Category Archives: People

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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41st General Assembly final preparations underway

 

In an annual tradition, it’s “all hands on deck” for the staff of the Office of the General Assembly compiling registration packets for the 41st General Assembly. From left, Cathy Flores, Marti Ratcliff, Vanessa Mullendore, Pat Coelho, Zenaida Bermudez, Rachel Joseph, Liz Francescone, Wosene Scott, April Hair, Catherine Rutter, Cassie Shultz, Janet Linton, and Phil Linton ensure that each on-site Commissioner’s lanyard receives the proper credentials, meal tickets, and more.

The 41st General Assembly will be held June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Go to www.epc.org/ga2021 for complete GA information, including schedule, worship speakers, business session documents, and more.

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Phil Linton reflects on seven years as Director of World Outreach

 

Phil Linton

At the end of this month, I will step down after seven years as Director of World Outreach. I want to reflect here on four developments I’ve seen in our work during that time.

Internationalized Church-planting Teams

The EPC World Outreach global workers we send out from North America almost always end up teaming with spiritual brothers and sisters sent out from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. These relationships are rarely orchestrated from denominational or mission agency headquarters, but rather are organic partnerships that grow as disciple-makers from very different cultures discover each other working on the same task directed by the same Spirit.

Second-generation EPC WO Global Workers

By Presbyterian standards EPC World Outreach is relatively young, having sent out its first workers in 1985. But in recent years we have seen adult children (Jackie, Peter, and Josh) from three different EPC WO families return with the EPC into full-cycle church planting among people with least access to the gospel. With these folks we build on the foundation of decades of the very best preparation for cross-cultural ministry.

Repatriated Immigrant Global Workers

The dream of escape to America—the Land of Opportunity—is still very much alive throughout much of the world. Few who have achieved that dream give it up and return to the lands of their birth, but we in EPC World Outreach have several families where at least one spouse fits that description. These families have unusual credibility with neighbors who recognize they are animated by a power greater than material success. Coupling that credibility with a deep understanding of local culture to share the gospel has had a major impact in many cases.

National Church Missional Leaders

As World Outreach Director, I receive several requests each week from Christians around the world, asking for “partnership.” Of course, partnership may have many different meanings, but usually these appeals are for funds to carry out ministry in their communities. As important as these ministries are, I routinely turn down such requests to focus our resources and energies on a different kind of partnership.

World Outreach has developed close relationships with church leaders in Asia and Africa whose eyes are always on the frontiers of their communities. They look beyond where their churches are, to the neighborhoods, villages, and towns where no churches are. They pray for those places; they go to those places; they train and send people to those places; and EPC WO comes alongside to help them. Our efforts here become magnified and multiplied for a hundred-fold effect.

One final note: these developments in World Outreach have been gifts from God through the labors of people other than me. It has been the labors of loving missionary parents which have borne sweet fruit in the lives of our World Outreach MKs. It has been the faithful service of elders in our presbyteries who nurtured relationships with national church missional leaders in places like Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Albania, and Russia. It has been EPC pastors who welcomed and befriended immigrant Christians in their congregations, and then encouraged and guided them to be sent back by EPC World Outreach. And it has been our WO global workers who have recognized “God’s team” in the faces of El Salvadoran, Brazilian, Singaporean, Indonesian, Albanian, etc. brothers and sisters and reached out hands to work together. To all of you, I say thank you for your service to Christ, and for making my work as WO Director a joy.

Grace and peace,

Phil Linton
Director, EPC World Outreach

Second Presbyterian Church offers localized theological education through Memphis City Seminary

 

Carl Ellis, Provost’s Professor of Theology and Culture at Reformed Theological Seminary, teaches Minority Church History for Memphis City Seminary in February 2021 at Second Presbyterian Church.

Starting a new seminary during a pandemic would not appear to be a wise thing to do. But when the purpose and strategy of Memphis City Seminary (MCS) are taken into consideration, it makes total sense. A ministry of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, MCS launched in February 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the United States.

The organizers weren’t sure of the seminary’s immediate future at the time, recalled Taylor Tollison, MCS Director of Operations, who also serves as Domestic Outreach Coordinator for Second Presbyterian Church. Yet in looking back, he said the school’s flexible, local-oriented model—plus low tuition cost of $100 per credit hour—turned out to be “a great approach” during a time of restrictions on travel and in-person gatherings.

He explained that from the beginning, the seminary was designed to provide not only flexibility in academic preparation for ministry, but also a focus on “place-based” education. That means that MCS, training students for ministry in the urban landscape of Memphis, would ensure its students would gain an understanding of how their biblical and theological studies would be applied in their local context. Specifically, recent U.S. Census data shows that the Memphis metro area of more than 5 million is nearly 48 percent African American and only 43 percent non-Hispanic white.

Taylor Tollison

“MCS offers a distinct curriculum that is designed to prepare pastors for the Memphis context and the surrounding region,” Tollison said. “We want to learn from those voices in theological education that are often underrepresented by offering specific courses and requiring specialized reading.”

Tollison noted that a key value of MCS is that the seminary views its students as more than just “academic thinkers.”

“Our hope is that our students will receive a holistic and comprehensive theological education that equips them in four key areas: knowledge, character, skills and vision,” he said. “Our aim is not merely to transfer information to the mind, but to take part in the full-orbed formation of Christian leaders. We believe the demands of gospel ministry require the whole person to be equipped—not merely the mind.”

George Robertson

George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church and MCS Academic Dean, said the school’s faculty are “pastoral scholars” who integrate education with practical ministry.

“We are making our experience and the best of biblical and theological scholarship available and affordable to Christ-centered leaders in Memphis,” he said.

Brian Lewis, Second Presbyterian Church’s Director of Domestic Outreach, serves as MSC’s Executive Director. He said the seminary is “well on its way” to providing affordable, high-level education for ministers who do not want to leave Memphis to receive their theological education.

Brian Lewis

“We are attracting bivocational workers and many people of color,” Lewis said. “We strive to be very multi-cultural, which mirrors our Memphis culture. We believe we will also steadily attract students regionally and nationally, because Memphis has world-wide appeal.”

Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis and a member of MCS’ Board, said that he often promotes the seminary’s “affordability, accessibility, and action-oriented training for gospel ministry in churches, non-profits, and the marketplace.”

Tollison said MCS is officially “authorized” by the State of Tennessee—which legitimatizes it as a school of higher learning—and is pursing official accreditation through the Association for Biblical Higher Education and the Association of Reformed Theological Seminaries. He hopes MSC will receive full accreditation in three to five years.

The groundwork for MSC started in 2006 when Second Presbyterian Church began to envision what an urban seminary for Memphis might look like, with the ultimate goal to offer an entire Master of Divinity degree locally. From 2006 to 2009, a venue for offering seminary education was through the Memphis Center for Urban Studies initiative. In 2009, Second Presbyterian Church began hosting a Reformed Theological Seminary extension site.

Limitations Lead to Vision

For the next 10 years, Lewis and his wife, Joanne, directed the RTS extension. Students could begin their seminary degree in Memphis, but were only eligible for a Certificate of Biblical Studies (CBS) upon the completion of 29 hours. After 29 hours students could complete an MA degree online, or for other degrees were required to transfer to a degree-granting seminary location to complete their coursework.

To bridge this gap in local seminary education, MCS was launched in November 2019 as a degree-granting seminary for both Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity degrees. Twenty degree-seeking RTS students joined 30 other students to bring the initial enrollment to 50.

Spring 2021 enrollment has grown to 60 students—35 men and 25 women—with 16 of those being minority students. Local churches represented by MCS students include Downtown Church, Fellowship Memphis, First Evangelical Church, Hope Church, Second Presbyterian Church, and The Avenue Community Church.

“One of the things I love most about my job,” said Joanne Lewis, MCS Director of Enrollment, “is to see students in our classroom who have dreamed, prayed, and waited for an opportunity to pursue their theological education but until now were unable to do so.”

Braden Tyler

Braden Tyler, a teacher and soccer coach at a private Christian school in inner-city Memphis, is one of those students.

“I am 31 years old and have wanted to do seminary ever since becoming a believer [while] in college,” Tyler said. “However, college debt, getting married, and having children kept me from pursuing this. All the seminaries that I wanted to attend were too expensive and not located in the city of Memphis. I could do online seminary, but it would be too expensive for me and it would be a lonely road.”

He noted that relocating to an in-resident seminary would require quitting his job, moving to a new city, and having his wife get a job in order for him to be a full-time student.

“Unsatisfactory options like this kept putting seminary on the back burner,” Tyler said. “Then along came MCS—an affordable, flexible, and local seminary that could give me the high quality, biblical education that I wanted. I could keep my job and keep my family in our city. Christians shouldn’t have to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars and have to leave the context of their city in order to get a seminary degree. I have talked to many people and it seems that seminaries like this could be the future for the church.”

He said that after he receives a degree from MSC, his goal is to continue his education by pursuing a PhD to teach in a seminary or become a pastor.

Denny Catalano

Denny Catalano, director of Campus Outreach in Memphis, said MSC is “a great complement” to his work.

“I chose Memphis City Seminary because I wanted to grow in my knowledge of God, in my character, and in my skills to more effectively reach the lost and shepherd my team,” he said. “We serve a very broad ethnic and cultural demographic, so I was looking for something that would give me a broad and thorough understanding of God and how He has worked throughout history among all nations. I count it a great privilege to be able to learn from some of the best scholars out there while being able to collaborate and learn alongside people ministering in a broad array of contexts.”

Bradley Morrow, Second Presbyterian Church’s Recreation Coordinator, said MSC makes a seminary education financially possible for him.

Bradley Morrow

“MCS has allowed me to gain a sound theological education that is affordable and allows me to work a full-time job where I am able to apply what I am learning in class to my ministry in the city,” he said. “MCS is equipping me to read, study, and teach the Scriptures in a way that reveals Jesus and proclaims the gospel as good news to every ZIP code in the city.”

Tyler agreed, adding that is it is a “big advantage” taking seminary classes alongside people from the city where you live.

“This is very unifying for a city and for churches,” Tyler said. “The next spiritual leaders of the community are people who have been trained in the same seminary and are friends with each other. This seminary can provide classes that fit the needs of Memphis and can better train leaders to impact this city.”

For more information on Memphis City Seminary, see www.memphiscityseminary.org

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Gabriel de Guia named Executive Director of EPC World Outreach

 

Gabriel de Guia

Gabriel de Guia has been named as the new Executive Director of EPC World Outreach. A member of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla., he has served in a variety of capacities with Cru since 1995. His most recent role was Senior Aide of Development to the Executive Director for the Jesus Film Project, which he has held since 2012. Cru—formerly Campus Crusade for Christ—is an international ministry founded by Bill and Vonette Bright in 1951 and based in Orlando.

“I’m overwhelmed to be selected to lead EPC World Outreach,” de Guia said. “I feel like I’m coming full circle in ministry, as my grandparents came to faith in Christ through the work of Presbyterian missionaries in the Philippines in the 1920s. And now, I just have a grand sense of God ushering us into this great adventure. It wasn’t something I was planning on or dreaming of, but that makes it all the more confirming that this is something God is calling us to. That brings about a ton of excitement.”

Rob Liddon, Chairman of the Executive Director Search Committee and Moderator of the EPC’s 30th General Assembly, said de Guia was the committee’s unanimous choice among a group of “exceptionally strong” candidates.

“Following much prayer and discussion, the nine-member Search Committee unanimously concluded Gabriel to be best situated to lead World Outreach into the second quarter of this century as its Executive Director,” Liddon said. “We are very pleased to welcome him and his wife, Rachel, to EPC World Outreach.”

Over a 26-year missionary career with Cru, de Guia’s other responsibilities have included Advancement (Major Gifts) Officer for the Jesus Film Project, Writer in the Global Communications Office, and Assistant to the President. He also served as College Campus Minister at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind., from 1996-2002.

He has led or helped lead short-term evangelistic mission teams to Africa, Asia, Central America, and multiple locations in the United States. In addition, he has provided direct missionary member care to more than 30 Cru missionary families in East Asia; equipped numerous teenaged children of missionaries in lifestyle evangelism; coached missionary staff in support raising; and served as lead liaison between Cru’s mission partners, mission field directors, and major donors. This effort helped raise millions of dollars for multiple global outreach initiatives.

Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk-elect and a member of the search committee, said de Guia exhibited leadership that is anchored in a strong faith and prayer.

“We were all greatly encouraged by Gabriel’s personal commitment to prayer and evangelism,” Weaver said. “His passion for the Great Commission flows from his deep personal relationship with Jesus.”

Johnny Long, Ruling Elder for Hope Church in Memphis, Tenn., served as a member of both the search committee and the World Outreach committee of the General Assembly.

“Going through this process allowed our search committee the opportunity to absolutely find the right person for this role for this time in World Outreach and for our denomination as whole,” Long said. “Gabriel brings superb organizational expertise and excellent interpersonal and organizational communication skills. His experience with technology to advance the gospel will be a huge asset as we continue to grow and expand the outreach capabilities of World Outreach to share the gospel to the most unreached peoples around the world.”

A native of Cincinnati, de Guia’s parents emigrated to Minnesota from the Philippines in the 1960s and later moved to Ohio. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from The Ohio State University in Columbus. He also has participated in numerous professional development opportunities, including Cru’s two-year Senior Leadership Initiative, a Master’s level program offered by invitation only.

The de Guias have been married since 2007 and have three children.

“We are honored with the sacred, holy privilege to step into this avenue of ministry for the sake of the global church,” Rachel said. “We have long appreciated the Revelation 7:9 picture of the throne room of God, and we’ve used that verse as a filter to help discern what God has called us to. For the EPC to be pursuing that vision was confirmation of God’s leading us to this.”

Liddon noted that the search committee was united in “seeking the mind of Christ for World Outreach” during the entire process, which began in 2019 with the NLT’s appointment of a World Outreach Evaluation Team. That committee was tasked with reviewing the goals and strategy employed by World Outreach, as well as the results achieved.

“The evaluation team worked with World Outreach leadership, and it commended the sound and enduring work of World Outreach—past and present,” Liddon said. “At the same time, that team’s report to the NLT proposed a number of changes they thought necessary in light of current cultural and economic developments in the areas WO serves.”

Liddon noted that the search was “a measured, considered process, and yielded quite a number of candidates, all of godly character and impressive backgrounds in Kingdom ministry.”

“I think we all felt,” said Iris A, a World Outreach global worker who served on the search committee, “that the Holy Spirit truly led us through this lengthy decision-making process to come to the same mind and decision.”

Search Committee Member Kevin Cauley, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and former chairman of World Outreach Committee, said he was “impressed with Gabriel’s humble, prayerful, and Spirit-led approach.”

“He will bring fresh eyes to help World Outreach to see in new ways how we may continue building upon the great foundation passed down from our former outstanding Directors,” Cauley said.

The nine-member Search Committee began its work in October 2020. It was comprised of a variety of EPC Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders, and missions practitioners. Because of security issues related to their work, not all members of the committee were able to be named.

The Executive Director of World Outreach is selected and called by the National Leadership Team for a three-year term, which is renewable. Phil Linton, who has served as Director of World Outreach since 2014, is retiring at the June 2021 conclusion of his current three-year term.

World Outreach is the missions arm of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, with a principal calling to glorify God by starting church-planting movements among least-reached people groups. World Outreach currently has approximately 75 family units serving across the globe.

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.

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”).

RE Brandon Queen cooks up gumbo of ministry and community service in south Louisiana

 

In 2017, Brandon Queen was ordained as the first African-American elder at the 150-year-old First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux, La.

Thibodaux, La., is in the heart of Cajun country—a place where you find a mix of landscapes, cultures, people, and food. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. A gumbo. Brandon Queen’s life has been God’s own special gumbo recipe, with a mix of ingredients that includes his family, First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux, and the people who invested in his life from an early age. The resulting dish has been a blessing to all.

Queen cannot remember a time when he was not a believer. He could quote Scripture at the age of 5—before he could read. His family was mostly Baptist, with some Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Methodist relatives. He, his 10 siblings, and some cousins were raised by his grandmother, Eunice Queen, in a small government house.

“She had a big variety of ages of kids stacked in on top of each other in that home,” remembers Betsy Magee, a member of First Presbyterian Church.

Eunice Queen did not want any of her grandchildren to go into the foster care system, so she took them all in. She signed them up with the Angel Tree program that provides Christmas gifts for underprivileged children; their names were passed on to the church. However, she didn’t want the kids to just receive gifts. She was adamant that the children be involved in the church.

Brandon Queen with his grandmother, Eunice, in 2014 when Brandon was awarded The Silver Beaver Award, the highest service medal for adult Boy Scout leaders.

“Eunice was a real kick to know,” Magee said. “She did the very best she could for those kids. They were fed. They were loved. They were cared for. But she didn’t put up with much nonsense.”

Sensing the great need for support, church members stepped into the lives of the Queen family to fill the roles left vacant by absent mothers and fathers.

Magee had three boys and owned a Suburban. She would fill her Suburban with Queen kids and take them to all the activities at the church. Her family “adopted” Brandon as one of their own, making certain he always had school supplies and other necessities.

Magee says that she didn’t have a choice.

“It was something God put in our path, taking that family under our wing,” she said. “We have been blessed, even more than Brandon, by the relationship we have with him.”

Queen said Magee “was basically my mother. She just did it, without asking.”

By the age of 11 Brandon began to understand who God is and what Jesus accomplished on the cross. He was baptized and became “entrenched” in the life of the church.

“Brandon stayed with the church and the church stayed with Brandon,” Magee noted. “We encouraged him in his faith, grades, studies, tutoring, and whatever else he needed.”

Brandon Queen with Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux.

Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, agreed.

“It’s not a guarantee that you feed into someone’s life, give them opportunities, share the gospel with them, and they engraft into the body of the church,” he said. “But Brandon has done that.”

Another important person in Queen’s life was Rhonda Bridier, a local scout master and church member who got Brandon involved with the Boy Scouts. He would go on to earn his Eagle Scout and The Silver Beaver Award, the highest service medal awarded to adult leaders in recognition of commitment and leadership within the organization.

Magee proudly described Brandon’s work ethic. She explained that once he was old enough to work he would ride his bike to various jobs. While working for Office Depot, he learned enough about photography to start his own business—Brandon Queen Photography—taking photos for seniors and other classmates.

After finishing school, Brandon became a correctional officer and found that he loved interacting with the inmates. He graduated from the police academy and became a patrol officer, and later, a juvenile detective with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Becoming a police officer resulted from watching his mother battle drug addiction her entire life. He saw that people around him were “getting caught up in bad decisions and situations,” he said, adding that he learned from their mistakes.

As a juvenile detective with the LaFourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, Brandon Queen is Thibodaux’s own “Basketball Cop” often stopping his patrol to interact with local young people.

“I want to encourage other young people to stay out of trouble and do productive things with their lives,” he said. “I can relate to the kids out here today who get themselves stuck in some of the things they get themselves stuck into. I love people. God has given me the gift of loving people which has enabled me to do the things I do in this job.”

Magee also sees this in Brandon’s life. “God has used the gifts He has given Brandon—his life experiences—to be able to reach out to at-risk kids and to counsel others with his Christian values. God has put Brandon in great positions.”

In 2017, Brandon was ordained as the first black elder in the 150-year-old Thibodaux congregation. Crawford says that Queen’s ordination was the natural progression of Brandon’s journey with the church.

“We were just affirming what we already saw in him,” Crawford said. “When you meet Brandon, what you find is someone who has an enthusiasm and optimism for life, and a character where if you didn’t know the rest of his story, you would never guess it. We don’t see color in him. We see Christ.”

As if being a juvenile detective, Ruling Elder, and photographer weren’t enough, Queen also serves as an at-large member of the Advancement Committee for the Southeast Louisiana Boy Scout council and produces a podcast called “The E.A.R. (Evangelical and Reformed) Podcast” in which he and his guests discuss social, political, and cultural issues from a theological perspective.

He also is a member of the EPC Revelation 7:9 Task Force, which is studying how the EPC “can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces, worships with, and serves our neighbors from every nation (ethnicity), tribe, people, and language.” These neighbors include people of differing genders, ages, education level, and socio-economic status.

Brandon believes that Revelation 7:9 is both a descriptive and prescriptive verse, in that God—through the Apostle John—describes how Heaven will look and prescribes how the Church on earth should look.

“Our ethnicities are different for a reason, but not different enough for us to segregate ourselves purposely,” Queen explained. “The Church should put our differences and cultures to work for good. If we do, it will work the way God intended for it to work.”

Though he is quick to point out that he has faced challenges regarding race—especially in light of his career as a juvenile detective.

“I have been called a race traitor, an Uncle Tom, and even a ‘porch monkey working for the white man,’” he acknowledged. “But I know who I am in Christ, and I am doing what I do to glorify God. It doesn’t make me hate that person. It makes me want to pray for that person and to love that person.”

He knows that many African Americans may not understand why he chooses to stay in a congregation and denomination that is predominantly white. His response?

“I stay because I love the theology, the liturgy, and the fact that I am loved, supported, and never judged for the color of my skin,” he said. “In Heaven, it’s not going to matter if you are Asian, Chinese, black, white, Hispanic, or whatever. We’re all going to be a mix, standing in front of the throne, worshipping God. That right there—that’s my gumbo.”

by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath
EPConnection correspondent

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.

‘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

Puerto Rico churches gather for virtual prayer summit

 

On January 21, the Sessions of the EPC’s three churches in Puerto Rico gathered virtually for a time of prayer and thanksgiving. Nearly 30 individuals participated in the video conference.

The congregations are Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster (Westminster Presbyterian Church) in Bayamón, Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica Mayagüez (Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Mayagüez), and Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica en Añasco (Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Añasco). All are members of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

The group, which included pastors Juan Rivera (Bayamón), Abraham Montes (Añasco), and Ariel Toro (Mayagüez) convened the prayer time to give thanks for the blessings received during 2020, and pray in the same spirit for the church, its projects, the sick, Puerto Rico, and the United States. Enid Flores, Ruling Elder for Westminster Presbyterian Church and current Moderator of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean also participated.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to pray together, using the best tool that we have in our hands to entrust our life, our projects, and serve the island of Puerto Rico,” Enid said. “To God and God alone be the glory!

________________________

Comenzando el año 2021 las tres iglesias del Presbiterio de la Florida y el Caribe de la EPC ubicadas en Puerto Rico que son la Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster (IPW), la Iglesia Presbiteriana en Mayaguez (IPEM) y la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Añasco (IPEA) se unieron, en un solo espíritu, en un tiempo de oración para la gloria de nuestro Señor.

Los tres Consistorios, con sus pastores, Pastor Juan Rivera, Pastor Abraham Montes y Pastor Ariel Toro lideraron el tiempo de oración con el fin de dar gracias por las bendiciones recibidas durante el 2020 y orar juntos en un mismo espíritu, por la iglesia, sus proyectos, los enfermos, Puerto Rico y los Estados Unidos en los momentos que estamos viviendo.  Los acompañó como invitada la Moderadora del Presbiterio de Florida y el Caribe, la Anc. Enid D. Flores.

Damos gracias por la oportunidad de orar juntos, utilizando la mejor herramienta que tenemos en nuestras manos para encomendar nuestra vida, nuestros proyectos, y con ello servirle a la isla. ¡A Dios y solo a Dios sea la gloria!

Session 3 recording of Church Revitalization Workshop now available

 

The recording of “The Revitalization of the Session,” session 3 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 registrations for future installments is available, and on the EPC YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Audio podcasts of each workshop session are available on the EPC podcast channel and iTunes.

Church Revitalization Workshop continues with January 27 session on sessions

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, January 27, with the topic, “Revitalization of the Session.” The discussion will focus on the practical, cultural, and spiritual aspects of shepherding the session of a local church.

Facilitators 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.

Kansas City congregation demonstrates exceptional generosity through pandemic-adjusted Christmas program

 


In this video, Justin Oberndorfer, Executive Director of Joy Meadows, shares a recorded video call with Jim West, Pastor of Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, in which West reveals the results of the Walk to the Manger offering.

Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City is a generous church, with numerous local ministry and mission partners they support. But in this season of COVID-19, the congregation has gone above and beyond.

In a “normal” year, Colonial hosts a December production called “Walk to the Manger Sunday.” It tells the story of Christmas through drama and music and has become a cherished tradition for the entire community.

The event also is designed to be a time for giving. In the service, after the Magi come and present their gifts to Jesus, the children are invited to bring toys to the manger. The donated toys are distributed by two of Colonial’s partner organizations to children who would not otherwise receive any Christmas presents. Baskets also are placed in the sanctuary so members can contribute to the annual mission offering.

But in 2020, with COVID-19 concerns and social distancing mandates, it looked like Walk to the Manger would have to be canceled. The church quickly came up with an alternate plan—open both campuses on the second weekend in December and have a manger scene in the sanctuaries. People were invited to come any time between noon and 6:00 p.m. for a time of private worship and remembrance. They also could bring their gifts for the Walk to the Manger offering to the sanctuary or make online donations.

A few weeks before the Advent season commenced, three members of Colonial’s staff asked Lead Pastor Jim West to support a new ministry. The trio wanted to raise money to build the first home for a development known as Joy Meadows.

Joy Meadows is an intentional neighborhood for foster and adoptive families, with the focus of keeping sibling groups together. The houses are designed to accommodate large families and the church would need to raise between $275,000 and $375,000 to accomplish the goal—on top of their regular Christmas offering.

Jim West

“I was hesitant at first,” West said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, I haven’t seen 1,000 of our members in person in over 9 months, and there was not going to be a Walk to the Manger production which typically brings in visitors. I just wasn’t sure how much gas was left in the tank for our members, especially since the church had been overwhelmingly generous in the months leading up to December.”

To fully understand how benevolent Colonial church had already been in 2020, it’s necessary to go back a few months.

In March, around the same time the entire country went into lockdown, Colonial kicked off their traditional Easter campaign known as “Bless Our City.” The original goal was $100,000 to support their mission partners. But God had other plans.

“The second week after we were forced to stop meeting in person, I preached about the loaves and fishes from the book of John,” West said. “Right in the middle of the sermon, God prompted my heart. I heard Him say, ‘If you think this season is hard for you, imagine how it is for single parents.’ I felt led to take up an additional offering and give each of the single parents in our network $1,000.”

Irrational Obedience

West approached the Session with the idea—which the elders approved without hesitation.

“When God says to do something, even if it seems irrational, you just obey,” West said. “And we did.”

In 2019, the “Bless Our City” campaign raised $50,000. In 2020, donations totaled $540,000—more than a tenfold increase. Some of the money went to an organization called “Single Moms Kansas City.” The rest went to 56 single parents in the Colonial congregation. Each family received $1,000 with a letter that told them, “We have no expectations of how you will spend the money. We would only ask that you give thanks to God…this was His idea; it’s His money; and He really does love you! So do we.”

Randall Leonard

Randall Leonard, Colonial’s Director of Impact Ministries, was one of the three staff members who asked West in November to add Joy Meadows to the Christmas effort.

“We witnessed God move in an extraordinary way on our church in the spring,” Leonard said. “So when we felt prompted to support Joy Meadows for Walk to the Manger, we believed He would do it again.”

Meganne Leighton, Colonial’s Community and Global Partnerships Coordinator, joined Leonard in the push to include Joy Meadows, as did Hannah Mabie, Colonial’s Foster Adopt Ministry Coordinator.

“We have so many families in our church who are called to foster or adopt,” said Leighton, who is an adoptive parent herself. “And so many more who volunteer their time to serve or engage in advocacy on behalf of kids in the system. Colonial is a church that is committed to family. I think that’s why this seemed like a natural fit for Walk to the Manger.”

West invited Justin and Sarah Oberndorfer, Executive Directors of Joy Meadows, to speak in one of Colonial’s Advent services.

“I kept the whole thing low-key and told the church I was not asking them to do anything if they were not convicted by the Lord to do so,” West noted.

“The effects of COVID early in 2020 made us question whether we would be able to move forward much at all,” Justin Oberndorfer told the congregation. “But instead, the unfinished 3,200-square-foot basement on the property was transformed into a Community Center within 3 months because construction companies were in desperate need of contracts. Not only was the project finished ahead of schedule, but it also became a source of provision for those workers and their families.”

Justin Oberndorfer

He reported that four therapists now work in the completed Community Center, and numerous foster children are receiving services every week.

“Obstacle after obstacle just turned into an opportunity for God to show His miraculous provision,” Oberndorfer said, noting that volunteers have served at Joy Meadows every day—including skilled craftsman and master gardeners. People of all ages have done yard work, sorted and delivered clothes, cared for animals, and picked up trash.

“This year the vision has become a reality,” he said. “As we walk the 50 acres, hear the laughter of kids on the property, see therapists working with kids in the orchard or in the barn with the animals, we see this place coming to life.”

The Oberndorfers ended their Advent message with a question: “What if God moves in our midst and we build a house that allows a sibling group who are waiting right now to stay together as a family?”

A Full House

The congregation responded with a definitive answer. On the first day alone, $171,000 was given. By the following afternoon it was up to $340,000. When the campaign ended on December 31, more than $475,000 had been raised—enough for a complete house and half of another.

“It’s all God. We give Him all the glory,” West said. “This year has been a beautiful opportunity to turn away from the things that concern and divide us and center ourselves around the things that really matter to His heart.”

Mabie, who brings licensed social worker credentials to her role as Colonial’s Foster Adopt Ministry Coordinator, said she is not surprised that Joy Meadows’ story resonates deeply with Colonial.

“We have a unique opportunity to be part of building a legacy that’s going to be here for 50 or more years,” she said. “I think that’s why people have been so captivated by this project. We’re providing a home where sibling groups can grow and thrive and be together. To have Colonial’s name on that is really special.”

For the Oberndorfers, Colonial’s response has been especially meaningful.

“It’s an affirmation that God sees the plight of the orphan and He will provide in ways that we can’t even imagine,” Justin said. “God is building Joy Meadows through His Church and His people.  We get to be just a small part of that miracle. We are not walking this sometimes difficult and lonely road of ministry alone. We have the army of Colonial Church walking beside us and helping us pave the way for this new ministry that will have a generational impact.”

Leonard said the church’s response to both the Easter and Christmas efforts affirmed for him that the congregation is embracing the church’s mission statement: “To be the light of Christ in a hurting culture, so that the lost are found, the broken are made whole, the fatherless find hope, and our city is blessed.”

“We have prayed and asked the Lord’s Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of His people as we desire to share the love of Christ with those in our spheres of influence,” Leonard said. “He is answering our prayers!”

Gifts donated by Walk to the Manger participants were delivered to Colonial Presbyterian Church’s local mission partners Freedom Fire Ministries and Mission SouthSide.

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

Moderator Glenn Meyers’ mother succumbs to COVID, Pittsburgh-area media highlights faith response

 

Glenn Meyers, Moderator of the 40th General Assembly and Pastor of Ardara United Presbyterian Church in Ardara, Pa., lost his mother, Eleanor “Jane” Meyers, to COVID-19 on October 25, 2020. She was 85.

Total Trib Media of Southwestern Pennsylvania featured Glenn’s faith response in a December 28 front-page story, “North Huntingdon pastor relied on faith as COVID claimed his mother.” The article was one in a series of how the coronavirus pandemic has affected people in the region.

Click here for the story. Glenn Meyers’ segment in the 7-minute “Portraits of the Pandemic” video below can be seen at the 2:20 mark.

Rick Schatz, member of Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality Pastoral Letter committee, dies at 76

 

Frederic “Rick” Schatz

Rick Schatz, a member of the EPC’s interim committee that developed the Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality approved by the 38th General Assembly, died on January 1. He was 76.

Schatz is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was a founding Ruling Elder of Evangelical Community Church. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati and received an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he received Christ during his second year of studies. Following a successful business career, he joined the National Coalition Against Pornography (now PureHOPE), which he served as COO and President from 1990-2014. He also served as Executive Director of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography, and Chief Operating Officer of The Prayer Covenant.

He is survived by his wife, Sharon; son and daughter-in-law Mark and Leah; son and daughter-in-law Brett and Betsy; son and daughter-in-law Tim and Sarah; and 11 grandchildren.

A full memorial notice is available here.

EPC Chaplain Endorser leverages Christmas lights display for local food bank

 

For the seventh consecutive year, EPC Chaplain Endorser Mark Ingles has used his home Christmas lights display to benefit the Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado.

On December 2, Fox21News in Colorado Springs publicized the effort with a “Cans for Christmas” feature.

Ingles’ efforts to help local families has grown significantly—in his first year of collecting non-perishable food in 2014, 165 pounds were dropped off. By 2018, the haul was nearly 1,650 pounds and last year he collected 2,200 pounds.

 

EPC Home Missionary John Bueno releases December newsletter 

 

John Bueno, EPC Home Missionary serving with Latins United Christian Ministries (LUCM), invites you to read his December 2020 newsletter, in which he recaps some of his ministry efforts in 2020.

Click here to download the December 2020 edition in PDF format.

For more information about LUCM, contact Bueno at johnbknox@yahoo.com or 402-350-3815.

Hector Reynoso and Genesis Presbyterian Church: from survival to victory

 

Members of Genesis Presbyterian Church in Mercedes, Texas, held barbecue fundraisers using mesquite wood that was removed from the land their new church facility will be built on.

Hector Reynoso is Pastor of Genesis Presbyterian Church in Mercedes, Texas. The church is located in the Rio Grande Valley, nine miles from the Mexican border. The congregation has 38 members, all Hispanic and mostly low-income. Since 2018, the congregation has suffered two devastating floods, a hurricane, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, Genesis has ambitious plans to build a $455,000 church and mission center early next year. In a recent interview, Hector described the trials he and Genesis have overcome, and how they went from “survival to victory.”

EPConnection: When your church joined the EPC eight years ago, I understand that you lost your building and bank account?

Hector: It was traumatic. We humbly requested if we could keep our property, but they said no and ordered the pastor to leave immediately. The congregation decided that to ask the pastor to leave was to ask them to leave as well. Some of our people and their relatives were present when that church had been built, and had contributed financially, physically, and with their prayers. Each family paid for their own pew and their names were written on the pews. We had to leave it all behind, including a small cemetery. In addition to all that, we came under a lot of harassment, false accusations, and rumors.

EPConnection: With no building, where did you go to worship?

Hector: When we were getting ready to leave our former denomination, I spoke with the Lutheran pastor in town and explained that we might not have a place to worship. He said, “If that happens, you have a place here with us.” As soon as we lost our building, the following Sunday we met in the Lutheran church. We’ve been here ever since.

EPConnection: It must have been a struggle just to survive.

Hector: We are a small Hispanic congregation and low-income. Our whole church budget is barely enough to pay the pastor and the rent. So how could we afford a church building? It seemed impossible.

EPConnection: Now you’re getting ready to build a church. How did you raise the money?

Hector: We began by collecting pennies—literally. We would save up our loose change in a jar and collect it every three months. I had friends who were EPC pastors and I asked them to partner with us by collecting a special offering. Genesis has done many fundraisers; in each and every one of them we invited friends, relatives, and other churches to partner with us. By 2017, we had raised enough money to buy a piece of property. We paid $110,000 for two acres of land. It is located right in front of the Mercedes Civic Center, surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of people. Other likeminded churches from other denominations have also joined our fundraising efforts.

EPConnection: After you bought the land in 2017, in 2018 you began raising funds to construct a church building. How are you doing?

Hector Reynoso and his wife, Carmen, at the October 2017 dedication service for the property.

Hector: Our goal was $455,000 and we’ve actually reached it. It really is a miracle—to look at this crazy, impossible goal and now to have reached it. I thought the outbreak of COVID-19 would hurt our fundraising, but it didn’t. Since February we have received almost $100,000 in donations. We are planning to start construction early next year. To me this just confirms that this is God’s will. At a time when we are not supposed to prosper, the Lord has provided.

EPConnection: You are already planning the second phase of your building project. What will that include?

Hector: Once the church is completed, we plan to construct a second building with dormitories and more showers to accommodate future mission teams.

EPConnection: What is your vision for the church once you complete your new building?

Hector: We want to invite other churches to partner with us and come and do mission work and evangelism with us. In the Rio Grande Valley there is so much need for Christ and the gospel and a Reformed understanding of the Scriptures. There is also great financial need. We have many houses in poor condition that are falling apart, with people living in them. My goal is to host mission teams from other churches that will help our city to be renewed.

EPConnection: Your church is named Genesis, but it seems more like you’ve been through the Exodus.

Hector: Yes, it does. It feels like we’ve been in the wilderness for a long time, but we are approaching the Promised Land. We call it “our little Promised Land.”

EPConnection: In recent years you’ve suffered floods and hurricanes. What was that like?

Hector: For the past three years, we’ve had a lot of tragedy. In 2018 we were hit by a 100-year flood. In 2019, we were hit by a 500-year flood. This year, we were hit by Hurricane Hannah. Some members of our church have been flooded three or four times, and several are still repairing their homes. The EPC General Assembly and our presbytery provided emergency funding to help them rebuild and repair their homes. We are very grateful for that.

EPConnection: You told me that the floods actually turned out to be a blessing. How is that possible?

Hector: Because of these two major floods, the city fixed the drainage for the whole city and paved about 42 streets. Mercedes used to be like a third-world country, with many dirt roads, but now they are paved. So there was some good that came from it. Also, we had to change the grading and elevation of our church building. It will be three-and-a-half feet higher, so it will never flood again.

EPConnection: In the middle of these terrible floods your father was dying of cancer. How did you cope with that?

Hector: My father was a Presbyterian pastor. Since 2012 I began taking care of him. In 2019 his cancer came back, while I continued as his main caregiver. I would get him out of bed, shower him, and lift him. I hurt myself many times doing that. But every day I would picture that my Dad was Jesus himself, that I was taking care of the Lord Jesus. That really kept me going. My father died in September 2019 and I’ve had a hard time with that. He was my pastor, my colleague, and my friend.

EPConnection: How has COVID-19 impacted your church and community?

Hector: The Rio Grande Valley is composed of four counties. In those counties we have had 3,400 deaths related to the virus. Thanks to God no one that attends our congregation has contracted the virus. However, some of our members’ relatives, close friends, and neighbors have contracted the virus, and some have passed away. Our Session has decided to care for our people spiritually and physically. So right now, we are not gathering to worship in person, we are practicing family worship with weekly recorded sermons. We have gathered at our land once for worship and we will be doing this once in a while.

EPConnection: Has the issue of illegal immigration impacted your church?

Hector: Believe it or not, most people around here want a secure border; we do not want our families to live in danger. At the same time, we are in touch every day with people who are here illegally. It is part of our daily life, it is unavoidable. So many undocumented people attend Christian churches in Mercedes and the Valley; they are our friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. Most undocumented people are extremely hard workers. Of course, some are not, and we also have some that are vicious criminals. Two families from our church have suffered the violent murder of a loved one. The drug cartels are also part of life here; hidden, but nonetheless part of life. I wish for the border to be secure and at the same time I would like to see amnesty for the wonderful, hard-working people who are here illegally.

EPConnection: What has been your experience of being a minority pastor in the EPC?

Hector: I am extremely grateful to the EPC for receiving us. They have stood by us and helped us. I have been received in the EPC like never before. Something that I like about the EPC is that it is not focused on having people serve on committees just because they are minorities. The main thing is that they are faithful to Christ, not their racial or ethnic background. My presbytery has been amazing. In fact, I am the Moderator-elect of the Presbytery of the Gulf South.

EPConnection: You have deep roots in the Presbyterian Church in Mexico. Do you see a possibility of partnership between the EPC and the church in Mexico?

Hector: One thing we would like to do is provide a place where leaders from the EPC and the Presbyterian Church of Mexico can meet together. That way, we could hold meetings without having to cross the Mexican border. Our church has received a lot of help from the EPC. Now, we want for our new facilities to be an instrument for the extension of the kingdom of God in South Texas and the border area. We want to be a blessing to the whole EPC and beyond.

EPConnection: Thank you very much for taking time to tell some of your story.

Hector: Thank you!

by Peter Larson
EPConnection correspondent

At a recent Mother’s Day service, mothers in the congregation were recognized and received a gift.