Category Archives: Ministries

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

Bellefield Presbyterian Church partners with University of Pittsburgh to feed hungry students

 

BellefieldChurchby Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

When Pastor Josh Brown looks out of the window of his office at Bellefield Presbyterian Church, he can see eight of the dormitories on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, commonly known as Pitt.

JoshBrown

Josh Brown

“I believe that God strategically placed us here to be a light to the college community,” he said. “In fact, even though our church is primarily made up of young professionals and families, many of them are here because someone at Bellefield invested in them when they were in college.”

So in the fall of 2014 when the university’s Dean of Students, Kathy Humphrey, approached Brown with a partnership proposal, he was eager to listen.

“The leadership at Pitt had become aware of a problem with food insecurity among their student population,” Brown said. “Many students were paying for school on their own but still living with parents, so they didn’t qualify for financial assistance.”

That left many of the university’s nearly 34,000 students choosing between paying for books and tuition or buying food—and much of the food that they could afford was lacking in nutritional value.

So Humphrey decided to set up a food pantry through PittServes, the university’s community service arm. That’s when she approached Brown and asked if they could house the pantry in Bellefield’s basement.

“At the time there wasn’t a suitable on-campus space, and retail spaces weren’t economically feasible,” explained Ciara Stehley, who serves as the Pitt Pantry Coordinator. There also was a concern that the stigma of being food insecure might keep students from coming to a location on campus.

Brown took the idea to his congregation, who welcomed the idea with open arms. Church members pitched in to clean out the basement, which was being utilized as a youth space, and Pitt Pantry officially opened during the spring 2015 semester.

At first, the pantry was stocked only with non-perishable items, but soon grew to include meat, dairy, and fresh produce. The university purchases most of the food from the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, and the rest comes from charitable donations by members of the community.

Pitt Pantry is open Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Appointments also are available every weekday for anyone who cannot get there during its open hours. The pantry is staffed entirely by volunteers, and any Pitt student, staff, or faculty member whose income is less than 150 percent of the poverty line is eligible to shop at the pantry. As many as 80 people visit the pantry each month, which Stehley said was an increase of about 50 percent since the pantry opened in 2015.

Jason Ong, President of the Pitt Pantry Student Executive Board, says that volunteering at the pantry has opened his eyes to a hidden issue on his college campus.

PittPantry

University of Pittsburgh students collected donations for the Pitt Pantry at the annual “Pitt Make a Difference Day” in October.

“I have learned that food insecurity does not have one face,” he said. “Any individual could face choosing to purchase a mandatory textbook over a meal. Beyond this, I am grateful to have met such a welcoming community at the Pantry.”

Brown occasionally encounters pantry shoppers who are curious about why the church is willing to help.

“I never want anyone to feel like the food comes with strings attached,” Brown said. “When someone inquires why we are doing this, I ask them if they were hungry that morning. And when they tell me they were, I say, ‘Then we want you to have the food you need so you won’t feel that way tomorrow.’”

Students receive food from the pantry with no obligation, though Brown hopes those who participate will recognize that Bellefield is a church that cares about students.

“We post information about our services and let them know that they are always welcome,” Brown said. The church recently added a third worship service at 5:00 p.m. on Sundays with acoustic music and a relaxed, reflective format in hopes that it would be an additional draw for students.

“Our congregation has been very supportive of the pantry,” Brown said. “We want to be aware of opportunities to reach out and connect with the community and be sensitive to the Lord’s leading through the channels that He creates.”

Brown believes the Pitt Pantry is one of those channels. He and another Bellefield member serve on Pitt Pantry’s board, and several student leaders in their Cornerstone ministry for college-aged young adults serve as volunteers.

In return, the university has also reached out to Bellefield. A few weeks ago, more than 40 PittServes students showed up at the church for a day of weeding and cleaning.

The Pitt Pantry also has brought regional awareness to the issue of food insecurity and prompted other universities to begin similar programs for their students. Stehley emphasized that being able to influence others is an exciting part of her work.

“Getting to share our successes and challenges at conferences across the country and support other schools as they improve the food needs of their students is one of my favorite things about my role,” she said. “As we move toward a holistic and proactive approach to supporting our students, we’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. But we realize that we have a continued responsibility to strive for creative and systems-focused solutions.”

Brown hopes that Bellefield will continue to play a significant part in helping to find those solutions. He said the partnership with Pitt has enabled them to meet the needs of their community more effectively together than either could have done individually.

“I believe it’s a blessing for those around us to see a local congregation and a large university working together like this,” Brown said. “Our hope going forward is that we can continue to find ways to partner with the university to care for students in ways that reflect the love of Christ and model an effective, collaborative partnership.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Outreach Evaluation Team convenes first meeting

 
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Members of the World Outreach Evaluation Team are (left to right) Rob Liddon, Jerry Iamurri, Alan Johnson, Brad Gill, Brian Tweedie, Betsy Rumer, Johnny Long, and Kevin Cauley.  

In its report to the 39th General Assembly, the EPC National Leadership Team (NLT) announced the formation of a World Outreach Evaluation Team in response to Phil Linton’s retirement in June 2021. Linton has served as Director of World Outreach since 2014. The Evaluation Team held its first meeting August 27-28 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando, with the goal of filing its report in time for the NLT to form the World Outreach Director Search Committee by the 40th General Assembly.

“Anticipating that the search for Phil’s successor will begin in earnest after the 2020 General Assembly, the NLT concluded that the next ten to twelve months would be an excellent opportunity to review and evaluate the ministries and work of World Outreach,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “This is not a search committee, but their work will help set the table for the task that a search committee will undertake in 2020 and 2021.”

Rob Liddon, Ruling Elder for Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., and Moderator of the 30th General Assembly, is serving as chairman. Other members are Kevin Cauley, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; Brad Gill, Ruling Elder from Presbytery of the Midwest; Alan Johnson, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Johnny Long, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Betsy Rumer, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies; and Brian Tweedie, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Midwest. Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri is serving the committee as staff resource from the Office of the General Assembly.

Cauley and Long are members of the permanent World Outreach Committee; Johnson and Rumer are former members of the World Outreach Committee, with Rumer serving as Chairman in 2017-2018. Liddon also serves on the National Leadership Team.

Women’s Resource Council meets in Orlando

 
WRC-January2019

Pictured (clockwise from left) are TE Sharon Beekmann, Presbytery of the West (Chair); Rebecca Duvall, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Heidi Bethel, Presbytery of the Southeast; Becky Melancon, Presbytery of the Gulf South; Joe Ann Stenstrom, Presbytery of the East; Kathy Clymer, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Mary Brown, Presbytery of the Great Plains; RE Kim Sinclair, Presbytery of the Midwest; and Melissa Cable, Presbytery of Mid-America. Additional Council members not pictured are RE Lynn Burge, Presbytery of the Central South; Kathy Marcy, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; and Tina Picard, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest.

The EPC Women’s Resource Council met at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando January 14-15. Topics discussed by the group included exploring ways to better connect women across the EPC with each other, planning for the EPC General Assembly in June, and discussing resources for potential review.

Resources that the Council agrees to consider for review are vetted, and those approved for recommendation are categorized as Endorsed and Recommended as defined in the EPC Endorsement Policy. Completed reviews are posted in the Women’s Resources section of the EPC website at www.epc.org/thewell, and the Women’s Resource Council social media channels at www.epcthewellorg.wordpress.com, and www.facebook.com/groups/TheWellEPC.

Administration, others celebrate Andrew Brunson release

 
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Andrew Brunson (left, wearing red tie and glasses) leaves the court in Aliağa, Turkey on October 12 after being convicted of terrorism charges but released on time served. (Photo: AP / Emre Tazegul)

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and others took to social media to celebrate the release of Andrew Brunson on October 12. Brunson was convicted by a Turkish court on terrorism charges and sentenced to 37 months in prison. The judge reduced his sentence to two years for good behavior, and ordered Brunson released on time served.

He was originally detained on October 7, 2016, and held until July 25, 2018, when he was released from prison to house arrest.

Brunson is scheduled to be flown to a U.S. air base in Germany by military transport on October 12 before returning to the United States.

In a statement to the court before the verdict was issued, Brunson tearfully refuted all the allegations.

“I’m an innocent man,” he said. “I love Jesus. I love this country.”

Brunson’s defense attorney, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said the verdict was “the best of a bad situation. He is going to go (to the United States) but I hope he is able to come back. He is someone who absolutely loves Turkey.”

EPC church planting efforts continue to bear fruit

 

One of the EPC’s four current strategic initiatives is to promote and resource church planting. In the months since it was identified as a priority (along with promoting and resourcing church revitalization, creating a leadership development culture, and creating a structure suitable for a global movement), church planting is increasingly becoming part of the fabric of the EPC.

Several new Church Planting Networks—consortiums of churches in a city or region that join forces and leverage their collective resources to plant new congregations—have launched. In many cases, these networks work in partnership with the appropriate presbyteries to plant new EPC churches.

The following seven networks are already working or beginning to come together:

  • Memphis Church Planting Network, Memphis, Tenn.
  • Aspen Grove Church Planting Network, Denver, Colo.
  • Resurrection Brooklyn Church Planting Network, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Bay Area Church Planting Network, San Francisco, Calif.
  • St. Louis Area Church Planting Network, St. Louis, Mo.
  • Gulf Coast Church Planting Network, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, La.; southern Mississippi; and Alabama.
  • Detroit Area Church Planting Network, Detroit, Mich.

In addition, several more church planting networks are in their formative stages in other regions and cities.

Further, the EPC now has 27 church plants, which represents approximately 4.7 percent of the EPC’s current total church count of 571. Researchers such as the Barna Group and Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research have stated that a healthy, growing denomination should have new church plants represent 5-7 percent of its churches. By this measure, the EPC is making progress—but there is still work to do. The goal is for every EPC church to be a “parent, partner, or patron” of church planting, and the strategic initiative provides an outlet for every congregation to be intentional in growing God’s kingdom by helping start new congregations.

For more information about how you or your church can get involved in these—or future—EPC church planting networks, contact Tom Ricks of the EPC Church Planting Team at tom@greentreechurch.com.

Help Us to Provide You with Communications Tools

 

The Christian Education & Communications Committee has created a survey to collect information about how churches are approaching their communication ministry. This 12-question survey should take less than 10 minutes to provide us with the data we need to find or create resources to help you with your ministry.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VNTZSMC

Thank you for your time and your input.