Category Archives: People

Bellefield Presbyterian Church partners with University of Pittsburgh to feed hungry students

 

BellefieldChurchby Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

When Pastor Josh Brown looks out of the window of his office at Bellefield Presbyterian Church, he can see eight of the dormitories on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, commonly known as Pitt.

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Josh Brown

“I believe that God strategically placed us here to be a light to the college community,” he said. “In fact, even though our church is primarily made up of young professionals and families, many of them are here because someone at Bellefield invested in them when they were in college.”

So in the fall of 2014 when the university’s Dean of Students, Kathy Humphrey, approached Brown with a partnership proposal, he was eager to listen.

“The leadership at Pitt had become aware of a problem with food insecurity among their student population,” Brown said. “Many students were paying for school on their own but still living with parents, so they didn’t qualify for financial assistance.”

That left many of the university’s nearly 34,000 students choosing between paying for books and tuition or buying food—and much of the food that they could afford was lacking in nutritional value.

So Humphrey decided to set up a food pantry through PittServes, the university’s community service arm. That’s when she approached Brown and asked if they could house the pantry in Bellefield’s basement.

“At the time there wasn’t a suitable on-campus space, and retail spaces weren’t economically feasible,” explained Ciara Stehley, who serves as the Pitt Pantry Coordinator. There also was a concern that the stigma of being food insecure might keep students from coming to a location on campus.

Brown took the idea to his congregation, who welcomed the idea with open arms. Church members pitched in to clean out the basement, which was being utilized as a youth space, and Pitt Pantry officially opened during the spring 2015 semester.

At first, the pantry was stocked only with non-perishable items, but soon grew to include meat, dairy, and fresh produce. The university purchases most of the food from the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, and the rest comes from charitable donations by members of the community.

Pitt Pantry is open Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Appointments also are available every weekday for anyone who cannot get there during its open hours. The pantry is staffed entirely by volunteers, and any Pitt student, staff, or faculty member whose income is less than 150 percent of the poverty line is eligible to shop at the pantry. As many as 80 people visit the pantry each month, which Stehley said was an increase of about 50 percent since the pantry opened in 2015.

Jason Ong, President of the Pitt Pantry Student Executive Board, says that volunteering at the pantry has opened his eyes to a hidden issue on his college campus.

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University of Pittsburgh students collected donations for the Pitt Pantry at the annual “Pitt Make a Difference Day” in October.

“I have learned that food insecurity does not have one face,” he said. “Any individual could face choosing to purchase a mandatory textbook over a meal. Beyond this, I am grateful to have met such a welcoming community at the Pantry.”

Brown occasionally encounters pantry shoppers who are curious about why the church is willing to help.

“I never want anyone to feel like the food comes with strings attached,” Brown said. “When someone inquires why we are doing this, I ask them if they were hungry that morning. And when they tell me they were, I say, ‘Then we want you to have the food you need so you won’t feel that way tomorrow.’”

Students receive food from the pantry with no obligation, though Brown hopes those who participate will recognize that Bellefield is a church that cares about students.

“We post information about our services and let them know that they are always welcome,” Brown said. The church recently added a third worship service at 5:00 p.m. on Sundays with acoustic music and a relaxed, reflective format in hopes that it would be an additional draw for students.

“Our congregation has been very supportive of the pantry,” Brown said. “We want to be aware of opportunities to reach out and connect with the community and be sensitive to the Lord’s leading through the channels that He creates.”

Brown believes the Pitt Pantry is one of those channels. He and another Bellefield member serve on Pitt Pantry’s board, and several student leaders in their Cornerstone ministry for college-aged young adults serve as volunteers.

In return, the university has also reached out to Bellefield. A few weeks ago, more than 40 PittServes students showed up at the church for a day of weeding and cleaning.

The Pitt Pantry also has brought regional awareness to the issue of food insecurity and prompted other universities to begin similar programs for their students. Stehley emphasized that being able to influence others is an exciting part of her work.

“Getting to share our successes and challenges at conferences across the country and support other schools as they improve the food needs of their students is one of my favorite things about my role,” she said. “As we move toward a holistic and proactive approach to supporting our students, we’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. But we realize that we have a continued responsibility to strive for creative and systems-focused solutions.”

Brown hopes that Bellefield will continue to play a significant part in helping to find those solutions. He said the partnership with Pitt has enabled them to meet the needs of their community more effectively together than either could have done individually.

“I believe it’s a blessing for those around us to see a local congregation and a large university working together like this,” Brown said. “Our hope going forward is that we can continue to find ways to partner with the university to care for students in ways that reflect the love of Christ and model an effective, collaborative partnership.”

Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Erie, Pa.) launches ministry relationship in Monterrey, Mexico

 

Through the EPC’s fraternal relationship with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (INPM), Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pa., has formed a ministry relationship with Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd National Presbyterian Church) in Monterrey, Mexico. The northeastern Mexican city of more than 4.5 million residents is about 200 miles west of Brownsville, Texas.

The seeds of the relationship were planted in November 2018, when Redeemer Pastor Douglas Kortyna and his wife, Sara, were visiting Monterrey.

“We wanted to worship with fellow Presbyterians while we were down there visiting family,” Douglas said. “We found El Buen Pastor and connected with their pastor, David Cruz.”

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From left, Douglas Kortyna (Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pa.), David Cruz (Pastor of Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana El Buen Pastor in Monterrey, Mexico), and Jim Moelk (retired Presbyterian pastor from Erie, Pa.). 

Through their new-found friendship with Cruz, the Kortynas began a dialogue about potential future mission trips to Mexico. After discussing a variety of possible ministry opportunities, the pastors agreed that the best fit for a first mission trip would be theological education.

“It is a universal truth that Presbyterians throughout the world love their theological education!” Douglas exclaimed.

In November 2019, the Kortynas and a retired Presbyterian pastor from the Erie area, Jim Moelk, and his wife, Jaye, traveled to Monterrey and taught on a variety of topics.

“I taught on trinitarian worship and Reformed sacraments,” Douglas said. “Jim taught through the pastoral epistles with special attention to ‘guarding your conscience,’ while Sara taught the woman’s group at El Buen Pastor on the topic of trinitarian prayer.”

In addition, the group from Redeemer learned how their Mexican counterparts were engaged in church planting.

“The church has started what they call ‘five in five,’” Douglas said. “They are working toward planting five churches within a five-year time period.”

Cruz led the Pennsylvania contigent on tours of three of the Monterrey congregation’s five current church plants.

“We were blown away,” Douglas said. “What church plants five churches in five years? Yet every time El Buen Pastor hits a certain threshold of members, they plant a church, commission the team they establish, and commit to supporting them financially.”

He explained that the El Buen Pastor congregation has “a Kingdom focus and is not interested in just building up one congregation. I couldn’t help but think we should host pastors from Mexico to help teach future EPC church planters some of their strategies!”

Kortyna hopes the November trip is just the start of a fruitful partnership.

“We would love to host a team from El Buen Pastor,” he said. “There is much to learn from our Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ while mutually serving one another, and I firmly believe we should participate with them in the missional work of church planting in Monterrey. Anyone interested in joining us is welcome to contact me at pastor_kortyna@rpcerie.org.”

Church Pivot podcast features Richard Mouw

 
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Richard Mouw

The second episode of Case Thorp’s “Church Pivot” podcast features the Moderator of the 39th General Assembly talking with Dr. Richard Mouw, President Emeritus and Professor of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary. Mouw currently teaches courses on Christian Worldview and Contemporary Culture, and Perspectives on Christ and Culture.

In their discussion, Thorp and Mouw explore the topics of civility, gentleness, and respect—and how those qualities relate to the past, present, and future of the American evangelical church.

Click below to listen. The 42-minute recording also is available on the EPC’s Podbean channel, or search “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” on Spotify or iTunes.


Mouw served as President of Fuller Theological Seminary from 1993–2013. He has been an editor of the Reformed Journal and has served on many editorial boards, including Books and Culture. He is the author of more than 20 books, including The God Who CommandsThe Smell of SawdustHe Shines in All That’s FairCulture and Common GraceUncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil WorldThe Challenges of Cultural DiscipleshipTalking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals, and Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground.

Mouw served for many years as a panelist in the online forum “On Faith” offered by the Washington Post. In 2007, Princeton Theological Seminary awarded him the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life. Mouw also served for six years as co-chair of the official Reformed-Catholic Dialogue, and is a leader in interfaith theological conversations—particularly with Mormons and Jewish groups.

Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

“Church Pivot” is a series of articles and audio podcasts in which Thorp focuses on issues of pivoting toward a robust future of ministry, spiritual growth, adult conversion, and more.

Caldwell (Idaho) EPC celebrates new home, personal revitalization

 
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Caldwell Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s new property is a formerly neglected recreation center the congregation purchased from the local Roman Catholic diocese in 2019.

On November 22, Caldwell Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, Idaho, will hold a dedication and celebration service for its new building. The church had been renting a series of locations since joining the EPC in 2013, and purchased a former Roman Catholic property earlier this year. Yet the celebration is about much more than a building—it is a celebration of God’s faithfulness, truth, and power for personal spiritual revitalization.

When the Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, Idaho, began to discuss leaving the mainline denomination in 2012, Scott and Connie Hoover weren’t quite sure what to believe. They had been members of the congregation for more than 40 years and as a result had deep relationships in both the church and the community. Yet they knew there were rumblings among many in the church about their denomination.

“When the issues started coming out, I was on Session,” Connie said. “In the first meeting where we addressed the concerns, I agreed more with my friends who were in favor of gay ordination and that kind of thing. I was on that side of the issue, and others were on the other side.”

For his part, Scott was concerned about what he thought were the mainline denomination’s “unbiblical political stances.”

“I was wondering, ‘do I really want to belong to the Presbyterian church?’” he said. “But when the issue of same-sex ordination came up, I started reading the Bible more and realized I was as much a cultural Christian as I was a believer all these years.”

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Scott and Connie Hoover

Connie noted that her walk with Christ to that point largely mirrored that of her husband’s.

“I was an active church participant, but I wouldn’t say I had a deep walk with Christ,” she confessed. The Hoovers realized that the decision facing the congregation was bringing Scott and her to a personal turning point.

“Through that whole situation I realized that the basic issue was the truth of the Bible, and some of my opinions had to change to line up with biblical truth,” she said. “I remember praying that this decision had to be made by His will and His Word, not the opinions of me and my friends.”

The Hoovers—and the Session—soon realized that the congregation needed to leave its denomination. The transition to a new home would not be easy.

“The more we as a Session prayed that we would align with biblical truth, the more we were criticized,” Connie recalled. “And the more we were criticized, the more I relied on Him and strengthened my relationship with Him. And I was not alone—God drew a lot of us to Him.”

When the congregation cast its vote, 75 percent chose to depart and join the EPC. The 25 percent who voted against the disaffiliation left and began meeting elsewhere. However, they soon filed a lawsuit to gain possession of the church property they had vacated. After more than a year in the courts, followed by a negotiated settlement, the EPC congregation left the property and began renting space from the local Seventh-Day Adventist church.

“I can’t say enough about how gracious the Adventists were,” Connie noted. “And the rent we paid them helped them pay off some debt, so it was good for everyone. They were so kind and encouraging to us, even across some pretty substantial theological divisions.”

Aaron Beaty was the pastor during the congregation’s transition to the EPC.

“I witnessed nothing short of the miraculous work the Holy Spirit in uniting what had previously been a congregation of varied convictions and backgrounds,” said Beaty, who now serves as pastor of Peace Memorial EPC in Klamath Falls, Ore. “The unity was in the Word, the Spirit, and the Body. Ultimately this unity in Christ was expressed when the fellowship chose to turn the building and $300,000 of investments over to their former denomination instead of engaging in a lengthy court battle and appeals process. For a congregation that was deeply rooted in that place, the move demonstrated the work God’s Spirit had done in them.”

Later, the congregation began renting the neglected gym and educational annex of a church property owned by the local Roman Catholic diocese. With the approval of their landlords, members of the congregation began gutting and renovating. They held their first services in the facility in early 2017.

“The Catholic ladies who saw how we fixed it up started crying at how good it looked, and that was still going to be used as a church,” Scott said.

“The Lord activated the gifts of many of our members,” Beaty recalled. “The congregation came together and spent five to six nights a week transforming a musty, run-down education hall into a fresh, roomy worship center with fellowship, office, and classroom space.”

Caldwell EPC ultimately negotiated with the diocese to purchase the property.

“I remember praying, ‘God, this is a great place to preach the Word and minister to the world,’” Beaty recalled. “God said to me, ‘Not for you.’ While shocking, I didn’t take it as a rebuke but as an assurance—that my pastorate had come to an end and God had prepared another for their next stage.”

Following Beaty’s departure to Peace Memorial EPC in 2017, Ehud Garcia served as Transitional Pastor for Caldwell EPC until Dave Moody was installed as pastor in April 2017.

“Ehud and his wife, Neiva, were significant in the life of the church,” Moody said. “For nearly two years he faithfully preached God’s Word, helped the church set up a pastoral search committee, and walked with the congregation through the decision to purchase the building.”

Through the entire process, the congregation came to understand that the church is not bricks and mortar.

“Due to God’s leading them through difficult and refining times,” Moody said, “they understand the church is the people, not the building, and He has brought them here for a revitalized faithfulness to Jesus and His mission.”

Scott Hoover agreed.

“What opened our eyes through the whole thing was that the building really wasn’t important,” he said. “It’s a tool, but it’s not the church. It’s simply a place to expand out from. The whole experience also showed me that I had to understand what the Bible says and I needed to align myself with it. It pushed me to think about what I believed, and to read the Bible—which I really hadn’t done since I was a kid.”

Noted church leadership expert Mike Bonem headlines annual Executive Pastor/Church Administrator gathering

 

XPGatheringAt the first of two EPC Executive Pastor/Church Administrator workshops, noted church leadership coach and consultant Mike Bonem discussed the topic “Managing change for revitalization.” The event was held October 24-25 in Denver, Colo.

In his presentation, Bonem described the challenges of change, models for change, and some of the unique dynamics of being in a second chair through change in a church.

“Change is kind of like being in a sports car on a two-lane road in the mountains,” he told the group. “It can be incredibly fun to drive, but it can be terrifying to be a passenger. Second-chair leaders have the best—and worst—of both. And the members of your congregation most often feel like they are in the passenger seat. So leading change is hard, that’s all there is to it.”

Regarding the challenge of change, Bonem noted that people desire stability and predictability, but change often equals chaos, threatens comfort and power, and can imply that “we’ve done something wrong.” He added that these factors apply to any organization, not just the church, but change in the church is more difficult because churches are dependent on volunteers and rich in tradition.

“Churches are also often resistant (or unaccustomed) to feedback, and may have weak or informal governance structures,” he said. “We also have history—the past is always present—and many times people will put a theological overlay on that history.”

As a model of change, Bonem described the “Congregational Transformation Model” that formed the basis for his book, Leading Congregational Change.

“As church leaders, we often focus on vision and how we get there, but that’s just one piece of a much larger process,” he said. “We are never going to be done with change in the church, so what we want to do is create and reinforce momentum through alignment.”

He noted that the challenges in change management “are less about the changes we want to make, but more about the pieces around it—things like communication and having the right people involved,” he said, emphasizing that change always produces some kind of conflict.

“Not all conflict is bad,” Bonem said. “It can be life-giving, as we see so many times in Acts. But conflict without spiritual and relational vitality can be life-threatening. When decisions in the church—particularly contentious ones—start to become like the decisions in Washington or whatever your state capitol is, it makes me wonder about its spiritual and relational vitality.”

Regarding the dynamics of the second-chair role in change management, Bonem addressed a variety of factors, including being aligned with the senior pastor, helping manage the pace of change, taking the pulse of the staff and congregation, paying attention to process, and several others.

Bonem earned an MBA from Harvard University, is a longtime business executive, and later served 11 years as Executive Pastor for a large, multi-site church in Houston, Texas. He is author of Leading Congregational Change , Leading from the Second Chair, Thriving in the Second Chair, and In Pursuit of Great and Godly Leadership.

The gathering, now in its seventh year, is a two-day event for EPC executive pastors and directors, church administrators, and others in senior ministry (but second-chair) leadership positions.

Sixteen EPC church leaders attended the workshop. In addition to discussing recent challenges and opportunities in their ministry settings—particularly related to change—participants shared best practices on a variety of topics related to church administration and operations, and networked on such issues as technology systems, personnel, outreach efforts, vision and strategy, finance, and more.

The workshop is a resource of the Office of the General Assembly. The second roundtable, which also features Bonem and has the same format as the October 24-25 event, takes place November 7-8 in Orlando. For more information, see www.epc.org/xpadmingathering.

A turnaround story: Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church

 

ChapelHillASpencer Hutchins is 33 now, but he was three years old when he first met Mark Toone, Senior Pastor of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor, Wash. Hutchins grew up in the church, and now he’s helping to lead it as chair of the elder board.

“It says a great deal about Mark that he trusts me, a child of the church he knew as a toddler, with this position of authority,” Hutchins says. “At Chapel Hill, we are blessed with a senior pastor who both leads and follows. He acts with humility and respect for our church governance. Our pastor takes very seriously the burden of responsibility on him but knows he does not carry it alone.”

Toone’s humility and his close relationship with church elders (and the rest of the congregation) have been on full display the past year and a half or so, as the church has doubled down on reversing a 14-year-old trend of declining membership. In March 2018, the church hired Tony Morgan of The Unstuck Group to help them rearticulate their ministry and realign their structures.

“It was a point of existential crisis for me,” Toone says. “I reached the point where I felt we either had to find a way, by God’s grace, to turn this around, or I needed to take early retirement and see if someone else could do something. I had 30 years of accumulated chips, and I decided I would push all of them onto the table. Hard decisions that might wound me could kill my successor, but I wanted to do everything I could to prepare Chapel Hill for a future even greater than its past.”

Because Toone had so much relational equity with church members, he was able to implement some risky changes.

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Associate Pastor Ellis White (left) and Ruling Elder David Derr administer the sacrament of baptism at Chapel Hill’s annual outdoor “Harbor Baptisms” service each summer.

“We began thinking about worship services as our front door rather than our living room, which changed the way we planned, aimed, talked, decorated, and followed up,” Toone says.

Perhaps that was most obvious in a simple but important decision that turned out to be symbolic of all the sacrificial change (and resulting growth) the church has seen in the past year: closing the balcony during all services. Prior to that, many people preferred to worship from the balcony, leaving the main floor feeling uncomfortably empty for visitors. That decision, Toone says, not only set off the most grumbling, but it coincided with a positive turnaround in attendance.

“I’ve never had more complaints about a single issue in my 30 years of ministry than we did over closing the stupid balcony,” Toone says. “Frankly, the more it went on, the more I was determined we wouldn’t open that balcony if it killed me, because I felt like there was a spiritual issue at play. It became almost a parable of the journey of change we were engaged in, where we were calling on people to sacrifice comfort and preference for the sake of the greater good of the body and of those who had yet to walk through our doors.”

Focusing on the unchurched was a huge shift for Chapel Hill.

“Our mission statement had to do with presenting everyone mature in Christ, and, in a sense, we had accomplished that,” Toone says. “But in the process, we had begun to close the door to the outsider. So we became more intentional about our worship services not just being a training time for seasoned veterans but really a welcoming, open front door for [newcomers].”

That not only meant introducing a contemporary service in addition to the long-standing traditional one, but also having a much clearer discipleship plan in place for new believers.

“Instead of weekends just being about putting together a great worship service, we were far more intentional about equipping our members to invite their friends,” Associate Pastor Ellis White says, “and then creating an experience for those people that’s engaging, where they feel welcomed, where they have the opportunity to profess faith, and where they can then be baptized and make a concrete next step in their faith.”

Above all of these things, though, the greatest catalyst for growth has been the Holy Spirit, Hutchins says.

“We do not seek increased attendance as an end in and of itself,” he says. “We desire to grow, both in numbers and in faith, as an expression of the vibrancy of the Holy Spirit in and among us.”

Toone echoes that sentiment.

“I love the fact that the Lord has seen fit to entrust more people to us,” Toone says. “This is a movement of the Spirit.”

 

Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church was named to the “Outreach 100” list for 2019 of the fastest-growing churches in the United States. Article reprinted courtesy of Outreach magazine. ©2019 Outreach Inc. Photos courtesy of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church.

www.OutreachMagazine.com

https://outreachmagazine.com/ideas/church-profiles/45842-a-turnaround-story-chapel-hill-presbyterian-church.html

Andrew Brunson offers U.S. Senate prayer on anniversary of release

 

Andrew Brunson delivered the opening prayer for the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., on October 15. The EPC Teaching Elder’s prayer commemorated the one-year anniversary of his release from prison in Turkey and return to the United States.

“I pray that you grant to the Senators of the United States the spirit of wisdom, the fear of the Lord, and the courage to act by the counsel of the Lord in all matters, great and small,” Brunson said during his one-and-a-half-minute invocation.

A North Carolina native, Brunson prayed at the invitation of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and thanked the Senators for their efforts in helping secure his release.

“Before I pray I want to thank the Senate,” he said. “I’m standing here today because so many of you fought for me, and I’m deeply grateful. In a time of many divides you were unified in fighting for my release. Thank you.”

Arrested in October 2016, Brunson was held for two years on roundly disputed charges of membership in an armed terrorist organization. He was convicted on October 12, 2018, following testimony on the fourth hearing of his trial. The judge imposed a sentence of approximately three years, but granted a release on the equivalent of time served.

Lake Forest Church (N.C.) launches Spanish-language church through Mexico partnership

 
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Victor Leal, Pastor of El Buen Samaritano, preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan at the congregation’s launch service on September 8, 2019 (Photos courtesy of Lake Forest Church).

The EPC’s newest Spanish-speaking congregation launched in Huntersville, N.C., on Sunday, September 8. Iglesia Lake Forest: El Buen Samaritano is a plant of the Lake Forest family of churches and is led by Victor Leal and his wife, Rosmi.

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Rosmi and Victor Leal

The congregation, whose name translates to “Lake Forest Church: The Good Samaritan” is fruit of the partnership between the EPC and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (La Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana de México or INPM), and a financial church-planting partnership between Lake Forest Church and the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic.

“We consider El Buen Samaritano an example of the EPC’s ‘Revelation 7:9’ vision for serving every tribe and language in our own country with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Mike Moses, Lead Pastor of Lake Forest Church-Huntersville and Moderator of the EPC’s 35th General Assembly.

The Leals came to Lake Forest in 2016 from Seminario Teológico Presbiteriano de México (the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of Mexico) in Mexico City.

“They have been living in the fast-growing Latino immigrant community of north Charlotte for more than a year, building relationships and leading the ministry of the resource center that our Lake Forest opened in 2017 in the key neighborhood of this population,” Moses noted. “The resource center—Centro de Recursos—is a platform for tutoring ministries, immigration law counseling, community police meetings, and much more. Victor and Rosmi have built trust in the neighborhood by actively caring for the physical and social needs of local families, and now they are trusted to lead people spiritually.”

On Launch Sunday, Rosmi led worship and Victor preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10.

“The theme was powerful,” Moses said. “Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, the immigrant community in the U.S. today may feel as though they are suspect and objects of disrespect. However, Jesus emphasized that they are in fact as capable as anyone of exemplifying God’s Kingdom and God’s will by reaching out to serve others. And of course, Victor spoke the gospel—that Jesus is all of our ‘Good Samaritan’ who meets our deepest needs and pays the price for our healing through the cross and the resurrection.”

El Buen Samaritano is the fourth member of the Lake Forest family of churches, which includes congregations in Davidson, Huntersville, and Westlake, N.C. Lake Forest seeks to plant one new congregation every two to three years.

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Andrew and Norine Brunson highlight Missio Nexus mission leaders conference

 

EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, were among the featured speakers at the Missio Nexus “Future Mission” Mission Leaders Conference, held September 19-21 in Orlando, Fla.

In a question-and-answer session, the Brunsons discussed their time in Turkey prior to their detainment on October 7, 2016, as well as their journey between October 2016 and Andrew’s release from prison on October 12, 2018.

In his keynote address, Andrew shared thoughts on working with Muslims, based on his nearly 25 years of church planting among Muslim people groups in Turkey.

Missio Nexus is a the largest association of Great Commission-oriented evangelical churches and organizations in North America that focuses on the global Great Commission. Announced registration for the 2019 Mission Leaders Conference was 1,001.

Church Pivot podcast launch features Tim Keller

 

The first episode of Case Thorp’s “Church Pivot” podcast features the Moderator of the 39th General Assembly talking with renowned theologian, author, and pastor Tim Keller. In their discussion, Thorp and Keller examine how the American evangelical church can thrive in an increasingly antagonistic culture.

Click below to listen. The 37-minute recording also is available on the EPC’s Podbean channel, or search “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” on Spotify or iTunes.


Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, which he led for more than 28 years. He currently is the Chairman and Co-founder of Redeemer City to City, which plants new churches in New York and other cities around the world, as well as publishes resources for ministry in urban environments. Keller’s books, including The Reason for God and The Prodigal God, have sold more than 2 million copies and been translated into 25 languages.

Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

“Church Pivot” is a series of articles and audio podcasts in which Thorp focuses on issues of pivoting toward a robust future of ministry, spiritual growth, adult conversion, and more.

BRI Board of Directors examines benefit and retirement plans outlook

 

BRIBoardMeeting201909At its fall meeting, the Board of Directors of EPC Benefit Resources, Inc. (BRI) examined a variety of topics, including the financial performance and growth of the Retirement Plan, enhancements to the Wellness and Care Management programs for 2020, claims and trends in the 2019 Medical Plan. The group also discussed several cost mitigation strategies.

The Board met September 12 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando.

Actions taken by the Board included a 33 percent reduction in the fees charged by Fidelity to participants in the EPC 403(b)(9) Retirement Plan, and holding an increase in the Medical/Prescription Drug Plan rate increase to an average of six percent for 2020.

“Over the past year, we have been aggressive about cutting costs while maintaining high-quality service levels to church administrators and plan participants,” said Bart Francescone, BRI Executive Director. “That effort is paying off through reductions in fees charged to retirement plan participants, and a medical plan rate increase for 2020 that will average only six percent. That is actually below national healthcare cost increases, and is our lowest increase in many years.”

Francescone also said that “aggressive negotiations” with providers for the EPC dental, vision, life, and disability insurances has resulted in premiums for 2020 remaining unchanged from 2019 rates.

The Board also received a report from Merrill Lynch—the EPC’s medical reserve fund investment advisor—on U.S. and international economic and investment performance outlooks, as well as recommendations for fund investment asset allocations. In addition, the independent actuarial firm Milliman presented a report with recommendations for premium rate actions and reserve fund asset levels.

Members of the BRI Board of Directors are Ron Horgan (Chairman), Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; Michael Busch, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies; Robert Draughon, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; Jim Lewien from the Presbytery of the West; Michael Moore from Presbytery of the Central South; Erik Ohman, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Bill Reisenweaver, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; Randy Shaneyfelt from the Presbytery of the Great Plains; and Sandy Siegfried from the Presbytery of the Great Plains.

Bart Hess Award presented to Covenant EPC of Monroe, La.

 
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Jeff Jeremiah presents the 2019 Bart Hess Award to John Mabray, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La., on June 20 at the 2019 General Assembly. To Mabray’s right are Associate Pastor Jonathan Wagner and Ruling Elder Wayne Smith.

Covenant Presbyterian Church (EPC) of Monroe, La., is the recipient of the 2019 Bartlett L. Hess Award for church revitalization. The award was presented to the congregation on August 18.

“The revitalization of Covenant Monroe is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes,” Pastor John Mabray told the 39th General Assembly when the award was announced on June 20.

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said Covenant EPC received the 2019 award “because of its outstanding work in church revitalization.”

The Hess Award is given annually to the EPC church that has demonstrated the most innovative approach to church growth or revitalization. Church growth—in both its spiritual and numerical aspects—is an essential part of the mission of the church. The award provides a vehicle by which positive, reproducible innovation is encouraged and shared with others in the EPC. It is named for Bart Hess, founding pastor of Ward Church in suburban Detroit, who was instrumental in the establishment of the EPC in 1981.

Theology Committee tackles GA-assigned tasks

 

TheologyCommittee201909The EPC Theology Committee met at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando on September 11-12 to address two items assigned to it by the 39th General Assembly.

First. the committee discussed a recommendation from the National Leadership Team to study a decision by the Michigan chapter of Bethany Christian Services (BCS) in light of the EPC’s Position Papers on Abortion and Human Sexuality. In April 2019, the agency acceded to a state government requirement and agreed to place children for adoption in the homes of same-sex couples.

“Bethany has been an EPC ‘Approved Agency’ since 1989 and provides adoption, foster care, and pregnancy support,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Yet the Michigan chapter’s decision places strongly-held EPC positions on abortion and human sexuality in tension, if not conflict. It is appropriate for the Theology Committee to research this matter and present its findings to the 40th General Assembly.”

The second recommendation the committee reviewed was to study how the EPC can be more sensitive to the needs of the disabled.

The committee will report on both of these topics, and make recommendations as appropriate, to the 40th General Assembly, to be held in June 2020 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Members of the Theology Committee are Zach Hopkins (Chairman), Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; Fred Flinn, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; John Moody, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Great Plains; Ron DiNunzio, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Gordon Miller, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of Mid-Atlantic; and Ryan Mowen, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Unlike other permanent committees that meet regularly, the Theology Committee only meets to receive and study such theological matters as may be referred to it by the General Assembly and to return to the General Assembly its opinions and requested papers or documents, as stated in the EPC’s Rules for Assembly 10.1G.

Ministerial Vocation Committee addresses wide variety of topics

 

MVC201909At its fall meeting, the Ministerial Vocation Committee discussed updates to the EPC Leadership Training Guide and Procedure Manual for Ministerial and Candidates Committees, as well as items related to the EPC ordination pipeline and process. Other topics of discussion and review were updates to the Mentored Apprenticeship Program (MAP) and potential topics that could be included in the 2020 Leadership Institute and discussed possible recommendations to the 40th General Assembly, to be held at Hope Church in suburban Memphis in June 2020.

The group met September 10-11 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando.

“The committee has worked hard over the past year or so to update the content of our Leadership Training Guide and procedure manual, and we hope to have them both finished and available by the spring,” said Jerry Iamurri, Assistant Stated Clerk. “We also are excited about the MAP and how that program is helping current seminary students. Steps are underway to more closely integrate the MAP content with the CEEP (Candidates Educational Equivalency Program) for non-seminary students, and our churches are ultimately going to benefit from the work the MVC is doing.”

Members of the Ministerial Vocation Committee are Brad Strait (Chairman), Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Fred Lian, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Neal McAtee, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; Frank Rotella, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Phil Stump, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; and Caroline Tromble, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes.

EPC hurricane relief efforts in Bahamas underway as casualties reported

 
BahamasChurchesDorian

The Bahamas are home to three EPC churches; two of which were in the path of Hurricane Dorian (noted with red line).

Among the reported casualties in Marsh Harbor, Bahamas, as a result of Hurricane Dorian are two individuals connected to EPC churches. Bryn MacPhail, Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, reported that a member of Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor and a cousin of a St. Andrews Ruling Elder are among the casualties.

As of September 9, more than 40 deaths in the Bahamas have been attributed to the storm, with hundreds of people still missing.

Of the three EPC churches in the Bahamas, two are located in areas directly affected by the storm: Kirk of the Pines (Abaco), and Lucaya Presbyterian Church in Freeport (Grand Bahama). Nassau received little effect from the storm, so St. Andrew’s is the staging point for the EPC’s relief work in Marsh Harbor.

In response to the storm’s destructive impact on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, more than $73,000 has been donated to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund as of September 9. The request for donations was issued on September 2.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said that he has been in daily contact with MacPhail and Gabe Swing, Pastor of Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor.

“Gabe and his family were in Tennessee when Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas,” Jeremiah noted. “His return has been delayed twice, but he hopes to arrive in Nassau this Wednesday. The challenge the Swings face when they return to Marsh Harbor is that their home has been described as unlivable.”

Lack of power and wifi connectivity in Freeport since the storm prevented contact with Ken Lane, Pastor of Lucaya Presbyterian Church, until Saturday, September 7.

“Ken reports that the island of Grand Bahama also received significant wind and flooding, although not as extensive and devastating as on Abaco,” Jeremiah said. “The good news is that the Lucaya building did not endure flooding and suffered only minor exterior damage. When the banks in Freeport re-open in the coming week, EPC emergency relief funds will be sent as requested from Ken, who is still assessing the needs this weekend with his leadership.”

MacPhail reported that the recently constructed Kirk of the Pines building received minor damage, but is “standing strong on the main road” of Marsh Harbor—one of only a few structures in Marsh Harbor still intact. An estimated 13,000 homes in the immediate area of the church have been destroyed, including the homes of many Kirk of the Pines families.

Initially planned as a center for EPC relief efforts in Marsh Harbor, MacPhail noted that a pending mandatory evacuation order has put those plans for the Kirk of the Pines facility on hold.

“Sending supplies to Marsh Harbor appears to no longer be prudent at the moment,” MacPhail said via email. “Receiving teams to help rebuild also seems like something that will need to wait until we hear what the government intends for the city.”

MacPhail also noted that many of those evacuees are coming to Nassau.

“Two of our Sunday School classrooms have been converted into temporary lodging. Bedding, towels, and other necessities have been purchased and church members have supplied groceries.” At least eleven Marsh Harbor evacuees will be housed in this space, MacPhail said.

Jeremiah described three specific areas for prayer focus:

“First, pray for Gabe Swing as he returns. With the evacuations to Nassau, there are now more members of Kirk of the Pines in Nassau than there are in Marsh Harbor, so pray for Gabe as he ministers to his dislocated flock.”

The second prayer request is for a mental health team that MacPhail’s wife, Allie, serves with.

“She is a certified therapist and part of a mental health team with the Family Medicine Center in Nassau. They have been at the Nassau airports to provide evacuees with what has been termed, ‘Psychological First Aid.’ Pray for this team as they perform this incredibly important ministry.”

The third prayer request is for protection against looting.

“Looting is already a major problem in Abaco and Freeport,” he said. “Pray for the protection of those supplies, the safety of those protecting them, and of course, the recipients of that help.”

MacPhail requested prayer for the St. Andrew’s congregation and leadership as they assess the best way to meet needs in both their community and among evacuees from Abaco and Grand Bahama.

“I sense that we are being forced to wait before we get a clearer sense of where, and how, to best assist,” he wrote via email on September 8. “Our elders meet on Wednesday evening. Please pray for us as we meet and attempt to discern the best way forward with relief assistance.”

Donations to EPC relief efforts can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief. Contributions are sent directly to EPC churches in the affected areas for needs they identify in their local communities.

 

Global evangelicals tackle 21st century issues

 

ThorpPivotArtby Case Thorp
Moderator of the 39th General Assembly

JAKARTA, INDONESIA—The World Reformed Fellowship, a global association of evangelical Reformed Christians, met in Jakarta in August for its quadrennial General Assembly. This four-day gathering of 68 denominations and more than 162 affiliate organizations from 25 countries includes worship, workshops, and excursions to area ministry projects. The chosen location is no accident, both for being in the world’s largest Muslim democracy and as home to one of the largest Reformed churches in the world—the Messiah Cathedral founded by evangelist Stephen Tong.

CaseThorp

CaseThorp

EPC Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri and I attended the gathering. What struck me, as a first-time attendee, were the topics of conversation and the diminishing emphasis of those past concerns that seemed to rob all of our imaginations. This is not to say that the old concerns were not important, but rather they served more as distractions from those things that our congregants were dealing with in their day-to-day lives. I heard nary a word on Roman Catholicism, immorality, or threats to biblical authority. The progressive mainline Protestant denominations from which these church bodies originated are a distant afterthought for these leaders.

However, like a breath of fresh air, the speakers focused on the current and future concerns of our times: the global refugee crisis, the decline of Western civilization, the rise of Islam, the challenges technology presents, political instability in various places worldwide, the development of leadership, the health of our institutions, and more.  These emphases demonstrate a maturity and confidence for the evangelical Reformed church to strive forward as change agents.

The desire is not just to speak of these things in the theoretical, but also seek to figure out what sustainable solutions might look like. We toured a ministry that serves refugees, which is operated by the Lippo Group’s James Riady, the billionaire convicted in the 1996 Clinton campaign scandal prior to his conversion to Christianity. When 1,400 Afghans, Somalis, Iranians, and Iraqis became stuck in Indonesia on their way to Australia, Riady stepped up to meet the need. Within two weeks, he had a community center set up to educate the children and assist with healthcare through one of his hospitals, free of charge.

Besides Riady’s moving work, conference conversations wrestled with the tension between love and order: how do you grieve for the horrific human suffering while at the same time lobbying leaders to create laws, systems, and strategies to stem the flow of people groups? The status quo is not acceptable or sustainable for these leaders, who have many questions and no easy answers.

The decline of the West is not only on the lips of the Scots and Americans, but certainly our Asian, African, and Latin counterparts. The rise of China, the perceived American political instability, and the sexual and gender revolution occurring around us alarm and puzzle many. China’s dominance and aggression is much more acutely felt here, and American political discourse is all the more silly when seen from abroad. A fundamental example of Western decline is the abandonment societies are taking with concern to personhood.

The halls of the World Reformed Fellowship nervously echo with debate of a newly emerging anthropology. What makes a person a person? What is permeable or constant for a person illustrates the disparity between a Christian idea of a human and a postmodern view being embraced socially and ensconced legally.

Christian theology, upon which the Western tradition bases its ideas of human rights, democracy, and contractual arrangements, teaches a human to be divinely created, made in the image of God, marred by sin leading to bad choices, redeemable by faith in Jesus, and charged to share the love of Christ with others in word and deed. The Western embrace of abortion, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, and euthanasia, not to mention to bubbling frontier of genetic engineering, tells us there is no consensus of what a person is and what is best for them. Social and political domination, sometimes to the point of violence, is necessary to advocate one group’s vision for humanity over another. How evangelicals will teach their own contra-social anthropology to their people, and then present it as a better alternative to the community, is a great challenge requiring further thought and strategy. But there seems to me to be a glaring need for us to “pivot” and do just that.

One speaker, a Hong Kong pastor and theology professor, told of the role of Christians in the ongoing street protests in his city as he struggled to balance the role of violence for the followers of Jesus, and the place of pursuing justice at the risk of social disorder. He echoed his own personal conclusion about his role with the protests, a statement that embodied much of the tenor of the World Reformed Fellowship. He said, “We have to be with our sheep. And our sheep are out there.”

The debates of the last century, which form a comfortable stereotype for others about evangelicals, are fully behind us, and we look now to be with our sheep, and be out there.

Case Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.