Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Freeport and Nassau, Bahamas: on the ground one month after Hurricane Dorian

 

by Jerry Iamurri
EPC Assistant Stated Clerk

“This is the worst natural disaster in the history of the Bahamas—please don’t forget us.”

Sarah was not the only person in Freeport who asked me that. But she represents thousands of people who know that the news cycle is short, and that the media coverage that galvanized a wave of relief support since Hurricane Dorian ravaged the northern Bahamian islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco inevitably moves on to other things.

About a month after the storm, Mike DeHaven and I touched down in Freeport after a short Bahamasair flight from Nassau.

The airport terminal was completely destroyed. Baggage handling equipment, seats, and security screening conveyor belts were strewn around the broken walls of the terminal building. A bus waiting on the tarmac drove us a couple of miles to a tent in the parking lot of a strip mall. During the bus ride, we met some nurses from Samaritan’s Purse. They were there to staff a field hospital that had been set up behind Freeport’s main hospital—which was knocked out of service.

Ken Lane, Pastor of the EPC’s Lucaya Presbyterian Church in Freeport, met us at the bus.

We toured some of the areas of Grand Bahama most affected by the hurricane, and saw piles of destroyed furniture and debris in front of every home. Broken utility poles and downed power lines blocked some of the streets, and the smell of brush fires lingered in the air. Ocean water from storm surge had killed much of the grass and foliage, and that dry brush had recently caught fire. Flames came dangerously close to Lucaya’s food distribution ministry, which had previously flooded. Despite the hardships, they have provided thousands of pounds of food, cleaning supplies, and military style, freeze-dried MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat).

We also visited a non-governmental organization (NGO) that was distributing 22,000 meals per day, and had served about half a million meals total since the storm hit. That was only one of two such NGOs we saw in Freeport.

After the tour, Ken took us to meet some of the elders and members of the Lucaya congregation. Sarah is one of these faithful church members, and she is a long-time volunteer in the children’s ministry.

For several hours we listened to them describe their homes being flooded, the floors moving with the ocean waves, their apartments swaying with the hurricane winds, and their fear that they would be overcome by the storm. They showed us videos of waves crashing over balconies and into the second-floor windows of their homes. They talked of their prayers, their faith in the Lord to deliver them, God’s generous kindness, and His blessings on their lives and families. Though many had the thousand-yard stare common to those suffering from the effects of PTSD, they are amazed that the storm spared their church building and are hoping that electricity can be restored soon to the many homes that remain without power.

The Grand Bahama Children’s Home in Freeport has been closed. While the structure itself is sound, the contents are a total loss—including the possessions of its 32 resident children, who range in age from a few months to 14 years old. They were evacuated in the middle of the night during the storm, and now have been temporarily relocated to the Ranfurly Homes for Children in Nassau. These children’s homes have a connection to our churches in Lucaya and Nassau. Additionally, a large group of toddler-aged children were moved from Grand Bahama to the Children’s Emergency Hostel in Nassau.

And we were told that they share Sarah’s concern that people will begin to forget about them after the news media has stopped running stories on the Bahamas.

After spending the night in Freeport, Chrishon Ducker (Associate Pastor of the EPC’s St. Andrews Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau) took us to visit the areas of Nassau that have tried to absorb the influx of those evacuated from Abaco, which included the devastated town of Marsh Harbor. Some of these evacuees are living in the St. Andrews building.

“Abaco recovery still remains a military operation,” he told us. “The British Army just left, the Bahamian Defense Force, the Trinidad and Tobago Army, as well as the Jamaican Army are still patrolling the area around Marsh Harbor and providing for immediate needs.”

Gabe Swing, Pastor of the EPC’s Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor, is visiting displaced members of that congregation who have evacuated to Florida. Swing is an Associate Pastor of St. Andrew’s, responsible for serving the mission post in Marsh Harbor that is Kirk of the Pines.

“Bahamas recovery is going to be a long-term process,” Bryn MacPhail, Pastor of St. Andrews, told us. “We will need help for a minimum of several years, and the clock hasn’t even started yet. We’re still assessing the damage.”

While a full recovery in some areas is likely several years away, there are many, many short-term needs that EPC churches can help meet through continued financial contributions to the EPC’s Emergency Relief Fund. In Freeport, Ken told me that by next summer they expect to be able to host short-term mission teams of moderately skilled individuals, especially those with skills in the building trades.

Marsh Harbor will probably not be ready for mission trip teams that soon, but we encourage our EPC “prayer warriors” to pray for Bryn, Gabe, Ken, and their church leaders as they continue to seek discernment about how they can help with the rebuilding of Marsh Harbour. And please continue to pray for Sarah and the thousands of Bahamians like her.

If you are considering a mission trip or have skill in the building trades, please let us know at info@epc.org. Mike DeHaven coordinated our trip, and also led mission teams to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. He is working with our churches in the Bahamas to help put together future mission trips to help with the recovery effort.

Giving Culture Study Committee begins GA-appointed work

 

GivingCultureStudyCommittee201910Members of the Giving Culture Study Committee held their initial meeting at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando, October 8-9. The group was appointed by Moderator Case Thorp in response to a recommendation approved by the 39th General Assembly to address how to improve the long-term culture of giving to the EPC.

In its first face-to-face meeting, the group discussed the scope of its work, reviewed recent giving trends to the EPC Office of the General Assembly, and addressed a variety of issues that will inform and affect recommendations it may make to future General Assemblies.

The committee’s work is based on trends that indicate a weakening level of support for EPC Per Member Asking (PMA). While PMA realization approached a historic high of 74 percent relative to the full PMA level of $23 in 2018, approximately one-third of EPC churches do not contribute to PMA, or give very little.

“This committee will wrestle with the question of ‘What does it mean to be connected to the EPC?,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Is it theological, ecclesial, collegial, branding, collaborative, or something else? The answer is what defines the EPC giving culture.”

Members of the Giving Culture Study Committee are Jane Cooper (Chair), Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Gulf South; Bob Coleman, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Jamie Cupshalk, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Scott McKee, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Midwest; Bruce Novkov, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Southeast; and Gina Stewart, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest. Jeremiah, Thorp, and Mike Gibson, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Great Plains and Chairman of the National Leadership Team Finance Committee, serve as ex officio members.

Commissioners to 39th General Assembly approve interim committees, amendments to Rules for Assembly

 

GA2019ThemeArt-WebBannerIn business actions at the EPC’s 39th General Assembly, commissioners approved 33 recommendations, including the formation of two interim committees, amendments to the Rules for Assembly, and amendments to the Book of Government. The Assembly was held June 18-21 at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver, Colo.

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Brad Strait is the Senior Pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colo., which hosted the 39th General Assembly.

Commissioners also welcomed nine new churches to the EPC since the 38th Assembly adjourned; elected Case Thorp, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean, as Moderator; and elected Glenn Meyers, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies and the Caribbean, as Moderator-Elect. Meyers serves as Commissioned Pastor of Ardara Presbyterian Church in Ardara, Pa.

More than 1,000 registered commissioners and guests attended the Assembly, including 399 Teaching Elders and 282 Ruling Elders who submitted voting credentials.

Interim Committees

At the 38th General Assembly in 2018, Jeff Jeremiah was elected to a fifth three-year term as Stated Clerk—at which time he announced he would step down in June 2021. The search committee, appointed by outgoing Moderator Tom Werner, has a representative from each of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries. The Chairman is Teaching Elder Bill Dudley, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Southeast and Moderator of the EPC’s 33rd General Assembly.

“The search team’s goal is to have my successor named by next year’s GA,” Jeremiah said. “That will allow for a period of overlap and as seamless a transition as possible.”

In addition to Dudley, the members are Ritchey Cable, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Mid-America; Chris Danusiar, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; Michael Davis, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; Nancy Duff, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Scott Griffin, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest and Moderator of the 36th General Assembly; Marc Huebl, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Laurie Johnston, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Great Plains; Victor Jones, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Gulf South; Bob LeSuer, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies; Rosemary Lukens, representing the National Leadership Team; David Mennel, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Midwest; José Rodriguez, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Allen Roes, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and Moderator of the 28th General Assembly; and Luder Whitlock, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

The second interim committee is a Giving Culture Study Committee, which is tasked with studying—and ultimately to make recommendations on—how to best address the long-term culture of support for the EPC. The National Leadership Team (NLT) made the recommendation.

“To be clear, funding for the national level of the EPC is not in a crisis position,” Jeremiah noted. “This committee will help us ensure that we do not get into one.”

In its written report to the Assembly, the NLT noted that roughly half of the EPC’s member churches give 90 percent or more of their calculated PMA, but one-third “give very little or nothing.”

“EPC churches generally are in accord on biblical and missional matters, cohesive on connectional structures, and share much cultural harmony, but seem not to be united in sharing financially what is required to carry out the EPC mission and vision,” the NLT wrote. “A fundamental question facing the EPC as a movement of churches is: ‘What does it mean to be connected to the EPC?’”

Members of the committee are Bob Coleman, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Jane Cooper, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Gulf South; Jamie Cupshalk, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Scott McKee, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Midwest; Bruce Novkov, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Southeast; and Gina Stewart, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest. Mike Gibson, Chairman of the NLT Finance Committee and a Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Great Plains, is an ex officio member.

Rules for Assembly

The National Leadership Team recommended an amendment to Section 15-1 of Rules for Assembly, which is the “organizing document” for the EPC. Rules stipulates the operation of the General Assembly, as well as the committee structure and work of the Assembly between annual meetings. Section 15-1 required two-thirds of enrolled commissioners vote to approve any recommendation that would amend or suspend Rules. In its written report to the Assembly, the NLT proposed amending the requirement to a two-thirds vote of commissioners “present” (rather than enrolled).

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The Assembly approved a change to the process for amending the EPC’s Rules for Assembly.

Jeremiah provided a recent example of the rationale behind the recommendation.

“In 2018, we could not act on several recommendations—including ones that would increase the size of both our Chaplains Work and Care Committee and Presbytery Review Committee. As the EPC has grown, the work load for these groups has increased, so we needed to increase the manpower to carry that load. However, when those items came up on the docket last year, we did not have two-thirds of our total enrollment present so we could not act on them.”

Following an amendment to the motion from the floor of the Assembly to increase the percentage of commissioners present voting in the affirmative from two-thirds to three-fourths, the recommendation was approved.

Book of Government

The Assembly approved two items that now become Descending Overtures, because they are amendments to the EPC’s Book of Government.

The first amendment added language that “Co-pastor is not a recognized calling in a local church. Except as otherwise provided in the Book of Government, the Pastor of the church shall be the Moderator of Session” to section 9-5A.1.

“The Book of Government states that the only constitutionally recognized roles for Teaching Elders in the EPC are Pastor, Associate Pastor, and Assistant Pastor,” Jeremiah explained. “This recommendation seeks to add clarity.”

The second was an overture from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest concerning the ordination process for candidates coming under care of a presbytery. The overture specified that in addition to stating the reason he or she is requesting ordination as a Teaching Elder as part of the public examination, the candidate should express his or her motive for seeking ordination by an EPC presbytery.

As Descending Overtures, these two items now go to the presbyteries’ fall and winter meetings for discussion and vote. Presbyteries may debate the substance of a Descending Overture, but not make amendments. To be presented at the 40th General Assembly as Ascending Overtures for discussion and vote, 11 of the 14 presbyteries must approve the overtures.

Budget and Special Projects

Commissioners approved a Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20—July 2019 through June 2020) budget for EPC operating expenses of $2,651,995. This represents a decrease in projected spending of $16,716 from the FY2019 budget.

The FY2020 budget includes $426,717 in direct funding of the four strategic priorities—$56,000 for Transformation (Church Revitalization); $200,000 for Multiplication (Church Planting); $122,050 for Effective Biblical Leadership; and $48,667 for Global Movement. In addition, 20 percent of Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions to the EPC support Global Movement in the form of funding the overall ministry of World Outreach. Funding for the strategic initiatives was added to the EPC operating budget in the FY18 budget; since their 2014 inception they had been funded through undesignated cash reserves.

The Assembly also approved a variety of Special Projects for FY20, which are supported outside of PMA but would be fully funded if each EPC church contributed an additional $3.53 per member above the PMA target of $23 per member.

In other administration-related business, commissioners approved a recommendation that ordained ministers drawing retirement income from the EPC 403(b)(9) Defined Contribution Retirement Plan be allowed to designate up to 100 percent of their retirement income for housing allowance.

National Leadership Team

The Assembly approved an amendment to Rules that revised and updated the functions of the National Leadership Team, as well as clarifying its relationship with the General Assembly. The action added to Rules section X.10-1A.3 that the NLT (subject to General Assembly review, approval, and the Book of Order) has the “primary responsibility to seek the mind of Christ for our denomination and to express this in a mission statement that states who God has called the EPC to be.” Additional functions added under the amendment include “development of vision and strategies that express what God is calling the EPC to do to carry out the mission statement; assess the execution of the mission, vision, and strategies on behalf of the General Assembly; and encourage EPC presbyteries and local churches to participate in implementing the mission, vision, and strategies.”

The action also amended Rules to clarify that the NLT serves as Directors of the corporation “for the purposes of compliance with the laws of the state in which the EPC is incorporated and in accord with EPC by-laws.”

In specifying its relationship to the General Assembly, an Explanatory Statement was added to Rules section X.10-1A. This statement clarifies that the NLT “is not a court of the denomination, nor a commission of the General Assembly, but a committee of the denomination, with authority derived from the Book of Order. The NLT is therefore responsible to the General Assembly and carries out its work under the authority of the General Assembly by proactively making recommendations to the General Assembly and exercising authority to carry out those recommendations as approved by the General Assembly.”

Next Generation Ministries Council

Commissioners approved a recommendation to define the duties of the Next Generation Ministries Council in Rules X.10-1F.2.a as “to encourage and support Next Generation Ministry Leaders Workers (paid and/or volunteer) by promoting and providing training events, resources, mentoring and networking opportunities. The Committee will also coordinate the allocation of scholarship funds to provide financial assistance to individuals wishing to participate in relevant conferences and events.”

In addition, a recommendation was approved that would encourage each presbytery to create Next Generation Networks for children, youth, and college workers (paid and/or volunteer) in collaboration with the Next Generation Ministries Council. The action encourages presbyteries to provide time and opportunity for Next Generation Ministries network workers to give announcements and promote events and/or opportunities to collaborate. These networks would include ordained and non-ordained workers.

Permanent Judicial Commission

Commissioners approved two recommendations from the Permanent Judicial Commission regarding the Presbytery of the East and First Korean Presbyterian Church of Virginia (FKPCV) in Annandale, Va.

The church was dissolved by motion at the Presbytery of the East’s April 26-27 Stated Meeting, to become effective May 15. Several officers of the church subsequently filed complaints with the PJC related to the presbytery action. The PJC recommended that those complaints be dismissed since the complainants failed to file “a prompt written dissent or protest to the decision” of the presbytery as stated in the EPC’s Book of Discipline, section 14-2B.2.

In addition, the Assembly ratified a decision by the PJC that disciplinary charges brought against the officers of FKPCV by the presbytery remain the jurisdiction of the Presbytery of the East, and not in the jurisdiction of the PJC since the Commission is not “the proper court of original jurisdiction” as defined in Book of Discipline section 4-1.

Theology Committee

Two actions by the Assembly were referred to the permanent Theology Committee upon their approval by commissioners.

The first action was 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,” Jeremiah said. “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 also came to the Assembly from the National Leadership Team. The action assigned the Theology Committee the task to study how the EPC can be more sensitive to the needs of the disabled.

In its written report to the Assembly, the NLT highlighted two documents written by Michelle Munger, Peninsula Director for the Faith Inclusion Network of Hampton Roads in Norfolk, Va., and a speaker at the 2019 Leadership Institute.

Munger’s resources “call attention to the need and opportunity to ensure that disabled individuals are recognized and included in the life and ministry of the EPC,” the NLT wrote in its rationale for the recommendation. “‘Sacraments and the Disabled’ encourages the EPC to look at how we view and minister to those who are disabled. ‘Book of Order notes for disability concerns’ looks at places in our Constitution where we could intentionally be more inclusive of the disabled.” The recommendation noted that these materials would serve as a starting point for the Theology Committee’s work.

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 its opinions and requested papers or documents to the Assembly, as stated in Rules section 10.1G.

Committee and Board Members

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RE Glenn Meyers, Commissioned Pastor of Ardara Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, was elected as Moderator-elect.

In addition to the election of Thorp as Moderator and Meyers as Moderator-elect, the Assembly elected the following individuals to fill vacancies on the EPC’s permanent committees and boards as others complete their terms of service (TE denotes Teaching Elder. RE denotes Ruling Elder. * denotes second term.):

Benefit Resources, Inc., Board of Directors: RE Michael Bush*, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; RE Jim Lewien, Presbytery of the West; RE Sandy Siegfried, Presbytery of the Great Plains. Ron Horgan (RE, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic) was elected as Chairman.

Chaplains Work and Care Committee: RE Bruce Alexander*, Presbytery of the East; TE Timothy Foster*, Presbytery of the Central South; TE Glen Holman, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Jennifer Prechter, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; TE Brad Yorton, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest. In addition, TE Mark Ingles (Presbytery of the West) was re-elected to another three-year term as Chaplain Endorser.

Fraternal Relations Committee: RE Jerry Harmon*, Presbytery of the Central South; TE Joe Pallikkathayil, Presbytery of Mid-America; TE Alan Trafford, Presbytery of the Gulf South.

Generosity Resources Committee: TE Jeff Porter, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic.

Ministerial Vocation Committee: TE Fred Lian, Presbytery of the West; RE Frank Rotella*, Presbytery of the East.

National Leadership Team: RE Gerry Arnold, Presbytery of the Gulf South; RE Chris Danusiar*, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; RE Brian Evans, Presbytery of the Midwest; TE Brett Garretson, Presbytery of the West; RE Duke Lineberry, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Dave Strunk, Presbytery of the Southeast; TE Luder Whitlock*, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

Next Generation Ministries Council: Jen Burkholder*, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; Martha Daniel*, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; Ivan Moore, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Nominating Committee: RE John Adamson*, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Brian Altmyer*, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; RE Henry Beck, Presbytery of the Gulf South; RE Jan Bole*, Presbytery of the West; RE Jeff Chadwick, Presbytery of the Southeast; TE Bill Dudley, Presbytery of the Southeast; RE Alan Smith*, Presbytery of the East. In addition, Alan Conrow (TE, Presbytery of the Midwest) was elected as Chairman.

Permanent Judicial Commission: TE George Dakin*, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; TE Neil Ellison*, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Don Harms, Presbytery of the Midwest.

Presbytery Review Committee: TE George King, Presbytery of the Gulf South; TE Gary O’Keefe, Presbytery of the Midwest.

Theology Committee: RE Gordon Miller, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE John Moody*, Presbytery of the Great Plains.

Women’s Resource Council: Kathy Clymer, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Rebecca Duvall, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Kathleen Marcy*, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; Kim Sinclair*, Presbytery of the Midwest.

World Outreach Committee: RE Susan Lear, Presbytery of the Great Plains; RE Johnny Long, Presbytery of the West; David Van Valkenburg, Presbytery of the West.

In other committee-related action, commissioners approved increasing the size of the Chaplains Work and Care Committee from six to nine members, the National Leadership Team from 13 to 16 members, and the Presbytery Review Committee from four to six members. In addition, the number of ex-officio members on the Fraternal Relations Committee was reduced from four to two—keeping the Stated Clerk and Moderator, and removing the immediate past Moderator and the Moderator-elect.

The Assembly also approved recommendations to delete the permanent Church Planting and Revitalization Committee (CPRC) from Rules, and divide the GA Standing Committee for Church Planting and Revitalization into two separate bodies to better address the differing emphases of the two strategic priorities. With the strategic priorities of multiplication and transformation now included in the EPC operating budget, the CPRC believed its existence was no longer necessary and recommended it be disbanded.

Finally, commissioners approved a recommendation regarding the makeup of the Nominating Committee. The decision amended Rules Section XI.11-1-3 from “There shall be at least two more Ruling Elder than Teaching Elder members” to “Ordinarily, there should be at least two more Ruling Elder than Teaching Elder members.” The recommendation also removed the restriction of members who serve all or part of one three-year term being ineligible for re-election for one year.

Other business items

Several other business items were unanimously approved without discussion. Those items were:

  • Maintaining the EPC’s relationship with the Presbyterian Church of Ghana through both bodies’ membership in the World Communion of Reformed Churches.
  • Continuing the Fraternal Relations Committee’s dialogue with leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland about a formal fraternal relationship.
  • Approving Third Millennium Ministries as an approved agency. Based in Casselberry, Fla., the ministry’s vision is “Biblical Education. For the World. For Free.” They provide masters-level print, audio, online, DVD, and satellite radio and television broadcasts for Christian leaders worldwide at no cost to the participant. The ministry is accredited by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).
  • Approving SAT-7 as an approved Mission Agency of EPC’s World Outreach. Based in Easton, Md., SAT-7’s vision is “to provide the churches and Christians of the Middle East and North Africa an opportunity to witness to Jesus Christ through inspirational, informative, and educational television services.” The organization is accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), ECFA, Missio Nexus, and others.
  • Approving a recommendation from the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) to reject an overture from the Presbytery of the East to amend the Book of Government. The presbytery proposed adding an additional Ruling Elder category to the definition of “Voting Members of Presbytery” in section 19-2A. By approving the PJC’s recommendation, the presbytery’s overture was not brought to the floor for consideration.
  • Approving the Minutes of the 38th General Assembly.
  • Approving the 2018-19 minutes of the 14 EPC presbyteries (with some minor exceptions requiring response to the permanent Presbytery Review Committee by December 31, 2019), as well as approving the responses from the presbyteries to exceptions issued by the 38th General Assembly.
  • Approving the 2018-19 minutes of the Fraternal Relations Committee, Ministerial Vocation Committee, National Leadership Team, Women’s Resource Council, and World Outreach Committee.
  • Accepting the invitation from Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova, Tenn., to host the 40th General Assembly in June 2020.

As a matter of record, Descending Overture 18-A from the 38th General Assembly was not ratified by 11 of the 14 presbyteries, so it did not come to the 39th Assembly for action. That Overture proposed amending Book of Government 9-11 concerning the ministry of Commissioned Pastors. Only six presbyteries voted to approve the Overture during their winter meetings.

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Registered attendance at the 39th General Assembly was 1,020—including 399 Teaching Elders and 282 Ruling Elders who submitted voting credentials.

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.

Outreach Magazine names three EPC churches to “Outreach 100” list

 

Outreach100-2019Outreach Magazine has recognized Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor, Wash.; Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo.; and Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova, Tenn., in its annual feature on the largest and fastest-growing churches in the United States.

Among the fastest-growing churches, Chapel Hill was a newcomer to the list this year. The congregation led by Pastor Mark Toone ranked 92nd, with 17 percent growth over the past year to an average attendance of 1,319.

Hope Church also made the fastest-growing list in 100th place, with six percent growth (417 new attenders) to a current average attendance of 6,815. This is the first year Hope has landed on the Outreach list of fastest-growing congregations.

Hope Church also is ranked in the Largest Churches category at 65th, and appears on the Outreach list for fifth consecutive year. The congregation was ranked 83rd in 2015, 69th in 2016, 79th in 2017, and 80th in 2018. Rufus Smith is the Senior Pastor.

Cherry Hills also appears on list of largest churches for the fifth year. Led by Senior Pastor Shane Farmer, the congregation was ranked 95th this year, with an average attendance of 4,707. Cherry Hills has been on Outreach’s list of largest congregations every year since 2015.

The Outreach 100—a ranking of the 100 largest, fastest-growing, and reproducing  churches in the United States—is an annual collaboration between Outreach Magazine, Lifeway Research, and Exponential. While not exhaustive, the list is based on self-reported surveys from about 30,000 congregations that were contacted for participation. For more information, see www.outreach100.com/about.

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.

October Jeremiah Journal offers Hurricane Dorian relief update

 

In the October 2019 edition of the Jeremiah Journal, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah provides an update on EPC relief efforts in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

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.

EPC seeking candidates for Stated Clerk

 

Applications are now being received for Stated Clerk of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The current Stated Clerk, Jeff Jeremiah, is vacating the position at the June 2021 conclusion of his fifth three-year term. He has held the office since 2006.

With more than 600 Christ-centered congregations committed to mutual love and support, the Stated Clerk provides leadership that enables the EPC to achieve its vision. The Stated Clerk must be (or become) a member of the EPC. Applications will be accepted until October 30, 2019.

A position description and application information is available at www.epc.org/statedclerksearch.

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

 
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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.