Category Archives: Ministers

Networking, sharing best practices highlight EPC pastors gathering

 

500-999Pastors2020Fifteen pastors of EPC churches with membership of 500-1000 discussed a variety of topics relevant to their ministries and settings at their annual gathering, held January 15-17 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando. The group meets each year for networking, fellowship, community, and sharing best practices.

Evangelism in a post-Christian culture, campus security, church planting, adult spiritual formation, worship design and staffing, self- and staff care, and a variety of other topics stimulated healthy discussion.

MichaelFlake

Michael Flake

Michael Flake, Pastor of Lake Forest Church in Davidson, N.C., attended the meeting for the first time and said the peer group provided “a lot of encouragement.”

“We brought our questions and batted them around together,” he said. “I leave here with a lot of great ideas to be more effective in ministry.”

CarolynPoteet

Carolyn Poteet

Carolyn Poteet, Pastor of Mt. Lebanon EPC in Pittsburgh, Pa., said the gathering is a “high priority” on her annual calendar.

“I always get great advice, but more than that it’s a community that’s supportive and prayerful and intentionally seeking to help the Church flourish and to help each other flourish,” she said.

Others attending were Jeff Chandler, First Presbyterian Church in Bakersfield, Calif.; Scott Farmer, Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, Calif.; Mark Fuller, Trinity Church in Plymouth, Mich.; Bryan Gregory, Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.; David Henderson, Covenant Church in West Lafayette, Ind.; Rob Hock, Southport Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Ind.; Scott Koenigsaecker, Sequim Community Church in Sequim, Wash.; Peter Larson, Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Ohio; Tony Myers, St. Paul’s EPC in Somerset, Pa.; Doug Resler, Parker EPC in Parker, Colo.; Tom Ricks, Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo.; Jeremy Vaccaro, First Presbyterian Church in Fresno, Calif.; and Richard White, Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C.

Colorado Springs media help EPC Chaplain Endorser spread Christmas cheer for local food bank

 

For the sixth consecutive year, EPC Chaplain Endorser Mark Ingles has leveraged his home Christmas display to benefit the Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado. Local media outlets have taken notice. KOAA News5, KKTV 11 News, and Fox21 News all broadcast Ingles’ efforts, and he will appear live on Fox21’s “Living Local” program on December 26 at 9:00 a.m. MST.

To watch “Living Local” online, go to http://www.fox21news.com/live.

Ingles’ initiative to help local families through the food bank has grown significantly—in his first year of collecting non-perishable food in 2014, 165 pounds were dropped off. By 2018, the haul was nearly 1,650 pounds. His goal this year is 2,000 pounds.

MarkIngles2019FBO

Philadelphia-area churches collaborate to relieve medical debt

 

A group of churches in Delaware County, Pa., recently joined forces to provide an extraordinary Christmas gift for their neighbors. Together they raised more than $21,000, and working in partnership with the nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt, eliminated more than $2.2 million in medical debt for 584 local families.

PaulBammel

Paul Bammel

Paul Bammel, Pastor of Bethany Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and Stefan Bomberger, Pastor of Manoa Community Church, have been the driving force behind the initiative. Both men are relatively new to the area. Bomberger became pastor of Manoa in June of 2018, with Bammel following seven months later to serve at Bethany. About a mile and a half separate the two churches in the western Philadelphia suburb of Havertown.

StefanBomberger

Stefan Bomberger

“When I arrived, Pastor Stefan invited me to attend a group of evangelical pastors who regularly meet together for prayer and encouragement,” Bammel said. He had been part of a similar group in Kansas, where he served as Associate Pastor for Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita for nearly eight years. That group had grown from a gathering of church leaders into a citywide prayer movement. “I wondered if the Lord might do something similar here to draw churches together to pray for our city and county.”

Around the same time, a group of churches in the city had decided to come together for a worship gathering they called “Havertown United.” Bammel and Bomberger liked that name and the idea of congregations in Delaware County teaming up for a shared purpose, so they began to call their unified prayer group “Delco United Church.”

The partnership with Delco United Church and RIP Medical Debt came about after Bammel saw a Facebook video, in which a Kansas church held an “RIP Medical Debt campaign for Easter” in lieu of spending money advertising their Easter services. Bammel brought the idea to the Delco United Church prayer group, who enthusiastically embraced it.

“We had been talking about being proactive in our community and looking for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbors,” Bomberger said. “So often as the church we sit waiting for people to come to us, rather than going out and finding the problems that exist right around us. My hope for my own church was that we could learn to recognize those problems and look for meaningful solutions.”

Bammel called RIP Medical Debt about the possibility of partnering together.

“They told me that here in Delaware County there’s about $500,000 in medical debt that’s available for purchase,” he noted, “and in Philadelphia there’s about 16 or 17 million dollars of medical debt that can be purchased.”

Since 2014, RIP Medical Debt—a New York-based 501(c)(3) founded by two former debt collection executives—has worked with donors to abolish more than $1 billion in medical debt. The organization is able to purchase qualifying medical debts in bundled portfolios for pennies on the dollar, so the philanthropic impact is unparalleled. One dollar donated relieves an average of $100 of medical debt.

Bammel learned that a group or organization would need to contribute at least $15,000 in order to participate. Then a letter would be sent on behalf of those who donated to inform the recipients that their medical debt had been paid in full.

The pastors were excited about the possibility of sending letters to the families who received the gifts.

“We wanted the campaign to have a connection to the gospel,” Bomberger noted. “This was a way for us to demonstrate how Jesus had paid our debt for sin, and as a reflection of that, we were going to pay it forward by canceling their medical debt and relieving them of their burden.”

So on September 20, Manoa Community Church hosted the inaugural Delco United Church worship and prayer gathering. More than 200 people from ten different churches of various denominations attended the service, and Manoa’s deacons served as hosts.

An offering was received for the RIP Debt campaign, and participants gathered into groups to pray for the families whose debt would be relieved. An organization called Chosen People Ministries provided drinks and desserts for a time of fellowship after the worship service.

“The Delco United Gathering was a very special time,” said Dave Woods, who attended the service. “I immediately felt a bond with those in the pews I didn’t know because we share together in God’s grace.”

Bethany member Leslie Rindone said her favorite part of the service “was talking and praying with several Villanova University students sitting behind me. Their enthusiasm was infectious for this kind of community outreach, and they expressed their love in such a joyful way.”

The goal for the offering was $15,000, which Bammel and Bomberger hoped would cover the debt relief package for all of Delaware County. But by the time the campaign ended, they had raised more than $21,000—enough to relieve debt in their own county and in a portion of Philadelphia as well.

“As a lifelong Presbyterian, I haven’t seen a whole lot of ‘playing well with others’ among us,” Bammel noted. “But this was a wonderful way for Presbyterians to unite with the capital-C church and do something well together. I loved getting to meet so many brothers and sisters in Christ and I look forward to building those relationships.”

Bammel and Bomberger hope that this is just the beginning for Delco United Church. They are already looking toward having another night of prayer and worship.

“It will be interesting to see where the Lord takes this thing,” Bammel said, “Really, we need to all get on our knees and seek the Lord’s leading.”

They also hope that more churches will follow their example and help their neighbors who suffer under the bondage of medical debt. Information on starting a campaign to eliminate medical debt is available at www.ripmedicaldebt.org/contact. Select “Start a Campaign” to initiate the process.

Daniel Lempert, Director of Communications for RIP Medical Debt, emphasized that debts of necessity, like medical, are plaguing hard-working Americans. “No one chooses to get sick or have an accident,” he said. “This campaign is helping to make things right.”

He added that the most rewarding aspect of the Delco United Church campaign has been “hearing from those whose debts have been relieved about how this act of charity has renewed their faith after years of being hounded by debt collectors.”

“This was a big win for us, and a shot of encouragement for our churches,” Bomberger said. “Instead of just dreaming about possibilities, we came together and actually made it happen.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Erie, Pa.) launches ministry relationship in Monterrey, Mexico

 

Through the EPC’s fraternal relationship with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (INPM), Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pa., has formed a ministry relationship with Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd National Presbyterian Church) in Monterrey, Mexico. The northeastern Mexican city of more than 4.5 million residents is about 200 miles west of Brownsville, Texas.

The seeds of the relationship were planted in November 2018, when Redeemer Pastor Douglas Kortyna and his wife, Sara, were visiting Monterrey.

“We wanted to worship with fellow Presbyterians while we were down there visiting family,” Douglas said. “We found El Buen Pastor and connected with their pastor, David Cruz.”

RedeemerPresMonterrey

From left, Douglas Kortyna (Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pa.), David Cruz (Pastor of Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana El Buen Pastor in Monterrey, Mexico), and Jim Moelk (retired Presbyterian pastor from Erie, Pa.). 

Through their new-found friendship with Cruz, the Kortynas began a dialogue about potential future mission trips to Mexico. After discussing a variety of possible ministry opportunities, the pastors agreed that the best fit for a first mission trip would be theological education.

“It is a universal truth that Presbyterians throughout the world love their theological education!” Douglas exclaimed.

In November 2019, the Kortynas and a retired Presbyterian pastor from the Erie area, Jim Moelk, and his wife, Jaye, traveled to Monterrey and taught on a variety of topics.

“I taught on trinitarian worship and Reformed sacraments,” Douglas said. “Jim taught through the pastoral epistles with special attention to ‘guarding your conscience,’ while Sara taught the woman’s group at El Buen Pastor on the topic of trinitarian prayer.”

In addition, the group from Redeemer learned how their Mexican counterparts were engaged in church planting.

“The church has started what they call ‘five in five,’” Douglas said. “They are working toward planting five churches within a five-year time period.”

Cruz led the Pennsylvania contigent on tours of three of the Monterrey congregation’s five current church plants.

“We were blown away,” Douglas said. “What church plants five churches in five years? Yet every time El Buen Pastor hits a certain threshold of members, they plant a church, commission the team they establish, and commit to supporting them financially.”

He explained that the El Buen Pastor congregation has “a Kingdom focus and is not interested in just building up one congregation. I couldn’t help but think we should host pastors from Mexico to help teach future EPC church planters some of their strategies!”

Kortyna hopes the November trip is just the start of a fruitful partnership.

“We would love to host a team from El Buen Pastor,” he said. “There is much to learn from our Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ while mutually serving one another, and I firmly believe we should participate with them in the missional work of church planting in Monterrey. Anyone interested in joining us is welcome to contact me at pastor_kortyna@rpcerie.org.”

Church Pivot podcast features Richard Mouw

 
RichardMouw

Richard Mouw

The second episode of Case Thorp’s “Church Pivot” podcast features the Moderator of the 39th General Assembly talking with Dr. Richard Mouw, President Emeritus and Professor of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary. Mouw currently teaches courses on Christian Worldview and Contemporary Culture, and Perspectives on Christ and Culture.

In their discussion, Thorp and Mouw explore the topics of civility, gentleness, and respect—and how those qualities relate to the past, present, and future of the American evangelical church.

Click below to listen. The 42-minute recording also is available on the EPC’s Podbean channel, or search “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” on Spotify or iTunes.


Mouw served as President of Fuller Theological Seminary from 1993–2013. He has been an editor of the Reformed Journal and has served on many editorial boards, including Books and Culture. He is the author of more than 20 books, including The God Who CommandsThe Smell of SawdustHe Shines in All That’s FairCulture and Common GraceUncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil WorldThe Challenges of Cultural DiscipleshipTalking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals, and Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground.

Mouw served for many years as a panelist in the online forum “On Faith” offered by the Washington Post. In 2007, Princeton Theological Seminary awarded him the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life. Mouw also served for six years as co-chair of the official Reformed-Catholic Dialogue, and is a leader in interfaith theological conversations—particularly with Mormons and Jewish groups.

Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

“Church Pivot” is a series of articles and audio podcasts in which Thorp focuses on issues of pivoting toward a robust future of ministry, spiritual growth, adult conversion, and more.

Caldwell (Idaho) EPC celebrates new home, personal revitalization

 
Caldwell-Worship

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.”

Caldwell-Hoovers

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.”

Andrew Brunson offers U.S. Senate prayer on anniversary of release

 

Andrew Brunson delivered the opening prayer for the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., on October 15. The EPC Teaching Elder’s prayer commemorated the one-year anniversary of his release from prison in Turkey and return to the United States.

“I pray that you grant to the Senators of the United States the spirit of wisdom, the fear of the Lord, and the courage to act by the counsel of the Lord in all matters, great and small,” Brunson said during his one-and-a-half-minute invocation.

A North Carolina native, Brunson prayed at the invitation of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and thanked the Senators for their efforts in helping secure his release.

“Before I pray I want to thank the Senate,” he said. “I’m standing here today because so many of you fought for me, and I’m deeply grateful. In a time of many divides you were unified in fighting for my release. Thank you.”

Arrested in October 2016, Brunson was held for two years on roundly disputed charges of membership in an armed terrorist organization. He was convicted on October 12, 2018, following testimony on the fourth hearing of his trial. The judge imposed a sentence of approximately three years, but granted a release on the equivalent of time served.

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

Andrew and Norine Brunson highlight Missio Nexus mission leaders conference

 

EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, were among the featured speakers at the Missio Nexus “Future Mission” Mission Leaders Conference, held September 19-21 in Orlando, Fla.

In a question-and-answer session, the Brunsons discussed their time in Turkey prior to their detainment on October 7, 2016, as well as their journey between October 2016 and Andrew’s release from prison on October 12, 2018.

In his keynote address, Andrew shared thoughts on working with Muslims, based on his nearly 25 years of church planting among Muslim people groups in Turkey.

Missio Nexus is a the largest association of Great Commission-oriented evangelical churches and organizations in North America that focuses on the global Great Commission. Announced registration for the 2019 Mission Leaders Conference was 1,001.

Church Pivot podcast launch features Tim Keller

 

The first episode of Case Thorp’s “Church Pivot” podcast features the Moderator of the 39th General Assembly talking with renowned theologian, author, and pastor Tim Keller. In their discussion, Thorp and Keller examine how the American evangelical church can thrive in an increasingly antagonistic culture.

Click below to listen. The 37-minute recording also is available on the EPC’s Podbean channel, or search “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” on Spotify or iTunes.


Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, which he led for more than 28 years. He currently is the Chairman and Co-founder of Redeemer City to City, which plants new churches in New York and other cities around the world, as well as publishes resources for ministry in urban environments. Keller’s books, including The Reason for God and The Prodigal God, have sold more than 2 million copies and been translated into 25 languages.

Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

“Church Pivot” is a series of articles and audio podcasts in which Thorp focuses on issues of pivoting toward a robust future of ministry, spiritual growth, adult conversion, and more.

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

 
CovenantBartHessAward

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.

Theology Committee tackles GA-assigned tasks

 

TheologyCommittee201909The EPC Theology Committee met at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando on September 11-12 to address two items assigned to it by the 39th General Assembly.

First. the committee discussed a recommendation from the National Leadership Team to study a decision by the Michigan chapter of Bethany Christian Services (BCS) in light of the EPC’s Position Papers on Abortion and Human Sexuality. In April 2019, the agency acceded to a state government requirement and agreed to place children for adoption in the homes of same-sex couples.

“Bethany has been an EPC ‘Approved Agency’ since 1989 and provides adoption, foster care, and pregnancy support,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Yet the Michigan chapter’s decision places strongly-held EPC positions on abortion and human sexuality in tension, if not conflict. It is appropriate for the Theology Committee to research this matter and present its findings to the 40th General Assembly.”

The second recommendation the committee reviewed was to study how the EPC can be more sensitive to the needs of the disabled.

The committee will report on both of these topics, and make recommendations as appropriate, to the 40th General Assembly, to be held in June 2020 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Members of the Theology Committee are Zach Hopkins (Chairman), Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; Fred Flinn, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; John Moody, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Great Plains; Ron DiNunzio, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Gordon Miller, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of Mid-Atlantic; and Ryan Mowen, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Unlike other permanent committees that meet regularly, the Theology Committee only meets to receive and study such theological matters as may be referred to it by the General Assembly and to return to the General Assembly its opinions and requested papers or documents, as stated in the EPC’s Rules for Assembly 10.1G.

Ministerial Vocation Committee addresses wide variety of topics

 

MVC201909At its fall meeting, the Ministerial Vocation Committee discussed updates to the EPC Leadership Training Guide and Procedure Manual for Ministerial and Candidates Committees, as well as items related to the EPC ordination pipeline and process. Other topics of discussion and review were updates to the Mentored Apprenticeship Program (MAP) and potential topics that could be included in the 2020 Leadership Institute and discussed possible recommendations to the 40th General Assembly, to be held at Hope Church in suburban Memphis in June 2020.

The group met September 10-11 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando.

“The committee has worked hard over the past year or so to update the content of our Leadership Training Guide and procedure manual, and we hope to have them both finished and available by the spring,” said Jerry Iamurri, Assistant Stated Clerk. “We also are excited about the MAP and how that program is helping current seminary students. Steps are underway to more closely integrate the MAP content with the CEEP (Candidates Educational Equivalency Program) for non-seminary students, and our churches are ultimately going to benefit from the work the MVC is doing.”

Members of the Ministerial Vocation Committee are Brad Strait (Chairman), Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Fred Lian, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Neal McAtee, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; Frank Rotella, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Phil Stump, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; and Caroline Tromble, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes.

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.

 

Global evangelicals tackle 21st century issues

 

ThorpPivotArtby Case Thorp
Moderator of the 39th General Assembly

JAKARTA, INDONESIA—The World Reformed Fellowship, a global association of evangelical Reformed Christians, met in Jakarta in August for its quadrennial General Assembly. This four-day gathering of 68 denominations and more than 162 affiliate organizations from 25 countries includes worship, workshops, and excursions to area ministry projects. The chosen location is no accident, both for being in the world’s largest Muslim democracy and as home to one of the largest Reformed churches in the world—the Messiah Cathedral founded by evangelist Stephen Tong.

CaseThorp

CaseThorp

EPC Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri and I attended the gathering. What struck me, as a first-time attendee, were the topics of conversation and the diminishing emphasis of those past concerns that seemed to rob all of our imaginations. This is not to say that the old concerns were not important, but rather they served more as distractions from those things that our congregants were dealing with in their day-to-day lives. I heard nary a word on Roman Catholicism, immorality, or threats to biblical authority. The progressive mainline Protestant denominations from which these church bodies originated are a distant afterthought for these leaders.

However, like a breath of fresh air, the speakers focused on the current and future concerns of our times: the global refugee crisis, the decline of Western civilization, the rise of Islam, the challenges technology presents, political instability in various places worldwide, the development of leadership, the health of our institutions, and more.  These emphases demonstrate a maturity and confidence for the evangelical Reformed church to strive forward as change agents.

The desire is not just to speak of these things in the theoretical, but also seek to figure out what sustainable solutions might look like. We toured a ministry that serves refugees, which is operated by the Lippo Group’s James Riady, the billionaire convicted in the 1996 Clinton campaign scandal prior to his conversion to Christianity. When 1,400 Afghans, Somalis, Iranians, and Iraqis became stuck in Indonesia on their way to Australia, Riady stepped up to meet the need. Within two weeks, he had a community center set up to educate the children and assist with healthcare through one of his hospitals, free of charge.

Besides Riady’s moving work, conference conversations wrestled with the tension between love and order: how do you grieve for the horrific human suffering while at the same time lobbying leaders to create laws, systems, and strategies to stem the flow of people groups? The status quo is not acceptable or sustainable for these leaders, who have many questions and no easy answers.

The decline of the West is not only on the lips of the Scots and Americans, but certainly our Asian, African, and Latin counterparts. The rise of China, the perceived American political instability, and the sexual and gender revolution occurring around us alarm and puzzle many. China’s dominance and aggression is much more acutely felt here, and American political discourse is all the more silly when seen from abroad. A fundamental example of Western decline is the abandonment societies are taking with concern to personhood.

The halls of the World Reformed Fellowship nervously echo with debate of a newly emerging anthropology. What makes a person a person? What is permeable or constant for a person illustrates the disparity between a Christian idea of a human and a postmodern view being embraced socially and ensconced legally.

Christian theology, upon which the Western tradition bases its ideas of human rights, democracy, and contractual arrangements, teaches a human to be divinely created, made in the image of God, marred by sin leading to bad choices, redeemable by faith in Jesus, and charged to share the love of Christ with others in word and deed. The Western embrace of abortion, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, and euthanasia, not to mention to bubbling frontier of genetic engineering, tells us there is no consensus of what a person is and what is best for them. Social and political domination, sometimes to the point of violence, is necessary to advocate one group’s vision for humanity over another. How evangelicals will teach their own contra-social anthropology to their people, and then present it as a better alternative to the community, is a great challenge requiring further thought and strategy. But there seems to me to be a glaring need for us to “pivot” and do just that.

One speaker, a Hong Kong pastor and theology professor, told of the role of Christians in the ongoing street protests in his city as he struggled to balance the role of violence for the followers of Jesus, and the place of pursuing justice at the risk of social disorder. He echoed his own personal conclusion about his role with the protests, a statement that embodied much of the tenor of the World Reformed Fellowship. He said, “We have to be with our sheep. And our sheep are out there.”

The debates of the last century, which form a comfortable stereotype for others about evangelicals, are fully behind us, and we look now to be with our sheep, and be out there.

Case Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

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.