Category Archives: Pastors

Bob Stauffer named National Director of Church Health

 

Bob Stauffer

Bob Stauffer, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, has been named the EPC’s National Director of Church Health. This new role at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando will oversee the denomination’s strategic priority of Church Revitalization.

“I am excited to serve the EPC in this capacity of helping churches better understand how they can be healthy congregations,” Stauffer said. “We are already developing plans for a church health structure both nationally and within each Presbytery to give the entire process ‘rails to run on’ in the areas of evangelism, church health, and transitional pastorates.”

A member of the EPC’s first ordination class in 1982, Stauffer has served in a wide variety of roles in his 40 years of ministry. Among these are Associate Pastor of NorthPark EPC in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Planting Pastor of Carmel Valley EPC in San Diego, Calif.; Pastor of Tabernacle EPC in Youngstown, Ohio; Planting Pastor of Gateway EPC in Slippery Rock, Pa.; and several transitional pastorates. He also served as the EPC’s National Outreach Director; Church Development Coordinator for the Presbytery of the Alleghenies; a Church Health leader for Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic’s GO Center; and Regional Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. For the past 34 years he also has served as a high school baseball and strength and conditioning coach.

“I am thrilled that Bob is leading this critical effort in the life of the EPC,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “Those who know Bob know that his passion for the local church to be everything God has called her to be as the Bride of Christ is infectious. In addition, his vast experience helping churches all across the EPC through the revitalization process will be a tremendous benefit to the entire denomination.”

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Stauffer is a graduate of Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., and Pittsburgh (Pa.) Theological Seminary. He also holds a doctorate from Reformed Theological Seminary.

He and his wife, Debbie, have been married for 42 years and have three children—all involved in ministry—and eight grandchildren.

Hurricane Ida leaves communities, EPC churches in state of ‘relief, recovery, rebuild’

 

by Bill Crawford
Pastor, First Presbyterian Churches of Houma, La., and Thibodaux, La.

Bill Crawford

It’s been an amazing, intense, depressing, and glorious two weeks. Sunday, August 29, will sit in a long history of devastating storms as one of the most catastrophic storms ever recorded. I know as my family and I watched from the windows of First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux. I could see the power of the storm, but I had no concept of the scope. As we woke up and walked out on the streets of Thibodaux it was like people walking into Oz. We discovered that the loud noise we heard in the night was the collapse of a brick building downtown. Eventually we traveled home to find our home surrounded by broken trees but mostly intact.

It was typical of Thibodaux that we immediately started clearing trees. We spent an hour cutting a hole through my neighbor’s driveway so he could evacuate. That began the slow process of coming to grip with the truth that it wasn’t just us. Thibodaux and Houma are at the heart of a storm that left a trail of power outages from Morgan City—35 miles west of us—to Mobile, Ala.—200 miles east of us.

Yet, to our amazement the assistance began to roll in from those who were also without power. I can’t mention every church and person who dove in and helped us, but First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge—in the person of TE Whitney Alexander—has been steadfast. We know he represents the whole staff and congregation.

The churches of the entire Gulf Coast have been amazing. Help poured in from Houston; Monroe, Covington, and New Orleans, La.; a nonprofit called Advancing the Call Together (ACT) from Ohio; the EPC Office of the General Assembly in Orlando; and from individuals from several states outside Louisiana. Pastors came with lay people like Korey Duncan organizing trips, and Nathan Edwards crawling in the dirt to fix our pipes. Will Shirley, Parks Lanier, and others came representing so many congregations. We were blessed to see brothers and sisters in the Methodist and even Catholic believers. Our cup runs over.

Damage from Hurricane Ida in Thibodaux, La. (Photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

The last two weeks have been a joint effort of those above, a small group of volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux, community leaders, and—simply put—personal friends old and new. We have seen God move through the generosity of the Presbytery, local people, friends, family, and strangers from across the country.

Many individuals and congregations have made contributions for us to make sure we could meet expenses and meet needs. Thank you! By your gifts we’ve been able to do some amazing things.

We’ve paid to tarp three homes that had no available person to do it. Through a food pantry at First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux (FPCT) we have served 150 distinct households representing 554 people—in just the first 10 days after the storm. With the work of ACT we have helped serve 1,500 hot meals in Point Aux Chene (about an hour south of Thibodaux in the bayou)—where with your donations we set up a satellite relief warehouse larger than the one in Thibodaux. We’ve given food, water, and gasoline to hundreds of residents in the Point Aux Chene area, and built connections with the Dardar Indians and the local Fire Department.

I have to share one heartbreaking story. One of our deacons has an adult son with special needs. We discovered one of her son’s friends, who also has special needs, a few days ago. He was home alone with his dog, where he rode out the storm in a closet because his caretakers had abandoned him. Our deacon is currently housing both young men in her two-bedroom home, and we are providing some funds so she can buy enough groceries.

In addition to financial support, volunteers have helped clean out two houses and moved members’ furniture into First Presbyterian Church of Houma. The church facility is currently closed due to its own damage and loss of power and water, so we are using it as temporary storage.

Today (Monday, September 13) we are helping two widows pack up anything salvageable before we rip their homes to the studs. We are in a race against time with Tropical Storm Nicholas bearing down on us with the potential for heavy rain over the next few days.

Relief, Recovery, Rebuild

So what is next? The three Rs of a disaster are Relief (meet the basic needs of daily survival), Recovery (save the valuables that cannot be replaced and mitigate further damage), and Rebuild (help people rebuild their lives).

Damage from Hurricane Ida is providing an almost unlimited avenue for ministry in South Louisiana. (Photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

We are wrapping up the relief phase, which I have never seen happen so quickly. We have more than enough water. We have more than enough food (although hot food is a value). Gasoline has gone from a one-hour wait to almost no lines in Thibodaux. But further south, those down the bayou are catching up. By your gifts we have delivered more than 200 gallons of gas into Point Aux Chene. We have used about that in Houma and Thibodaux.

Recovery is going to be a heavy lift. As we say, “We’re all in the pot.” My home is still without power, and I am living at my neighbor’s house. I put the cook team in my house this week thanks to a generator generously provided from folks in west Louisiana. I might move home next week. But literally everyone has damage. We have only two members in the two congregations who have power. Several moved home, their generators failed, and they’ve moved back out. The damage is just astounding. I can drive for three hours in one direction without leaving this zone. As I go south it just gets worse and worse.

As you try to help us, please be patient. We can likely only handle one group at a time for now. Saturdays may be the best time, but we can’t handle all of you at once! There’s plenty of work—we’re literally surrounded by it—but knowing where to point you takes time and planning. It’s a 50-mile congregational parish and we’re all in the pot!

Further out is the next phase to help rebuild several homes. We will need skilled labor for that work. It will have to be a collaborative effort and will require an entrepreneurial attitude and an adventurous spirit.

I don’t even know what else is going on in the world, but for the last two weeks we’ve been living in the eye of the storm. We are grateful that the Eye of the Lord is on the sparrow and that He watches us to the point that He knows the hairs of our heads!

This is a long report, but it is written out of a sense of amazement and joy. There is so much work to do; so many stories to tell. Each day full and each night restful. Clarity comes in the storm. What matters most is made crystal clear. But clarity comes and grows each day as we experience relief, recovery, and are rebuilt by the Holy Spirit.

God bless you all—we love you and we thank you.

TE Bill Crawford

Secure online donations to help with recovery efforts can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

Prayer requested for COVID-stricken Georgia church

 

“Hear our prayers, O Lord, and raise up our brother and sister for the glory of Jesus our Lord.”

Walter Turner

Please pray for the congregation at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Rome, Ga. A member of the Session contracted COVID-19 and died last week. Covenant’s Pastor, Walter Turner, has COVID and is on a ventilator in a Rome hospital. His wife, Margaret, also has COVID and is resting at home.

Let us join hearts and voices in prayer for the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church, and for Walter and Margaret Turner.

Louisiana EPC church members suffer ‘total loss’ from Hurricane Ida

 

Hurricane Ida left downtown Thibodaux, La., strewn with bricks and rubble. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Reports of damage to EPC church buildings and congregation members’ homes resulting from Hurricane Ida continue to emerge in the days following the storm’s August 29 landfall in Louisiana.

Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux, La., said several families in the congregation suffered “total losses.”

“One of our losses is just crippling,” he said. “She in her 50s, uninsured, and her husband died in December. Another family lives out in the bayou and it’s really bad.”

Crawford reported that he and his family were staying in the home of a church member who had evacuated and has a generator.

“My home has two trees that have fallen over the fence and are hanging on the neighbor’s power line, so I’m leaving them alone,” he said. “My roof has shingles missing everywhere, the garage roof is leaking, and the tarp I put over the damage is leaking. Thankfully it’s only over the garage, and so many people here are dealing with much worse. Some of these folks are just beside themselves trying to figure out what’s next.”

This home of a church member suffered significant damage. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Crawford said the church building escaped major damage.

“Structurally, the church building in Thibodaux is sound. The building has always had leaking issues, but they have been mitigated and we are good there,” he reported, adding that he and his family are using the church as a makeshift relief center.

“We are set up for relief and giving out supplies in the dark—but what’s how we roll around here,” he said. “For now it’s me and my family because the members of the church are dealing with stuff too. We have received an initial load of supplies from the Presbytery, and even though we are not advertising we’ve had about 30 households come through and pick up bottled water, tarps, and other things.”

Crawford also serves as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Houma, La., about 15 miles south of Thibodaux.

Bill Crawford

“The ridge cap blew off the roof of the church building on Houma, and there are leaks all over,” he said. “Bricks are on the roof, but they are not our bricks. If I can’t get the insurance folks over I’ll have to figure something out. As for our members, everyone is just coping. For the most part, people either evacuated or are in serious trouble. The big problem we are going to face is mildew—this is South Louisiana, so we are literally in a swamp.”

He said one family who lives in a trailer home “has a hole in their roof and no tarp” while another was “completely flooded when water overtopped the levee. Another family lost everything—they are in Florida now.”

The courtyard entrance for First Presbyterian Church in Houma was littered with roofing shingles and other debris. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Amid the devastation, Crawford noted that the area is “one of the most churched places in America. There are so many good Christians here jumping in to help—we are blessed.”

Northeast flooding

The news is better in the Presbytery of the East, where the remnants of Ida delivered heavy rains, flooding, and tornadoes across a wide area of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

Glenn Marshall, Pastor of Park Avenue Community Church in Somerdale, N.J., said his congregation escaped significant damage.

“We are all fine,” Marshall reported. “We had storms all around us. One family who lives in Mantua Township had a tornado close to them, but they are thankfully unscathed.”

Mantua Township is about 4 miles from Mullica Hill, N.J., where a confirmed EF-3 tornado with 150 mph top winds destroyed numerous houses on September 1.

About 80 miles north in Kearny, N.J., Pastor Valdir Reis said the Closer to God Evangelical Presbyterian Church building’s basement flooded, but the members of the congregation fared well.

“Thankfully, so far no one has reported any loss or anything serious following the storm,” Reis reported by email on September 3. “There were members with minor leaks but that was all taken care of and everyone is healthy as far as we know.”

In the northern portion of Brooklyn, N.Y., Pastor Jamison Galt said many parishioners of Resurrection Clinton Hill had flooded basements, “but nothing worse. We are grateful.”

About 5 miles south, Brian Steadman said parishioners of his congregation had their homes elevated as part of their recovery from Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge in 2012, and only experienced minor issues. Steadman is Pastor of Resurrection Park Slope in Brooklyn.

Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk, said he has been in contact with church and Presbytery leaders across the affected areas.

“Several churches in the Presbytery of the Gulf South are coordinating relief efforts and work teams,” Weaver said. “As they assess the situation and start to be able to host volunteers, we will get that information out. In the meantime, we are accepting donations to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund to help with immediate needs. We’ve been told the most pressing items are fuel, tarps, bottled water, and Gatorade.”

Secure online donations can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

Back in Louisiana, Crawford said they would continue to distribute relief supplies as they are delivered and looks forward to hosting work teams as soon as they can.

“At this point, we are just chugging along and accomplishing tasks,” he said. “We are a really small congregation and it’s a bit overwhelming. I can’t imagine how those with a large group are keeping up with everyone. Just knowing our EPC friends are praying for us and that they care is a huge comfort.”

Deerfield EPC celebrates sanctuary’s 250th anniversary

 

There are only a handful of churches that can claim they worship in a sanctuary built five years before the American Revolution.

When the Jersey Sandstone building of Deerfield Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton, N.J., was constructed in 1771, the “Founding Fathers” were young men. George Washington was 39 years old. John Adams was 36. Thomas Jefferson was 28. James Madison was 20. Alexander Hamilton was 16.

As it has for the past 250 years, the building stands as a testament of its members’ faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Though Deerfield’s sanctuary was built in 1771, the church has been part of the surrounding community since its founding in 1737 by Scottish immigrants. The church—which celebrates its 284th anniversary this year—is about 50 miles south of Philadelphia, Pa.

On August 8, about 90 current and past members gathered to celebrate God’s work through the church over nearly three centuries. The occasion also marked the completion of repairs and upgrades to the building that included a laborious restoration of the sandstone exterior, a new cedar-shingle roof, lightning protection, and other projects.

Ken Larter, Deerfield’s pastor since 2002 and the church’s longest-serving minister, said the congregation originally met in a log cabin near the site of the existing sanctuary. Led by the church’s second pastor, Enoch Green, the congregation completed the sandstone sanctuary shortly before the Revolutionary War. Larter added that in addition to being a pastor, Green “was instrumental in getting the congregation behind the revolutionary cause. In a sermon that he preached from our sanctuary, he was basically recruiting men for the revolutionary army.”

Ken Larter

Larter said Green served as a chaplain with the men who were recruited.

“Unfortunately, he caught camp fever when he was with George Washington’s troops and came back ill to this area, dying fairly young.” Camp fever—or Toxoplasmosis—is an infection that usually occurs by eating undercooked, contaminated meat.

Another notable Deerfield pastor was John Brainerd, brother of celebrated missionary David Brainerd.

“David Brainerd, if you remember your Colonial church history, was a missionary to the Native American Indians,” Larter said. “Unfortunately, he contracted tuberculosis and died quite young in the home of Jonathan Edwards. John Brainerd, his brother, was able to carry on David’s work and was minister at Deerfield for three years before he died in 1781.”

John Brainerd, Enoch Green, and a third minister from the era, Simeon Hyde, are buried side-by-side just outside Deerfield’s sanctuary.

Larter explained that in the 1700s, a deceased minister would sometimes be laid to rest under the sanctuary. This was done for Green and Brainerd, but their remains were later reinterred on either side of Hyde just outside the church building.

“In the very oldest part of the graveyard, in the space occupied by the old log cabin church, burials go back to the early 1700s. Then, directly across the street from the sanctuary, there are graves primarily from the 19th and 20th centuries. And a tenth of a mile away, in what is called the triangle, are 20th and 21st-century burials. So the church is surrounded by those who have belonged to us in times past,” he said.

As for the present and future, Larter noted that Deerfield remains committed to the authority of Scripture and the truth of the gospel.

“I think what is important is the very fact the congregation has survived for going on 300 years. That survival is ultimately tied to its commitment to the authority of Scripture and the historic Christian gospel,” Larter said. “Churches in so many places have compromised again and again on the essentials of the faith, but the theological heritage of the church remains solidly Bible-based and evangelical. I believe that is why the Lord has allowed us to stay here for so long.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Central Presbyterian Church models ‘parent, partner, patron’ in church planting efforts

 

The goal of the EPC Church Planting Team is “to cultivate a culture where church planting is embraced, encouraged, and celebrated by all EPC churches.” Central Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Ala., has embraced this goal and believes that the heart of church planting is making new disciples.

Randy Jenkins

Randy Jenkins serves as Central’s Pastor, and also leads the church planting network for the Presbytery of the Central South. What began as a committee for church planting has grown into a network of people and churches who are passionate about church planting and see it as an indicator of the future.

“When people see church planting and understand it, it is very, very exciting,” Jenkins said. “Church planters are the tip of the spear of the EPC. They are on the cutting edge of doing new ministries in a different way and helping the rest of us learn what it means and how to apply it.”

The EPC’s church planting strategy has been a combination of recruiting and leadership diagnostics. The church planting networks are trying to develop a pipeline of church planters that they then mentor, assist with fundraising, and support through the process.

“I am the guy who facilitates church planters and helps them raise money,” Jenkins said, explaining his role in the process. “Because they are our investment, we are trying hard to pick the right people.”

He recalled that when CPC joined the EPC in 2007, his new colleagues stressed the importance of church planting. Jenkins knew church planting was not his specific calling, but that did not lessen his excitement.

“I like success,” Jenkins admitted, “and if I can’t do it, then I want someone else to do it. And we’re talking about the Kingdom. I want to see them achieve for the Kingdom.”

As he began talking with the congregation about church planting, they expressed a willingness to invest. They started by partnering with existing church plants. Eventually, Central became a parent of Chelsea Presbyterian Church in suburban Birmingham, about 100 miles south of Huntsville.

Returns on investment

James and Larissa Daniels

James Daniels was a “parachute drop” into Chelsea. Daniels came from the education field and didn’t have years of experience as a pastor. Yet as CPC began to see Daniels’ vision for the community, they also began to see the realization of their investment of time and money in the process that started years earlier.

“We didn’t really understand what it means to be a parent, but that is exactly what it is,” Jenkins said. “It’s like delivering a baby who at first spends most of its time eating and sleeping. But one day it wakes up and needs lots of care and lots of time and supervision.”

While CPC continues to play an active role in the strategy of planting churches, it also provides structure that is crucial to existing church planters in a variety of ways.

Kirk Adkisson, planting pastor of All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., said his relationship with Jenkins and CPC has been “nothing short of amazing.”

Kirk and Deb Adkisson

“Under Randy’s leadership, CPC stepped in and provides accounting and bookkeeping services for us. I can’t overstate what a gift this is,” Adkisson said. “This gives us the freedom from some of the basic financial tasks and more time for other essential components of church planting.”

Jenkins noted that financial tasks, including fund raising, are a key factor in a plant’s success—with undercapitalization as the biggest hindrance to church planting. Without the funds in place, church planters must balance their time between fundraising and ministry. This is where the networks step in with more structure.

“We encourage our church planters to have $100,000 in the bank before doing anything else, Jenkins explained. “If your energies are spent on making sure you have enough money to exist, then that is a problem. CPC is very generous financially and always ready to be involved when it comes to giving to a church plant.”

Tom Ricks, leader of EPC Church Planting Team, ascribes CPC’s generosity to Jenkins.

“Some people are that influential with their congregation, and Randy has a great track record with his people,” Ricks said. “He has led them in a Christlike manner. When he stands in the pulpit and says that we have a great opportunity here, his people listen and follow. The relational capital that he has with his congregation has been put to use for church planting.”

Wide geographic reach

In addition to Chelsea and All Souls, CPC partners with Quest Church in New Braunfels, Texas; The Table in Little Rock, Ark.; The Table Project in Denver, Colo.; and a non-EPC plant, St. Patrick Church in Cedar Park, Texas. These church plants cover a wide range of geography and demographics—from suburban “Bible Belt” to suburban/urban transitional, to western suburban where religion does not play a prominent role in the community.

Tom Ricks

Ricks loves that CPC is willing to support church plants outside its own Presbytery.

“I love the diversity of the church plants that CPC is supporting” Ricks said. “They couldn’t be more different, and I love that. We need more of that diversity.”

CPC’s generosity and connection involves much more than finances. Each of the church planters that Central partners with highlighted the importance of the spiritual support they have received.

In Nashville, sent a mission team to assist with clean-up and distributing supplies to the neighborhood residents after a March 2020 tornado hit the largely under-resourced community that All Souls serves.

In Chelsea, CPC members routinely dropped in to attend worship services prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Some from CPC stop and visit as they are passing through to lend moral support—sometimes physical support—and to see what God is doing here,” Daniels said.

Mark and Stacey Grapengater

Mark Grapengater, Pastor of The Table Project in Denver, described Central as having “a real Kingdom mindset.”

“Their ministry for church planting extends well beyond Huntsville,” he said. “That posture is key for us as church planters. Randy and the church always make sure we have everything we need.”

Investing where God is moving

Central dedicated 8 percent of its total budget to church planting in 2020—evidence that the congregation shares Jenkins’ enthusiasm.

“If your mission is only within your own four walls, you won’t be there very long,” Jenkins warned. “If you see the vision for the gospel moving forward both locally and in other areas, you want to invest where God is moving. God is moving in church planters.”

Jenkins acknowledged that church planting can be lonely and stressful, and emphasized that CPC wants to “walk alongside the planters” and remove as much of that burden as possible so they can be caring, welcoming, and opening doors to relationships.

“Church planters are taking people from that secular point, with no knowledge of Christianity, and speaking simply to them so that they will understand,” he noted. “Church planters love to see eyes open, and people begin to believe and grow in faith. If we can help make this happen, we want to help them any way we can.”

Ricks said the denomination’s goal is that every EPC congregation is involved in some aspect of church planting. He said he will “continually be shooting for every church, no matter the size, to participate in being a parent, partner, or patron.”

“Randy and CPC exemplify a congregation that gets this, and the congregation gets it because Randy gets it,” Ricks said., “If I could have a ‘poster child’ for what I believe is a great attitude for church planting, it would be Randy.”

For more information about EPC church planting, see www.epc.org/churchplanting or contact Ricks at tom@greentreechurch.com.

by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath
EPConnection correspondent

Michael Davis named EPC Chief Collaborative Officer

 

Michael Davis

Michael Davis, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Central South, has been named the EPC’s Chief Collaborative Officer. This new role at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando encompasses strategic leadership with particular emphasis on strategic priorities and senior leaders; collaborative networking at all levels of the denomination; and development and innovation with a focus on missional “best practices.” Davis begins his responsibilities on August 2.

“Michael’s primary responsibilities will be to identify where God is at work inside and outside of the EPC, and help connect and network ministries, Presbyteries, and congregations to the missio dei in order that we might fulfill the EPC’s mission,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk.

Since 2017, Davis has served as Associate Teaching Pastor for Downtown Church in Memphis, Tenn. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor for Memphis City Seminary. He previously served as an adjunct instructor for the Memphis Center of Urban Theological Studies, Assistant Pastor to Young Adults at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, and Chaplain for Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis.

“I am incredibly energized and excited to be the Chief Collaborative Officer for our denomination,” Davis said. “This potential for innovation and collaboration will cultivate a thriving, gospel-driven denomination that will see fruit for years to come. God has provided our denomination with an abundance of opportunities that will benefit our communities, nation, and the world all for the glory of God. It is an amazing honor to serve in this capacity.”

Davis is a graduate of the University of Missouri in Columbia and Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He has served as the Board Chairman for Advance Memphis since 2015, and also is on the Boards of a variety of Memphis-area ministries, including Service Over Self, Presbyterian Day School, The Center for Executive Leadership, and Memphis City Seminary. He has served on the EPC’s Church Planting Team, Next Generation Ministries Council, and Presbytery of the Central South Ministerial Committee.

He and his wife, Serena, have two children. Their third child is due in late November.

Brad Strait elected Moderator of 41st General Assembly

 

Brad Strait, Senior Pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colo., was elected Moderator of the EPC’s 41st General Assembly on June 23.

In his opening remarks, Strait noted that as a teenager he became a Christian in “one of the very first EPC churches as the EPC was being formed.”

“I grew up really not knowing anything but the fact that there is this denomination called the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which stands for something,” he said. Later as a young businessman, Strait began serving in volunteer ministry leadership roles at the urging of Irv Rinehart, Moderator of the EPC’s second General Assembly.

Brad Strait (left) receives the Moderator’s cross and stole from Glenn Meyers, Moderator of the 40th General Assembly. (photo credit: Scott Wiest)

“I said yes, and that became a piece of what I did,” he said. “God blessed the whole church, and some of that excess flowed into our ministry. Eventually I was asked to leave the business world and become a pastor.”

He reported to the Assembly that he and his wife, Cathy, spent a week in fasting and prayer over the decision. “We heard nothing from God,” Strait confessed. “So as a step of faith I said, ‘let’s start walking this out and see what God tells us.’ He confirmed it, and the fact that the path has led here is completely overwhelming.”

Strait led the Assembly in a recitation of Psalm 119:68, “God, you are good. All you do is good. Show us your way.”

“I believe God is good, and everything He does is good,” Strait declared. “Which means the last year is good. And the next year will be good. And even if there is great difficulty and struggle and suffering ahead of us—and my brothers and sisters, I believe the world is going to get harder, not easier—the key is: will we find His way? Lord, show us what it is that you are doing that is good. That is my hope for the future. And that is my hope for the EPC.”

Strait has more than 30 years of pastoral experience, and also teaches at Denver Theological Seminary in both Leadership and Spiritual Formation. He served as a grief counselor following the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the Aurora Theater tragedy in 2012, and the 2004 tsunami in south India. He has taught the Bible around the world and worked in refugee camps of Central America, South America, Africa, and Asia. He also has served as Chaplain for the Colorado House of Representatives, the Denver Rescue Mission, and several police and fire departments. He is a former Chairman of the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee and was part of the team that produced the EPC’s Leadership Training Guide: A Resource for Pastors, Elders, and Churches.

He and his wife, Cathy, have been married for 39 years. They have three daughters and three granddaughters.

#epc2021ga

GA worship services focus on Assembly theme of ‘God Will Restore’

 

Worship services are an integral part of the EPC’s General Assembly meeting each year. The 41st GA is no exception, and the worship speakers will speak to the Assembly’s theme, “God Will Restore.” The 41st General Assembly will be held June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., and each of the messages will be available via live stream at www.epc.org/ga2021livestream.

Phil Linton, Director of EPC World Outreach, will speak prior to the opening business session on Wednesday, June 23. His message, “What Comes Before Restoration,” focuses on Philippians 1:1-30. The service begins at 3:15 p.m. (Central).

Jeff Jeremiah, outgoing EPC Stated Clerk, will preach on Wednesday evening, June 23. His message, “God Will Restore,” is based on the Assembly’s theme verse, Joel 2:25-27. An offering will be received for the EPC’s Restore Church Planter Health Fund. Proceeds will fund projects designed to help restore the emotional and spiritual health of EPC church planters in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The service begins at 7:30 p.m. (Central).

George Robertson, Second Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor, will deliver the message at the Morning Worship Service at 9:00 a.m. (Central) on Thursday, June 24. His message, “Encouragement for Ministry in Difficult Places,” is based on Jeremiah 1:13-19. An offering will be received for the EPC’s Restore Pastor Health Fund. As with the Wednesday evening offering, donations will fund projects designed to help restore the emotional and spiritual health of EPC pastors in light of the pandemic. The service begins at 9:00 a.m. (Central).

D.A. Carson will preach in the Global Worker Commissioning Service on Thursday evening, June 24. Carson is Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. His message, “Choosing Your Identity,” is based on Colossians 3:1-17. An offering will be received for the EPC’s Restore Global Worker Health Fund. Proceeds will fund projects designed to help restore the emotional and spiritual health of World Outreach global workers. The service begins at 7:30 p.m. (Central).

Glenn Meyers, Moderator of the 40th General Assembly, will lead the Moderator’s Service of Communion and Prayer at 9:00 a.m. (Central) on Friday, June 25. His message, “Be Aware. Be Transformed. Be Hopeful” focuses on Mark 13:3-13. An offering will be received for the EPC’s Moderator’s Scholarship Fund. Donations provide financial assistance to offset travel costs for ministers and Ruling Elders from smaller EPC churches who otherwise may not be able to attend General Assembly.

Click here for more information about the 41st General Assembly, including daily schedules, business items, and more.

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Church Revitalization Workshop session 7 recording, other resources now available

 

The recording of the final session of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop is now available. “How our identity in Christ, leading change, and overcoming barriers can lead to revitalization” was hosted by Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo. Panelists were:

Recordings of the entire seven-part workshop are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, as well as resources for church and personal revitalization recommended by each of the facilitators. In addition, written summaries of each month’s session are available in Spanish.

Audio podcast versions are available on the EPC’s podcast channel at podcast.epc.org, as well as Spotify and iTunes (search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church”).

Church Revitalization Workshop concludes May 26

 

The EPC’s seven-part virtual Church Revitalization Workshop concludes on Wednesday, May 26, with a discussion of how the believer’s identity in Christ, leading change, and overcoming barriers can lead to revitalization in the local church. Previous installments of the monthly series focused on the revitalization of the Session, the revitalization of the pastor, and revitalizing the congregation through evangelism.

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

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern) and is open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information, recordings of previous sessions, or to register for the final installment, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

Cameron Shaffer: Bethany Christian Services policy change a compromise with sin

 

Cameron Shaffer

In the 1980s, the EPC endorsed and commended Bethany Christian Services (BCS), a Christian adoption and child services organization, to our congregations as a valuable resource for assisting orphaned children. We did this in the shadow of abortion: if we were to condemn abortion as evil and murder, then we needed to be able to step up and help children who were not wanted. Of course, that is not the only reason to support adoption—caring for orphans and other vulnerable children is what true Christianity looks like. But in the face of abortion, the value of adoption is made clear. Life is better than death; healing is better than harm.

In 2019, the EPC began reevaluating our endorsement of BCS when they changed their policy in Michigan (where they are headquartered) to allow gay couples to adopt. The decision followed a lawsuit brought by the ACLU that jeopardized BCS’ contract with the state’s Department of Human Services. At the time, BCS maintained the national policy that marriage is between one man and woman. Outside of Michigan, BCS would not place children for adoption with gay couples. Fast-forward to March 2021, when BCS announced that they would be changing their national policy and begin placing children with same-sex couples.

As a result of these decisions, the EPC’s Theology Committee will bring a recommendation to the 41st General Assembly in June to rescind the denomination’s endorsement of BCS.

Any honest observer would interpret the approval of that recommendation as the EPC believing it is better for a child to be stuck in the foster system than adopted by a gay couple, or that we think being aborted is better than living in a home parented by two dads.

Why would the EPC dissolve this long-standing relationship? Why not place children with gay couples? Why refuse to support adoption agencies that do so?

The answer is how the Bible defines the terms being used. Specific to the EPC’s endorsement of BCS: what is family, who decides, and into what are children being adopted?

When BCS changed their national policy, they also dropped from their position statement that God’s design for marriage is between one man and one woman. If their previous affirmation—and the historic position of Orthodox Christianity—is correct, then a gay couple is not married, no matter what the law recognizes. We may refer to them as married for the sake of social convention, but conformity to the biblical nature of marriage is necessary for it to be marriage. No matter how loving, caring, and committed a gay couple is, they are not married in any biblical, and therefore real, sense of the word.

Our culture has redefined human identity and institutions in terms of its own preferences and sense of fulfillment. Yet biblical truth declares that families require parents. Husbands and wives are to be the father and mother of their family. Families are fathers and mothers together with their children. Multigenerational families are just that: multiple generations of children with their fathers and mothers.

Of course, some families are broken in different ways: divorce, death, adultery, abuse. Sin of all kinds distorts the blessing of God’s design for marriage and family. In all these cases, children are the victims of sinful disfigurements of God’s design for marriage and family. An internet search on the effects of single parent households on children reveals study after study that reinforce biblical truth: Children need both fathers and mothers.

Adoption is intended to be a means by which parentless, family-less children are joined to a family that can be the father and mother that their biological parents cannot. Adoption is to be a balm of healing to the injuries of sin. Children need parents, and parents are fathers and mothers. Other caregivers can be good and helpful, but the foster system with its inherent lack of stability also lacks the permanent family unit.

Do children need families? Yes. Do children need fathers and mothers? Yes. However, children adopted by a gay couple are not being protected from sinful distortions of marriage and family. Rather, they are placed into a sinful facsimile of them.

The EPC withdrawing its endorsement from BCS is the Church signaling that it cannot condone an agency willing to place children in couples that are not families.

Undoubtedly, many same-sex couples are more caring than some fathers and mothers. Many children adopted by gay couples have better lives with them than they would in the foster system. But those observations mask adoption’s design. Adoption is not for getting kids out of the foster system, or for finding the kindest caretakers. Its purpose is to join children to families.

The church should care for the physical and mental wellbeing of children. But its primary calling is to care for their spiritual wellbeing. The spiritual nurture of children includes raising them to love and obey God as He is revealed in Scripture. A same-sex couple in an inherently sinful, distorted relationship is intrinsically unable to do so.

Is withdrawing endorsement from BCS the Church abandoning children? No. Numerous   Christian adoption agencies still hold to God’s design in where they place children. In 2019, BCS changed their policy in Michigan following court battles, but a federal judge there later sided with Catholic groups that refused to accede to Michigan’s demands. The truth is that BCS abandoned their fellow Christian adoption agencies when they abandoned the Scriptural definition of family.

Individual Christian families are still able to adopt through BCS—which is a good thing. But a family adopting a child is different from a Church endorsing an agency whose desperation to avoid legal consequences leads to a compromise with sin.

God’s design for children is for them to be raised in a family. By the biblical definition of “family,” same-sex couples are not it. That standard should be what the EPC and Christian adoption agencies follow in caring for orphans.

Cameron Shaffer is a member of the EPC’s permanent Theology Committee. He serves as Pastor of Langhorne Presbyterian Church in Langhorne, Pa., in the Presbytery of the East.

Session 6 recording of Church Revitalization Workshop now available

 

The recording of the sixth monthly session of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop is now available. “The Revitalization of the Congregation, Part 2: Revitalization Through Worship” was hosted by Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo. Panelists were:

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, and on the EPC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Audio podcast versions of each session of the workshop are available on the EPC’s podcast channel at podcast.epc.org, as well as Spotify and iTunes (search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church”).

A South Memphis matriarch’s home burned down. Her community—including the EPC’s Downtown Church—rebuilt it

 

Betty Isom’s Memphis, Tenn., home was severely damaged in a 2018 fire. With help from neighbors and church family at Downtown Church, her home was rebuilt. Photo credits: WMC5 Action News (left); Ariel Cobbert, The Commercial Appeal (right).

Betty Isom was fast asleep when the fire started.

Her grandson woke her up in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2018, alerting her to the blaze, later determined to be an electrical fire. Isom and her family were not able to douse the fire themselves; the pipes in her home had frozen. It had barely gotten to 25 degrees on New Year’s Eve in Memphis, according to weather records.

The moments after Isom and her family left the house were chaotic. Isom, who hadn’t even had time to grab shoes on her way out, tried to run back inside to get her car keys so the family could sit in the car to escape the cold. She eventually went to her neighbor’s home, but her family feared she had gone back into the house and told firefighters she might be inside.

None of the 10 people who were inside when the fire broke out were injured, but the fire made the home on Tate Street uninhabitable. The Memphis Fire Department said at the time there was at least $10,000 worth of damage to the home and $5,000 worth of damage to the contents, according to reports from WMC Action News 5 and WREG-TV.

Betty Isom sits in the new ministry room that was added when her fire-damaged home was rebuilt. Photo credit: Ariel Cobbert, The Commercial Appeal.

Isom said she had no idea what to do—almost everything in the home was destroyed. They went first to Isom’s daughter’s home, then to an apartment on Tate Street. Her pastor and his wife helped them to get some necessary items, and Isom, in an interview this week, thanked God for the help she received from family and friends.

Now, three years later, Isom’s home has been rebuilt by friends and her spiritual family at Downtown Church.

“My children, they were really upset because we lost everything. I said, ‘Don’t be upset, because one thing about it, we didn’t lose a life. Because you can’t get a life back. Material things you can always get that back,’” she said. “The Lord blessed us…whatever I lost, I regained more than I had.”

Money was donated by members of the church and a member who works in construction was able to call in favors to get the project over the finish line, Pastor Richard Rieves said.

For him and the rest of the congregation, it wasn’t even a question if a new home would be constructed for Isom.

“Because of Betty’s ministry here in the neighborhood, because of what she means to South Memphis, especially Tate Street and just this part of South Memphis, we knew that we needed to get this house rebuilt,” he said.

A matriarch of South Memphis

Isom, 68, was born in Ruleville, Miss., but moved with her family to Memphis when she was a kid. The family settled in LeMoyne Gardens, and she has lived in South Memphis ever since. In 1998, she became the first homeowner in her family when she bought a house on Tate with the assistance of a program administered by the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.

“Betty’s home became known as a haven for people in the community who were homeless, hungry, and hopeless or those who were transitioning and needed an overnight stay and a hot meal,” a church member wrote in a letter honoring Isom at the dedication of her new home.

Described as a matriarch both of her church and her neighborhood, Isom has spent her entire adult life working and volunteering for religious and social services organizations, including Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association and Emmanuel Center.

She’s hosted an anti-violence block party each year in June—except 2020, due to the pandemic— or more than 20 years. The event draws hundreds from across South Memphis; Rieves helped cook 50 pounds of catfish for the party a few years ago.

By 2016, Betty Isom had hosted the annual Tate Street anti-violence block party in South Memphis for 18 years. The community event brings hundreds of local residents and police officers together. “The mayor said to keep going and I told him I wasn’t going to ever stop,” Isom said. Photo credit: Brad Vest, The Commercial Appeal.

Isom is something of a celebrity in her neighborhood. People call out to her when she walks down the street. Many refer to her simply as “momma.” When her new home was dedicated, people from the neighborhood brought over food to help her celebrate. Naturally, she invited everyone from the neighborhood over to share.

She’s fed and housed so many people she’s lost track. People text Isom and stop by her home constantly to reminisce and thank her for what she has done for them and their families.

For her, helping others has been a source of blessings. Everyone needs help at some point, Isom said. And every situation, including the pandemic, is an opportunity to help people, to bring people together.

‘Betty just exudes love’

Isom has moved into the new, one-story house on Tate Street where she lives with extended family. The house was constructed to include a ministry room, with a separate entrance, where she’ll host her Wednesday Bible study and other gatherings.

She said she’s also concerned by an uptick of violence she’s seen in her neighborhood in recent years and hopes she can use the space to host peaceful community gatherings.

Isom credits the congregation at Downtown Church with helping her get through the past three years. Church members helped support her and her family physically and financially. She greets them every Sunday with, “Good morning, Downtown family.”

“I love Downtown Church because we’re all different. And when you go there, everyone just loves on you. It’s amazing,” she said.

Richard Rieves, (in blue vest) leads a prayer before the start of Downtown Church’s worship service at the historic Clayborn Temple. The building was home to Second Presbyterian Church from 1893 to 1949. It was sold to the A.M.E. Church and was the staging ground for the Civil Rights movement in Memphis in the 1960s, including the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike. Photo credit: Jim Weber, The Commercial Appeal.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “1:00 a.m. Sunday is our most segregated hour,” referring to the lack of diversity within churches. Rieves, a native Memphian, said he founded the church after returning from Colorado with the aim of changing that, bringing together people of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

He said Isom represents that spirit. She welcomes everybody into her home and the church. She cares for anyone who needs her help. Rieves said Isom constantly put herself last. She used to sleep in a chair so others would have a bed.

In creating a new home for her, the Downtown Church family was able to serve Isom the way she had served so many others.

“Betty just exudes love. Her ministry, which is really just her life, she just pours out to people in this community and she welcomes everybody. She’s the epitome of what I think Jesus calls us to be and do,” Rieves said.

by Corinne S Kennedy
This story first appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal on April 21, 2021.
Reprinted by permission.

Revitalization through worship the topic of April 28 Church Revitalization Workshop

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, April 28, with a discussion of how to utilize worship as an engine for church revitalization. Previous installments of the monthly series focused on the revitalization of the Session, the revitalization of the pastor, and ways to revitalize the congregation through evangelism.

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

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

2021 Leadership Institute features Ligon Duncan, George Robertson, Rufus Smith, practical training workshops

 

Ligon Duncan, George Robertson, and Rufus Smith are the keynote speakers for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s sixth annual Leadership Institute. The Institute is a strategic component of the EPC’s 41st General Assembly, to be held June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Each of the plenary speakers will address a topic related to this year’s General Assembly theme, “God Will Restore.” The theme is based on God’s promise in Joel 2:25 that He “will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten … You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you … ”

Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., will address “Combating Biblical Anemia: Scripture, Discipleship, Worship, and Preaching” on Tuesday, June 22. His presentation will be available via live stream on the EPC website.

On Wednesday morning, June 23, Robertson will discuss “Soul Care for Pastors.” He serves as Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, host church for the Assembly.

On Wednesday afternoon, Smith will speak about “Kindness that Leads to Reconciliation.” He serves as Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Memphis. Both Wednesday sessions will be available via live stream and include time for Q-and-A.

Four ministry-specific leadership development gatherings will be available for in-person Assembly attendees.

  • Chaplains Workshop, featuring Mike Berry, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas, and Mark Ingles, EPC Chaplain Endorser. Berry will lead sessions on “Why Religious Freedom Matters and What Our Nation’s Founders Intended” and “Threats to Religious Freedom and What We Can Do to Protect It.”
  • Creating Church Planting Networks and Partnerships, led by Tom Ricks, Lead Pastor of Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo., and Chairman of the EPC Church Planting Team.
  • Transitional Pastor Training, led by Bob Stauffer, Church Development Coordinator for the Presbytery of the Alleghenies.
  • The Israel of God, a discussion of the identity of Israel in the biblical narrative—apart from contemporary political considerations—in which God’s purposes for His covenant people as revealed in Scripture will be examined, as well as thoughts on how Christ’s church should respond with compassion and justice to both Israelis and Arabs. The seminar will be led by Mike Kuhn, Missional Theology Specialist for EPC World Outreach’s International Theological Education Network.

Each of these workshops is open to anyone attending the 41st General Assembly in person.

See www.epc.org/ga2021leadershipinstitute for more information on the Leadership Institute, including full seminar descriptions, times, and speaker bios.

See www.epc.org/ga2021 for more information about the 41st General Assembly, including a full schedule, links to online registration, and more.

#epc2021ga

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk models Revelation 7:9 with local outreach efforts

 

A beacon of hope and light sits on the top of a hill in Nassau, Bahamas. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk is a church with a rich history and tradition. It was established in 1810 to bring the rites and traditions of the Church of Scotland to Scottish immigrants—some of whom were “loyalists” banished to the Bahamas following the American Revolution nearly 30 years earlier. But the picturesque, inviting structure houses a congregation that looks very different today than it once did.

“When I arrived at the church in 2010,” said Pastor Bryn MacPhail, “There were about 40 persons attending worship and only two or three children.” He added that the congregation was predominantly white in a country where 90 percent of the population is Black.

“I really believed our church should reflect the diversity of the community around us,” he noted. “I found an orphanage nearby called Ranfurly Home for Children and started volunteering there once a week so I could build a relationship with them.”

Bryn MacPhail

MacPhail also discovered that the church bordered the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhood in the city, known as Bain and Grant’s Town. He began volunteering in a local community center, the Urban Renewal Center, and soon was bringing others from the church with him to play sports, provide tutoring, and take kids to lunch.

“It took a while for people to warm up to us,” MacPhail recalled. “But we kept going, week after week. That went on for a couple of years. Eventually the director of the center told me that most of these kids did not go to church. She suggested that maybe we could find a way to get them there.”

So St. Andrew’s hired a bus and driver, which cost $60 a week. They began driving around the neighborhoods of the inner city, inviting kids to come to church. In the first year and a half, they averaged two to four kids per week on the bus.

Their persistence paid off—eventually the bus filled up with kids from the city, and a second bus was added to bring youth from the Ranfurly Home. On any given Sunday, as many as 50-60 children and youth came for Sunday worship.

MacPhail soon realized that the influx of young people was more than the church could handle, so he asked a local missionary, Bob Mastin, to become the church’s ministry partner. In addition, a St. Andrew’s deacon who had served as Assistant Commissioner of Police stepped in as the point person to help with logistics and to make local connections.

Luncheons for area residents are just one of many ways St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk blesses its neighbors in Nassau.

Mastin, who serves with Bahamas Youth Network, already had a strong rapport with the youth and ran a parallel ministry in Nassau. He had moved to the island in 2017 after several years of visiting on short-term mission trips. As a coach and teacher, his love for youth and passion for sports were natural connection points for helping him relate to inner-city kids.

“My heart is in working with underprivileged kids,” Mastin said. “When I arrived, I was the only white guy in my neighborhood. One day I was out canvassing the streets when the police pulled me over and asked for my ID. They thought I was lost and warned me that I was in a dangerous area. I told them that this is where God had called me and my wife, and we were here to stay because we wanted to help the community in whatever way we could.”

Mastin agreed to partner with St. Andrews while maintaining his commitment to Bahamas Youth Network—which keeps him busy visiting local high schools, coaching soccer, and teaching family life classes.

“We’re all doing this together, and it really is making a huge difference and having an impact,” Mastin noted. “I recently had lunch with two guys who I have built a relationship with. One of them is schizophrenic and has been in the mental hospital 12 times trying to kick a drug habit. He told me that since I came down and brought the gospel, he has found meaning and purpose for his life. I told him that it’s not me, it’s the Lord. And he said, ‘But you are the vessel God used in my life.’”

The partnership between Mastin and St. Andrew’s is bearing fruit in the form of a Thursday night discipleship group with eight boys between the ages of 12 and 18, which started in January.

“We’re studying a curriculum that invites them to talk about painful moments in their lives,” MacPhail said. “One 14-year-old boy shared about how on his sixth birthday he watched the police come and arrest his Dad and take him away. The stories we hear are horrific.”

St. Andrew’s has a long-standing partnership with McDonald’s to provide backpacks and school supplies to children in several neighborhoods near the church in downtown Nassau. The backpacks were filled with books, pens, pencils, and other supplies. Children who received the backpacks attend the St. Andrew’s Sunday School and Big Harvest Community Sunday School.

Mastin believes that growing up in a tough environment has made them more resilient.

“They really are great kids,” he said. “You can see that they are hungry for something different, and they are growing in their faith and seeking after the Lord.”

A few of the youth have chosen to be baptized, and some of them serve on St. Andrew’s audio/visual team.

“I can’t wait to watch their stories unfold,” MacPhail said. “We told them that we will invest in them every week, and our hope is that they will grow in their faith and become deacons and leaders in the church someday. We even promised them that if any one of them feels called to be a pastor we will help with their education.”

The group already has an inspiring role model who is one of their own—Jude Vilma.

“Jude was born in Nassau and grew up in a Haitian Creole community on the island of Abaco, about 100 miles north of here),” MacPhail said. “Through a variety of influences he graduated from high school, received a scholarship to work with Bahamas Youth Network, and started attending college.”

It was around that time that Vilma—who currently is studying at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando—met MacPhail and got connected with St. Andrew’s.

“God called me to full-time ministry, and I served as a Youth Coordinator with the Bahamas Youth Network and also a pastoral intern with St. Andrew’s Kirk,” Vilma noted. “This partnership enabled me to serve in the church and work with this community organization that is big on discipleship. I was also eager to take theology classes online because of my love for God’s Word and for learning.”

Jude Vilma

MacPhail said his dream is that Vilma will one day return to the Bahamas and become the Senior Pastor at St. Andrew’s.

“God’s been gracious to me and has blessed this ministry, but a white foreigner can only do so much,” said MacPhail, who hails from Canada. “Most of our inner-city kids are from a Haitian background, and many of the adults do not even speak English. I believe the church would absolutely explode in size if Jude took over. He can speak to them in a way that I can’t.”

Vilma said that he plans to return to the Bahamas once he has completed his education and as the Lord leads.

“My hope for the church in the Bahamas,” he said, “is that there would be more pastors and leaders who proclaim sound doctrine, that there would be unity among believers, and that Christianity would be seen as a lifestyle—not just a religion or something you do on a Sunday.”

Until Vilma’s hope is realized, MacPhail said St. Andrew’s will continue to faithfully serve their neighbors in Bain and Grant’s Town, even though the pandemic has not made it easy. He said they have been unable to visit the orphanage in 13 months, and they started operating a food pantry out of MacPhail’s office just to try and meet all the needs. He reported that in the past year alone they distributed more than $50,000 worth of food.

“People occasionally ask me what the secret is, and how we have been able to succeed in the face of adversity,” MacPhail said. “I tell them one thing: Just keep showing up.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

A good lament: remembering Pastor Tim Russell

 

by George Robertson, Senior Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church (Memphis, Tenn.)

March 30, 2021, marks the one-year anniversary of Tim Russell’s hospitalization and death from COVID-19. I’ve been asked to convey some pastoral thoughts, which typically means, “Say something comforting.” While I always desire your comfort, I think it would be best to share honestly how the Lord has had to comfort me with the same gospel I offer you.

After the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis published a journal of his mourning called A Grief Observed. It’s poignant, honest, raw, and very helpful. Similarly, by opening their grief to us, the psalmists teach us how to lament. They teach us that experiencing the Father’s comfort requires climbing into his arms through lament. While leading worship, Tim often urged us to “make a good confession.” I want to urge us to make a good lament.

In the Psalms, we observe a good lament begins by recounting our painful story to the Lord. Of course He knows it already, but healing requires that we voluntarily expose our wounds to the Father of mercies. My lament begins something like this, “O Lord, those were nine Calvary-like dark days!

Tim and Kathe had just returned from New York to celebrate the birthday of a very old friend. New Yorkers were beginning to contract the mysterious virus, but it still seemed a remote issue to us. Tim returned with what seemed like a bad chest cold, so he jumped right back into his ministry here, including joining a large group of us planning for Holy Week services.

Within a few days he couldn’t walk. Within a few more days he was battling the neurological and respiratory effects of COVID. And within a few more days he was in the arms of your Jesus he knew so well. Why, Lord! Why did he have to contract it? Why did he have to be among the first to die in Memphis?

Lewis said, “The death of a beloved is an amputation.” Tim’s death has been excruciatingly painful for Jackie and me, as it has been for many of you. And even those descriptive words can’t capture what it is like for Kathe. Many a night, we have cried ourselves to sleep. Certain places can still trigger amputation-like pain. For weeks I couldn’t go back into the conference room where I last saw him. And I’ve yet to go into his office, neither the old or newer one. Neither am I ready to eat at Cozy Corner.

Even patriarchs, prophets, and our Lord let out “great and grievous lamentation” (Genesis 50:10), “cried with a loud voice” (2 Samuel 19:4), and were “deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled (John 11:33). Paul did not prohibit grieving, he just told us not to “mourn as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Recalling and rawly expressing grief to the Lord is not unbelief; it is the first step of hope.

As only a sovereignly gracious Father could do, the God of all comfort ironically uses the spiritual discipline of lament to deepen our faith in the hope of the gospel. Lewis said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

The painful recollection of Tim’s final days forces us to recall the miraculous preservation of his faith. Though like Jonah he literally felt like he was drowning, he confessed, “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Like Job, he trusted the Lord who it seemed was “slaying” him (Job 13:15). Counterintuitively to his physical and mental experience, he was able to exclaim with the psalmist, “He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:9). “Through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4), assuring us the gospel is a foundation to life deeper than experience and as long lasting as eternity.

The way Tim died is not an example for us to follow as much as it is a testimony to the supernatural keeping power of Jesus’ love. That shield of faith by which God preserved Tim from apostasy forces us to look back to the many things we heard him say and do as God was preparing him for that last battle. His commitment to morning and evening worship, his love for “joining Jesus already at prayer,” his making a “good confession of his sin,” his singing hymns from memory, and his boldness in alerting us to the gracious character of Christ by shouting, “That’s the Jesus I know!” were not pietistic displays, but evidences of God’s making him fit through the means of grace to finish well.

This past Sunday, just before entering the pulpit, I snugged up the laces on my shoes and chuckled at the sight of my socks. I bought them at a store in London Tim liked. Whenever I wore them, Tim said, “Nice stockings, Pastor!” He said many funny things. Recall those, too, and laugh with one who “laughed at the future” (Proverbs 31:25). You’re not dishonoring Tim, because he is more joyful than ever! Tim was in our home many times, mostly by his own invitation as my family’s CC pastor. He would call and ask “when” (not “if”) would be the most “opportune” (not “convenient”) time to come by and pray a blessing over every member of the family, “especially the children.”

May you hear from Tim’s life what we last heard from his lips, “The Lord bless you and keep you.” While Tim was alive, the Russells had one name: “Tim and Kathe.” Mercifully for us—albeit painful for her—the Lord has left Kathe with us, so she will have the last word of this article. When Tim passed away, Kathe posted, “Tim has seen the face of God. Be at peace, my love.”

 

George Robertson serves as Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. Prior to his death from COVID-19 complications, Tim Russell served as Assistant Pastor for Middle Adults. This article first appeared in the weekly email newsletter of Second Presbyterian Church, “The Messenger” on March 24, 2021. Republished by permission.

Session 5 recording of Church Revitalization Workshop now available

 

The recording of “The Revitalization of the Congregation, Part 1” of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop is now available. The workshop is being held via video conference on the fourth Wednesday of each month through May 2021.

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

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, where registration for future installments of the workshop is available, and on the EPC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Audio podcast versions of each session of the workshop are available on the EPC’s podcast channel at podcast.epc.org, as well as Spotify and iTunes (search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church”).

March 24 Church Revitalization Workshop addresses congregational vitality

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, March 24, with a discussion of how to develop and maintain the vitality of the congregation. Previous installments of the monthly series focused on the revitalization of the Session and the revitalization of the pastor.

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

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

Helga Hoffman, wife of 15th GA Moderator Wayne Hoffman, dies at 87

 

Helga Hoffman, 1933-2021

Helga Svanhild Tofteland Hoffman of Urbandale, Iowa, wife of 15th (1995) General Assembly Moderator Wayne Hoffman, died on January 27. She was 87.

She was born in Luverne, Minn., on August 27, 1933, to Reinert and Tilda (Akersmyr) Tofteland and raised on the Tofteland farm where the family spoke Norwegian. She first learned English when she began her education in a one-room schoolhouse. She graduated from Augustana Academy and furthered her education at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, Iowa.

Helga married Wayne Hoffman on June 21, 1953. Through their 67 years of marriage, Wayne and Helga lived in South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. Helga was an integral and vital part of Wayne’s ministry in the many churches he served as a Presbyterian pastor. During his service as General Assembly Moderator, he was Pastor of Westkirk Presbyterian Church in Urbandale, Iowa. They served the Westkirk congregation until his retirement in 2002, when he was named Pastor Emeritus. The Hoffmans continued to make their home in Urbandale.

Helga had a strong connection to her Norwegian heritage, which she lovingly shared with her family through food, language, and traditions. She was greatly loved and admired by her family who continue to be blessed by her sweet and kind spirit. Her deep and abiding faith in God were evident in her gracious and gentle nature. At every dinner or party, Helga was everyone’s favorite companion due to her genuine warmth and friendliness. When you left her home, she was always at the front window and gave her famous “grandma wave.”

She is survived by her husband, Wayne; daughter and son-in-law Peggy Ann and Tom Radio; daughter and son-in-law Pamela Jo and John Merrick; son and daughter-in-law Eric Jon and Rebecca Hoffman; Daughter and son-in-law Nancy Helga and Stan Thompson; son and daughter-in-law Jason Wayne and Tina Hoffman; 14 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

Click here for a full memorial notice.

Session 4 recording of Church Revitalization Workshop now available

 

The recording of “The Revitalization of the Session, Part 2” of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop is now available. The workshop is being held via video conference on the fourth Wednesday of each month through May 2021.

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

The video recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, where registration for future installments of the workshop is available, and on the EPC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Audio podcasts of each workshop session are available on the EPC podcast channel and iTunes.

Leadership development the topic of February 24 installment of Church Revitalization Workshop

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, February 24, with a discussion of how to develop a leadership pipeline for the church officer nomination and training process.

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

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

‘Pastor separation syndrome’ looms as pandemic fatigue digs in

 

The absence of a personal touch in ministry amid COVID-19 lockdowns, limited seating, and separation from parishioners is leading some pastors to experience what has been dubbed “pastor separation syndrome.” In addition to physical separation from their congregations, the phrase reflects the exhaustion many pastors are feeling from a dramatically increased phone and Zoom-based ministry, such as conducting virtual-only worship and Bible studies.

EPC Stated Clerk-elect Dean Weaver, who for 15 years was Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in suburban Pittsburgh, said the past year “was in many ways my most challenging year of ministry as a pastor. In 35 years of pastoral ministry, I have never experienced anything like it.”

“Many EPC pastors I’ve connected with admitted that they are exhausted, and they see no end in sight,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Many have also expressed a sense of uncertainty about the future that’s unsettling. Some are wondering about their call to ministry in general, or to the specific church they currently serve. I’ve lost count of how many told me that they are a ‘people person’ and miss being face-to-face with people.”

Wade Brown echoes Jeremiah’s experience. Brown serves as the Regional Executive Director for PastorServe’s Rocky Mountain Team. PastorServe is a partner ministry of the EPC and specializes in coaching and crisis support for pastors. He said that many of the pastors with whom his team has counseled over the past year have lamented the lack of in-person ministry during the pandemic.

Wade Brown

“We’ve been around over 20 years, and like the insurance commercial says, ‘we know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two,’” he said. “Pastor separation syndrome is one of the things we’ve observed pastors struggling with during this pandemic.”

‘Virtual fatigue’

Brown said stories “tend to come in sound bites” during coaching and care conversations with pastors.

“Pastors have said things like, ‘I miss being with my people in person,’ ‘Zooming with someone is better than a phone call, but it’s not as meaningful as being with someone in person,’ ‘I long to look people in the eyes again and pray for them in light of their pain and difficulties,’ and ‘Preaching to a camera is not the same as preaching to people in person, where I was able to pause and lean into the pastoral moments during my sermon and linger a moment or two as I had eye contact with people,’” he noted.

Another EPC ministry partner is Pastor-in-Residence (PIR) Ministries, which specializes in pastoral coaching and ministering to church leaders in transition. Roy Yanke, PIR Executive Director and Transitional Pastor for Grace Chapel EPC in Farmington Hills, Mich., said pastors he has talked to are learning to adapt to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, but long for a return to in-person ministry.

Roy Yanke

“In the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was scrambling to figure out how to endure the lockdowns and get online,” he said. “The stories we heard were mostly frustration and a weariness from having to become not only pastors but tech gurus.”

Yanke added that as the pandemic has continued during a season of political unrest, many pastors have experienced their ministry morphing into that of peacemaker.

“Some are being peacekeepers, and they are finding it very wearying to be that—to just try to keep everybody happy,” Yanke noted. “Because people are not happy, no matter which side you fall on in terms of restrictions and point of view on all of this. It’s a no-win situation.”

Jeremiah added that several pastors he has talked with told him something like, “No matter what I do on any issue I will get vocal opposition in the congregation—and often in my Session.”

Weaver noted that many pastors are simply not used to making so many quick and essential decisions in such a small space of time.

“It seems that no matter how hard we worked at getting the best information—which was constantly changing—and get the most possible input, we found ourselves making decisions that we knew would upset one part of our congregation or another. Or both,” he said.

The struggle is real

Brown said he tells pastors dealing with obstacles in ministering to their congregants during this time that “it’s not their fault. There is no guilt or shame in this.” He recommends focusing on using the tools at hand to make connections.

“We encourage them to continue taking advantage of the pathways that are available to them such as calls, social media, videos, Zoom, etc.,” he said. “Many pastors are optimizing the power of small groups in this season. People are learning to shepherd, encourage, and be there for one another in deep, meaningful ways through small groups. Clearly, this type of ministry brings Ephesians 4:11-13 to life for pastors.”

Yanke said a pastor he is counseling told him that the pandemic has resulted in the normal weight of everyday ministry now being “on steroids.”

“They have their own personal expectations about what their ministry should look like,” Yanke said, “and are trying to make that work in the current situation with the restrictions and the current limitations they are facing. And that, coupled with having to deal with the expectations of people, is making their ministry more challenging.”

He added that in many cases, the expectation of personal visitation in homes has changed dramatically during the pandemic—with some parishioners still having that expectation.

“It’s like during COVID a pastor getting grief about why they weren’t personally visiting people in their homes,” he said. “It’s a no-win situation. They want to do that. They want to continue to have that influence in the lives of their people. But it isn’t just a matter of them analyzing their own level of risk, but understanding if they do that, they could be putting other people at risk. So you’ve just got to weigh that. It’s a real challenge for them.”

Take time to recharge

Brown suggests that pastors facing varying degrees of loneliness and frustration after months of pandemic-induced physical separation from their congregations take time to pay attention to the health of their own souls—which oftentimes is neglected even in normal circumstances.

“Crisis has a way of exposing things in us: fractures in our relationships, our marriages, the state of our spiritual health,” Brown said. “Crisis exposes our heart-idols of power, approval, security, and comfort.”

He added that in “countless conversations” over the past year, pastors are “more than willing” to address that topic.

“We believe God is using this season of the pandemic to get our attention and bring us to a place of greater desperation for His intervention. If pastors will pay attention and seek to steward this season of spiritual formation well, we believe they’ll be in a better place to serve their people because they’ll be healthier as Christ-followers, leaders, and shepherds when the pandemic-induced physical separation is over,” Brown noted. “Having said all this, I’d encourage pastors to initiate. Connect with other pastors. Pray for one another. Encourage one another.”

Yanke emphasized that pastors may find comfort in falling back on some of the “tried and true” methods of ministry that can help alleviate “virtual fatigue” of Zoom meetings and Bible studies, as well as other online-only activities.

“Hands-on, personal, across-the-table kind of connections is woven into what ministry is all about,” he said. He added that “putting pen to paper” by writing a personal note or making a quick phone call can not only be good for a pastor but communicates the pastor made a physical effort to communicate personally with a church member.

“It also can open a door to two-way communication.”

Available resources

PastorServe and PIR Ministries are recommended resources of the EPC Ministerial Vocation Committee.

PastorServe specializes in coaching and crisis support for pastors. For more information, visit www.pastorserve.net or call 877-918-4746.

PIR Ministries specializes in pastors in transition, especially those in forced exits, as well as coaching and placing interims. For more information, visit www.pirministries.org or call 844-585-1234. Numerous free resources are available on their website at www.pirministries.org/resources, including podcasts, video archives, blogs, and helpful articles.

Andrew Brunson to speak at March 5 virtual “Imprisoned for Christ” event

 

On Friday, March 5, EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson will be a featured speaker for the Voice of the Martyr’s “Imprisoned for Christ” virtual event. The free webcast begins at 6:30 p.m. (Central) and is scheduled to conclude at 10:00 p.m. (Central). Also featured will be Petr Jasek and Dan Baumann.

A longtime pastor in Turkey, Brunson was arrested in October 2016 and held imprisoned on terrorism charges until his release in October 2018. He told his story in God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Endurance, published in 2019. Jasek was arrested in Sudan in December 2015 and spent 445 days jailed with ISIS terrorists. He is the author of Imprisoned with ISIS: Faith in the Face of Evil. Baumann was arrested in Iran in 1997, falsely accused of espionage, and detained in a high-security prison for nine weeks. He tells the story in his book, Cell 58.

While all three struggled to find God’s purpose in their suffering, they ultimately recognized His faithfulness and love amid desperate circumstances.

Brunson, Jasek, and Baumann will share their testimonies and participate in a panel discussion moderated by VOM Radio host Todd Nettleton. In addition, Dove Award–winning artist Natalie Grant will provide worship music.

For more information and to register, go to www.persecution.com