Category Archives: Church News

Hope Church Memphis featured in The Gospel Coalition


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

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

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

Click here for the full story.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Hurricane Harvey

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

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

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

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

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

The following allocations were made:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Irma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.