Category Archives: Church News

EPC churches help with Texas, Florida hurricane recovery efforts


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Hurricane Irma caused a large tree to fall on the home of Andy Black, an elder for Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fla. (photo courtesy of Matthew Everhard)

EPC churches in Texas and Florida continue to both recover and minister in their communities following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Eddie Spencer, pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Fla., said Irma brought heavy winds and flooding rains to southwest Florida.

“A number of our folks have been hurt by flooding,” he said. “We will help them.”

Spencer also said the focus of their outreach efforts “will probably be Immokalee,” a largely agricultural community about 35 miles southeast of Fort Myers with a significant migrant worker population—many of whom live in trailer homes damaged or destroyed by the storm. “I am very proud of our church family. We have been very engaged in the community and caring for each other.”

He also noted that as of September 18, the church was without electricity. “We had church yesterday with generators and fans and people seemed delighted that I preached a shorter sermon.”

Matthew Everhard, pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fla., said the homes of two of their elders were damaged—one severely—but he was not aware of any injuries or major casualties.

“Most else is debris-related,” he said, “but we are contacting all 400 members and our 100 shelter guests.”

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Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to the home of Jim Phinney, an elder for Faith EPC in Brooksville, Fla. (photo courtesy of Matthew Everhard)

The church used its Family Life Center as a shelter, where approximately 100 local residents rode out the storm. Everhard said everyone at the shelter “survived happy and well-fed,” but reported several leaks to the church building and damage to the facade.

Ikki Soma, pastor of City of Refuge Church in Houston, reported via email that one of their ruling elders’ homes “looked like a war zone,” following Hurricane Harvey, noting that the all the drywall in their home had been removed from floor to ceiling.

“It’s the most devastated home I’ve seen,” Soma said. “Most people only have three to five feet of drywall removed. Pray for him and his family. His wife lost her mother last Saturday too, and many mementos from her mom were lost in the flooding.”

Michael Herrin, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South, requested prayer for Michel Yonts, pastor of Edna Presbyterian Church in Edna, Texas. Edna was in the path of Hurricane Harvey, and Herrin said the home Yonts still owns in Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma.

“Please pray for Michel and Pauline as they deal with this double dose of difficulty,” Herrin said.

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Following Hurricane Harvey, piles of rubble from flooded homes are a common sight in southeast Texas.

Herrin also reported that Daniel Situka, EPC teaching elder and a hospice chaplain in Houston, needs significant repairs to his home. “His house was flooded and his roof needs some repair, but he said it is hard to find a contractor,” Herrin said. “FEMA has inspected the house, and has recommended that some more wet material be removed.”

Herrin also said Situka ‘s car was totaled. “He has a rental car and is back to work, but will have to buy a new car. Daniel has been very impressed with how helpful everyone has been.”

Daniel Nguyen, an EPC evangelist working with the Bellaire Vietnamese Fellowship, expressed gratitude for the EPC’s Hurricane Harvey emergency relief fund.

“Thank you for showing your love of Christ through your prayers and financial support,” he said. “We have several members as well as non-Christian friends in our Vietnamese community who sorely need this kind of help to get back to their normal lives. As we earnestly share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our Vietnamese people, please pray for God to soften their hearts so they would soon receive Him as the Savior and Lord of their life.”

Alan Trafford, pastor of Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Lake Jackson, Texas, reported that flood waters from Hurricane Harvey have receded in southern Brazoria County, south of Houston.

“It hasn’t rained since the storm, thankfully, but the millions of gallons that fell on the Greater Houston area had to pass through the coastal counties to reach the Gulf,” Jackson said via email. “This is what caused our flooding, approximately ten days after the storm hit.”

He said volunteers from Covenant have worked closely with a local ministerial alliance in coordinating volunteer efforts and serving the area in a variety of ways.

“We have had a hand in many tasks, from feeding evacuees at one of the local shelters to collecting diapers for the Pregnancy Help Center, from unloading huge amounts of supplies for the local food pantries, to filling hundreds of sandbags,” he said. “It has been gratifying to see so many groups coming together to help, and we hope to work with groups from other churches in the coming months.”

Jackson noted that the need is “immense,” with more than 120,000 homes in Southeast Texas completely flooded, and thousands more damaged.

“Some of the poorest neighborhoods, in rural or unincorporated areas, have suffered the worst flooding,” he said. “We are sending teams out to rip out carpets and flooring, remove debris, and cut out drywall. About a dozen families in the church had water in their homes. The worst was one of our elders who got four feet of water in his newly remodeled house—his second flood in just over a year.”

He said the church’s new youth facility has been converted into accommodations for work groups. “We trust that the Lord will continue to use us to demonstrate the compassion of Christ.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said contributions to the EPC’s emergency relief funds have helped local churches immensely.

“In the wake of Harvey, Irma, and now Maria in Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean, I am so grateful for the generosity of individuals and churches across the EPC who have helped our churches minister to their members and communities. I hope we can continue to bless them in this way.”

As of September 20, the Hurricane Harvey emergency relief fund has received $235,182 while the Hurricane Irma relief fund had received $14,976.

A Hurricane Maria relief fund has been approved by the National Leadership Team and will be announced by September 22. Maria caused significant damage in Puerto Rico—home to three EPC churches in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean—including loss of power across the entire island.

EPC churches in Puerto Rico request prayer in face of Hurricane Maria


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Puerto Rico, in red at bottom center, is expected to take a direct hit from Hurricane Maria on September 20. There are three EPC churches on the island. 

As Hurricane Maria bears down on Puerto Rico as a major category 5 storm, leaders of EPC churches on the island are requesting prayer.

“The entire island will be impacted and major damage is expected,” Alfredo Aponte, ruling elder for Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster in Bayamón, wrote in an email on September 19. “Please pray for our island and our EPC churches in Bayamón, Añasco, and Mayaguez. May the Lord protect us. May the Lord be praised. May this be an opportunity to serve the Lord wherever we are, under all circumstances.”

The National Weather Service has issued a Hurricane Warning for Puerto Rico. Sustained winds are expected to be 105-125 mph, with gusts to 175 mph. The warning indicates “extreme” threat to life and property throughout the island from wind and flooding rain, and a high risk of storm surge and tornados.

“In Luke 18, Jesus reminds us of the power of persistent prayer,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Please pray for the people of Puerto Rico, and for the protection of our churches there as they minister through and after this storm.”

Closer to God Church (Kearny, N.J.) receives 2017 Bart Hess Award


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Valdir Reis (right), pastor of Closer to God Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Kearny, N.J., received the Bart Hess Award on behalf of the congregation from Jeff Jeremiah during the church’s worship service on September 10.

Closer to God Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Kearny, N.J., is the recipient of the 2017 Bartlett L. Hess Award for church revitalization. The award was announced at the 37th General Assembly in June at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif.

“This award is tremendous to our church,” pastor Valdir Reis told commissioners to the Assembly. “Thank you to the EPC, this faithful church that received us with much love.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, presented the award to the congregation during their September 10 worship service.

Jeremiah said Closer to God Church received the 2017 award “because of its outstanding outreach efforts into their local community, which includes those of Brazilian, Mexican, Portuguese, and Dominican background—as well as many immigrants.” He also noted that the church provides professional courses, medical care, legal assistance, and counseling to immigrant families.

“They also serve the underprivileged in the Newark area through a food bank and used clothing store that deeply discounts its prices,” Jeremiah said. “I’m excited for the great things the Lord is doing through their ministry.”

The church was launched on July 3, 2011, and came into the EPC’s Presbytery of the East on April 5, 2012.

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 Bartlett L. “Bart” Hess, founding pastor of Ward Church in suburban Detroit, who was instrumental in the establishment of the EPC in 1981.

EPC churches in Puerto Rico ‘doing very well’ following Hurricane Irma


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Waves from Hurricane Irma hit Fajardo, on the eastern tip of Puerto Rico, on September 7. (photo credit REUTERS/Alvin Baez)

Juan Rivera, pastor of Iglesia Presbiteria Westminster in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, reported on September 7 that the EPC’s three churches on the island emerged from Hurricane Irma in good condition.

“Thanks be to God!” he said. “We are doing very well; Westminster, Anasco, and Mayaguez also. Praying for all in Irma’s route and giving thanks for the EPC family.”

The Miami Herald reported that nearly 1 million people in Puerto Rico lost power after the storm skirted the island on September 6, and some areas could be without power for up to four to six months.

A Hurricane Irma Emergency Relief Fund will be launched soon for people to donate funds for recovery and cleanup in areas affected by the storm.

Gulf South church leaders assess hurricane damage, plan recovery efforts


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Volunteers prepare donations received by the EPC’s City of Refuge Church as the congregation helps meet needs of its neighbors near downtown Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Amidst the devastation in southeast Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey, a number of EPC congregations in the region have been affected. On August 31, the Presbytery of the Gulf South hosted leaders of Houston-area EPC churches via conference call to assess damage from the storm and discuss recovery strategies for their congregations and communities.

Participants included presbytery leaders Kory Duncan, Bob Vincent, and Michael Herrin; EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah; Richard Harris, pastor of Christ EPC in Houston; Ikki Soma, pastor of City of Refuge Church in Houston; Carter Sanger, pastor of Cornerstone EPC in Katy, Texas; Alan Trafford, pastor of Covenant EPC in Lake Jackson, Texas; and Michel Yonts, pastor of Edna EPC in Edna, Texas. Edna is about 90 miles northeast of Rockport and is the closest EPC congregation to where the hurricane made landfall on August 25.

During the conference call, the church leaders reported that all members of their congregations are safe and accounted for, though some families and individuals responded to mandatory evacuation orders and have yet to be reached. However, some church members’ homes have been flooded, and they will need significant help in the days to come. The church properties only sustained minimal damage. The pastors’ homes were not damaged, with the exception of Harris’ which received minor damage.

Christ EPC suffered some electrical problems at their church building, but the facility received no major flood damage. Harris said the church is making plans to help church members and the community.

Soma reported that City of Refuge, located five miles from downtown Houston, has been helping their neighbors, volunteering, and directing donations to flood victims for several days. The only damage to church property was the loss of some ceiling tiles, though he said 20 percent of the congregation suffered damage to their homes.

Cornerstone in Katy had no damage to their church building, but Sanger said that some church members have not yet been able to determine the amount of flood damage to their homes. He also said they plan to offer space to other congregations whose places of worship were damaged.

Covenant EPC in Lake Jackson is downstream from Houston, so Trafford said they are waiting on the waters to rise to see how much of their area will be flooded. They are making preparations to serve as a shelter for local residents if necessary.

Yonts reported that that town of Edna suffered significant wind damage, but the church building did not flood. He said they were under a mandatory evacuation order, so many of the church members are still out of town. He added that the area is only “just now” getting electric power restored.

Herrin, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South, said that EPC Chaplains Daniel Situka and Aaron Laenger were both flooded out of their homes.

Evangelist Daniel Nguyen—who works among the Vietnamese community in the Houston area—reported that he’s in the same situation as Lake Jackson, waiting to see how high the rivers will rise to know whether his house will flood. He has made contact with his church members and discovered one had their home flood.

Each pastor noted that they are still evaluating the needs in their congregation and community, and will have to identify what will (and will not) be useful in a recovery effort that will last for months.

Jeremiah encouraged people across the country to donate to the EPC’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. In collaboration with the Presbytery of the Gulf South, donations 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 Harvey Relief (506)” from the second pulldown menu,) or make check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church and designated “Hurricane Harvey Relief,” and send to:

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

As of September 1, more than $30,000 had been received into the fund.

Iconic golden hand back atop Port Gibson (Miss.) EPC church


Written by Brandon O’Connor/The Vicksburg Post
Photos by Courtland Wells/The Vicksburg Post
Reprinted by permission

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Michael Herrin, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson and Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South, reads a poem as The Hand Pointing to Heaven is hoisted atop the church’s steeple on Aug. 16.

The Hand Pointing to Heaven is once again in its rightful place atop the steeple of First Presbyterian Church in Port Gibson, Miss.

The 10-feet 4-inch, 250 pound golden fist with its index finger pointing skyward was returned to the top of the steeple at First Presbyterian on Aug. 16 following a two-month restoration process.

The golden hand was taken down from the steeple on June 26 and sent to Virginia where it was restored and then recovered in gold plate.

“We sent it to American Stripping Company in Manassas Park, Virginia.” Rev. Michael Herrin said. “They stripped off the previous coatings, repaired the metal, it had rust mainly on the cuff around the bottom. They then prepared the surface for gilding. The gilder’s studio from Maryland put the gold plate on it. It is real gold plate, just real thin.”

The hand was then shipped back to Port Gibson where it was originally scheduled to be reinstalled Aug. 9. Inclement weather caused a slight delay in the process, but Wednesday it was raised back to the top of the steeple where it sits 147 feet above the ground.

“It is a symbol of Port Gibson,” Herrin said. “It is a symbol of what we are all supposed to be about. It reminds us that this life isn’t about us. It is about God. It does what steeples are supposed to do. They are supposed to point us to God.”

There was some question Wednesday of whether they would raise the hand to the top of the steeple or not after a few cracks were found in the back when it was unwrapped. They decided to go ahead after sealing the cracks to keep water out.

“I carried it up there with a mattress and it worked fine,” Jimmy Cassell, the chairman of the Deacon’s Board, said. “They built some cradle they wanted me to bring it back in. That cradle is too hard evidentially, and when we hit bumps it bent it a little bit. We calked it and hopefully it is going to be alright.”

After the repairs were made and members of the congregation had the chance to have their pictures taken with it, the hand was raised to the top of the steeple using a crane. There it had to be bolted back onto the steeple and the lightning rod had to be attached.

A hand has been atop the steeple of First Presbyterian since 1860, when the current building was finished. The original hand was made of wood and this hand, which is made of metal, was purchased and placed atop the steeple in 1903.

“The original minister, Dr. Zebulon Butler, during his sermons would make the hand gesture,” Cassell said. “They took that hand gesture and made it.”

It has been a fixture of Port Gibson ever since. The hand was last taken down from the steeple in 1989 to be refurbished.

“It is always scary when it comes down because there are so many things that could happen,” Azalea Knight, who has been a member of the church since 1972, said. “It is such a landmark for the state of Mississippi and Port Gibson. It is beautiful and I am so excited to see it back up. It is such a void while it was gone.”

Norma Bearden made the drive from Natchez to see the golden hand returned to the steeple. The hand and the church hold a special place in her heart and she wanted to be there for its return.

“I was married in this church in 1979. It really was a good feeling that we are trying to keep the town up. It brought back a lot of good feelings about my wedding,” Bearden said. “I grew up in the area and I saw the hand nearly everyday of my life. I thought it was monumental that we have been able to keep it restored and in such good condition. It shows the pride of everybody in the Presbyterian Church.”

The two month long project cost the church $43,000 Herrin said.

“I am so thankful for all the people that contributed to this and did it. It is so great to have deacons who will take a project and just run with it,” he said. “It looks wonderful. Beautiful, golden, shiny. I think it does its job. It points people to Christ and that is all we can ask.”

EPC church plant featured in The Gospel Coalition


DowntownChurchDowntown Church in Memphis, Tenn., was featured in an article by The Gospel Coalition on August 16. The essay, “How a Multiethnic Church Is Chasing the Dream in MLK’s Last Stop” tells the story of the EPC church plant, led by Richard Rieves, and the historic Clayborn Temple that provides the congregation a unique platform for ministry in the community.

Clayborn Temple was built by Second Presbyterian Church in 1892, and at the time was the largest church building south of the Ohio River. Second sold the property in 1949 to the country’s oldest African-American denomination, and it later became a rallying point for civil rights protests in the 1960s before falling vacant in 1999.

Second began negotiations to re-acquire the property for a multi-ethnic church plant as early as 2003. Efforts stalled until 2015, when title to the property was transferred to a local non-profit organization which raised funds to stabilize the structure. Downtown Church, which launched in 2011 and previously met in a refurbished warehouse and then a remodeled train station, began worshipping in Clayborn Temple in January 2017. Worship attendance has grown to about 300.

Earlier this month, Clayborn Temple was named a National Historic Landmark.