed in this space, MacPhail said.

Jeremiah described three specific areas for prayer focus:

“First, pray for Gabe Swing as he returns. With the evacuations to Nassau, there are now more members of Kirk of the Pines in Nassau than there are in Marsh Harbor, so pray for Gabe as he ministers to his dislocated flock.”

The second prayer request is for a mental health team that MacPhail’s wife, Allie, serves with.

“She is a certified therapist and part of a mental health team with the Family Medicine Center in Nassau. They have been at the Nassau airports to provide evacuees with what has been termed, ‘Psychological First Aid.’ Pray for this team as they perform this incredibly important ministry.”

The third prayer request is for protection against looting.

“Looting is already a major problem in Abaco and Freeport,” he said. “Pray for the protection of those supplies, the safety of those protecting them, and of course, the recipients of that help.”

MacPhail requested prayer for the St. Andrew’s congregation and leadership as they assess the best way to meet needs in both their community and among evacuees from Abaco and Grand Bahama.

“I sense that we are being forced to wait before we get a clearer sense of where, and how, to best assist,” he wrote via email on September 8. “Our elders meet on Wednesday evening. Please pray for us as we meet and attempt to discern the best way forward with relief assistance.”

Donations to EPC relief efforts can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief. Contributions are sent directly to EPC churches in the affected areas for needs they identify in their local communities.

 

Relief funds sought for Hurricane Dorian relief

 

HurricaneDorianEmergencyReliefIn response to devastation wrought on the northern Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian, and in anticipation of potential further effects of the storm, the EPC is seeking donations to its Emergency Relief Fund.

“While Puerto Rico was only grazed by the storm and our church in Nassau fared well, it is sadly a very different story for our church at Marsh Harbor, Abaco—Kirk of the Pines, led by Gabe Swing,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Dorian made landfall there with record winds in excess of 180 mph, accompanied by a tremendous storm surge. We are still awaiting reports from church leaders and members, but news reports and social media show devastating damage.”

A third EPC congregation in the Bahamas, Lucaya Presbyterian Church, is located in suburban Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama. As of late afternoon on September 2, Dorian had largely stalled with its center located about 25 miles northeast of Freeport. Damage is expected “to be severe” in that community, Jeremiah said.

Click here to donate to the Emergency Relief Fund, or go to www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief.

Contributions are tax-deductible, and any donations that exceed directly related disbursements will be held for future emergency relief needs.

St. Andrew’s Kirk partners with Nassau McDonald’s in school supplies outreach

 
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In partnership with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in the EPC’s Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean, McDonald’s in Nassau, Bahamas, donated more than 600 backpacks for children in Nassau. (photo courtesy of The Nassau Guardian)

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas, has partnered with McDonald’s for the past nine years to provide backpacks and school supplies to children in several neighborhoods near the church in downtown Nassau.

“One of my favorite traditions at St. Andrew’s Kirk is our back-to-school initiative in Bain and Grant’s Town,” said Bryn MacPhail, Pastor of St. Andrew’s. “We have deep affection for, and genuine interest in, the children of this community. We aspire to show our neighbors the love of Christ, and we are grateful for the opportunity that this event presents for us to demonstrate this.”

The backpacks were filled with books, pens, pencils, and other materials. Children who received the backpacks attend the St. Andrew’s Sunday School and Big Harvest Community Sunday School.

Earla Bethel, St. Andrew’s Clerk of Session, is the president of DanBrad Limited, the parent company of McDonald’s in Nassau.

“When a carpenter heads out to a job he usually always has his hammer, tape measure, and square,” Bethel said. “It is equally important that our children in the communities we serve are not disadvantaged by their socioeconomic status, but placed on equal footing through these donations. McDonald’s is very proud to assist the students of Big Harvest and St. Andrew’s Kirk as they both provide a framework for establishing spiritual values and mentorship and focus on education through after-school programs and tutoring. We look forward to each and every child achieving success in the upcoming school year.”

“It’s a tremendous blessing,” said John Ferguson, Big Harvest Sunday School’s superintendent and Nassau’s retired assistant commissioner of police. “It augers well not only for the community, but it allows us to enhance what we’re doing in the inner city through this donation to assist the underprivileged and at-risk youth. We are very grateful for Ms. Bethel and DanBrad Limited, and we appreciate what they’ve done and what they’re doing and we appreciate them including Big Harvest in this gracious donation.”

Commonwealth Bank in Nassau joined the McDonald’s-St. Andrew’s partnership this year, earmarking 150 of the 10,000 backpacks it distributes annually to the cause.

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.

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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.