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.
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.
In this video, Justin Oberndorfer, Executive Director of Joy Meadows, shares a recorded video call with Jim West, Pastor of Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, in which West reveals the results of the Walk to the Manger offering.
Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City is a generous church, with numerous local ministry and mission partners they support. But in this season of COVID-19, the congregation has gone above and beyond.
In a “normal” year, Colonial hosts a December production called “Walk to the Manger Sunday.” It tells the story of Christmas through drama and music and has become a cherished tradition for the entire community.
The event also is designed to be a time for giving. In the service, after the Magi come and present their gifts to Jesus, the children are invited to bring toys to the manger. The donated toys are distributed by two of Colonial’s partner organizations to children who would not otherwise receive any Christmas presents. Baskets also are placed in the sanctuary so members can contribute to the annual mission offering.
But in 2020, with COVID-19 concerns and social distancing mandates, it looked like Walk to the Manger would have to be canceled. The church quickly came up with an alternate plan—open both campuses on the second weekend in December and have a manger scene in the sanctuaries. People were invited to come any time between noon and 6:00 p.m. for a time of private worship and remembrance. They also could bring their gifts for the Walk to the Manger offering to the sanctuary or make online donations.
A few weeks before the Advent season commenced, three members of Colonial’s staff asked Lead Pastor Jim West to support a new ministry. The trio wanted to raise money to build the first home for a development known as Joy Meadows.
Joy Meadows is an intentional neighborhood for foster and adoptive families, with the focus of keeping sibling groups together. The houses are designed to accommodate large families and the church would need to raise between $275,000 and $375,000 to accomplish the goal—on top of their regular Christmas offering.
“I was hesitant at first,” West said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, I haven’t seen 1,000 of our members in person in over 9 months, and there was not going to be a Walk to the Manger production which typically brings in visitors. I just wasn’t sure how much gas was left in the tank for our members, especially since the church had been overwhelmingly generous in the months leading up to December.”
To fully understand how benevolent Colonial church had already been in 2020, it’s necessary to go back a few months.
In March, around the same time the entire country went into lockdown, Colonial kicked off their traditional Easter campaign known as “Bless Our City.” The original goal was $100,000 to support their mission partners. But God had other plans.
“The second week after we were forced to stop meeting in person, I preached about the loaves and fishes from the book of John,” West said. “Right in the middle of the sermon, God prompted my heart. I heard Him say, ‘If you think this season is hard for you, imagine how it is for single parents.’ I felt led to take up an additional offering and give each of the single parents in our network $1,000.”
West approached the Session with the idea—which the elders approved without hesitation.
“When God says to do something, even if it seems irrational, you just obey,” West said. “And we did.”
In 2019, the “Bless Our City” campaign raised $50,000. In 2020, donations totaled $540,000—more than a tenfold increase. Some of the money went to an organization called “Single Moms Kansas City.” The rest went to 56 single parents in the Colonial congregation. Each family received $1,000 with a letter that told them, “We have no expectations of how you will spend the money. We would only ask that you give thanks to God…this was His idea; it’s His money; and He really does love you! So do we.”
Randall Leonard, Colonial’s Director of Impact Ministries, was one of the three staff members who asked West in November to add Joy Meadows to the Christmas effort.
“We witnessed God move in an extraordinary way on our church in the spring,” Leonard said. “So when we felt prompted to support Joy Meadows for Walk to the Manger, we believed He would do it again.”
Meganne Leighton, Colonial’s Community and Global Partnerships Coordinator, joined Leonard in the push to include Joy Meadows, as did Hannah Mabie, Colonial’s Foster Adopt Ministry Coordinator.
“We have so many families in our church who are called to foster or adopt,” said Leighton, who is an adoptive parent herself. “And so many more who volunteer their time to serve or engage in advocacy on behalf of kids in the system. Colonial is a church that is committed to family. I think that’s why this seemed like a natural fit for Walk to the Manger.”
West invited Justin and Sarah Oberndorfer, Executive Directors of Joy Meadows, to speak in one of Colonial’s Advent services.
“I kept the whole thing low-key and told the church I was not asking them to do anything if they were not convicted by the Lord to do so,” West noted.
“The effects of COVID early in 2020 made us question whether we would be able to move forward much at all,” Justin Oberndorfer told the congregation. “But instead, the unfinished 3,200-square-foot basement on the property was transformed into a Community Center within 3 months because construction companies were in desperate need of contracts. Not only was the project finished ahead of schedule, but it also became a source of provision for those workers and their families.”
He reported that four therapists now work in the completed Community Center, and numerous foster children are receiving services every week.
“Obstacle after obstacle just turned into an opportunity for God to show His miraculous provision,” Oberndorfer said, noting that volunteers have served at Joy Meadows every day—including skilled craftsman and master gardeners. People of all ages have done yard work, sorted and delivered clothes, cared for animals, and picked up trash.
“This year the vision has become a reality,” he said. “As we walk the 50 acres, hear the laughter of kids on the property, see therapists working with kids in the orchard or in the barn with the animals, we see this place coming to life.”
The Oberndorfers ended their Advent message with a question: “What if God moves in our midst and we build a house that allows a sibling group who are waiting right now to stay together as a family?”
A Full House
The congregation responded with a definitive answer. On the first day alone, $171,000 was given. By the following afternoon it was up to $340,000. When the campaign ended on December 31, more than $475,000 had been raised—enough for a complete house and half of another.
“It’s all God. We give Him all the glory,” West said. “This year has been a beautiful opportunity to turn away from the things that concern and divide us and center ourselves around the things that really matter to His heart.”
Mabie, who brings licensed social worker credentials to her role as Colonial’s Foster Adopt Ministry Coordinator, said she is not surprised that Joy Meadows’ story resonates deeply with Colonial.
“We have a unique opportunity to be part of building a legacy that’s going to be here for 50 or more years,” she said. “I think that’s why people have been so captivated by this project. We’re providing a home where sibling groups can grow and thrive and be together. To have Colonial’s name on that is really special.”
For the Oberndorfers, Colonial’s response has been especially meaningful.
“It’s an affirmation that God sees the plight of the orphan and He will provide in ways that we can’t even imagine,” Justin said. “God is building Joy Meadows through His Church and His people. We get to be just a small part of that miracle. We are not walking this sometimes difficult and lonely road of ministry alone. We have the army of Colonial Church walking beside us and helping us pave the way for this new ministry that will have a generational impact.”
Leonard said the church’s response to both the Easter and Christmas efforts affirmed for him that the congregation is embracing the church’s mission statement: “To be the light of Christ in a hurting culture, so that the lost are found, the broken are made whole, the fatherless find hope, and our city is blessed.”
“We have prayed and asked the Lord’s Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of His people as we desire to share the love of Christ with those in our spheres of influence,” Leonard said. “He is answering our prayers!”
Gifts donated by Walk to the Manger participants were delivered to Colonial Presbyterian Church’s local mission partners Freedom Fire Ministries and Mission SouthSide.
by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
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.
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.
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.
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
At a recent Mother’s Day service, mothers in the congregation were recognized and received a gift.
Rev. Dr. Elmer Perry Mobley, longtime EPC Teaching Elder and Moderator of the 7th General Assembly (1987), died on December 3. He was 93.
Born in 1927, he served in the Navy during World War II. Afterwards he attended Georgia Southwestern University in Americus, Ga.; Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C.; and Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. He received his doctorate from King College in Bristol, Tenn., where he later served on the Board of Trustees.
Mobley served as Pastor of six churches: Havana Presbyterian Church in Havana, Fla.; Tifton Presbyterian Church in Tifton, Ga.; Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tenn.; Reynolda Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.; First Presbyterian Church in Florence, S.C.; and Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Florence, S.C.
After his 1992 retirement from Trinity EPC, Mobley served in numerous interim and transitional capacities, including Central Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Mo.; Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Northville, Mich.; Reynolda Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colo.; Grace Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Phoenix, Ariz., Lebanon EPC in Greenwood, Va.; and Myrtle Grove EPC in Wilmington, N.C. He later returned to Trinity EPC in Florence, S.C, as Director of Pastoral Care and Visitors. When he retired from that role he was named Pastor Emeritus.
He is survived by his wife and childhood sweetheart, Jeane Duke Mobley; son and daughter-in-law Perry Duke and Pam Mobley of Rogers, Ark.; son David Duke Mobley of Winston-Salem, N.C.; daughter and son-in-law Elisabeth Duke and James Sims of Winston-Salem, N.C.; and son and daughter-in-law Mark Duke and Carol Mobley of Hollywood, S.C.; eight grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
The recording of “The Revitalization of the Pastor,” the November installment of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop, is now available. The monthly workshop is held via video conference on the fourth Wednesday of each month through May 2021 (except December).
With assistance from Ruling Elder Ruth Wood (right), Joyce Harris (left), Lead Pastor of First Evangelical Presbyterian Chuch in Kokomo, Ind., served the Lord’s Supper to church members Dick and Myra Sanburn.
The adage “cold hands, warm heart” rings true for Joyce Harris, Lead Pastor of First Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Kokomo, Ind. On December 6, Harris and Associate Pastor Jerry Van Auken weathered 30-degree temperatures to serve an outdoor, drive-in Lord’s Supper members of the central Indiana congregation.
“Our gloves were not the warm type—bummer—but they were health approved,” Harris quipped.
She said that those who viewed the 9:30 a.m. worship service online were invited to drive to the church campus for the communion service. For 30 minutes “non-stop,” she and Van Auken served the elements and prayed with each car.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be so encouraged in ministry by doing drive-by communion,” Harris said. “Members were warm in their cars, and we were masked and gloved. After a brief acknowledgement of the sermon content and partaking of the elements, we prayed with each one.”
Harris said it was “a highlight of my day” for so many people to come.
“At one point we had four cars waiting. We took our time with each one because this is their time to connect with their pastors. They are the ones who feel isolated and vulnerable, and this is a way they are willing to come to us to share in the table.”
Jane Choplin Roes, wife of 28th General Assembly Moderator Allen Roes, died on November 24. She was 76.
The Roes lived in Huntersville, N.C., where they are longtime members of Lake Forest Church.
Survivors include her husband, Allen; daughter, Gina Roes of Huntersville; son and daughter-in-law; Courtney and Krista Roes of Kandern, Germany; grandson, Alex; sister, Sara Brady; and sister-in-law, Bonnie Choplin.
A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, December 1, at 6:30 p.m., at Lake Forest Church. To watch the live stream, send condolences, or make a memorial gift, see www.roesgarden.com/JaneRoes.
The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, November 25, with the topic, “Revitalization of the Pastor.” The discussion will focus on areas specific to the spiritual revitalization of the pastor and will include such topics as humility, repentance, preaching the gospel to yourself, sustaining revitalization over the long haul, and where to go when you need help.
Facilitators include Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.
The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders.
FROM THERE; GOING THERE: Carrie and Barrett Hendrickson (left) greeted Jude and Keitra Vilma after a recent worship service at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. Jude grew up in Marsh Harbor and now serves as a pastoral resident at FPCO. The Hendricksons arrived in Marsh Harbor on November 4 to serve with the EPC’s Kirk of the Pines under the auspices of the Caribbean Youth Network.
What do Pittsburgh, Orlando, and Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas have in common? For two EPC ordination candidates and their families, Orlando is the middle link in a chain that stretches more than 1,000 miles across two countries.
On September 3, Jude and Keitra Vilma arrived in Orlando from Nassau, where he had served as a pastoral intern for St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk. He grew up in a Haitian Creole community in Marsh Harbor, has been a youth worker with the Bahamas Youth Network, and now is a pastoral resident at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando while pursuing a Master of Divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS).
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Barrett Hendrickson was in the process of transferring his status as Candidate Under Care from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies to the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. A May 2020 RTS graduate, he and his wife, Carrie, had joined the Caribbean Youth Network (CYN) to serve with EPC Teaching Elder Gabe Swing at the Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas. The church is a mission of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.
The Hendricksons staged in Florida for several months while they waited for pandemic-related restrictions in the Bahamas to be lifted. On November 4, they arrived in Marsh Harbor, which was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
“We are extremely excited to welcome the Hendrickson family to Abaco,” Swing said. “They will provide needed support for relief efforts and help us re-engage the community through outreach and worship opportunities.”
Hendrickson said that when he was young, one of the ways his youth pastor mentored him was through preforming manual labor, such as mowing the lawns of older church members.
“I wanted to be able to do that here,” he said. “Of course sharing Jesus and discipling people, but also by providing tangible, physical needs.”
Swing said conditions in Marsh Harbor continue to be “very difficult” for residents, with many still without adequate housing, electricity, and running water.
“The reconstruction moves at a snail’s pace, and many residents have to acquire drinking water from Water Mission distribution sites,” he said. “The pandemic has frustrated recovery efforts, and food security has become a major problem. Thousands of people are relying on free food distribution from the government and NGOs.”
In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, approximately $175,000 has been disbursed to Kirk of the Pines from the EPC Emergency Relief Fund.
Swing noted that “regular giving has all but vanished” since so many church members have been displaced to other islands in the Bahamas, as well as the U.S. He said the Emergency Relief Fund donations have been used to purchase a truck to distribute relief supplies; provide food and housing for several displaced families; assist with living expenses for he and his wife, Jan; and fund pastoral visits to members of the congregation.
‘Raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders’
While Orlando was a stopping point in the Hendrickson’s journey to the Bahamas, the Vilmas are adjusting to life at FPCO and RTS. He is the recipient of the Andrew Jumper Scholarship, which is named for one of the EPC’s founders and awarded by RTS to a full-time MDiv student who demonstrates “exemplary Christian character and potential for ministry.”
David Swanson, FPCO Senior Pastor, said the Vilmas are “settling into the FPCO family beautifully” as the congregation has resumed in-person worship.
“Our commitment is to take an active role in raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders with a special eye towards greater diversity,” he said. “The Vilmas are the perfect fit for a mutually beneficial partnership. Jude is already leading in worship and will be meeting with each member of the pastoral team on a regular basis as the meat of his pastoral residency program. He will be exposed to every dimension of church life, including finance and administration, with the goal of helping him be ready theologically and practically for a fruitful future pastorate.”
Vilma said that he did not expect to be awarded the Jumper Scholarship, and when he received the news he knew he and his wife would be moving to Florida.
“I knew I was coming to Orlando,” Vilma said. “First Pres was very generous to us coming here with their love and support, so it’s really great for us. I hope to continue to grow under David Swanson, Case Thorp, and the other pastors here, and eventually to serve within the EPC itself.”
FPCO has partnered with the EPC congregations in the Bahamas “in extremely meaningful ways,” said Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Kirk. “No individual congregation has contributed more to the health and progress of St. Andrew’s and Kirk of the Pines than First Pres Orlando.”
Hendrickson said Vilma is “our great success story” from CYN.
“When we came down last August before Hurricane Dorian hit to see the opportunity with Gabe and CYN, Jude walked us through Marsh Harbor and the Haitian neighborhood where he grew up,” he said. “So to connect with him and Keitra in Orlando was wonderful. To recognize how God raised him up here—and now bringing us to Abaco—it was like God was saying to us, ‘there is opportunity to raise up more.’ That’s our long-term goal: to raise Bahamian pastors.”
On October 28, a panel of EPC pastors experienced in church revitalization kicked off the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop. The series of interactive videoconference workshops will continue on the fourth Wednesday of each month through May 2021 (except December). The recording of the first session is now available.
Members of the Church Development Committee from the Presbytery of Mid-America pray over Central West End Church’s newly installed Ruling Elders, Pete Brown (kneeling, left) and Kerry Cheung on October 11. (photos courtesy of Central West End Church)
In 2016, Central West End Church (CWE) in St. Louis, Mo., planted itself at a literal dividing line in the city: one block south of Del Mar Boulevard. The Del Mar Divide, as it is known, is a dividing line of wealth, prosperity, race, and perspective. Pastor Eric Stiller views this stark contrast as an opportunity to see the city made new spiritually, socially, and culturally by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
CWE marked its own new beginning on October 11 as it celebrated “local church” status with Stiller’s installation as Pastor and the ordination of Kerry Cheung and Pete Brown as elders. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the service was live-streamed.
The Central West End neighborhood was identified in 2008 as a potential site for a church plant and is an eclectic area with a vibrant art, food, and cultural scene. This dynamic is what drew Stiller to St. Louis from New York City in 2005, when he entered Covenant Theological Seminary.
“I came to St. Louis with the passion to do whatever ministry I was going to do in a city,” he said.
Tom Ricks, who leads the EPC’s Church Planting Team, said the committee considers the needs of an area when deciding where to plant a church. He noted that the residents of Central West End are primarily unchurched, and most would consider themselves secular progressives. Ricks estimated that more than 90 percent never attend religious events.
“Why we got excited at the national level is that there just isn’t much of a Christian community in the Central West End, period—much less a Reformed Christian one that matches up with our EPC foundation and worldview,” he said.
When Stiller heard that the area was being considered, he became excited and began to earnestly pray about it. As this seed of excitement and passion continued to grow, he began to fall more and more in love with the location.
“God didn’t really call me to church planting. He called me to a neighborhood,” Stiller said. “It’s the place I feel most passionate about.”
He added that he loves that Central West End is such a secular place.
“I have always had an interest in apologetics and reaching out to people who at best would be indifferent to faith and at worst hostile to faith.”
Stiller understands this indifference firsthand. He describes himself as “not being concerned about God” for the first 30 years of his life and wrestling with the same doubts and “allergies” that people have today. In addition, he recalled noticing the “glaring” racial segregation in the city when he first arrived. Having been a jazz musician for many years, he had always been surrounded by African-Americans and their music and culture.
“When I prepare my sermons or have conversations with people, I am always imagining the inner skeptic asking questions,” he explained.
Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, Central West End Church held their worship services in the historic Mahler Ballroom.
CWE’s worship services are currently live-stream only, but in-person services have been held at the Mahler Ballroom, a local event space originally built as a dance studio in 1907. In addition to their worship service, the church offers community groups focused on “building friendships and community, growing faith, learning how to follow Jesus in every area of life, and supporting each other through prayer,” Stiller said.
The church hosts Alpha, a course designed for those who are curious about God. Alpha conversations delve into topics of spirituality from a biblical perspective, with no pressure to believe and no obligation to join the church. Stiller hopes that they can develop more resources for people interested in the integration of faith and work while reaching out to secular neighbors who might be interested in faith and spirituality.
Ricks believes that Stiller is the right guy for that spot.
“The EPC wants to apply the gospel to every area of life, and Eric just exudes this,” Ricks said. “God doesn’t make mistakes in his personnel choices.”
Church members helped renovate a gardening classroom at Washington Montessori Elementary School in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis.
As CWE began rooting itself in the community, Stiller and his team began a partnership with a local Montessori school as a means of engaging with their neighbors. Church members helped convert an outdoor space into a classroom with raised gardening beds, began tutoring students in math and reading, and renovated a teachers’ lounge. As the coronavirus pandemic struck a financial blow in the community, CWE raised more than $18,000 to help people associated with the school with rent, food, and supplies.
More than just physical assistance, however, Stiller said CWE seeks to fulfill the social aspect of their mission by seeking intentional and ongoing relationships with the school, the students, and their families. He emphasized that their mission is “a holistic one, not a false dichotomy that embraces spiritual work and evangelizing as opposed to social action and deeds of mercy and justice. God’s mission comprises all of this.”
For their part as Ruling Elders, Cheung and Brown see themselves as “shepherds and advocates” whom God has gifted in the areas of leadership and administration. Both are just as passionate as Stiller about the mission of the church to be a part of the renewing of the city spiritually, socially, and culturally.
Above all, CWE wants to follow Jesus as He makes all things new—especially across the dividing line.
by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath
New Covenant EPC in Burgaw, N.C., held their first worship services in their permanent facility—a renovated former dance studio—on August 3. (photos courtesy of New Covenant EPC)
For born-again believers, there is no doubt of God’s providence in every aspect and detail of His creation—and that intricately includes His Church. That truth has vividly played out over the past several years for a small, southeastern North Carolina congregation.
For its first few months, about 30 people from different denominations attended. A Methodist church in Burgaw then offered its facility on Sunday evening services, which provided space for Sunday School classes and a youth group. More moves followed, with the congregation eventually settling into retail space at a main intersection in Burgaw. At the time, they called themselves Crossroads Community Church.
In 2017 the congregation moved yet again to storefront space in the center of Burgaw, across from the county courthouse. The same year, Duke Lineberry, a Ruling Elder at Myrtle Grove EPC, accepted a call as visiting evangelist.
Duke Lineberry preaches to the New Covenant congregation on October 22, 2020.
While Lineberry admits not much outreach took place the first few years of his tenure, in March 2019 the church made a decision that has placed it “directly in line with His sovereign plan,” Lineberry said.
“We became aware of a small Mexican church that had lost their lease,” he explained. “We felt led to offer them our space for their services and to use opposite our schedule. As God so often does, we began to see some fundamental changes in our church, moving from complacency to a more focused purpose.”
In November 2019, New Covenant purchased a former dance studio and began converting it for church use. On August 2, 2020, the church held its first worship service in its new facility.
Lineberry noted that for the first time in its 22-year history, “our little church has its own premises. With our new location and resources, we believe He is preparing us to be the light in Burgaw.”
Mike and Joy Thurlow, who have attended since the church’s launch in 1998, agree that after many twists and turns along its journey, New Covenant is on a renewed path.
“There is really a new zeal after the move,” said Mike, who has served as an elder since the church started. “People are more excited. While we are still a small fellowship, we are seeing more people coming now since the relocation.”
Joy and Mike Thurlow
Joy said she has seen “God working in people’s lives” over the past several months.
“Broken people are coming into our church,” she said. “People are coming for healing—physical healing, spiritual healing, emotional healing.”
The church is starting to look into ways to better reach Burgaw’s youth, such as by teaching piano, keyboard, and guitar. The “fuel” for attracting young people comes from church member Keith White. He noted that creating an environment where youth can gather and be nurtured is an outgrowth of his experience growing up in a small Baptist congregation.
“We met every Saturday night my whole teenage years,” White said. “We would get together and have some kind of activity or play a game, have a little bit of music, and then a fellow a few years older than me preached for a little bit. I learned more in those six years than any other guidance. If it wasn’t for that six years I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. That guidance sustained me through a whole lot of life.”
He added that sees “a whole lot of young people running around Burgaw. I ask the kids what they do on weekends and they say, ‘I don’t know; nothing.’ So I say, ‘Let’s build the church up with some young people.”
Moving is an adventure
Lineberry said relocating to the new building hasn’t been without its challenges.
“The building was built in 1992 as a dance studio, and virtually every little girl in Burgaw took lessons there,” he said. “Unfortunately, the building sat unused for almost a decade before we purchased it.”
He noted that the building needed a new roof; structural repairs to the walls and floors; and a variety of upgrades to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Much of the renovation work was performed by volunteers, such as constructing interior walls to separate the entrance from the seating area.
“We purchased and installed carpet, painted the walls from its former hot pink to a warm white, and put up a temporary wall to separate the entrance from the sanctuary area,” Lineberry said, adding that they also removed some trees to make room for parking.
“All of the design, planning, and permitting was done by our leadership, and the work was done by a combination of member volunteer efforts, contract labor, and one member in particular who we paid a much-discounted rate to perform the majority of the carpentry work, rehabilitating the structure, building handicap ramps, and the like.”
As a practicing trial attorney in Wilmington, Lineberry said his time serving the Burgaw congregation as its pastor is not permanent—partially because New Covenant now has a permanent facility.
“The leadership is sincerely seeking the Lord on hiring an ordained pastor,” he said. “I’ve been asked to stand again for Session at Myrtle Grove, and the leadership at New Covenant is supportive. At this stage, I can’t see leaving New Covenant any time soon, as I know the Lord placed me there for His purposes. I plan on remaining there to support and assist the pastor the Lord has for this special little family of God in Burgaw.”
Looking back to his arrival at New Covenant in 2017, Lineberry said he was concerned then about the church’s future.
“My fear was that she would simply spend up her money and eventually close the doors,” he reflected. “Thanks be to God, a remnant handful of people have been faithful to stay, pray, and serve. Now, it seems as if New Covenant is on the cusp of something new for herself and the Burgaw community.”
Instead of being tucked in a retail space between Food Lion and Subway, the church is now on the main road into Burgaw, across from the Pender Co. Department of Social Services and down the street from many local government service offices.
Lineberry sees the church as strategically poised to minister to the sizable Spanish-speaking population in the community.
“We need only look directly across the street at DSS for innumerable mission opportunities,” Lineberry said. “The Mexican church came to us and we obeyed, and as a result God made a way for New Covenant that she’s never had before. Our prayer now is for the Lord to point us in the direction He wants us to go. With the current heart of the church, I expect we will respond rightly.”
Lineberry noted that New Covenant is not a wealthy congregation, but it is a faithful one.
“Our seniors are retirees, and our younger families struggle with hourly wages and expenses. Many others are self-employed and hurting financially from COVID. But the Lord has provided, and we anticipate that He will continue to provide for us,” Lineberry said. “We will continue to be open to any outreach the Lord will show us.”