Category Archives: Ministers

Church Revitalization Workshop session 2 scheduled for November 25

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, November 25, with the topic, “Revitalization of the Pastor.” The discussion will focus on areas specific to the spiritual revitalization of the pastor and will include such topics as humility, repentance, preaching the gospel to yourself, sustaining revitalization over the long haul, and where to go when you need help.

Facilitators include Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders.

For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop. Those who registered prior to session 1 do not need to register for each month’s session.

Ministry paths converge in Orlando for Bahamas, Pennsylvania ordination candidates

 

FROM THERE; GOING THERE: Carrie and Barrett Hendrickson (left) greeted Jude and Keitra Vilma after a recent worship service at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. Jude grew up in Marsh Harbor and now serves as a pastoral resident at FPCO. The Hendricksons arrived in Marsh Harbor on November 4 to serve with the EPC’s Kirk of the Pines under the auspices of the Caribbean Youth Network.

What do Pittsburgh, Orlando, and Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas have in common? For two EPC ordination candidates and their families, Orlando is the middle link in a chain that stretches more than 1,000 miles across two countries.

On September 3, Jude and Keitra Vilma arrived in Orlando from Nassau, where he had served as a pastoral intern for St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk. He grew up in a Haitian Creole community in Marsh Harbor, has been a youth worker with the Bahamas Youth Network, and now is a pastoral resident at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando while pursuing a Master of Divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS).

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Barrett Hendrickson was in the process of transferring his status as Candidate Under Care from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies to the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. A May 2020 RTS graduate, he and his wife, Carrie, had joined the Caribbean Youth Network (CYN) to serve with EPC Teaching Elder Gabe Swing at the Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas. The church is a mission of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

The Hendricksons staged in Florida for several months while they waited for pandemic-related restrictions in the Bahamas to be lifted. On November 4, they arrived in Marsh Harbor, which was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

“We are extremely excited to welcome the Hendrickson family to Abaco,” Swing said. “They will provide needed support for relief efforts and help us re-engage the community through outreach and worship opportunities.”

Hendrickson said that when he was young, one of the ways his youth pastor mentored him was through preforming manual labor, such as mowing the lawns of older church members.

“I wanted to be able to do that here,” he said. “Of course sharing Jesus and discipling people, but also by providing tangible, physical needs.”

Swing said conditions in Marsh Harbor continue to be “very difficult” for residents, with many still without adequate housing, electricity, and running water.

“The reconstruction moves at a snail’s pace, and many residents have to acquire drinking water from Water Mission distribution sites,” he said. “The pandemic has frustrated recovery efforts, and food security has become a major problem. Thousands of people are relying on free food distribution from the government and NGOs.”

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, approximately $175,000 has been disbursed to Kirk of the Pines from the EPC Emergency Relief Fund.

Swing noted that “regular giving has all but vanished” since so many church members have been displaced to other islands in the Bahamas, as well as the U.S. He said the Emergency Relief Fund donations have been used to purchase a truck to distribute relief supplies; provide food and housing for several displaced families; assist with living expenses for he and his wife, Jan; and fund pastoral visits to members of the congregation.

‘Raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders’

While Orlando was a stopping point in the Hendrickson’s journey to the Bahamas, the Vilmas are adjusting to life at FPCO and RTS. He is the recipient of the Andrew Jumper Scholarship, which is named for one of the EPC’s founders and awarded by RTS to a full-time MDiv student who demonstrates “exemplary Christian character and potential for ministry.”

David Swanson, FPCO Senior Pastor, said the Vilmas are “settling into the FPCO family beautifully” as the congregation has resumed in-person worship.

“Our commitment is to take an active role in raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders with a special eye towards greater diversity,” he said. “The Vilmas are the perfect fit for a mutually beneficial partnership. Jude is already leading in worship and will be meeting with each member of the pastoral team on a regular basis as the meat of his pastoral residency program. He will be exposed to every dimension of church life, including finance and administration, with the goal of helping him be ready theologically and practically for a fruitful future pastorate.”

Vilma said that he did not expect to be awarded the Jumper Scholarship, and when he received the news he knew he and his wife would be moving to Florida.

“I knew I was coming to Orlando,” Vilma said. “First Pres was very generous to us coming here with their love and support, so it’s really great for us. I hope to continue to grow under David Swanson, Case Thorp, and the other pastors here, and eventually to serve within the EPC itself.”

FPCO has partnered with the EPC congregations in the Bahamas “in extremely meaningful ways,” said Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Kirk. “No individual congregation has contributed more to the health and progress of St. Andrew’s and Kirk of the Pines than First Pres Orlando.”

Hendrickson said Vilma is “our great success story” from CYN.

“When we came down last August before Hurricane Dorian hit to see the opportunity with Gabe and CYN, Jude walked us through Marsh Harbor and the Haitian neighborhood where he grew up,” he said. “So to connect with him and Keitra in Orlando was wonderful. To recognize how God raised him up here—and now bringing us to Abaco—it was like God was saying to us, ‘there is opportunity to raise up more.’ That’s our long-term goal: to raise Bahamian pastors.”

 

Church Revitalization Workshop recording available

 

On October 28, a panel of EPC pastors experienced in church revitalization kicked off the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop. The series of interactive videoconference workshops will continue on the fourth Wednesday of each month through May 2021 (except December). The recording of the first session is now available.

The presentation was hosted by Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo. Panelists were:

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, where registrations for future installments is available, and on the EPC YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80.

St. Louis church plant celebrates local church status with installation of pastor, elders

 

Members of the Church Development Committee from the Presbytery of Mid-America pray over Central West End Church’s newly installed Ruling Elders, Pete Brown (kneeling, left) and Kerry Cheung on October 11. (photos courtesy of Central West End Church)

In 2016, Central West End Church (CWE) in St. Louis, Mo., planted itself at a literal dividing line in the city: one block south of Del Mar Boulevard. The Del Mar Divide, as it is known, is a dividing line of wealth, prosperity, race, and perspective. Pastor Eric Stiller views this stark contrast as an opportunity to see the city made new spiritually, socially, and culturally by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

CWE marked its own new beginning on October 11 as it celebrated “local church” status with Stiller’s installation as Pastor and the ordination of Kerry Cheung and Pete Brown as elders. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the service was live-streamed.

The Central West End neighborhood was identified in 2008 as a potential site for a church plant and is an eclectic area with a vibrant art, food, and cultural scene. This dynamic is what drew Stiller to St. Louis from New York City in 2005, when he entered Covenant Theological Seminary.

Eric Stiller

“I came to St. Louis with the passion to do whatever ministry I was going to do in a city,” he said.

Tom Ricks, who leads the EPC’s Church Planting Team, said the committee considers the needs of an area when deciding where to plant a church. He noted that the residents of Central West End are primarily unchurched, and most would consider themselves secular progressives. Ricks estimated that more than 90 percent never attend religious events.

“Why we got excited at the national level is that there just isn’t much of a Christian community in the Central West End, period—much less a Reformed Christian one that matches up with our EPC foundation and worldview,” he said.

When Stiller heard that the area was being considered, he became excited and began to earnestly pray about it. As this seed of excitement and passion continued to grow, he began to fall more and more in love with the location.

“God didn’t really call me to church planting. He called me to a neighborhood,” Stiller said. “It’s the place I feel most passionate about.”

He added that he loves that Central West End is such a secular place.

“I have always had an interest in apologetics and reaching out to people who at best would be indifferent to faith and at worst hostile to faith.”

Stiller understands this indifference firsthand. He describes himself as “not being concerned about God” for the first 30 years of his life and wrestling with the same doubts and “allergies” that people have today. In addition, he recalled noticing the “glaring” racial segregation in the city when he first arrived. Having been a jazz musician for many years, he had always been surrounded by African-Americans and their music and culture.

“When I prepare my sermons or have conversations with people, I am always imagining the inner skeptic asking questions,” he explained.

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, Central West End Church held their worship services in the historic Mahler Ballroom.

CWE’s worship services are currently live-stream only, but in-person services have been held at the Mahler Ballroom, a local event space originally built as a dance studio in 1907. In addition to their worship service, the church offers community groups focused on “building friendships and community, growing faith, learning how to follow Jesus in every area of life, and supporting each other through prayer,” Stiller said.

The church hosts Alpha, a course designed for those who are curious about God. Alpha conversations delve into topics of spirituality from a biblical perspective, with no pressure to believe and no obligation to join the church. Stiller hopes that they can develop more resources for people interested in the integration of faith and work while reaching out to secular neighbors who might be interested in faith and spirituality.

Ricks believes that Stiller is the right guy for that spot.

“The EPC wants to apply the gospel to every area of life, and Eric just exudes this,” Ricks said. “God doesn’t make mistakes in his personnel choices.”

Church members helped renovate a gardening classroom at Washington Montessori Elementary School in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis.

As CWE began rooting itself in the community, Stiller and his team began a partnership with a local Montessori school as a means of engaging with their neighbors. Church members helped convert an outdoor space into a classroom with raised gardening beds, began tutoring students in math and reading, and renovated a teachers’ lounge. As the coronavirus pandemic struck a financial blow in the community, CWE raised more than $18,000 to help people associated with the school with rent, food, and supplies.

More than just physical assistance, however, Stiller said CWE seeks to fulfill the social aspect of their mission by seeking intentional and ongoing relationships with the school, the students, and their families. He emphasized that their mission is “a holistic one, not a false dichotomy that embraces spiritual work and evangelizing as opposed to social action and deeds of mercy and justice. God’s mission comprises all of this.”

For their part as Ruling Elders, Cheung and Brown see themselves as “shepherds and advocates” whom God has gifted in the areas of leadership and administration. Both are just as passionate as Stiller about the mission of the church to be a part of the renewing of the city spiritually, socially, and culturally.

Above all, CWE wants to follow Jesus as He makes all things new—especially across the dividing line.

by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath
EPConnection correspondent

Small N.C. church opens new building, embraces vision for the future

 

New Covenant EPC in Burgaw, N.C., held their first worship services in their permanent facility—a renovated former dance studio—on August 3. (photos courtesy of New Covenant EPC)

For born-again believers, there is no doubt of God’s providence in every aspect and detail of His creation—and that intricately includes His Church. That truth has vividly played out over the past several years for a small, southeastern North Carolina congregation.

New Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Burgaw, N.C., began in 1998 in the public library as a church plant of Myrtle Grove Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, about 20 miles to the south.

For its first few months, about 30 people from different denominations attended. A Methodist church in Burgaw then offered its facility on Sunday evening services, which provided space for Sunday School classes and a youth group. More moves followed, with the congregation eventually settling into retail space at a main intersection in Burgaw. At the time, they called themselves Crossroads Community Church.

In 2017 the congregation moved yet again to storefront space in the center of Burgaw, across from the county courthouse. The same year, Duke Lineberry, a Ruling Elder at Myrtle Grove EPC, accepted a call as visiting evangelist.

Duke Lineberry preaches to the New Covenant congregation on October 22, 2020.

While Lineberry admits not much outreach took place the first few years of his tenure, in March 2019 the church made a decision that has placed it “directly in line with His sovereign plan,” Lineberry said.

“We became aware of a small Mexican church that had lost their lease,” he explained. “We felt led to offer them our space for their services and to use opposite our schedule. As God so often does, we began to see some fundamental changes in our church, moving from complacency to a more focused purpose.”

In November 2019, New Covenant purchased a former dance studio and began converting it for church use. On August 2, 2020, the church held its first worship service in its new facility.

Lineberry noted that for the first time in its 22-year history, “our little church has its own premises. With our new location and resources, we believe He is preparing us to be the light in Burgaw.”

Mike and Joy Thurlow, who have attended since the church’s launch in 1998, agree that after many twists and turns along its journey, New Covenant is on a renewed path.

“There is really a new zeal after the move,” said Mike, who has served as an elder since the church started. “People are more excited. While we are still a small fellowship, we are seeing more people coming now since the relocation.”

Joy and Mike Thurlow

Joy said she has seen “God working in people’s lives” over the past several months.

“Broken people are coming into our church,” she said. “People are coming for healing—physical healing, spiritual healing, emotional healing.”

The church is starting to look into ways to better reach Burgaw’s youth, such as by teaching piano, keyboard, and guitar. The “fuel” for attracting young people comes from church member Keith White. He noted that creating an environment where youth can gather and be nurtured is an outgrowth of his experience growing up in a small Baptist congregation.

“We met every Saturday night my whole teenage years,” White said. “We would get together and have some kind of activity or play a game, have a little bit of music, and then a fellow a few years older than me preached for a little bit. I learned more in those six years than any other guidance. If it wasn’t for that six years I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. That guidance sustained me through a whole lot of life.”

He added that sees “a whole lot of young people running around Burgaw. I ask the kids what they do on weekends and they say, ‘I don’t know; nothing.’ So I say, ‘Let’s build the church up with some young people.”

Moving is an adventure

Lineberry said relocating to the new building hasn’t been without its challenges.

“The building was built in 1992 as a dance studio, and virtually every little girl in Burgaw took lessons there,” he said. “Unfortunately, the building sat unused for almost a decade before we purchased it.”

He noted that the building needed a new roof; structural repairs to the walls and floors; and a variety of upgrades to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Much of the renovation work was performed by volunteers, such as constructing interior walls to separate the entrance from the seating area.

“We purchased and installed carpet, painted the walls from its former hot pink to a warm white, and put up a temporary wall to separate the entrance from the sanctuary area,” Lineberry said, adding that they also removed some trees to make room for parking.

“All of the design, planning, and permitting was done by our leadership, and the work was done by a combination of member volunteer efforts, contract labor, and one member in particular who we paid a much-discounted rate to perform the majority of the carpentry work, rehabilitating the structure, building handicap ramps, and the like.”

As a practicing trial attorney in Wilmington, Lineberry said his time serving the Burgaw congregation as its pastor is not permanent—partially because New Covenant now has a permanent facility.

“The leadership is sincerely seeking the Lord on hiring an ordained pastor,” he said. “I’ve been asked to stand again for Session at Myrtle Grove, and the leadership at New Covenant is supportive. At this stage, I can’t see leaving New Covenant any time soon, as I know the Lord placed me there for His purposes. I plan on remaining there to support and assist the pastor the Lord has for this special little family of God in Burgaw.”

Looking back to his arrival at New Covenant in 2017, Lineberry said he was concerned then about the church’s future.

“My fear was that she would simply spend up her money and eventually close the doors,” he reflected. “Thanks be to God, a remnant handful of people have been faithful to stay, pray, and serve. Now, it seems as if New Covenant is on the cusp of something new for herself and the Burgaw community.”

Instead of being tucked in a retail space between Food Lion and Subway, the church is now on the main road into Burgaw, across from the Pender Co. Department of Social Services and down the street from many local government service offices.

Lineberry sees the church as strategically poised to minister to the sizable Spanish-speaking population in the community.

“We need only look directly across the street at DSS for innumerable mission opportunities,” Lineberry said. “The Mexican church came to us and we obeyed, and as a result God made a way for New Covenant that she’s never had before. Our prayer now is for the Lord to point us in the direction He wants us to go. With the current heart of the church, I expect we will respond rightly.”

Lineberry noted that New Covenant is not a wealthy congregation, but it is a faithful one.

“Our seniors are retirees, and our younger families struggle with hourly wages and expenses. Many others are self-employed and hurting financially from COVID. But the Lord has provided, and we anticipate that He will continue to provide for us,” Lineberry said. “We will continue to be open to any outreach the Lord will show us.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Church Revitalization Workshop to feature monthly helps

 

Beginning Wednesday, October 28, a panel of EPC pastors who have led church revitalization efforts will host a monthly virtual Church Revitalization Workshop. The content for the series was originally developed for the 2020 Leadership Institute, which was cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Church revitalization is a real need in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church,” said Jerry Iamurri, Assistant Stated Clerk. “According to our annual church report, over 80 percent of our churches are struggling to grow. And many of those have not experienced an adult profession of faith in the last 12 months.”

Facilitators of the workshop include John Mabray, Associate Pastor for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La.; Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.

Iamurri noted that the facilitators represent “a wide spectrum of church size, geographical context, and life experience. All are currently engaged in the work of church revitalization and have experienced some measure of success.”

Under the leadership of Mabray—who until September 2020 was Senior Pastor of Covenant—and MacPhail, each of those congregations received the EPC’s Bart Hess Award for church vitality. Resler’s pastoral ministry has been characterized by helping struggling churches of all sizes revitalize by applying a systems theory approach. Wright has led his congregation as a replant following a church split.

Resler said each month’s workshop will focus on one or more of three general categories: the revitalized pastor, the revitalized session/leadership, and the revitalized congregation. He added that depending on the number of participants, the meeting may include breakout rooms in which participants can receive coaching applicable for their personal ministry context.

The workshops will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern) on October 28, November 25, January 27, February 24, March 24, April 28, and May 26. There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

40th General Assembly worship service recordings available

 

Video recordings of the 40th General Assembly worship service messages are now available. The speakers are Case Thorp, Moderator of the 39th General Assembly, and Carolyn Poteet, Lead Pastor of Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The messages are available below, on the EPC website at www.epc.org/ga2020recordings, and on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80 in the “40th General Assembly” playlist. Audio recordings of the messages are available in podcast form on Spotify and iTunes—search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”

Thorp preached from 2 Kings 25:1-10 and Revelation 21:1-7. Poteet preached from 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 and Mark 8:31-17.

#epc2020ga

Louisiana, Texas brace for Hurricane Delta as EPC churches continue cleanup effort from Hurricane Laura

 

Blue tarps on homes in Lake Charles, La., indicate the extent of damage left by Hurricane Laura as Hurricane Delta takes aim at the region. (photo credit: Erik Stratton, KPEL965.com)

As Hurricane Delta bears down on the northern Gulf Coast, volunteers from numerous EPC churches expect to ramp up their ongoing recovery efforts since Hurricane Laura swept through southwest Louisiana in late August. Delta is expected to strengthen by the time it makes landfall on October 9.

Members of First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, La., and First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., have traveled to the heaviest-hit areas in the weeks since the category 4 storm made landfall August 27, causing extensive damage in Lake Charles and the surrounding area. Additional damage from Delta could further complicate what is a serious situation, according to relief effort leaders for the EPC’s Presbytery of the Gulf South.

Whitney Alexander

Whitney Alexander, Associate Pastor of Missions for First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, said recovery efforts have focused largely on removing debris from wind damage and flooding. Alexander and Kory Duncan, Associate Pastor of Missions at First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs, are coordinating EPC relief efforts in the region.

“The wind damage was unbelievable,” Alexander said. “More than 50 percent of trees have been knocked over or damaged for the entire western side of Louisiana. Thousands of power lines were snapped or leaning over, with 80,000-plus roofs in these three communities damaged or destroyed. In some cases, the entire home has been leveled by trees falling.”

He noted that relief efforts were underway quickly after the storm moved out of the area. Members of First Presbyterian Church in Vicksburg, Miss., joined the teams from Baton Rouge and Ocean Springs with chainsaws and other tools in Alexandria, La., on September 4 and 5. The groups removed limbs from homes of members of Grace Presbyterian Church in Alexandria—approximately 100 miles north-northeast of Lake Charles and the nearest EPC congregation to Laura’s path of destruction. The following weekend, another group of 15 volunteers continued debris cleanup work in Alexandria.

Teams from Baton Rouge have continued to work in Lake Charles on Wednesdays and Saturdays, sawing downed trees and moving the debris to the curb.

“I just returned from my 12th trip,” Alexander said.

Kory Duncan (left) and volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., drove four hours to Alexandria, La., to help cleanup efforts following Hurricane Laura. (photo credit: Kory Duncan)

Duncan said students from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge joined the church teams to help clear debris in Alexandria.

“When trees fall in your yard, your insurance will cover it to get it off your house or to get it off your driveway or to get it off of any outbuildings, but the stuff that’s just lying in your yard, it’s on you,” Duncan said. “We spent an entire day working with a 90-year-old man. He was working when we got there and was working when we left—the whole time on one tree that had fallen that was probably 40 inches in diameter. We helped him—and we helped him a lot—but he still had more to do when we left.”

Alexander said he is praying there are no more injuries or property damage with Hurricane Delta.

“People are desperate,” he said. “My job is to continue loving people—that’s what I do. I’m going to continue to go to Lake Charles for a long time. We don’t need resources. We just need prayers. The supplies will be tripled and quadrupled. I’ll be there until next March, that’s how bad it is.”

He added that the 80,000 damaged and destroyed homes in the region will be rebuilt, but it will likely take several years.

“My heart hurts for those people,” Alexander said. “We’ve been through this in 2005, 2008, and 2016. Baton Rouge has been through it. I know how hard it is for these people. Gratefully, the Lord has spared us in Baton Rouge this time.”

He said his prayer for Hurricane Delta—the 25th named hurricane of the Atlantic season—is that “somehow the Holy Spirit and His mighty strength can dissipate that storm from 100 mph to like 50 when it gets on land. We know it is going to hit somebody, but we don’t want it to slam in as the last one did. The last one just annihilated everything.”

Duncan said his prayer is for more EPC churches to organize together or with other groups to train and prepare in advance to respond to future disasters.

“Thank goodness for organizations here and for the church,” Alexander said. “Without the church, I promise you they wouldn’t be this far in recovery efforts.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Dean Weaver elected fourth EPC Stated Clerk

 

Dean Weaver (right), Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in suburban Pittsburgh, speaks to the 40th General Assembly via video conference following his election as the EPC’s fourth Stated Clerk on September 17. At left is Glenn Meyers, Moderator of the 40th General Assembly. (photo credit: Jeff Guetzloe)

Commissioners to the EPC’s 40th General Assembly elected Dean Weaver, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, as the denomination’s fourth Stated Clerk. He currently serves as Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa., and was the Moderator of the 37th General Assembly. Weaver will be installed at the 41st General Assembly in June 2021.

Bill Dudley, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Southeast and Chairman of the Stated Clerk Search Committee, said Weaver has “a devotion to the church” and “has demonstrated what sacrificial leadership looks like” over the years.

“He is a man with a mission for God on his mind in every aspect in the life of the Church,” Dudley said. “He is that one who has taken the blend of being young enough to see visions—still—and yet he is also one who, like an experienced older man of wisdom, can still now dream dreams.”

Upon his election, Weaver said he was deeply honored and “greatly humbled that you would entrust such a stewardship to me to be the fourth elected Stated Clerk of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, following Ed Davis, Mike Glodo, and Jeff Jeremiah. I walk in the footsteps of giants; shoes the likes of which I could never hope to fill. I am the inheritor of that legacy for which I am deeply grateful, and am profoundly dependent upon you for your prayers, your support, and your love.”

Weaver noted that the 40th General Assembly has been “a surreal Assembly in so many ways, and this moment perhaps the most surreal for me in 34 years of ministry. It is overwhelming.”

He said he believes that the EPC’s best days are still ahead, echoing Dudley’s comments of dreams and vision.

“One of those dreams and visions is of a promised land that God yet has for us,” Weaver said. “Our best days are not behind us. Jeff has led us through unprecedented times with incredible courage and great faith and stamina. I am proud to be his friend, and quite frankly a little overwhelmed to follow him. But at the same time, I honestly believe that God is going to lead us through the wilderness wanderings of the coronavirus pandemic into a promised land—a time for us to inherit a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.”

Though he acknowledged the tension between contemporary culture and “measuring all by the Scripture—the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God,” Weaver declared that the EPC will faithfully go forward.

“Pray for your ‘Levitical leaders’—our beloved men and women who serve the Lord in ministry,” he said. “Pray that they would have the fortitude and the courage to step out with the presence of God and go into that place that God has for them. It may be overwhelming, but it is the place of promise.”

Weaver noted that “the way we have understood church over these last number of years” may be different going forward.

“That may mean we have to walk around the walls of the great city and blow our trumpets and do other things that seem to make virtually no sense,” he said. “Yet I am confident that this Kingdom that cannot be shaken, that God has called us to together, that God is going to do exceedingly abundantly more than you and I could ever ask or imagine.”

He added that he believes “the way before us is not going to be easy.”

“But I am even more confident that our God is so very good. He leads us, and He has been—and will be—faithful. I am honored to serve you in this way, and ask you to pray for me, for Beth, and for our family as we seek to serve the Lord through the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”

He and his wife, Beth, have been married for 32 years and have seven children (three natural born and four adopted—two from Sierra Leone, one from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and one in the U.S.) and two grandchildren.

Weaver holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and Religion from Grove City College; a Master of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; and Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

The Stated Clerk Search Committee was appointed by the 39th General Assembly and consisted of fifteen members representing each of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries, plus one member of the National Leadership Team.

Jeremiah has served as the denomination’s Stated Clerk since 2006. When re-elected to a fifth three-year term in 2018, he announced that it would be his final term and he would step down in June 2021.

Glenn Meyers elected Moderator of 40th General Assembly

 

Glenn Meyers (left) receives the Moderator’s cross, stole, and questions of investiture from Dean Weaver, Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa. (photo credit: Jeff Guetzloe)

Glenn Meyers, Ruling Elder and Commissioned Pastor of Ardara United Presbyterian Church in Ardara, Pa., was elected Moderator of the EPC’s 40th General Assembly on September 17.

In his opening remarks, Meyers said he was “honored to be sitting in this seat today— honored by my Father and honored by all of you to have been be given the privilege and the responsibility of moderating this historic 40th General Assembly of our beloved Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”

He emphasized that the “all true honor for this day is due His Holy Name. Praise the Lord. I am also humbled by the thought of the 40-year history of our denomination and of the many faithful men and women, who in their loving service to God and to one another, have delivered us to this moment. I am thankful for them.”

Meyers recognized a number of faith and life experiences that would contribute to his service in the office, including being a smaller church leader, a Ruling Elder, a Commissioned Pastor, and a person of color.

“Eighty percent our EPC churches are small churches of less than 200 members,” he said. “I am blessed to be shepherding one of those small churches in the village of Ardara in western Pennsylvania—the church that helped to raise me and form my faith.”

He also noted that he brings the perspective of a Ruling Elder serving the Ardara congregation as Commissioned Pastor.

“The EPC has intentionally prioritized the voices of our Ruling Elders,” he said. “And our denomination acknowledges the uniqueness of each person’s call to the gospel ministry and supports leaders to facilitate the work of the Holy Spirit through them. Therefore, we commission pastors.”

Meyers reminded the Assembly that the EPC values diversity, but its core value is the power of the gospel.

“Consistent with the picture given to us by God in Revelation 7:9, we long to reflect the richness of God’s Kingdom,” he said. “I am a black man—a person of color in the leadership of the EPC—and I bring that unique perspective to this calling as Moderator. However, most importantly the Evangelical Presbyterian Church acknowledges the power of the gospel and the redeeming love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In this way I am not unique here. I am a sinner saved by grace. This is the perspective I would like to most powerfully represent among you.”

In his biography as presented in the Nominating Committee report to the 40th General Assembly, Meyers noted that Ardara church went from nearly closing to a now-vital gospel ministry.

“God has done a great work among us,” he wrote. “I am grateful to the pastors, elders, deacons, and church family members who have held the church in trust for future generations while seeking the will of God in the present. We intend to do the same.”

A graduate of Norwin Senior High School in in North Huntingdon, Pa., Meyers studied Organizational Behavior at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa. He also attended Reformed Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Prior to becoming a Commissioned Pastor, Glenn spent more than 20 years as a Habilitation Therapist and the owner/operator of Habilis Learning Consultants.

“My work with and for adults and children with developmental delays and mental health challenges has been a blessing of profound preparation,” he said.

He and his wife, Heather, have six children and seven—and counting—grandchildren. He noted that all of their children, who range in age from 13 to 31, have professed faith in Christ and are currently working out their salvation and their individual callings.

Meyers also has served as manager of the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, performed as an actor, and worked as a children’s librarian. He is an Eagle Scout and has toured with a choir through Europe. He enjoys travel, new food experiences, music, the theater, and art.

“God wastes no experiences,” he said. “I am blessed to be part of a church and family in which my very faithful God has begun a good work. With every new opportunity presented by the hand of God, my deepest desire is to honor Him. I am very blessed to be asked to serve Christ’s Church to the Glory of my Father.”

Jacksonville (Ore.) Presbyterian Church opens sanctuary as shelter for wildfire evacuees, seeks prayer

 

Jacksonville Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Ore., opened its multi-purpose sanctuary for evacuees of the Alameda Fire that has burned 3,200 acres and destroyed at least 600 homes.

As wildfires ravage the West Coast destroying thousands of acres of timberland and homes —including the homes of three of his church families—an EPC pastor in southwest Oregon is requesting “prayer for wisdom and a vision” as the church seeks to minister to those amid the storm.

“It’s pretty overwhelming,” said Dustin Jernigan, Lead Pastor of Jacksonville Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Ore. “It’s hard not to find somewhere on the Oregon map where a community hasn’t been decimated. There are whole towns that are just gone.”

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 87 large wildfires are burning in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Many residents are under evacuation orders. In Oregon alone—Gov. Kate Brown said the state has never before had so many uncontained fires—more than a million acres have burned. As of September 14, at least 35 people have died as a result of nearly 100 wildfires that have scorched more than 4.7 million acres. At least four people died from the Alameda Fire, which burned 3,200 acres about 10 miles east of Jacksonville between Medford and Ashland, Ore.

Dustin Jernigan

Jernigan reported a “heavy orange haze over Jacksonville and the entire region, causing terrible air quality.” Coupled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted that residents are weary.

“It feels that we have already been running a marathon, and all of a sudden a bear showed up and is chasing us,” he said. “We are already exhausted. Now we have a whole different problem. Some people don’t have a place to sleep tonight. The main thing we need is prayer for wisdom, a plan, and a vision.”

The church opened its multipurpose sanctuary the weekend of September 11-13 to about a dozen families who either had lost their homes or who were fleeing the devastation of the wildfires. Following the first few days, the number of people utilizing the shelter diminished, after which people were taken into church member’s homes.

Brenda Rosch, one of those who stayed at the church, told the Wall Street Journal that she fled her mobile home near Medford with only the clothes on her back and a tablet computer. The entire mobile home park where her home was located was destroyed.

“I was resting, and the next thing I know the sheriffs are outside, there is dense smoke in the valley, really thick smoke, and the sheriffs are outside saying evacuate now, evacuate now,” Rosch said.

Wildfires have resulted in an orange haze enveloping the region around Jacksonville Presbyterian Church. The church was organized in 1857 and is the oldest Presbyterian congregation in the region.

When the evacuation order went out last week, Jernigan said he drove to the downtown area of Jacksonville to let the police know the church would be opening its doors to the displaced. While there he met a family who had driven three hours south from Eugene to the Medford area in an attempt to get away from the smoke of the fires.

“The irony was that one of our children’s directors had just left our town to drive three hours north to Eugene with the same idea in mind. To me, that is symbolic of the panic that we face. People are driving hours away and to get away from the fires. It’s a statewide problem,” he said.

Richard Evans, who serves the congregation as Associate Pastor for Missions, Discipleship, and Congregational Care, said he sees God at work in the crisis.

“I just see so many ‘God things’ in this,” he said, recounting an experience of one of the families in the church that lost everything.

“The afternoon of the day the fire ripped through—when it was nowhere near them at that point—the member went out for a hair appointment and something told them to take their dog with them. As much as they’ve lost, if they had lost their dog as well it would have been devastating,” Evans said. “It might seem like a small thing, but our lives are about everything, even small things. Yet I know a lot of people who haven’t been able to save their pets.”

Kate Hoskin, who grew up in the church and has a master’s in counseling psychology, addressed the congregation on September 13 at Jernigan’s request.

“She said that if people do not begin processing a crisis like what residents are experiencing, that in 72 hours PDSD (Prolonged Duress Stress Disorder) can set in,” Jernigan said. “But she also said the quicker that people can begin processing their trauma, the better off they are from having longtime effects.”

While the wildfire crisis is the immediate focus, Jernigan added that the pandemic has posed the greater existential threat. The church’s pre-COVID in-person attendance of 400 is now about 200, he said.

“Living here, people have a framework for wildfires. People don’t have a framework for not doing corporate worship for a year and a half. That’s more of, ‘What in the world, how do we continue operating?’”

He said the combination of the pandemic and wildfires has impacted his own family and their 5-year-old special needs son.

“I want to remind other EPC churches that COVID has been especially hard on families with special needs, because they have had to forgo in-person schooling and services like therapies,” he said. “Now for us, it’s even harder because our son can’t even go outside, he can’t go to speech therapy, physical therapy. We don’t do Sunday School like we used to, and we don’t see friends like we used to. I just want to blow that horn and say, ‘Hey pastors, if you have families with kids with special needs, they are a particularly affected group of people right now.’”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Tim Russell memorial service recording available

 

On September 2, Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., held a memorial service for EPC Teaching Elder Tim Russell. Russell, who served as Assistant Pastor for Middle Adults at Second Presbyterian Church, succumbed to COVID-19 on March 30.

Participating in the service were George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church; Sandy Willson, Pastor Emeritus of Second Presbyterian Church; Richard Allen Farmer, Senior Pastor-Teacher for Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.; and Barry Black, 62nd Chaplain of the United States Senate.

Getting to know you: Beth Weaver, wife of EPC Stated Clerk nominee Dean Weaver

 

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The Weaver family, pictured at Christmas. Bottom row, from left: daughter Hannah, daughter Sarah, Beth, daughter Isatu, granddaughter Nora (daughter of Hannah), daughter Rachel. Back row, from left: son Jacob, son Isaac, Dean/Santa, son Tommy, son-in-law John Gourley (husband of Hannah), son-in-law Evan Gourley (husband of Rachel). Not pictured: granddaughters Caroline and Leah.

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Dean Weaver, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, is the Stated Clerk Search Committee’s nominee to succeed Jeff Jeremiah as EPC Stated Clerk. He will be presented at the EPC’s 40th General Assembly for confirmation. Weaver serves as Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa., and was Moderator of the EPC’s 37th General Assembly.

He and his wife, Beth, have been married for 32 years. She took time in August to talk about their family and her life walking side-by-side with her husband.

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Beth and Dean at Caesarea Maritima on the shores of the Mediterranean in Israel, 2015.

EPConnection: How did you two meet?

Beth: Dean and I met in my junior year of college; he was my campus minister. I was a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania studying Home Economics and Early Childhood Development. He showed up on my doorstep one day as a new campus minister with CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach), wanting to meet the students involved with the ministry at his partner church, Graystone Presbyterian Church. I was one of four students who were a part of the leadership team at the time.

Dean was a recent graduate of Grove City College and fresh from the CCO summer training program. We had a brief conversation on my front steps where he introduced himself and mentioned that he hoped I would be a part of the campus ministry program that fall and bring friends. I don’t remember much about the conversation, but when I shut the door I said to my roommate at the time, “I’m going to marry him!” It was not so obvious to Dean right away! It took a few years for him to come around to it, but that’s another longer story!

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Beth (Mimi) with son-in-law John, daughter Hannah, and granddaughters Caroline and Nora.

EPConnection: Tell me about your family.

Beth: We are incredibly blessed to be the parents of seven amazing children. We have three biological children, (oldest to youngest) Hannah, Jacob, and Rachel; and four adopted children, Tommy, Isaac, Sarah, and Isatu. They range in age from 30 to 22.

Hannah and Rachel are married to John and Evan, respectively, who also happen to be brothers. Hannah and John are parents to our three delightful granddaughters, Nora (4), Caroline (2), and Leah (4 months old).

As a side note, we have two pups, Blaze and Saffie, and three grandpups, Maggie, Bella, and Karamel. We love them too, and they are family members!

EPConnection: Talk about the process that led to adopting multiple international children.

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Isaac, Isatu, Beth, and Dean in the siblings’ homeland of Sierra Leone, West Africa.

Beth: As mentioned, four of our children are adopted, and three are international adoptions. Our first adopted daughter, Sarah, came following a mission trip Dean had taken to an island in the Caribbean called St. Vincent. Up to that point, adoption had not been in our minds except for maybe someday down the road. Our biological children were 9, 7, and 5. We had our hands pretty full already! But God had started us down a path.

Our family verse has been Psalm 68:6, “God sets the lonely in families.” Over the years God has brought a number of children to stay in our home for periods of time. Most came and went for various reasons, but God had a plan to add more children who would become our own. Isaac and Isatu, who are biological siblings, came to us at the conclusion of the Blood Diamond war in Sierra Leone during a very desperate time in that country. After their adoptions, God led us to further ministry in Sierra Leone which we continue to be involved with today.

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Tommy’s adoption was finalized in 2018 when he was 24.

The last addition to our family was a domestic adoption of our son Tommy, who interestingly, legally became our son as an adult. He has made up for lost time, living at home for the last year and has blended into the multiethnic mix of our family beautifully.

EPConnection: Is it true what they say about pastor’s kids?

Beth: In a word, yes! But to be fair, the life of a pastor’s kid is not an easy one. All the hours at church, waiting for mom and dad to finish talking with people or finish the many, many activities that are part of a ministry family’s life. We wanted our children to have more positive than negative experiences at church and with the body of Christ, so many of their best friends were kids in families from our churches who we got close to. So they got to see the real Weaver family, both parents and kids!

We always wanted to be sure that our children did not feel pressure to be or behave a certain way because of being the children of the pastor. That wasn’t always easy or perfect, but we hope that it has encouraged them to grow into who God means for them to be and to flourish in a relationship with Him. One thing is for sure, church was a second home to our children all during their growing-up years!

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Granddaughters Nora (4), Caroline (2), and Leah (4 months).

EPConnection: What has been your ministry in the local church?

Beth: I have loved being involved in many different areas of ministry throughout the years, usually related to children’s ministry. I’ve been a volunteer at our church’s summer camp program, Summer Surge, for most of the years we have been here. In recent years my joy has been teaching the 2- and 3-year-old class, and volunteering in the 1-year-old and infant nursery when needed.

EPConnection: What has been the most fulfilling part of being a pastor’s wife?

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Daughter Rachel married Evan Gourley in August 2016. She currently teaches high school English in Philadelphia, Pa. He attends Princeton Theological Seminary and serves in campus ministry with the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO), a ministry partner of the EPC.

Beth: This might be the most thought-provoking question of all! Being a pastor’s wife is deeply fulfilling in many ways that come to mind, but if I had to pin it down to a specific thing it would have to be seeing the glorious work of God’s Kingdom happening right before my eyes all around the world as it is lived out in His Church, by His people. It has been an incredible honor to be a part of that work, and to support Dean as he has led the churches we have served over the years.

EPConnection: How have you managed the inevitable criticisms directed toward Dean (don’t all pastors face criticism at some point?)?

Beth: Yes, all pastors face criticism at some point, usually many times over the years! It goes with the territory of being a pastor and anyone in ministry will face it. It should not come as a big surprise, but at times it cuts quite deeply. Actually, I sometimes get more upset than Dean does at criticism of him, and I am very quick to be at his defense. But once I get over that part, the first step is really to check ourselves and where we are, and seek the Lord for wisdom. If there is really a correction coming from the Lord that Dean should hear, we both will seek that together. We desire to be totally in the middle of God’s will and God’s call.

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Beth with granddaughter Nora.

Over the years we have worked together to develop discernment that leads us in the right direction, not only for our family but also in ministry. I trust that process, led by God and His Spirit, and have learned to listen to that above and beyond criticisms. But it is definitely my least favorite part of ministry!

EPConnection: What are you most excited about for the next season of life, say over the next 3-5-7 years?

Beth: I am excited to be part of Dean’s new calling and the direction that will take us in. For the next three years I see a time of growth and change for our family. Maybe more additions in grandkids and spouses? Certainly, the joys and challenges of growing into a family with adult children and our last “at home” kids leaving the nest.

I work for the non-profit organization, EduNations, that we started with several other families who had adopted children in Sierra Leone. We have been part of building 16 schools there, and also blessed to see churches grow in the villages we serve. I see that continuing as my work, and as I have for many years you’ll find me at the EduNations table at General Assembly.

I’m excited to travel with Dean and get to know the body of Christ that is the EPC as a whole. I also anticipate seeing the glorious work of God’s Kingdom happening right before my eyes all around the world, lived out in His Church, by His people. I know it will continue to be an incredible honor to be a part of that work and to support Dean and be part of that with him.

EPConnection: Thank you, Beth, for taking time to help the EPC get to know you a little bit.

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The beach has long been a favorite vacation spot for the Weaver family.

California EPC churches minister amid wildfire destruction

 

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The LNU Lightning Complex fire burns vegetation near Vacaville, Calif., on August 19. (photo credit: Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

A wildfire sparked by lightning in northern California has destroyed the property of a Ruling Elder of Covenant Community Church in Vacaville, Calif.

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Julia Leeth

“It has been a very long few days for the residents of Vacaville and surrounding areas,” Julia Leeth, pastor of Covenant Community Church, said by email on August 20. “One of our elders lost their home, barns, and cottage. It’s complete devastation.”

As of August 20, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire has burned more than 131,000 acres and forced thousands of residents in Solano, Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Yolo counties to evacuate. Authorities are reporting that more than 100 structures have been destroyed, with an additional 30,000 threatened.

“Many of our congregants have been evacuated, but everyone has a place to stay,” Leeth added. “Our church property is intact, and we opened our parking lot and facilities for those who needed it. We are receiving donations to help the family who lost their home. But He is good, and we are hanging in there.”

About 90 miles northeast of Vacaville, the Jones fire forced 16 families of Sierra Presbyterian Church in Nevada City, Calif., to evacuate, said Pastor Mike Griffin.

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Mike Griffin

“The church property is fine so far, and is not in the evacuation area,” Griffin wrote by email on August 19. “We have made sure that church members have found a place to stay who needed to be evacuated. We also have a few families staying in travel trailers or RVs on the church campus.”

Griffin noted that members of the congregation had set up a lemonade stand to serve first responders who are attending to the Jones fire.

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said he was grateful that the damage was not greater.

“I am inspired by our churches in these fire-prone areas who so many times have put aside their own needs to minister to their communities,” he said. “I also am grateful that because of the generosity of the EPC we have a healthy balance in our Emergency Relief Fund should it be needed.”

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Members of Sierra Presbyterian Church in Nevada City, Calif., set up a lemonade stand to serve first responders attending to the Jones fire, which as of August 20 has charred nearly 1,000 acres in Nevada County, Calif. (photo courtesy of Mike Griffin)

‘Ministry Practices in Racial Justice and Mercy’ online forum recording available

 

RacialMattersWebinarSession2PanelistsOn August 12, a panel of EPC Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders presented part two of a three-part online forum on a proper biblical response to race and justice, “Specific Ministry Practices in Racial Justice and Mercy: Sessions, Staff, Congregation.” The recording of the presentation is available below.

The webinar was hosted by Case Thorp, Moderator of the EPC 39th General Assembly and Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. Panelists were:

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/issuesofraceandjustice and on the EPC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80.

Memphis Tri-State Defender honors EPC Teaching Elder Tim Russell

 

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Civil Rights leader Fred L. Davis (left) and EPC Teaching Elder Tim Russell were longtime friends (photo credit: Tyrone P. Easley/TSD Archives)

In a Father’s Day feature in June, the Memphis, Tenn., Tri-State Defender honored the life and influence of Tim Russell and Fred L. Davis, two leading voices in the area’s African American community. Russell served as Assistant Pastor for Middle Adults at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis. Davis was a leader in the Civil Rights movement and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in support of sanitation workers in their 1968 strike. He later was a member of the Memphis City Council for 12 years and served in numerous other civic roles.

The two men were longtime friends and died within weeks of each other earlier this year. Russell succumbed to COVID-19 on March 30. Davis died on May 12 at age 86.

Click here to read the Tri-State Defender’s full story.

In February 2018, Russell interviewed Davis as part of a Second Presbyterian Church mid-week series titled “Voices of Memphis.” Click here to listen to their conversation.