Category Archives: Pastors

EPC churches help with Texas, Florida hurricane recovery efforts


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Hurricane Irma caused a large tree to fall on the home of Andy Black, an elder for Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fla. (photo courtesy of Matthew Everhard)

EPC churches in Texas and Florida continue to both recover and minister in their communities following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Eddie Spencer, pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Fla., said Irma brought heavy winds and flooding rains to southwest Florida.

“A number of our folks have been hurt by flooding,” he said. “We will help them.”

Spencer also said the focus of their outreach efforts “will probably be Immokalee,” a largely agricultural community about 35 miles southeast of Fort Myers with a significant migrant worker population—many of whom live in trailer homes damaged or destroyed by the storm. “I am very proud of our church family. We have been very engaged in the community and caring for each other.”

He also noted that as of September 18, the church was without electricity. “We had church yesterday with generators and fans and people seemed delighted that I preached a shorter sermon.”

Matthew Everhard, pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fla., said the homes of two of their elders were damaged—one severely—but he was not aware of any injuries or major casualties.

“Most else is debris-related,” he said, “but we are contacting all 400 members and our 100 shelter guests.”

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Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to the home of Jim Phinney, an elder for Faith EPC in Brooksville, Fla. (photo courtesy of Matthew Everhard)

The church used its Family Life Center as a shelter, where approximately 100 local residents rode out the storm. Everhard said everyone at the shelter “survived happy and well-fed,” but reported several leaks to the church building and damage to the facade.

Ikki Soma, pastor of City of Refuge Church in Houston, reported via email that one of their ruling elders’ homes “looked like a war zone,” following Hurricane Harvey, noting that the all the drywall in their home had been removed from floor to ceiling.

“It’s the most devastated home I’ve seen,” Soma said. “Most people only have three to five feet of drywall removed. Pray for him and his family. His wife lost her mother last Saturday too, and many mementos from her mom were lost in the flooding.”

Michael Herrin, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South, requested prayer for Michel Yonts, pastor of Edna Presbyterian Church in Edna, Texas. Edna was in the path of Hurricane Harvey, and Herrin said the home Yonts still owns in Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma.

“Please pray for Michel and Pauline as they deal with this double dose of difficulty,” Herrin said.

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Following Hurricane Harvey, piles of rubble from flooded homes are a common sight in southeast Texas.

Herrin also reported that Daniel Situka, EPC teaching elder and a hospice chaplain in Houston, needs significant repairs to his home. “His house was flooded and his roof needs some repair, but he said it is hard to find a contractor,” Herrin said. “FEMA has inspected the house, and has recommended that some more wet material be removed.”

Herrin also said Situka ‘s car was totaled. “He has a rental car and is back to work, but will have to buy a new car. Daniel has been very impressed with how helpful everyone has been.”

Daniel Nguyen, an EPC evangelist working with the Bellaire Vietnamese Fellowship, expressed gratitude for the EPC’s Hurricane Harvey emergency relief fund.

“Thank you for showing your love of Christ through your prayers and financial support,” he said. “We have several members as well as non-Christian friends in our Vietnamese community who sorely need this kind of help to get back to their normal lives. As we earnestly share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our Vietnamese people, please pray for God to soften their hearts so they would soon receive Him as the Savior and Lord of their life.”

Alan Trafford, pastor of Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Lake Jackson, Texas, reported that flood waters from Hurricane Harvey have receded in southern Brazoria County, south of Houston.

“It hasn’t rained since the storm, thankfully, but the millions of gallons that fell on the Greater Houston area had to pass through the coastal counties to reach the Gulf,” Jackson said via email. “This is what caused our flooding, approximately ten days after the storm hit.”

He said volunteers from Covenant have worked closely with a local ministerial alliance in coordinating volunteer efforts and serving the area in a variety of ways.

“We have had a hand in many tasks, from feeding evacuees at one of the local shelters to collecting diapers for the Pregnancy Help Center, from unloading huge amounts of supplies for the local food pantries, to filling hundreds of sandbags,” he said. “It has been gratifying to see so many groups coming together to help, and we hope to work with groups from other churches in the coming months.”

Jackson noted that the need is “immense,” with more than 120,000 homes in Southeast Texas completely flooded, and thousands more damaged.

“Some of the poorest neighborhoods, in rural or unincorporated areas, have suffered the worst flooding,” he said. “We are sending teams out to rip out carpets and flooring, remove debris, and cut out drywall. About a dozen families in the church had water in their homes. The worst was one of our elders who got four feet of water in his newly remodeled house—his second flood in just over a year.”

He said the church’s new youth facility has been converted into accommodations for work groups. “We trust that the Lord will continue to use us to demonstrate the compassion of Christ.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said contributions to the EPC’s emergency relief funds have helped local churches immensely.

“In the wake of Harvey, Irma, and now Maria in Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean, I am so grateful for the generosity of individuals and churches across the EPC who have helped our churches minister to their members and communities. I hope we can continue to bless them in this way.”

As of September 20, the Hurricane Harvey emergency relief fund has received $235,182 while the Hurricane Irma relief fund had received $14,976.

A Hurricane Maria relief fund has been approved by the National Leadership Team and will be announced by September 22. Maria caused significant damage in Puerto Rico—home to three EPC churches in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean—including loss of power across the entire island.

Closer to God Church (Kearny, N.J.) receives 2017 Bart Hess Award


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Valdir Reis (right), pastor of Closer to God Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Kearny, N.J., received the Bart Hess Award on behalf of the congregation from Jeff Jeremiah during the church’s worship service on September 10.

Closer to God Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Kearny, N.J., is the recipient of the 2017 Bartlett L. Hess Award for church revitalization. The award was announced at the 37th General Assembly in June at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif.

“This award is tremendous to our church,” pastor Valdir Reis told commissioners to the Assembly. “Thank you to the EPC, this faithful church that received us with much love.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, presented the award to the congregation during their September 10 worship service.

Jeremiah said Closer to God Church received the 2017 award “because of its outstanding outreach efforts into their local community, which includes those of Brazilian, Mexican, Portuguese, and Dominican background—as well as many immigrants.” He also noted that the church provides professional courses, medical care, legal assistance, and counseling to immigrant families.

“They also serve the underprivileged in the Newark area through a food bank and used clothing store that deeply discounts its prices,” Jeremiah said. “I’m excited for the great things the Lord is doing through their ministry.”

The church was launched on July 3, 2011, and came into the EPC’s Presbytery of the East on April 5, 2012.

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 Bartlett L. “Bart” Hess, founding pastor of Ward Church in suburban Detroit, who was instrumental in the establishment of the EPC in 1981.

Turkish court levels more charges against Andrew Brunson


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Andrew Brunson

A Turkish court added three new charges against imprisoned EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson on August 24. The charges include gathering state secrets for espionage, attempting to overthrow the Turkish parliament and government, and to change the constitutional order.

According to a report from the World News Group, Brunson could face up to four consecutive life sentences if convicted. The article quoted Brunson as saying during court proceedings, “I am a defender of Jesus Christ. I am a religious man who builds a church and does it in the knowledge of the state. I will never support any Islamic movement.”

“We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to ‘pray without ceasing,’” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Please do not stop praying for Andrew. He and his family need it more than ever.”

Brunson has been held since October 2016, and has been charged in a separate Turkish court with membership in the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), the network of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen whom Turkish authorities blame for masterminding the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

Iconic golden hand back atop Port Gibson (Miss.) EPC church


Written by Brandon O’Connor/The Vicksburg Post
Photos by Courtland Wells/The Vicksburg Post
Reprinted by permission

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Michael Herrin, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson and Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South, reads a poem as The Hand Pointing to Heaven is hoisted atop the church’s steeple on Aug. 16.

The Hand Pointing to Heaven is once again in its rightful place atop the steeple of First Presbyterian Church in Port Gibson, Miss.

The 10-feet 4-inch, 250 pound golden fist with its index finger pointing skyward was returned to the top of the steeple at First Presbyterian on Aug. 16 following a two-month restoration process.

The golden hand was taken down from the steeple on June 26 and sent to Virginia where it was restored and then recovered in gold plate.

“We sent it to American Stripping Company in Manassas Park, Virginia.” Rev. Michael Herrin said. “They stripped off the previous coatings, repaired the metal, it had rust mainly on the cuff around the bottom. They then prepared the surface for gilding. The gilder’s studio from Maryland put the gold plate on it. It is real gold plate, just real thin.”

The hand was then shipped back to Port Gibson where it was originally scheduled to be reinstalled Aug. 9. Inclement weather caused a slight delay in the process, but Wednesday it was raised back to the top of the steeple where it sits 147 feet above the ground.

“It is a symbol of Port Gibson,” Herrin said. “It is a symbol of what we are all supposed to be about. It reminds us that this life isn’t about us. It is about God. It does what steeples are supposed to do. They are supposed to point us to God.”

There was some question Wednesday of whether they would raise the hand to the top of the steeple or not after a few cracks were found in the back when it was unwrapped. They decided to go ahead after sealing the cracks to keep water out.

“I carried it up there with a mattress and it worked fine,” Jimmy Cassell, the chairman of the Deacon’s Board, said. “They built some cradle they wanted me to bring it back in. That cradle is too hard evidentially, and when we hit bumps it bent it a little bit. We calked it and hopefully it is going to be alright.”

After the repairs were made and members of the congregation had the chance to have their pictures taken with it, the hand was raised to the top of the steeple using a crane. There it had to be bolted back onto the steeple and the lightning rod had to be attached.

A hand has been atop the steeple of First Presbyterian since 1860, when the current building was finished. The original hand was made of wood and this hand, which is made of metal, was purchased and placed atop the steeple in 1903.

“The original minister, Dr. Zebulon Butler, during his sermons would make the hand gesture,” Cassell said. “They took that hand gesture and made it.”

It has been a fixture of Port Gibson ever since. The hand was last taken down from the steeple in 1989 to be refurbished.

“It is always scary when it comes down because there are so many things that could happen,” Azalea Knight, who has been a member of the church since 1972, said. “It is such a landmark for the state of Mississippi and Port Gibson. It is beautiful and I am so excited to see it back up. It is such a void while it was gone.”

Norma Bearden made the drive from Natchez to see the golden hand returned to the steeple. The hand and the church hold a special place in her heart and she wanted to be there for its return.

“I was married in this church in 1979. It really was a good feeling that we are trying to keep the town up. It brought back a lot of good feelings about my wedding,” Bearden said. “I grew up in the area and I saw the hand nearly everyday of my life. I thought it was monumental that we have been able to keep it restored and in such good condition. It shows the pride of everybody in the Presbyterian Church.”

The two month long project cost the church $43,000 Herrin said.

“I am so thankful for all the people that contributed to this and did it. It is so great to have deacons who will take a project and just run with it,” he said. “It looks wonderful. Beautiful, golden, shiny. I think it does its job. It points people to Christ and that is all we can ask.”

Goodwill EPC (N.Y.) mourns two members lost in Mississippi military plane crash


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Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins (left) and Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden (right).

Two of the 16 U.S. service members killed when a U.S. military plane crashed in Mississippi in July were members of Goodwill Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, N.Y. Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins, 34, and Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden, 31, were serving in the U.S. Marine Corps when the KC-130 refueling tanker crashed July 10 near Itta Bena, Miss., about 85 miles north of Jackson.

John Torres, Pastor of Goodwill EPC, said the two Marines were well-respected members of the congregation.

“Josh was faithful in his attendance, and Mark was also very active in the church,” he said, noting that Hopkins was “very well known in his unit as a strong Christian. Mark fostered a sense of community wherever he went, and my prayer is that as a church we will honor him by modeling that as we minister to his family.”

He said Snowden, a Texas native, “always had a bit of home in him, whether it was his hat or his truck. Words can’t express how much these men will be missed—not only by their families of course, but by our church.”

Torres said Brian Hill, EPC Chaplain and Pastor of the nearby Circleville (N.Y.) Evangelical Presbyterian Church, also has been ministering to the community following the accident.

“I am so thankful for Brian, who has been helping the families and community here,” Torres said.  “I think this tragedy has reminded us that our soldiers don’t have to be deployed to be in harm’s way, so I pray that all of our military chaplains would be in the best possible position to minister on their respective bases.”

Snowden is survived by his parents, one sister, and four brothers. Click here for a full obituary notice.

Hopkins is survived by his wife, Patricia, and three children: Wyatt, 2, Abby, 1, and Lewis, 5 months. Click here for a full obituary notice.

The aircraft was part of the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452 based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y. The squadron is a reserve unit of the U.S. Marine Corps. At the time of the accident, the flight from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina was transporting personnel and equipment to Naval Air Field El Centro, Calif.

Transitional Pastor call approved by 37th General Assembly


Creation of a new called position of Transitional Pastor was adopted by the EPC 37th General Assembly on June 22 at Fair Oaks Church in Sacramento, Calif. The action not only created and defined the Transitional Pastor position, but also clarified the role of Stated Supply Pastor in Section 10-7 of the Book of Government regarding temporary pastoral relationships.

Jerry Iamurri, EPC Assistant Stated Clerk and former member of the Ministerial Vocation Committee, noted that the committee worked to more accurately reflect the role of an interim pastor in the life of both a local church and the EPC.

“The committee recommended changing the title of Interim Pastor to Transitional Pastor because it more accurately defines the task, and further establishes the role as a ‘call’ from the Session of a church,” Iamurri said.

The provisions of the call state that a Transitional Pastor:

  • Is called by the Session to serve a congregation while it is seeking a pastor.
  • Intentionally leads the congregation toward greater health and readiness for their next pastor.
  • Will ordinarily be appointed by the presbytery to moderate the Session during his or her time of service.
  • Would retain membership in his or her home presbytery, if different from that in which the call is located.
  • Are introduced to the receiving presbytery and enrolled as a corresponding member (voice but no vote) upon approval of the Ministerial Committee.

In addition, those called from outside the EPC would be examined by the presbytery and transferred according to applicable provisions of the Book of Government.

The Ministerial Vocation Committee will oversee the training, certification, and ongoing support of Transitional Pastors.

In clarifying the Stated Supply position, the action allows churches that do not want a transitional pastor to still invite a minister to serve as Stated Supply, and for ministers from outside the EPC to serve as Stated Supply pastors without transferring their ordination to the EPC.

In related actions, the Assembly approved four amendments to the Book of Government:

  • Adjusted the wording in two sections related to the term of service for an out-of-bounds call to reflect that such term is renewable for up to three years. The amendment brings the two passages into alignment, limits the length of an out-of-bounds term to three years (with permission to continue renewable), and gives presbyteries discretion to set a shorter term.
  • A presbytery may authorize its Ministerial Committee to serve as a judicial or administrative commission, or be appointed as an ongoing administrative commission. The action allows the committee to dissolve pastoral relationships and dismiss Teaching Elders (according to the EPC Book of Order) when both the congregation and the Pastor concur; approve temporary pastoral relationships; review terms of call or invitations for all pastoral relationships (excluding out-of-bounds) to ensure that the terms meet the minimum established standards; ordain and/or install Teaching Elders in accordance with provisions in the Book of Government; and appoint advisors for Candidates Under Care and mentors for Commissioned Pastors.
  • Added the Transitional Pastor as a recognized pastoral relationship for Teaching Elders in a congregational setting.
  • Clarified that a Session may call a Teaching Elder as Assistant Pastor or Transitional Pastor, and is authorized to invite a Teaching Elder as Stated Supply Pastor or Occasional Supply Pastor—all of which must be approved by the presbytery since they involve a Teaching Elder.

#epc2017ga

Longtime EPC pastor Bob Hopper dies at 65


BobHopperRobert D. “Bob” Hopper passed away suddenly on Monday, June 12, in Elyria, Ohio. He was 65. At the time of his death he was serving as Transitional Pastor for Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, Ohio.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Hopper graduated from Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., in 1973, where he met his future wife, Tacey (Keller), in the freshman orientation line. They were married in the Grove City College Chapel in January 1974. The Hoppers both later graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Mass.

Bob began full-time vocational ministry in 1977 as a pastor in the United Presbyterian Church, where he served for four years, and then spent fourteen years as a pastor and church planter in the Presbyterian Church in America. In the EPC, he served 11 years as pastor of North Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Wexford, Pa., and later served interim roles as Transitional Pastor for First Presbyterian Church in Fresno, Calif.; Southport Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Ind.; Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kan.; and Central Presbyterian Church in St Louis, Mo.

The Hoppers’ ministry extended to the Byerzhitsa Church in Bryansk, Russia, where they have participated in short-term projects for more than 20 years—including orphanage ministry and helping with the construction of several of church plants of the Byerzhitsa congregation. Bob also was involved in numerous mentoring and discipleship activities, including serving as an EPC Transitional Pastor coach/mentor, an NRA Firearms Training Counselor, and a certified SIG SAUER Master Firearms Instructor.

His favorite pastimes were spending time with his family, and shooting with family and friends. He also was an avid Pittsburgh Pirates fan.

He is survived by his wife, Tacey; daughter and son-in-law Jessie and Aaron Zacek of Prospect, N.Y.; son and daughter-in-law Seth and Lacy Hopper of Indianapolis, Ind.; son Luke Hopper of Fort Campbell, Ky.; and eight grandchildren: Abigail, Joshua, Madeline, Samantha, and Nathaniel Zacek, and Mikayla, Angela, and Tyler Hopper.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, June 18, at North Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Bob’s memory to further the ministry of the Byerzhitsa Church—all donations should be made out to North Park Church with “Bryansk” on the memo line.

Click here for a full obituary notice.