Category Archives: Pastors

Howard Shockley, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic Stated Clerk, dies at 74

 
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Howard and Margaret Shockley

Howard Grady Shockley Jr., Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic since 1999, passed away on August 7, 2018, at Spartanburg (S.C.) Regional Medical Center. He was 74.

The only son of the late Grady and Lucille Shivers Shockley, Shockley felt the call to ministry at a young age and dedicated his life to serving the Lord with a servant’s heart. Supported by his wife, Margaret, he honored his call to the fullest and loved his work of mentoring, counseling, and supporting his fellow pastors and EPC community. In addition to his leadership at the presbytery, he planted the first EPC church in Asheville, N.C, in 1981.

A native of Opelika, Ala., Shockley was a graduate of Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.; Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.; and earned a Ph.D. from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret; son Paul and his children, Emma, Naomi, and Timothy; daughter and son-in-law Rachel and Finn Dahl and their children, Austin, Anelie, and Arissen; and son and daughter-in-law Thad and Amy Shockley.

A memorial service will held on August 10, 2018, at Christ Church EPC in Anderson, S.C. Interment will follow at Greenville Presbyterian Church in Donalds, S.C.

In lieu of flowers, memorials should be made to the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic’s Allman-Fischer Fund, which supports missionaries and pastors in the presbytery. Gifts can be sent to Allman-Fischer Fund, c/o Tim Burns, 2514 Plantation Center Drive, Matthews, N.C. 28105.

Senators, Administration, religious freedom council applaud Turkey court ruling as Brunson leaves prison for house arrest

 

In response to a Turkish court’s ruling July 25 to release Andrew Brunson from prison to house arrest, officials in Washington, D.C., have issued statements supporting the decision.

Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) issued a joint statement in which they called the move a “step in the right direction.”

“Today’s decision by the Turkish Court system to move Pastor Andrew Brunson from prison to house arrest is a step in the right direction and will help alleviate some of the unacceptable hardship and anguish Pastor Brunson and his family have endured over the last 20 months,” the senators said. “The Government of Turkey should now release Pastor Brunson and immediately return him to the United States, an action that would begin to restore the longstanding friendship between our two nations.”

The United States Council on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also welcomed the court’s ruling.

“It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga in the statement. “This is welcome news … but it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted on July 25 that house arrest was a positive development, but Brunson “should have been freed long ago.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said via Twitter on July 25 that the decision was “long overdue.”

Brunson left the prison at approximately 5:30 p.m. local time in Turkey (10:30 a.m. Eastern). Live television footage showed Brunson being put into a vehicle outside prison and driven away guided by a police motorcycle escort. His Turkish lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt , confirmed that Brunson will be required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and is banned from leaving the country.

“These officials in Washington have been our ‘heroes on the Hill’ and have worked hard for Andrew’s release,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “But we need to remember that this is not over. Even though Andrew will be at his home in Izmir, he will be closely monitored and his movements will be restricted. We should continue to pray and advocate for his complete freedom until that time when he steps off the plane onto American soil.”

On July 23, Tillis and Shaheen announced a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress assessing Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. The provision is based in part on legislation the three senators introduced earlier this year in response Brunson’s continued imprisonment and Turkey’s intention to purchase an S-400 missile system from Russia. Last week, they introduced a bill that would prohibit international loans to Turkey until the detention of U.S. citizens ends.

On July 24, Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline Furnari spoke to the U.S. State Department’s inaugural Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, hosted by Pompeo. Furnari’s 12-minute testimony can be watched below.

Click here to watch the full one-hour segment of the day’s proceedings. Furnari begins her talk at 20:30.

Andrew Brunson moved to house arrest

 
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Andrew Brunson

Turkish media is reporting that Andrew Brunson has been moved from prison and put under house arrest. According to the Daily Sabah, the EPC Teaching Elder has been moved to his home in Izmir due to “health issues.”

The Second High Penal Court in Izmir issued the ruling on July 25, which also included an international travel ban meaning Brunson cannot leave the country. The same court ruled on July 18 that Brunson be returned to prison until the hearing in the trial, scheduled for October 12.

“We are very thankful for this court ruling to allow Andrew to be detained at his house instead of behind bars, where he has spent more than 21 months,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “At the same time, this trial is not over. He is still facing serious charges so we press on in praying, fasting, and advocating for Andrew.”

Brunson has lived in Turkey since 1993 and was arrested in October 2016. He was indicted on charges of having links to Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish cleric who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999 and whom Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup attempt, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey calls a terrorist group.

President Trump, others continue to condemn Andrew Brunson detainment

 

A Turkish court’s decision to return Andrew Brunson to prison at the conclusion of the July 18 hearing until the next hearing on October 12 has drawn intense, bipartisan criticism.

Late on July 18, President Donald Trump said on social media that not granting Brunson’s release was a “total disgrace” and added that the EPC Teaching Elder “has been held hostage far too long.”

On July 19, six Senators introduced a bill to direct the top U.S. executive at the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to block future loans to Turkey, except for humanitarian purposes. The bipartisan bill—dubbed the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act—was authored in response to “the unjust detention” of nearly two dozen U.S. citizens, including Brunson.

In a statement, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said, “Until Turkey begins acting like a NATO ally again, we will continue to pursue measures like sanctions and loan restrictions against them. We desire cooperation and strengthening ties between our countries, but the U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of its own people.” Lankford was joined in the proposed legislation by Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a quick resolution to the impasse on July 19.

“We continue to call on the Turkish government to quickly resolve (Brunson’s) case in a timely and transparent and fair manner,” said Heather Nauert.

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Andrew Brunson

On July 18, the four senior members of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (USCSCE, also known as the Helsinki Commission) released statements condemning Brunson’s ongoing imprisonment.

“The cruelty of today’s decision is astonishing,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)., USCSCE  Co-Chair. “By extending Pastor Brunson’s indefinite detention and setting his next trial date for mid-October, the Turkish government has declared its intention to keep this innocent man in jail past the two-year anniversary of his arrest without conviction or any credible evidence against him. There is no room in NATO for hostage-taking. Pastor Brunson should be freed immediately.”

Sen. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), USCSCE Co-Chair, also called for Brunson’s immediate release, “otherwise this cruel abuse of a U.S. citizen should have serious consequences for our country’s relationship with the Turkish government.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said the Turkish court’s decision “represents yet another miscarriage of justice in this case. I remain deeply concerned that Mr. Brunson remains in prison in Turkey. The Turkish government must drop its spurious charges and release Mr. Brunson immediately.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), described Brunson’s trial as “conspiratorial charges, anonymous witnesses, and political agendas, and bears no resemblance to a credible judicial process. Even as the Turkish government prepares to lift its nearly two-year state of emergency, we should not be fooled into thinking that the rule of law is returning to Turkey. Pastor Brunson’s wrongful imprisonment proves that nothing is likely to change.”

The USCSCE echoed the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issued a statement on July 18 declaring “The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.”

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah expressed gratitude for the statements of condemnation.

“I am thankful that so many of our government officials have recognized Andrew’s situation and are speaking out against his continued incarceration,” he said. “We will continue to persevere on Andrew’s behalf, and look forward to the day—hopefully very soon—when he steps off a plane onto American soil.”

Brunson is an EPC Teaching Elder from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey since 1993. He was been held since October 2016, and was indicted in March 2018 on charges of terrorism and espionage. Among the accusations in the indictment are charges that Brunson was a “member and executive” of the Fetullah Gülen organization—which the government of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan blames for a failed July 2016 coup attempt and considers a terrorist group—and supported outlawed Kurdish militants. He faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty.

Senators press for release of Andrew Brunson, threaten further legislative action

 
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Clockwise (from top left): Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Thom Tillis, R-N.C.)

In response to Andrew Brunson’s return to custody following hearings on July 18, U.S. Senators Thom Tillis, Jeanne Shaheen, James Lankford, and Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement calling for his immediate release. The court in Aliaga, Turkey, remanded the EPC Teaching Elder to prison until the trial resumes on October 12.

“Pastor Andrew Brunson has languished in a Turkish prison for the last two years, causing tremendous hardship and heartache for him and his family,” the senators said in the statement. “He is an innocent man and has been unlawfully detained simply because he is an American pastor who assists all those in need, no matter their ethnicity or religious beliefs. Turkey and the United States are longstanding NATO allies and it is imperative to the interests of both nations that Turkey starts behaving like one. We call for the immediate release of Pastor Brunson and other American citizens currently detained in Turkey, including Serkan Golge. We encourage the Administration to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure the release of these innocent people before Congress is forced to press for even stricter legislative measures that will be difficult to unwind.”

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Andrew Brunson

Brunson has been imprisoned in Turkey since October 7, 2016. In April, he was indicted on charges related to terrorism and espionage. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

In April, the four senators led the effort to craft a bipartisan letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling for Brunson’s release. The letter was signed by 71 senators. Tillis has visited Turkey twice, including meeting with Brunson and attending his trial on April 16. Shaheen and Graham visited Brunson in prison in June, and also met with Erdoğan and pressed for Brunson’s release.

In previous legislative actions, Tillis and Shaheen secured a provision that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a plan to Congress to remove Turkey from participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. The provision is based in part on legislation introduced by Lankford, Tillis, and Shaheen. Lankford and Shaheen have worked with Graham to include sanctions in this year’s State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations bill. Those measures target Turkish officials complicit in the unlawful arrest of Americans.

The senators are part of a growing chorus of condemnation in Washington, D.C., against the court’s ongoing decision to keep Brunson imprisoned.

In an article titled “The Brunson farce” published July 17 by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in response to speculation following discussions between Erdoğan and President Trump, Aykan Erdemir wrote that Brunson should be released “not because of a deal, but because there isn’t a shred of evidence against him.” Erdemir is a senior fellow at the FDD and a former member of the Turkish parliament.

On July 18, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a statement declaring that “Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.” The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission.

Bart Hess Award presented to Restoration Church (Munford, Tenn.)

 
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Mike Gibson (right), Pastor of Restoration Church, receives the Bart Hess Award from Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly, on June 22 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Restoration Church in Munford, Tenn., is the recipient of the 2018 Bartlett L. Hess Award for church revitalization. The award was announced on June 22 at the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

“Receiving this award came as a shock,” Pastor Mike Gibson told the Assembly. “When I found we would be receiving this, I asked God, ‘What I am supposed to do with this award when I am supposed to be cultivating humility?’ because I can have some trouble in that area. I believe He told me ‘This is to encourage and inspire churches who have been where you’ve been, to know that I am in this and you can go forward.’ There were so many times I was ready to give up, thinking the ministry was never going to take off and have an impact in our community. But I know something like this—or bigger—can happen in any church.”

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said Restoration Church received the 2018 award because its leadership was not only willing to ask hard questions about its health and ministry to its community, but also was willing to make changes in response to the answers they received.

“Launched in 1911 as Munford Presbyterian Church, they have a rich history and beautiful sanctuary,” Jeremiah said. “However, they were in decline. But under Mike’s leadership, that decline was reversed. To reach the unchurched in their community they changed their name and their image, and the Lord brought them scores of new people. Lives are being redeemed, revived, and restored through the ministry of Restoration Church, and I am thrilled that their hard work has been recognized by the entire EPC.”

Jeremiah will present the award to the congregation on Sunday, August 19.

The Hess Award is given annually to the EPC church that has demonstrated the most innovative approach to church growth or revitalization. Church growth—in both its spiritual and numerical aspects—is an essential part of the mission of the church. The award provides a vehicle by which positive, reproducible innovation is encouraged and shared with others in the EPC. It is named for Bart Hess, founding pastor of Ward Church in suburban Detroit, who was instrumental in the establishment of the EPC in 1981.

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38th GA sings Andrew Brunson’s ‘Worthy of My All;’ hears daughter read letters from prison, describe family’s ordeal

 

Addressing the 38th General Assembly on June 21, Jacqueline Furnari—Andrew Brunson’s daughter—described her family’s ordeal over the 20 months since her father’s imprisonment in Turkey.

“October 7, 2016—more than a year and a half ago—is the day my parents were called into the police station,” Furnari said. “This was my oldest brother’s 21st birthday, and he never got his birthday (telephone) call.”

She said that her parents had been working to secure permanent resident status so they could stay in Turkey long-term, and thought they were being summoned for questions related to their application.

“What they were not expecting was to be told that they had been deemed a threat to national security and that they were going to be deported,” she told the Assembly. “This all happened so quickly that they were barely able to tell a few family members what was going on before their phones were taken away and they were taken into custody.”

The Brunsons’ daughter added that she did not find out until several days later.

“My aunt called me and asked if I had an update,” she said, adding that the next two weeks were “absolutely terrifying” for her and her two brothers.

“We didn’t know why they were taken,” she said. “We didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know how they were being treated; how they were being kept. We had absolutely no information and no way to get that information. All we knew was that something was very, very wrong.”

Andrew’s wife, Norine, was released after nearly three weeks of detention. “It was a relief to get some news and understand what was starting to happen,” Furnari said. “But at the same time that conversation I had with her was heartbreaking because she had just said goodbye to my dad and didn’t know when she would see him again.”

She read portions of several letters her father had written to her from prison.

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Andrew Brunson

“’I am attempting to follow His example,’” she read. “‘I declare with my will that I will submit to Him. I am kept here by force, but I can choose to submit with my will even though my emotions are severely distressed and not at all wanting to submit. I am trying to be faithful even when overwhelmed with fear—faithful to declare God’s character even when I don’t understand. I ask you to pray for me in this, to be faithful to the end.’”

The letter also contained the words of a prayer Andrew told her that he prays each night:

“’Father God, I ask that you pour out on me the courage and strength, the endurance, perseverance, and steadfastness of Jesus,’” she read, adding that he also wrote, “I declare God’s character, and pray that He uses this time to work deeply in my life.”

Furnari concluded by reading a message Brunson penned to the EPC:

“’My brothers and sisters of the EPC, I am so grateful to you for standing with us during this difficult time—for praying for us. I know a number of people have fasted, and I thank you for doing this. It’s a great blessing to us to be part of the EPC family. I pray every day to be faithful to the end, and it is my desire to show the great worth of Jesus Christ by being willing to suffer for Him. I ask that you pray for me in this, that I will be faithful to the end. I hope that next year I will be able to thank all of you in person rather than through my beautiful daughter, but again, thank you for standing with us. Your brother, Andrew.’”

Furnari also testified that she and her family have seen God at work in the midst of the situation. In an interview with EPConnection, she said when her father wrote his song, “Worthy of My All,” that she knew he was “going down a better path.”

“When he was arrested he went through a really dark time,” she said. “At some point, he was allowed to have his guitar but he couldn’t bring himself to play it, or even touch it. But the moment I heard he written a song I knew that he was doing a lot better. He had it in him to pick up that guitar and not just sing the usual worship songs, but write one for God to express his aguish, but also his desire to honor God in his situation.”

Click here or on the image above to watch Furnari’s entire presentation, followed by Assembly attendees singing Andrew’s modern hymn, “Worthy of My All.”

Click here for more information about Andrew Brunson, including a timeline of events, sheet music for “Worthy of My All,” and more.

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38th General Assembly makes history with landmark ‘firsts’

 
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GA SELFIE—From left, Evelio Vilches, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah, Eddie Spencer, Moderator Tom Werner

The EPC’s 38th General Assembly, held June 19-22 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn., made history as the first Assembly to include a “selfie” from the platform. At the beginning of the Thursday afternoon business session, Evelio Vilches, Pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and Eddie Spencer, Pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Fla., took the historic photo prior to their report on how contributions to the EPC’s Hurricane Irma Emergency Relief Fund was used to help their congregations and communities in the aftermath of the September 2017 storm.

“As Stated Clerk,” said Jeff Jeremiah, “it is my ruling that indeed this is the first ever GA selfie.”

In another first, six commissioners started what may become a tradition at the GA Thursday evening worship service—“kilt night.” Donning the traditional Scottish attire were Edward Cummings, Pastor of Terrace Heights EPC in Yakima, Wash.; Alan Trafford, Pastor of Covenant EPC in Lake Jackson, Texas; Suzanne Brown Zampella, Pastor of Connellsville Presbyterian Church in Connellsville, Pa.; Matthew Everhard, Pastor of Faith EPC in Brooksville, Fla.; Case Thorp, Senior Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla.; and Jeremy McNeill, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bucyrus, Ohio.

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KILT NIGHT—From left, Edward Cummings, Alan Trafford, Suzanne Brown Zampella, Matthew Everhard, Case Thorp, Jeremy McNeill.

EPC adds seven churches in 2017–2018

 

Seven churches joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the reporting period of May 23, 2017, through June 1, 2018. The new EPC churches were announced on June 22 at the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Ken Roberts, Moderator of the 32nd EPC General Assembly, prayed for the new churches.

“You already know every person who will be attending all these churches,” Roberts said in his prayer. “You know their needs, joys, hurts, and hearts. We pray for each staff member who will be ministering to each person in these congregations. As we commit these churches to you, may You be gloried in the worship and business of each church, and in each heart.”

These newest members of the EPC family of churches are:

Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (Leawood, Kan.)
Sheldon MacGillivray, Pastor
www.cornerstoneks.org
Presbytery of the Great Plains

First Presbyterian Church (Malden, Mo.)
Derek Evans, Commissioned Pastor
www.facebook.com/Malden-Presbyterian-Church-144604838944152/
Presbytery of the Central South

Hendersonville Presbyterian Church (Hendersonville, N.C.)
Bill Campbell, Pastor
www.hendersonvillepc.org
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

New Life Gathering (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Scott Jackson, Pastor
www.newlifeknoxville.org
Presbytery of the Southeast

Walkersville Presbyterian Church (Waxhaw, N.C.)
Eric Bartel, Pastor
www.facebook.com/pages/Walkersville-Presbyterian-Church/117441554948378
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Wayside Presbyterian Church (Sanford, N.C.)
Robert Johnson, Pastor
www.facebook.com/pages/Wayside-Presbyterian-Church/464287536951632
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Wylliesburg Evangelical Presbyterian Church (Wylliesburg, Va.)
David Wood, Stated Supply Pastor
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Each of the new churches was a previous congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

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In MSNBC interview, Senators Lankford, Shaheen discuss imprisonment of Andrew Brunson

 

In an interview on MCNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on May 24, Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) continued their call for punitive action against Turkey due to Andrew Brunson’s prolonged imprisonment. The EPC Teaching Elder has been held since October 2016 on charges of espionage and terrorism.

“He is basically being held hostage by (Turkish) President Erdoğan,” Shaheen said, “and this is a blatant attempt to blackmail the United States and we are not going to stand for it.”

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Lankford and Shaheen are pursuing targeted sanctions against Turkish officials, and are working with Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on a bill to prevent the transfer of American fighter aircraft and technology to Turkey until the relationship between the two countries improves. In the 10-minute interview, they also discussed the future of U.S.-Turkey relations and Erdoğan’s oppressive tendencies.

Click here to watch the full interview.

Sad, angry, resolute: thoughts from a Turkish courtroom

 
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Richard White, Pastor of Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C., speaks to a reporter outside the Sakran Prison complex in Aliaga, Turkey, on May 7. White attended the second hearing of EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson’s trial. (photo credit: World Watch Monitor)

by Richard White, Pastor
Christ Community Church
Montreat, N.C.

Sad, angry, and resolute.

These are my states of mind as I wake after Andrew Brunson’s trial. After 10 hours in court, I am deeply saddened that the judge refused to allow Andrew’s request to return home and finish the trial under some form of house arrest. I’m sad at having to watch Norine be brave yet again for her husband and community. She is like Mary pouring her treasure out at Jesus’ feet. It’s her costly treasure of time, lost time with husband and children, her father’s death, and so much more. I’m also sad for the Turkish people and the blatant miscarriage of justice. This bleeds into my anger.

The judge allowed the most ludicrous witnesses to testify against Andrew. One young man, who had angrily left their church years ago, wanted to return to the church but was denied membership because he was such a troublemaker. He refused to repent. On the stand, this man admitted to creating a fake Facebook page in Andrew’s name and posting pro-terrorist items on it. The judge looked passed this and validated this man’s testimony of seeing terrorist flags in Andrew’s church. It was a total lie, but the judge said it carried weight. The judge not only led witnesses with his questions, but also linked all the witnesses at the end in an effort to maintain the case against Andrew. The most angering blow was at the end when the judge decimated Andrew’s witness defense list saying that most of his witnesses were also “suspects” and, therefore, could not testify on Andrew’s behalf. This, in effect, ties the hands of Andrew’s defense.

So, what to do with unresolved sadness and justified anger? This morning I am reflecting on 1 Peter 2:23—“When he was reviled he did not revile in return, when he suffered (unjustly) he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to Him who judges justly.” Also, Psalm 30:5— “Weeping endures for the night but joy comes in the morning.” And Romans 12:12—“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation and constant in prayer.”

God did answer many prayers. Andrew spoke with clarity, authority, and boldness in the Lord as he refuted many, many lies spoken against him. Norine remained strong and alert. I had asked the Lord to be able to get into the courtroom. We got in. I asked to be a visible encouragement to Andrew and to have five minutes to visit with him. Everyone assured me that it would be impossible. No clergy of any faith have visited prisoners during this state of emergency in Turkey. BUT…then there was a technical difficulty with the jumbotron screens and while all were distracted, Andrew turned around in his seat and looked back at us as we sat in the back of the court. Norine said that this was not allowed. But with the judges distracted with the screen, Andrew was able to lock eyes with Norine and me and Sam and several others. I was able to communicate love, prayers, and blessings. It was a sacred and joy-filled moment from the Lord. We all wept. This technological difficulty lasted five minutes. It happened again later so we got another opportunity for eye–to-eye, loving contact. When Andrew was escorted out of the courtroom I moved to a place closer to his exit door and yelled out, “We love you, brother. We will never forget you. The whole church is praying for you back home.”

Joy, sorrow, anger, and resolution.

I remain resolute in standing with and praying for Andrew. I know you do as well. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Remember those in prison as though with them.” So we must keep praying. God is working something much larger than we can see or understand right now. I assured Norine and Andrew (in a note I left for Andrew with the U.S. consular) that our church is praying for them, even at 2:00 a.m. in Graham Chapel.

Thank you for praying. This is the hard work God has for us. Romans 15:30 says, “I appeal to you brothers and sisters by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered.”

Hollywood EPC (Greenville, N.C.) celebrates 75th anniversary

 

Hollywood Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Greenville, N.C., celebrated its 75th anniversary on Sunday, May 6. The church started as a Sunday school in the 1920s, and became a particularized church in 1943.

WITN News in Greenville aired a story about the day’s festivities:

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Keith Cobb is the Pastor, and the congregation joined the EPC in 2015.

North Carolina Senator denounces Andrew Brunson trial as “kangaroo court”

 

TillisFoxNewsIn a May 8 appearance on Fox News, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) offered harsh words for Turkey for its continued detainment of EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson, who has been held since October 2016. Brunson was returned to prison following testimony on May 7, with further proceedings postponed until July 18.

“The allegations against him are absurd,” Tillis said, “and even more absurd is Pastor Brunson requesting 10 witnesses to testify in his defense and being denied. That is the nature of this kangaroo court we are witnessing in Turkey.”

Tillis noted that Brunson’s situation continues to strain relations between the two countries.

“It is unheard of for NATO allies to treat people this way,” he said. “We have to look at all of our ties with Turkey and question whether that is the best partner on national defense and economic ties.”

Click here to watch the full six-minute interview.

GA worship speakers include Ligon Duncan, Eli Morris, Rufus Smith, Dean Weaver

 

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(Clockwise from top left): Ligon Duncan, Eli Morris, Dean Weaver, Rufus Smith

Worship has been an integral part of the EPC’s annual General Assembly since the inaugural Assembly in 1981. The 38th General Assembly, to be held June 19-22 at Hope Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn., carries on this hallmark.

Eli Morris, Hope Church Senior Associate Pastor, will speak prior to the opening business session at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20.

Rufus Smith, Hope Church Senior Pastor, will deliver the message at the Morning Worship Service at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 21.

Ligon Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary, will preach at the World Outreach Global Worker Commissioning Service on 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 21.

Dean Weaver, Moderator of the 37th General Assembly and Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Penn., will lead the Moderator’s Service of Communion and Prayer at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, June 22.

“Each of our worship speakers have been integrally involved in ministries that allow them to address our theme of ‘Forward!’” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I fully anticipate that God has a dynamic, relevant word for us through these gifted communicators.”

Weaver is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies and has served as Pastor of Memorial Park since 2006. He was Founder and Co-Moderator of the New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC), a group of about 200 theologically conservative Presbyterian churches formed in 2001 from growing discontent regarding the general direction of the PC(USA). The NWAC was dissolved in 2011. Weaver also is President and co-founder of EduNations, a non-profit corporation that builds and operates schools in Sierra Leone, West Africa. He is a graduate of Grove City College in Grove City, Penn.; Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (M.Div.); and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (D.Min.).

Duncan was raised in the home of an eighth-generation Presbyterian Ruling Elder, and has authored, co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 35 books. At age 28, he was elected to the faculty of RTS, where he taught Systematic Theology until 1996 when he accepted the pastorate of the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Miss. He served as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly in 2004-05, the youngest minister in the PCA’s history to be elected Moderator. He returned to RTS in 2012 and became Chancellor/CEO in 2013. He is a graduate of Furman University in Greenville, S.C.; Covenant Theological Seminary (M.Div. and M.A. in Historical Theology); and the University of Edinburgh New College in Scotland (Ph.D.).

Smith served Hope Church as Associate Pastor of Discipleship from September 2010 until November 2013, when he was elected to succeed Richard Craig Strickland’s 25-year founding pastorate. From 1988-2010, he served as Senior Pastor of the inter-racial and inter-generational City of Refuge Church in Houston, Texas. While in Houston he served as Lead Chaplain for the NBA Houston Rockets for three years. He studied at Houston Baptist University and maintains an active traveling and speaking schedule.

Morris, in addition to his role as Senior Associate Pastor for Hope Church, serves as Chaplain with the FBI Memphis Division. He is passionate about meeting the needs of the underprivileged, and serves on the boards of STREETS Ministry, Oasis of Hope, Luke 4:18 Ministries, and MIFA Emergency Services. He is a graduate of the University of Memphis, Memphis Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Fuller Theological Seminary (D.Min.).

Click here for more information about the 38th General Assembly, including daily schedules, links to online registration, and more.

USCIRF declares Turkish court’s decision in Andrew Brunson trial “unconscionable”

 

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Andrew Brunson

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed disappointment in a Turkish court’s May 7 decision in EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson’s trial on terrorism and espionage charges. After 11 hours of testimony—mostly from anonymous witnesses who testified via video link with disguised faces and altered voices—the judge postponed further proceedings until July 18 and returned Brunson to prison. In addition, the court refused to hear testimony from any defense witnesses.

“We leave the courthouse with serious concerns,” said Sandra Jolley, USCIRF Vice-Chair, who attended the proceedings in Aliaga, Turkey. “Today’s eleven hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic, and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of. Worse still, the judge’s decision at the conclusion of today’s hearing to dismiss all of the witnesses called by Pastor Brunson’s defense without listening to a single minute of their testimony is simply unconscionable.”

Click here for the Commission’s full statement.

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission that reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations abroad, and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

Andrew Brunson to remain imprisoned, Turkish judge rules

 
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Norine Brunson arrives at Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey, on May 7, 2018. REUTERS / Osman Orsal

Following testimony in the second phase of Andrew Brunson’s trial on May 7 in Turkey, the court ruled to keep the EPC Teaching Elder jailed until at least the next hearing, scheduled for July 18. The date is 24 days after Turkey’s snap presidential elections, which were called in April by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for June 24—17 months ahead of their original date of November 2019.

Multiple media outlets reported that a secret witness testified anonymously against Brunson, claiming that he assisted militants with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and aimed to create a Christian Kurdish state. The witness spoke via video link with a disguised face and voice.

Brunson denied the accusations, insisting that he never permitted “politics to enter the church. I am helping Syrian refugees, they say that I am aiding the PKK. I am setting up a church, they say I got help from Gülen’s network.”

He has repeatedly denied the prosecutor’s charges that he was involved with terrorism and espionage, and again proclaimed his innocence to the court on May 7.

“My service that I have spent my life on, has now turned upside down,” Brunson said. “I was never ashamed to be a server of Jesus, but these claims are shameful and disgusting.”

Brunson’s lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said that in Turkey, “if there’s an investigation that lacks evidence, it’s kind of the custom now to fortify the case with secret witnesses that have no credibility, no link to reality.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said at least one individual who was present in the courtroom described the hearing afterward as “unfair.”

“I heard from someone who was there that Andrew presented a great defense, and his lawyer made a passionate plea for his release,” Jeremiah said. “Sadly, the judge returned Andrew to prison, which means this unjust and inhuman treatment continues. While this is not the result we had hoped, prayed, and fasted for, we continue to trust that the Lord Jesus Christ will be Andrew and Norine’s strength and shield.”