Bonnie Gatchell, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the East and Executive Director of Route One Ministry in Boston, Mass., is the guest for episode 86 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things.” The mission of Route One Ministry is to serve sexually exploited and trafficked women by entering strip clubs and building relationships with the women who work in the clubs, as well as equipping the local church and community leaders with the tools they need to understand trafficking, identify vulnerable people, and respond in the most healthy ways to those who have experienced sexual abuse.
Host Dean Weaver and Gatchell discuss how God led her to begin a ministry to strip club dancers in Boston, and Route One Ministry’s efforts to train church leaders on how to minister to victims of trafficking, trauma, and abuse.
Gatchell also describes the qualities of a “safe church” and some of the resources on trauma and abuse that Route One Ministry provides.
Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.
Carl Ellis, Provost’s Professor of Theology and Culture at Reformed Theological Seminary, teaches Minority Church History for Memphis City Seminary in February 2021 at Second Presbyterian Church.
Starting a new seminary during a pandemic would not appear to be a wise thing to do. But when the purpose and strategy of Memphis City Seminary (MCS) are taken into consideration, it makes total sense. A ministry of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, MCS launched in February 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the United States.
The organizers weren’t sure of the seminary’s immediate future at the time, recalled Taylor Tollison, MCS Director of Operations, who also serves as Domestic Outreach Coordinator for Second Presbyterian Church. Yet in looking back, he said the school’s flexible, local-oriented model—plus low tuition cost of $100 per credit hour—turned out to be “a great approach” during a time of restrictions on travel and in-person gatherings.
He explained that from the beginning, the seminary was designed to provide not only flexibility in academic preparation for ministry, but also a focus on “place-based” education. That means that MCS, training students for ministry in the urban landscape of Memphis, would ensure its students would gain an understanding of how their biblical and theological studies would be applied in their local context. Specifically, recent U.S. Census data shows that the Memphis metro area of more than 5 million is nearly 48 percent African American and only 43 percent non-Hispanic white.
“MCS offers a distinct curriculum that is designed to prepare pastors for the Memphis context and the surrounding region,” Tollison said. “We want to learn from those voices in theological education that are often underrepresented by offering specific courses and requiring specialized reading.”
Tollison noted that a key value of MCS is that the seminary views its students as more than just “academic thinkers.”
“Our hope is that our students will receive a holistic and comprehensive theological education that equips them in four key areas: knowledge, character, skills and vision,” he said. “Our aim is not merely to transfer information to the mind, but to take part in the full-orbed formation of Christian leaders. We believe the demands of gospel ministry require the whole person to be equipped—not merely the mind.”
George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church and MCS Academic Dean, said the school’s faculty are “pastoral scholars” who integrate education with practical ministry.
“We are making our experience and the best of biblical and theological scholarship available and affordable to Christ-centered leaders in Memphis,” he said.
Brian Lewis, Second Presbyterian Church’s Director of Domestic Outreach, serves as MSC’s Executive Director. He said the seminary is “well on its way” to providing affordable, high-level education for ministers who do not want to leave Memphis to receive their theological education.
“We are attracting bivocational workers and many people of color,” Lewis said. “We strive to be very multi-cultural, which mirrors our Memphis culture. We believe we will also steadily attract students regionally and nationally, because Memphis has world-wide appeal.”
Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis and a member of MCS’ Board, said that he often promotes the seminary’s “affordability, accessibility, and action-oriented training for gospel ministry in churches, non-profits, and the marketplace.”
Tollison said MCS is officially “authorized” by the State of Tennessee—which legitimatizes it as a school of higher learning—and is pursing official accreditation through the Association for Biblical Higher Education and the Association of Reformed Theological Seminaries. He hopes MSC will receive full accreditation in three to five years.
The groundwork for MSC started in 2006 when Second Presbyterian Church began to envision what an urban seminary for Memphis might look like, with the ultimate goal to offer an entire Master of Divinity degree locally. From 2006 to 2009, a venue for offering seminary education was through the Memphis Center for Urban Studies initiative. In 2009, Second Presbyterian Church began hosting a Reformed Theological Seminary extension site.
Limitations Lead to Vision
For the next 10 years, Lewis and his wife, Joanne, directed the RTS extension. Students could begin their seminary degree in Memphis, but were only eligible for a Certificate of Biblical Studies (CBS) upon the completion of 29 hours. After 29 hours students could complete an MA degree online, or for other degrees were required to transfer to a degree-granting seminary location to complete their coursework.
To bridge this gap in local seminary education, MCS was launched in November 2019 as a degree-granting seminary for both Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity degrees. Twenty degree-seeking RTS students joined 30 other students to bring the initial enrollment to 50.
Spring 2021 enrollment has grown to 60 students—35 men and 25 women—with 16 of those being minority students. Local churches represented by MCS students include Downtown Church, Fellowship Memphis, First Evangelical Church, Hope Church, Second Presbyterian Church, and The Avenue Community Church.
“One of the things I love most about my job,” said Joanne Lewis, MCS Director of Enrollment, “is to see students in our classroom who have dreamed, prayed, and waited for an opportunity to pursue their theological education but until now were unable to do so.”
Braden Tyler, a teacher and soccer coach at a private Christian school in inner-city Memphis, is one of those students.
“I am 31 years old and have wanted to do seminary ever since becoming a believer [while] in college,” Tyler said. “However, college debt, getting married, and having children kept me from pursuing this. All the seminaries that I wanted to attend were too expensive and not located in the city of Memphis. I could do online seminary, but it would be too expensive for me and it would be a lonely road.”
He noted that relocating to an in-resident seminary would require quitting his job, moving to a new city, and having his wife get a job in order for him to be a full-time student.
“Unsatisfactory options like this kept putting seminary on the back burner,” Tyler said. “Then along came MCS—an affordable, flexible, and local seminary that could give me the high quality, biblical education that I wanted. I could keep my job and keep my family in our city. Christians shouldn’t have to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars and have to leave the context of their city in order to get a seminary degree. I have talked to many people and it seems that seminaries like this could be the future for the church.”
He said that after he receives a degree from MSC, his goal is to continue his education by pursuing a PhD to teach in a seminary or become a pastor.
“I chose Memphis City Seminary because I wanted to grow in my knowledge of God, in my character, and in my skills to more effectively reach the lost and shepherd my team,” he said. “We serve a very broad ethnic and cultural demographic, so I was looking for something that would give me a broad and thorough understanding of God and how He has worked throughout history among all nations. I count it a great privilege to be able to learn from some of the best scholars out there while being able to collaborate and learn alongside people ministering in a broad array of contexts.”
Bradley Morrow, Second Presbyterian Church’s Recreation Coordinator, said MSC makes a seminary education financially possible for him.
“MCS has allowed me to gain a sound theological education that is affordable and allows me to work a full-time job where I am able to apply what I am learning in class to my ministry in the city,” he said. “MCS is equipping me to read, study, and teach the Scriptures in a way that reveals Jesus and proclaims the gospel as good news to every ZIP code in the city.”
Tyler agreed, adding that is it is a “big advantage” taking seminary classes alongside people from the city where you live.
“This is very unifying for a city and for churches,” Tyler said. “The next spiritual leaders of the community are people who have been trained in the same seminary and are friends with each other. This seminary can provide classes that fit the needs of Memphis and can better train leaders to impact this city.”
In this video, Justin Oberndorfer, Executive Director of Joy Meadows, shares a recorded video call with Jim West, Pastor of Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, in which West reveals the results of the Walk to the Manger offering.
Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City is a generous church, with numerous local ministry and mission partners they support. But in this season of COVID-19, the congregation has gone above and beyond.
In a “normal” year, Colonial hosts a December production called “Walk to the Manger Sunday.” It tells the story of Christmas through drama and music and has become a cherished tradition for the entire community.
The event also is designed to be a time for giving. In the service, after the Magi come and present their gifts to Jesus, the children are invited to bring toys to the manger. The donated toys are distributed by two of Colonial’s partner organizations to children who would not otherwise receive any Christmas presents. Baskets also are placed in the sanctuary so members can contribute to the annual mission offering.
But in 2020, with COVID-19 concerns and social distancing mandates, it looked like Walk to the Manger would have to be canceled. The church quickly came up with an alternate plan—open both campuses on the second weekend in December and have a manger scene in the sanctuaries. People were invited to come any time between noon and 6:00 p.m. for a time of private worship and remembrance. They also could bring their gifts for the Walk to the Manger offering to the sanctuary or make online donations.
A few weeks before the Advent season commenced, three members of Colonial’s staff asked Lead Pastor Jim West to support a new ministry. The trio wanted to raise money to build the first home for a development known as Joy Meadows.
Joy Meadows is an intentional neighborhood for foster and adoptive families, with the focus of keeping sibling groups together. The houses are designed to accommodate large families and the church would need to raise between $275,000 and $375,000 to accomplish the goal—on top of their regular Christmas offering.
“I was hesitant at first,” West said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, I haven’t seen 1,000 of our members in person in over 9 months, and there was not going to be a Walk to the Manger production which typically brings in visitors. I just wasn’t sure how much gas was left in the tank for our members, especially since the church had been overwhelmingly generous in the months leading up to December.”
To fully understand how benevolent Colonial church had already been in 2020, it’s necessary to go back a few months.
In March, around the same time the entire country went into lockdown, Colonial kicked off their traditional Easter campaign known as “Bless Our City.” The original goal was $100,000 to support their mission partners. But God had other plans.
“The second week after we were forced to stop meeting in person, I preached about the loaves and fishes from the book of John,” West said. “Right in the middle of the sermon, God prompted my heart. I heard Him say, ‘If you think this season is hard for you, imagine how it is for single parents.’ I felt led to take up an additional offering and give each of the single parents in our network $1,000.”
West approached the Session with the idea—which the elders approved without hesitation.
“When God says to do something, even if it seems irrational, you just obey,” West said. “And we did.”
In 2019, the “Bless Our City” campaign raised $50,000. In 2020, donations totaled $540,000—more than a tenfold increase. Some of the money went to an organization called “Single Moms Kansas City.” The rest went to 56 single parents in the Colonial congregation. Each family received $1,000 with a letter that told them, “We have no expectations of how you will spend the money. We would only ask that you give thanks to God…this was His idea; it’s His money; and He really does love you! So do we.”
Randall Leonard, Colonial’s Director of Impact Ministries, was one of the three staff members who asked West in November to add Joy Meadows to the Christmas effort.
“We witnessed God move in an extraordinary way on our church in the spring,” Leonard said. “So when we felt prompted to support Joy Meadows for Walk to the Manger, we believed He would do it again.”
Meganne Leighton, Colonial’s Community and Global Partnerships Coordinator, joined Leonard in the push to include Joy Meadows, as did Hannah Mabie, Colonial’s Foster Adopt Ministry Coordinator.
“We have so many families in our church who are called to foster or adopt,” said Leighton, who is an adoptive parent herself. “And so many more who volunteer their time to serve or engage in advocacy on behalf of kids in the system. Colonial is a church that is committed to family. I think that’s why this seemed like a natural fit for Walk to the Manger.”
West invited Justin and Sarah Oberndorfer, Executive Directors of Joy Meadows, to speak in one of Colonial’s Advent services.
“I kept the whole thing low-key and told the church I was not asking them to do anything if they were not convicted by the Lord to do so,” West noted.
“The effects of COVID early in 2020 made us question whether we would be able to move forward much at all,” Justin Oberndorfer told the congregation. “But instead, the unfinished 3,200-square-foot basement on the property was transformed into a Community Center within 3 months because construction companies were in desperate need of contracts. Not only was the project finished ahead of schedule, but it also became a source of provision for those workers and their families.”
He reported that four therapists now work in the completed Community Center, and numerous foster children are receiving services every week.
“Obstacle after obstacle just turned into an opportunity for God to show His miraculous provision,” Oberndorfer said, noting that volunteers have served at Joy Meadows every day—including skilled craftsman and master gardeners. People of all ages have done yard work, sorted and delivered clothes, cared for animals, and picked up trash.
“This year the vision has become a reality,” he said. “As we walk the 50 acres, hear the laughter of kids on the property, see therapists working with kids in the orchard or in the barn with the animals, we see this place coming to life.”
The Oberndorfers ended their Advent message with a question: “What if God moves in our midst and we build a house that allows a sibling group who are waiting right now to stay together as a family?”
A Full House
The congregation responded with a definitive answer. On the first day alone, $171,000 was given. By the following afternoon it was up to $340,000. When the campaign ended on December 31, more than $475,000 had been raised—enough for a complete house and half of another.
“It’s all God. We give Him all the glory,” West said. “This year has been a beautiful opportunity to turn away from the things that concern and divide us and center ourselves around the things that really matter to His heart.”
Mabie, who brings licensed social worker credentials to her role as Colonial’s Foster Adopt Ministry Coordinator, said she is not surprised that Joy Meadows’ story resonates deeply with Colonial.
“We have a unique opportunity to be part of building a legacy that’s going to be here for 50 or more years,” she said. “I think that’s why people have been so captivated by this project. We’re providing a home where sibling groups can grow and thrive and be together. To have Colonial’s name on that is really special.”
For the Oberndorfers, Colonial’s response has been especially meaningful.
“It’s an affirmation that God sees the plight of the orphan and He will provide in ways that we can’t even imagine,” Justin said. “God is building Joy Meadows through His Church and His people. We get to be just a small part of that miracle. We are not walking this sometimes difficult and lonely road of ministry alone. We have the army of Colonial Church walking beside us and helping us pave the way for this new ministry that will have a generational impact.”
Leonard said the church’s response to both the Easter and Christmas efforts affirmed for him that the congregation is embracing the church’s mission statement: “To be the light of Christ in a hurting culture, so that the lost are found, the broken are made whole, the fatherless find hope, and our city is blessed.”
“We have prayed and asked the Lord’s Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of His people as we desire to share the love of Christ with those in our spheres of influence,” Leonard said. “He is answering our prayers!”
Gifts donated by Walk to the Manger participants were delivered to Colonial Presbyterian Church’s local mission partners Freedom Fire Ministries and Mission SouthSide.
by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
Volunteers from Central Presbyterian Church in New York City helped set up a Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in Central Park. The 14-tent, 68-bed respiratory care unit opened on April 1.
As the human and economic toll from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic mounts, EPC churches in some of the hardest-hit areas of the United States have witnessed the death of parishioners in quarantine among other unprecedented challenges as they continue to minister to their congregations and communities.
In New York, which has experienced more cases statewide than any single country outside the U.S., grief and hope comingle in a region under lockdown.
“Every Sunday is a mixture of sadness, grief, lament, beauty, joy, and hope,” said Matt Brown, Senior Pastor of Resurrection Brooklyn. “Traffic in the city has decreased, but the sirens are incessant day and night. But in the midst of sickness and death God has gifted us with spectacular blooming magnolias and cherry trees.”
Brown said the congregation mirrors the city.
“We are in a very difficult season right now. We have growing numbers of sick people in our churches and had our first death on April 2. Fortunately, none of our staff has fallen ill yet. We are trying to cope with Sunday worship as best we can—like everyone else.”
Another coronavirus hotspot is in Detroit, 600 miles west of Brooklyn.
Scott McKee, Senior Pastor of Ward Church in Northville, Mich., said the situation is “pretty bad here in Detroit.” He reported that the church staff and congregation are mourning the recent loss of a faithful member.
“He was 79 years old and a very active church volunteer. What is heartbreaking is that his wife was not able to be with him, and now, in her grief, is not able to be with family. She has COVID-19 and is home in quarantine.”
Despite the heartache, McKee said church members are stepping up to help in the face of the pandemic.
“A young medical resident in our church was worried about becoming infected and passing it on to his wife and young children. A member of our church loaned him their travel trailer, which is now parked in front of the doctor’s house and has become his home away from home.”
Matthew Neighbor, grandson of Ward Church member Barb Stahl, taught himself to sew and make face masks by watching a YouTube video. He and other Ward volunteers have made 1,000 masks for local nursing homes, healthcare facilities, and at-risk church and community members.
In addition, more than 100 volunteers from the church have mobilized to sew 1,000 face masks for local nursing homes and healthcare facilities, as well as at-risk church and community members and hospitals.
“God is faithful. Times are troubled. Jesus’ Church prevails,” McKee proclaimed.
For Randy Brown, Pastor of Military Avenue EPC in Detroit, personal illness has slowed—but not stopped—his efforts to address the needs of the congregation.
“I am extremely busy trying to get up to speed on streaming our classes and services online,” Brown said, noting that he came down with the seasonal flu and has been in isolation since early March. “I have had to replace much of our dated internet equipment, as well as learning new software.”
He reported that none of the church’s members have contracted the coronavirus, but confessed, “the isolation is getting to people.”
Jason Harris, Senior Pastor of Central, reported that “a lot of positive work” is taking place during the crisis, noting that volunteers from the church also are preparing hundreds of sack lunches for the city’s homeless each week. Yet he echoed Matt Brown’s comments that the good is mixed with heartache.
“Several people within our congregation contracted the virus, and we suffered our first loss on April 2. An elderly member contracted the virus, and then fell in his home fracturing nine ribs, one of which punctured his lung. He was rushed to the hospital Wednesday night and died peacefully Thursday morning. The saddest part is that none of us could visit him in the hospital.”
Harris emphasized that the member received “exceptional care” from the attending doctor, who “rested his hand on his shoulder as he breathed his last. This has brought comfort to the family and friends.”
Across the East River from Manhattan, members of Resurrection Brooklyn’s Williamsburg campus (one of five in Resurrection’s network of churches in New York’s largest borough), are communicating their experience of isolation to the rest of the congregation by email.
“Anything that reveals a bit of light ultimately points to the One who is the Light of the World,” said Vito Aiuto, Lead Pastor of the Williamsburg congregation.
Steve Brune, a self-described “seminary dropout” who now works in finance, offered the following perspective during Holy Week:
“As we celebrate the season of Lent in anticipation of Good Friday and Easter, we would do well to imagine the ultimate moment of Christian emotional dislocation and vertigo as we see our King executed outside the city like a common criminal. The hopes and dreams of the faith community crushed—overwhelming feelings of tilting or spinning.” Brune wrote. “The losses we are experiencing are real and should never be diminished. We have absorbed tangible losses, fractured community, emotional dislocation, and severe vertigo.”
He added that “grief and outrage at these forms of evil and pain and at death itself” are normal and acceptable responses—but are not the end of the story.
“Then it happens,” he wrote. “Easter comes. Resurrection. A new song of the Lord.”
Meeting at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando February 24-25, the EPC Chaplains Work and Care Committee (CWCC) discussed a variety of topics related to its oversight of the EPC’s chaplaincy ministry. More than 60 EPC-endorsed chaplains currently serve in a variety of military and civilian contexts.
Among other items on its agenda, the CWCC reviewed plans for this year’s Chaplains Workshop, to be held as part of the Leadership Institute at the 40th General Assembly; reviewed several resources provided for EPC chaplains in both the endorsement process and active ministry; and interviewed two candidates for EPC chaplaincy endorsement.
“Ordained, professional chaplains serve in some of the most challenging environments imaginable, such as hostile locations, palliative care for children facing serious or end-of-life conditions, and mass-casualty events,” said Mark Ingles, EPC Chaplain Endorser. “They also provide support in more joyful occasions like baptisms, worship, weddings, organizational invocations, and so much more—not to mention all the care and ministering that volunteer chaplains provide. It is truly an honor and joy to provide the avenue, guidance, support, and care to our chaplains in the field, as well as for those who are seeking to become an EPC chaplain.” Ingles is a Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the West.
Members of the CWCC are Ted Tromble (Chairman), Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; Bruce Alexander, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Karen Bolte, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Tim Foster, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; Glen Holman, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; Jennifer Prechter, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; David Snyder, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; Richard Swedberg, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the West; and Brad Yorton, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest.
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.
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.
“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
by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
We thank God for answered prayers and commend the efforts of @SecPompeo & @StateDept in supporting Pastor Brunson and his family during this difficult time. @SecondLady and I look forward to welcoming Pastor Brunson and his courageous wife Norine back to the USA! 🇺🇸
Very pleased Pastor Brunson will finally be released from Turkish custody. This is a huge relief for him & his family who has relentlessly advocated for his freedom. The effort to secure his release was bipartisan w/ close cooperation between Congress & the administration. pic.twitter.com/UevXqvIBFU
RT @USUN Many prayers answered for the family of Pastor Brunson and for all Americans today. Welcome home, Pastor…you’ve been missed! After an unjust imprisonment in Turkey for 2 years, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. ❤️🇺🇸 #PrayersAnswered#USStronghttps://t.co/s6wzpgsezF
This has been a long and painful ordeal for Pastor Andrew Brunson and his family, and we are relieved that they will finally be reunited after this long period of his unjust imprisonment. My full statement on his release from Turkey today: pic.twitter.com/4ecCqZ7BEy
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 email@example.com.
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.