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!
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 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.”
Beginning Wednesday, October 28, a panel of EPC pastors who have led church revitalization efforts will host a monthly virtual Church Revitalization Workshop. The content for the series was originally developed for the 2020 Leadership Institute, which was cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Church revitalization is a real need in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church,” said Jerry Iamurri, Assistant Stated Clerk. “According to our annual church report, over 80 percent of our churches are struggling to grow. And many of those have not experienced an adult profession of faith in the last 12 months.”
Facilitators of the workshop include John Mabray, Associate Pastor for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La.; Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.
Iamurri noted that the facilitators represent “a wide spectrum of church size, geographical context, and life experience. All are currently engaged in the work of church revitalization and have experienced some measure of success.”
Under the leadership of Mabray—who until September 2020 was Senior Pastor of Covenant—and MacPhail, each of those congregations received the EPC’s Bart Hess Award for church vitality. Resler’s pastoral ministry has been characterized by helping struggling churches of all sizes revitalize by applying a systems theory approach. Wright has led his congregation as a replant following a church split.
Resler said each month’s workshop will focus on one or more of three general categories: the revitalized pastor, the revitalized session/leadership, and the revitalized congregation. He added that depending on the number of participants, the meeting may include breakout rooms in which participants can receive coaching applicable for their personal ministry context.
The workshops will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern) on October 28, November 25, January 27, February 24, March 24, April 28, and May 26. There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.
Video recordings of the 40th General Assembly worship service messages are now available. The speakers are Case Thorp, Moderator of the 39th General Assembly, and Carolyn Poteet, Lead Pastor of Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The messages are available below, on the EPC website at www.epc.org/ga2020recordings, and on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80 in the “40th General Assembly” playlist. Audio recordings of the messages are available in podcast form on Spotify and iTunes—search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”
Thorp preached from 2 Kings 25:1-10 and Revelation 21:1-7. Poteet preached from 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 and Mark 8:31-17.
Blue tarps on homes in Lake Charles, La., indicate the extent of damage left by Hurricane Laura as Hurricane Delta takes aim at the region. (photo credit: Erik Stratton, KPEL965.com)
As Hurricane Delta bears down on the northern Gulf Coast, volunteers from numerous EPC churches expect to ramp up their ongoing recovery efforts since Hurricane Laura swept through southwest Louisiana in late August. Delta is expected to strengthen by the time it makes landfall on October 9.
Members of First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, La., and First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., have traveled to the heaviest-hit areas in the weeks since the category 4 storm made landfall August 27, causing extensive damage in Lake Charles and the surrounding area. Additional damage from Delta could further complicate what is a serious situation, according to relief effort leaders for the EPC’s Presbytery of the Gulf South.
Whitney Alexander, Associate Pastor of Missions for First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, said recovery efforts have focused largely on removing debris from wind damage and flooding. Alexander and Kory Duncan, Associate Pastor of Missions at First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs, are coordinating EPC relief efforts in the region.
“The wind damage was unbelievable,” Alexander said. “More than 50 percent of trees have been knocked over or damaged for the entire western side of Louisiana. Thousands of power lines were snapped or leaning over, with 80,000-plus roofs in these three communities damaged or destroyed. In some cases, the entire home has been leveled by trees falling.”
He noted that relief efforts were underway quickly after the storm moved out of the area. Members of First Presbyterian Church in Vicksburg, Miss., joined the teams from Baton Rouge and Ocean Springs with chainsaws and other tools in Alexandria, La., on September 4 and 5. The groups removed limbs from homes of members of Grace Presbyterian Church in Alexandria—approximately 100 miles north-northeast of Lake Charles and the nearest EPC congregation to Laura’s path of destruction. The following weekend, another group of 15 volunteers continued debris cleanup work in Alexandria.
Teams from Baton Rouge have continued to work in Lake Charles on Wednesdays and Saturdays, sawing downed trees and moving the debris to the curb.
“I just returned from my 12th trip,” Alexander said.
Kory Duncan (left) and volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., drove four hours to Alexandria, La., to help cleanup efforts following Hurricane Laura. (photo credit: Kory Duncan)
Duncan said students from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge joined the church teams to help clear debris in Alexandria.
“When trees fall in your yard, your insurance will cover it to get it off your house or to get it off your driveway or to get it off of any outbuildings, but the stuff that’s just lying in your yard, it’s on you,” Duncan said. “We spent an entire day working with a 90-year-old man. He was working when we got there and was working when we left—the whole time on one tree that had fallen that was probably 40 inches in diameter. We helped him—and we helped him a lot—but he still had more to do when we left.”
Alexander said he is praying there are no more injuries or property damage with Hurricane Delta.
“People are desperate,” he said. “My job is to continue loving people—that’s what I do. I’m going to continue to go to Lake Charles for a long time. We don’t need resources. We just need prayers. The supplies will be tripled and quadrupled. I’ll be there until next March, that’s how bad it is.”
He added that the 80,000 damaged and destroyed homes in the region will be rebuilt, but it will likely take several years.
“My heart hurts for those people,” Alexander said. “We’ve been through this in 2005, 2008, and 2016. Baton Rouge has been through it. I know how hard it is for these people. Gratefully, the Lord has spared us in Baton Rouge this time.”
He said his prayer for Hurricane Delta—the 25th named hurricane of the Atlantic season—is that “somehow the Holy Spirit and His mighty strength can dissipate that storm from 100 mph to like 50 when it gets on land. We know it is going to hit somebody, but we don’t want it to slam in as the last one did. The last one just annihilated everything.”
Duncan said his prayer is for more EPC churches to organize together or with other groups to train and prepare in advance to respond to future disasters.
“Thank goodness for organizations here and for the church,” Alexander said. “Without the church, I promise you they wouldn’t be this far in recovery efforts.”
Dean Weaver (right), Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in suburban Pittsburgh, speaks to the 40th General Assembly via video conference following his election as the EPC’s fourth Stated Clerk on September 17. At left is Glenn Meyers, Moderator of the 40th General Assembly. (photo credit: Jeff Guetzloe)
Commissioners to the EPC’s 40th General Assembly elected Dean Weaver, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, as the denomination’s fourth Stated Clerk. He currently serves as Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa., and was the Moderator of the 37th General Assembly. Weaver will be installed at the 41st General Assembly in June 2021.
Bill Dudley, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Southeast and Chairman of the Stated Clerk Search Committee, said Weaver has “a devotion to the church” and “has demonstrated what sacrificial leadership looks like” over the years.
“He is a man with a mission for God on his mind in every aspect in the life of the Church,” Dudley said. “He is that one who has taken the blend of being young enough to see visions—still—and yet he is also one who, like an experienced older man of wisdom, can still now dream dreams.”
Upon his election, Weaver said he was deeply honored and “greatly humbled that you would entrust such a stewardship to me to be the fourth elected Stated Clerk of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, following Ed Davis, Mike Glodo, and Jeff Jeremiah. I walk in the footsteps of giants; shoes the likes of which I could never hope to fill. I am the inheritor of that legacy for which I am deeply grateful, and am profoundly dependent upon you for your prayers, your support, and your love.”
Weaver noted that the 40th General Assembly has been “a surreal Assembly in so many ways, and this moment perhaps the most surreal for me in 34 years of ministry. It is overwhelming.”
He said he believes that the EPC’s best days are still ahead, echoing Dudley’s comments of dreams and vision.
“One of those dreams and visions is of a promised land that God yet has for us,” Weaver said. “Our best days are not behind us. Jeff has led us through unprecedented times with incredible courage and great faith and stamina. I am proud to be his friend, and quite frankly a little overwhelmed to follow him. But at the same time, I honestly believe that God is going to lead us through the wilderness wanderings of the coronavirus pandemic into a promised land—a time for us to inherit a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.”
Though he acknowledged the tension between contemporary culture and “measuring all by the Scripture—the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God,” Weaver declared that the EPC will faithfully go forward.
“Pray for your ‘Levitical leaders’—our beloved men and women who serve the Lord in ministry,” he said. “Pray that they would have the fortitude and the courage to step out with the presence of God and go into that place that God has for them. It may be overwhelming, but it is the place of promise.”
Weaver noted that “the way we have understood church over these last number of years” may be different going forward.
“That may mean we have to walk around the walls of the great city and blow our trumpets and do other things that seem to make virtually no sense,” he said. “Yet I am confident that this Kingdom that cannot be shaken, that God has called us to together, that God is going to do exceedingly abundantly more than you and I could ever ask or imagine.”
He added that he believes “the way before us is not going to be easy.”
“But I am even more confident that our God is so very good. He leads us, and He has been—and will be—faithful. I am honored to serve you in this way, and ask you to pray for me, for Beth, and for our family as we seek to serve the Lord through the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”
He and his wife, Beth, have been married for 32 years and have seven children (three natural born and four adopted—two from Sierra Leone, one from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and one in the U.S.) and two grandchildren.
Weaver holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and Religion from Grove City College; a Master of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; and Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
The Stated Clerk Search Committee was appointed by the 39th General Assembly and consisted of fifteen members representing each of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries, plus one member of the National Leadership Team.
Jeremiah has served as the denomination’s Stated Clerk since 2006. When re-elected to a fifth three-year term in 2018, he announced that it would be his final term and he would step down in June 2021.
New Hope Presbyterian Church members (from left) Cathy Fox, Helen Clapp, Eleanor Blitzer, Candy Engleman, and Gin Fisher) outside the Southwest Florida Juvenile Detention Center in Fort Myers, Fla.
“Do you wanna go to jail with me today?” Not your typical question. Then again, Candy Engleman is not your typical church lady. She is a member of the “Juvie Jail” ministry of New Hope Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Fort Myers, Fla., and her mission is to glorify God while sharing the gospel with the girls who are residents of a juvenile detention center.
The Juvie Jail ministry, as it is informally called, began in 2009 as part of a larger ministry for teenage girls. Every Monday afternoon, a group of volunteers from New Hope arrives at the Southwest Florida Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Fort Myers with homemade cookies, lemonade, Bible lessons, and love. The volunteers spend an hour and a half each week with the girls. They share snacks, play games, read the Bible, teach a lesson on a Bible verse or story, take prayer requests, and lead the girls in prayer. And they hug, too. Big circle hugs.
The girls are not required to participate, but Monday has become a highly anticipated day in the center for everyone. Frelicia Davis, Facility Training Coordinator for the Center, explains how important the ministry is in the lives of the girls.
“These kids go through their crises during the week, but on Mondays they light up and this helps them calm down,” Davis said. “They know these ladies are coming with their hearts—not just coming to be coming.”
Typically, a girl is housed in the facility for three weeks awaiting her appearance in court. During their first week, Davis says the girls are hesitant to participate because they want to “save face.” In the second week, the girls begin to open up and interact more within the group. By the third week, they begin praying and reaching out with questions and prayer requests. Some of these girls have never seen a Bible or started a prayer, but on Mondays they impatiently wait for the ladies from New Hope to arrive.
“We call them our ‘Jesus Christ Golden Girls!’” Davis exclaimed. “Everyone loves them. The girls love them. The staff loves them. These ladies have hearts of gold. Rain or shine, holidays…giving these girls hope.”
Ann Anderson has been involved since 2012, and noted that jail ministry is not always easy.
“You have to love the Lord,” she said. “These girls are needy, and some don’t know anything about God. Some are curious. We have to share God’s Word with them.”
Engleman agrees. While she jokes about asking people if they want to come to jail with her, the joking stops there.
“It is a blessing to be in this ministry,” she said. “It is a privilege for us to be able to do this and we want people who want to come and receive the blessing that it is.”
Permanent volunteers have to go through a detailed vetting process that includes fingerprinting and background checks. Engleman appreciates the requirements, because she only wants volunteers who are serious about serving.
“We see these girls as daughters, granddaughters, and nieces,” she explained. “We are terribly aware that we are sinners too, and so we are shoulder-to-shoulder with them and not standing in judgment.”
For privacy reasons, the volunteers are only given the girls’ first names. They also never know what offense a girl has committed. Some girls are repeat offenders. Some are runaways. Most come from dysfunctional families or foster homes. One girl was a repeat offender because being in the system was better than the alternative. A few of the girls have children of their own, despite their young ages. Sometimes their families don’t want them back. Drugs and alcohol are common threads woven into their stories. Sometimes a girl goes right back to a pimp upon release.
Engleman said the inability to follow up with girls after their release is the ministry’s only downside.
“Our job is to deliver the gospel,” she said. “Beyond that, God has not given us the okay to follow through with the girls. We share the gospel and we share our love. That is all we have been told by God to do at this point.”
The detention center leadership fully supports the ladies’ work.
“We have the utmost respect for this group, and for the church itself,” Davis said. “The love from the church—the entire church—is represented in this ministry.”
The girls aren’t the only ones being ministered to. The guards share prayer requests, ask for Bibles, grab cookies, and sometimes stay for the Bible lesson.
“Sometimes we do plays, like a Christmas pageant, and the guards take part,” Anderson noted. “They play the Wise Men or the shepherds. We try to make it fun for everyone. God is a joyful God and we want everyone to see this.”
Visitation restrictions are in place currently due to COVID-19, so the ladies have not been able to meet with the girls face-to-face. But they have not stopped going. Every week the ladies collect items and take them to the lobby to be delivered to the girls. Devotionals, word search books, adult coloring pages, and felt tip markers are passed along by the guards. The most important item the girls receive is a prayer request card. All of these cards are collected by the ministry and a volunteer sends out a visit report to more than 100 people who pray over each request every week.
Eddie Spencer, New Hope’s Senior Pastor, said the pandemic has barely slowed the ladies down.
“They cannot see the girls or fully enter the facility, but continue to visit each week to drop off discipleship lessons and sit together in the car and pray for the young women,” he said.
One of New Hope’s core values is living out the gospel by “reaching out to hurt and marginalized people.” The Juvie Jail Ministry demonstrates this by extending grace to all who live and work at the detention center. Engleman gives all the credit to God.
“God has allowed us to continue our ministry at the center despite COVID,” she said. “God is reaching out to many people there and we are privileged to be a part of His work.”
Even if it means going to jail.
by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath
Jacksonville Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Ore., opened its multi-purpose sanctuary for evacuees of the Alameda Fire that has burned 3,200 acres and destroyed at least 600 homes.
As wildfires ravage the West Coast destroying thousands of acres of timberland and homes —including the homes of three of his church families—an EPC pastor in southwest Oregon is requesting “prayer for wisdom and a vision” as the church seeks to minister to those amid the storm.
“It’s pretty overwhelming,” said Dustin Jernigan, Lead Pastor of Jacksonville Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Ore. “It’s hard not to find somewhere on the Oregon map where a community hasn’t been decimated. There are whole towns that are just gone.”
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 87 large wildfires are burning in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Many residents are under evacuation orders. In Oregon alone—Gov. Kate Brown said the state has never before had so many uncontained fires—more than a million acres have burned. As of September 14, at least 35 people have died as a result of nearly 100 wildfires that have scorched more than 4.7 million acres. At least four people died from the Alameda Fire, which burned 3,200 acres about 10 miles east of Jacksonville between Medford and Ashland, Ore.
Jernigan reported a “heavy orange haze over Jacksonville and the entire region, causing terrible air quality.” Coupled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted that residents are weary.
“It feels that we have already been running a marathon, and all of a sudden a bear showed up and is chasing us,” he said. “We are already exhausted. Now we have a whole different problem. Some people don’t have a place to sleep tonight. The main thing we need is prayer for wisdom, a plan, and a vision.”
The church opened its multipurpose sanctuary the weekend of September 11-13 to about a dozen families who either had lost their homes or who were fleeing the devastation of the wildfires. Following the first few days, the number of people utilizing the shelter diminished, after which people were taken into church member’s homes.
Brenda Rosch, one of those who stayed at the church, told the Wall Street Journal that she fled her mobile home near Medford with only the clothes on her back and a tablet computer. The entire mobile home park where her home was located was destroyed.
“I was resting, and the next thing I know the sheriffs are outside, there is dense smoke in the valley, really thick smoke, and the sheriffs are outside saying evacuate now, evacuate now,” Rosch said.
Wildfires have resulted in an orange haze enveloping the region around Jacksonville Presbyterian Church. The church was organized in 1857 and is the oldest Presbyterian congregation in the region.
When the evacuation order went out last week, Jernigan said he drove to the downtown area of Jacksonville to let the police know the church would be opening its doors to the displaced. While there he met a family who had driven three hours south from Eugene to the Medford area in an attempt to get away from the smoke of the fires.
“The irony was that one of our children’s directors had just left our town to drive three hours north to Eugene with the same idea in mind. To me, that is symbolic of the panic that we face. People are driving hours away and to get away from the fires. It’s a statewide problem,” he said.
Richard Evans, who serves the congregation as Associate Pastor for Missions, Discipleship, and Congregational Care, said he sees God at work in the crisis.
“I just see so many ‘God things’ in this,” he said, recounting an experience of one of the families in the church that lost everything.
“The afternoon of the day the fire ripped through—when it was nowhere near them at that point—the member went out for a hair appointment and something told them to take their dog with them. As much as they’ve lost, if they had lost their dog as well it would have been devastating,” Evans said. “It might seem like a small thing, but our lives are about everything, even small things. Yet I know a lot of people who haven’t been able to save their pets.”
Kate Hoskin, who grew up in the church and has a master’s in counseling psychology, addressed the congregation on September 13 at Jernigan’s request.
“She said that if people do not begin processing a crisis like what residents are experiencing, that in 72 hours PDSD (Prolonged Duress Stress Disorder) can set in,” Jernigan said. “But she also said the quicker that people can begin processing their trauma, the better off they are from having longtime effects.”
While the wildfire crisis is the immediate focus, Jernigan added that the pandemic has posed the greater existential threat. The church’s pre-COVID in-person attendance of 400 is now about 200, he said.
“Living here, people have a framework for wildfires. People don’t have a framework for not doing corporate worship for a year and a half. That’s more of, ‘What in the world, how do we continue operating?’”
He said the combination of the pandemic and wildfires has impacted his own family and their 5-year-old special needs son.
“I want to remind other EPC churches that COVID has been especially hard on families with special needs, because they have had to forgo in-person schooling and services like therapies,” he said. “Now for us, it’s even harder because our son can’t even go outside, he can’t go to speech therapy, physical therapy. We don’t do Sunday School like we used to, and we don’t see friends like we used to. I just want to blow that horn and say, ‘Hey pastors, if you have families with kids with special needs, they are a particularly affected group of people right now.’”
On September 2, Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., held a memorial service for EPC Teaching Elder Tim Russell. Russell, who served as Assistant Pastor for Middle Adults at Second Presbyterian Church, succumbed to COVID-19 on March 30.
Participating in the service were George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church; Sandy Willson, Pastor Emeritus of Second Presbyterian Church; Richard Allen Farmer, Senior Pastor-Teacher for Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.; and Barry Black, 62nd Chaplain of the United States Senate.