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#epc2020ga the official 40th General Assembly hashtag

 

The 40th General Assembly is fully virtual, but you can still add your voice to the proceedings by including the hashtag #epc2020ga on your social media posts. Connect your message with others on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms.

If you are not a registered Commissioner, you can watch the live stream and monitor the social media feed at the same time at www.epc.org/ga2020livestream.

Join the conversation!

#epc2020ga

Getting to know you: Beth Weaver, wife of EPC Stated Clerk nominee Dean Weaver

 

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The Weaver family, pictured at Christmas. Bottom row, from left: daughter Hannah, daughter Sarah, Beth, daughter Isatu, granddaughter Nora (daughter of Hannah), daughter Rachel. Back row, from left: son Jacob, son Isaac, Dean/Santa, son Tommy, son-in-law John Gourley (husband of Hannah), son-in-law Evan Gourley (husband of Rachel). Not pictured: granddaughters Caroline and Leah.

Part 2 of 2

Dean Weaver, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, is the Stated Clerk Search Committee’s nominee to succeed Jeff Jeremiah as EPC Stated Clerk. He will be presented at the EPC’s 40th General Assembly for confirmation. Weaver serves as Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa., and was Moderator of the EPC’s 37th General Assembly.

He and his wife, Beth, have been married for 32 years. She took time in August to talk about their family and her life walking side-by-side with her husband.

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Beth and Dean at Caesarea Maritima on the shores of the Mediterranean in Israel, 2015.

EPConnection: How did you two meet?

Beth: Dean and I met in my junior year of college; he was my campus minister. I was a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania studying Home Economics and Early Childhood Development. He showed up on my doorstep one day as a new campus minister with CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach), wanting to meet the students involved with the ministry at his partner church, Graystone Presbyterian Church. I was one of four students who were a part of the leadership team at the time.

Dean was a recent graduate of Grove City College and fresh from the CCO summer training program. We had a brief conversation on my front steps where he introduced himself and mentioned that he hoped I would be a part of the campus ministry program that fall and bring friends. I don’t remember much about the conversation, but when I shut the door I said to my roommate at the time, “I’m going to marry him!” It was not so obvious to Dean right away! It took a few years for him to come around to it, but that’s another longer story!

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Beth (Mimi) with son-in-law John, daughter Hannah, and granddaughters Caroline and Nora.

EPConnection: Tell me about your family.

Beth: We are incredibly blessed to be the parents of seven amazing children. We have three biological children, (oldest to youngest) Hannah, Jacob, and Rachel; and four adopted children, Tommy, Isaac, Sarah, and Isatu. They range in age from 30 to 22.

Hannah and Rachel are married to John and Evan, respectively, who also happen to be brothers. Hannah and John are parents to our three delightful granddaughters, Nora (4), Caroline (2), and Leah (4 months old).

As a side note, we have two pups, Blaze and Saffie, and three grandpups, Maggie, Bella, and Karamel. We love them too, and they are family members!

EPConnection: Talk about the process that led to adopting multiple international children.

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Isaac, Isatu, Beth, and Dean in the siblings’ homeland of Sierra Leone, West Africa.

Beth: As mentioned, four of our children are adopted, and three are international adoptions. Our first adopted daughter, Sarah, came following a mission trip Dean had taken to an island in the Caribbean called St. Vincent. Up to that point, adoption had not been in our minds except for maybe someday down the road. Our biological children were 9, 7, and 5. We had our hands pretty full already! But God had started us down a path.

Our family verse has been Psalm 68:6, “God sets the lonely in families.” Over the years God has brought a number of children to stay in our home for periods of time. Most came and went for various reasons, but God had a plan to add more children who would become our own. Isaac and Isatu, who are biological siblings, came to us at the conclusion of the Blood Diamond war in Sierra Leone during a very desperate time in that country. After their adoptions, God led us to further ministry in Sierra Leone which we continue to be involved with today.

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Tommy’s adoption was finalized in 2018 when he was 24.

The last addition to our family was a domestic adoption of our son Tommy, who interestingly, legally became our son as an adult. He has made up for lost time, living at home for the last year and has blended into the multiethnic mix of our family beautifully.

EPConnection: Is it true what they say about pastor’s kids?

Beth: In a word, yes! But to be fair, the life of a pastor’s kid is not an easy one. All the hours at church, waiting for mom and dad to finish talking with people or finish the many, many activities that are part of a ministry family’s life. We wanted our children to have more positive than negative experiences at church and with the body of Christ, so many of their best friends were kids in families from our churches who we got close to. So they got to see the real Weaver family, both parents and kids!

We always wanted to be sure that our children did not feel pressure to be or behave a certain way because of being the children of the pastor. That wasn’t always easy or perfect, but we hope that it has encouraged them to grow into who God means for them to be and to flourish in a relationship with Him. One thing is for sure, church was a second home to our children all during their growing-up years!

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Granddaughters Nora (4), Caroline (2), and Leah (4 months).

EPConnection: What has been your ministry in the local church?

Beth: I have loved being involved in many different areas of ministry throughout the years, usually related to children’s ministry. I’ve been a volunteer at our church’s summer camp program, Summer Surge, for most of the years we have been here. In recent years my joy has been teaching the 2- and 3-year-old class, and volunteering in the 1-year-old and infant nursery when needed.

EPConnection: What has been the most fulfilling part of being a pastor’s wife?

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Daughter Rachel married Evan Gourley in August 2016. She currently teaches high school English in Philadelphia, Pa. He attends Princeton Theological Seminary and serves in campus ministry with the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO), a ministry partner of the EPC.

Beth: This might be the most thought-provoking question of all! Being a pastor’s wife is deeply fulfilling in many ways that come to mind, but if I had to pin it down to a specific thing it would have to be seeing the glorious work of God’s Kingdom happening right before my eyes all around the world as it is lived out in His Church, by His people. It has been an incredible honor to be a part of that work, and to support Dean as he has led the churches we have served over the years.

EPConnection: How have you managed the inevitable criticisms directed toward Dean (don’t all pastors face criticism at some point?)?

Beth: Yes, all pastors face criticism at some point, usually many times over the years! It goes with the territory of being a pastor and anyone in ministry will face it. It should not come as a big surprise, but at times it cuts quite deeply. Actually, I sometimes get more upset than Dean does at criticism of him, and I am very quick to be at his defense. But once I get over that part, the first step is really to check ourselves and where we are, and seek the Lord for wisdom. If there is really a correction coming from the Lord that Dean should hear, we both will seek that together. We desire to be totally in the middle of God’s will and God’s call.

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Beth with granddaughter Nora.

Over the years we have worked together to develop discernment that leads us in the right direction, not only for our family but also in ministry. I trust that process, led by God and His Spirit, and have learned to listen to that above and beyond criticisms. But it is definitely my least favorite part of ministry!

EPConnection: What are you most excited about for the next season of life, say over the next 3-5-7 years?

Beth: I am excited to be part of Dean’s new calling and the direction that will take us in. For the next three years I see a time of growth and change for our family. Maybe more additions in grandkids and spouses? Certainly, the joys and challenges of growing into a family with adult children and our last “at home” kids leaving the nest.

I work for the non-profit organization, EduNations, that we started with several other families who had adopted children in Sierra Leone. We have been part of building 16 schools there, and also blessed to see churches grow in the villages we serve. I see that continuing as my work, and as I have for many years you’ll find me at the EduNations table at General Assembly.

I’m excited to travel with Dean and get to know the body of Christ that is the EPC as a whole. I also anticipate seeing the glorious work of God’s Kingdom happening right before my eyes all around the world, lived out in His Church, by His people. I know it will continue to be an incredible honor to be a part of that work and to support Dean and be part of that with him.

EPConnection: Thank you, Beth, for taking time to help the EPC get to know you a little bit.

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The beach has long been a favorite vacation spot for the Weaver family.

Commissioner’s Handbook, committee reports available for 40th General Assembly

 

GA40CommissionersHandbookThe 40th General Assembly Commissioner’s Handbook and reports from the EPC’s permanent and interim committees to the Assembly are now available for download in PDF format at www.epc.org/ga2020documents. The Handbook is available in its entirety as well by individual sections.

The Assembly will be held September 17-18. The EPC’s first all-virtual GA convenes at 11:30 a.m. (Eastern) each of the two days from the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando.

“I think our Commissioners will appreciate that this year’s Handbook has been reduced to 49 pages—down from 99 last year,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible to follow the proceedings, and this year’s Handbook has only 18 pages of action items. I hope every Commissioner takes some time between now and the Assembly to familiarize themselves with the business items we will act on.”

Jeremiah noted that because the 40th General Assembly is fully virtual with no on-site activities, the GA app will not be deployed this year.

“While the app has all the action items, committee reports, and other documents Commissioners will need, these files are on our website,” Jeremiah said. “Also, much of the app is designed to help people find their way to the various meetings, lunches, and other activities of a ‘normal’ General Assembly. Since those are on hold this year, we decided to put the app on hold this year also. Everything a Commissioner—or an observer watching the live stream—will need is on the GA documents page of the website.”

In addition to the GA Documents page of the website, all permanent and committee reports for the 2019-2020 ministry year are available at www.epc.org/committees/reports.

#epc2020ga

General Assembly registration ends September 4, Commissioner orientation meetings scheduled

 

GA2020ThemeArt-BannerSeptemberVirtualRegistration for the 40th General Assembly closes on Friday, September 4, at 12:00 p.m. (Eastern). The meeting is the first fully virtual General Assembly in the EPC’s history and will convene from the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando.

“We need to close registration on Friday so we know who should receive the Zoom meeting login credentials,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “It also gives our office time to ensure that all Ruling Elder certification forms are in place for those who have registered.”

In addition, two virtual New Commissioners Orientation meetings are scheduled. The identical meetings will be held Tuesday, September 8, from 4:00-5:30 p.m. EDT, and Thursday, September 10, from 7:00-8:30 p.m. EDT.

“Normally, the day General Assembly convenes we hold an orientation for all of our first-time commissioners,” Jeremiah said. “As we thought about it, we realized that all of us will be ‘new Commissioners’ at this virtual General Assembly. This has been confirmed by the many questions my office has received in recent weeks about how we’re going to conduct this meeting.” Registered Commissioners will receive the link to the orientation meetings via email no later than Monday, September 7.

In other GA-related news, final editing of the Commissioner’s Handbook and Committee Reports is nearing completion. These and other Assembly documents will be posted at www.epc.org/ga2020documents.

Online registration is available at www.epc.org/ga2020.

August Jeremiah Journal previews 40th General Assembly

 

In the August 2020 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah provides some highlights of the upcoming 40th General Assembly—the EPC’s first all-virtual GA.

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.

Emergency fund launched for Beirut explosion relief

 

BeirutExplosionReliefFundThe EPC has launched an emergency relief fund to help relieve suffering caused by a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 4. The blast killed more than 180 people and injured an additional 6,000. An estimated 300,000 people were left homeless.

Donations to the fund will be sent to the Church of the Nazarene in Beirut and other key ministry partners of EPC World Outreach.

“The Nazarene Church in Lebanon has a long history of work among Lebanon’s poor and refugees, and is very well-positioned to provide emergency help in Christ’s name to victims of the blast,” said Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach. “Many of our Nazarene brothers and sisters there were sharing their meager resources with refugees even before the explosion. Our gifts will be a great encouragement to their faithful and generous outreach, as well as our other partners in Lebanon.”

Click here to donate to the Beirut Explosion Relief Fund. Thank you for providing help to those in need.

California EPC churches minister amid wildfire destruction

 

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The LNU Lightning Complex fire burns vegetation near Vacaville, Calif., on August 19. (photo credit: Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

A wildfire sparked by lightning in northern California has destroyed the property of a Ruling Elder of Covenant Community Church in Vacaville, Calif.

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Julia Leeth

“It has been a very long few days for the residents of Vacaville and surrounding areas,” Julia Leeth, pastor of Covenant Community Church, said by email on August 20. “One of our elders lost their home, barns, and cottage. It’s complete devastation.”

As of August 20, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire has burned more than 131,000 acres and forced thousands of residents in Solano, Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Yolo counties to evacuate. Authorities are reporting that more than 100 structures have been destroyed, with an additional 30,000 threatened.

“Many of our congregants have been evacuated, but everyone has a place to stay,” Leeth added. “Our church property is intact, and we opened our parking lot and facilities for those who needed it. We are receiving donations to help the family who lost their home. But He is good, and we are hanging in there.”

About 90 miles northeast of Vacaville, the Jones fire forced 16 families of Sierra Presbyterian Church in Nevada City, Calif., to evacuate, said Pastor Mike Griffin.

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Mike Griffin

“The church property is fine so far, and is not in the evacuation area,” Griffin wrote by email on August 19. “We have made sure that church members have found a place to stay who needed to be evacuated. We also have a few families staying in travel trailers or RVs on the church campus.”

Griffin noted that members of the congregation had set up a lemonade stand to serve first responders who are attending to the Jones fire.

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said he was grateful that the damage was not greater.

“I am inspired by our churches in these fire-prone areas who so many times have put aside their own needs to minister to their communities,” he said. “I also am grateful that because of the generosity of the EPC we have a healthy balance in our Emergency Relief Fund should it be needed.”

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Members of Sierra Presbyterian Church in Nevada City, Calif., set up a lemonade stand to serve first responders attending to the Jones fire, which as of August 20 has charred nearly 1,000 acres in Nevada County, Calif. (photo courtesy of Mike Griffin)

July 2020 EPC budget report: Fiscal year 2021 starts on positive note, PMA above budget projection

 

Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions received by the Office of the General Assembly in the first month of the EPC’s new fiscal year (FY21) total $200,725. While the amount is $21,651 less than the $222,376 contributed in the first month of the previous fiscal year (FY20), contributions were nearly 11 percent—$37,580—above the $163,145 budgeted projection to support the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations. The EPC’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.

The 12-month rolling average for monthly PMA contributions is $200,128—approximately 1 percent higher than the rolling average as of July 31, 2019.

“I say it every month, but I am grateful that our churches continue to be faithful to Per Member Asking in the midst of so much economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk.

Of the $200,725 received, $40,145 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $423,724 in designated gifts were received through July 31. This total was $5774 (1.4 percent) higher than the $418,043 in designated gifts received in the same period in FY20. Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s holiday offerings.

Of the total, $421,731 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $1,993 was designated for EPC projects. These amounts only reflect gifts received and distributed by the Office of the General Assembly, and do not reflect donations given directly to WO global workers or other projects.

‘Ministry Practices in Racial Justice and Mercy’ online forum recording available

 

RacialMattersWebinarSession2PanelistsOn August 12, a panel of EPC Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders presented part two of a three-part online forum on a proper biblical response to race and justice, “Specific Ministry Practices in Racial Justice and Mercy: Sessions, Staff, Congregation.” The recording of the presentation is available below.

The webinar was hosted by Case Thorp, Moderator of the EPC 39th General Assembly and Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. Panelists were:

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/issuesofraceandjustice and on the EPC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80.

Memphis Tri-State Defender honors EPC Teaching Elder Tim Russell

 

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Civil Rights leader Fred L. Davis (left) and EPC Teaching Elder Tim Russell were longtime friends (photo credit: Tyrone P. Easley/TSD Archives)

In a Father’s Day feature in June, the Memphis, Tenn., Tri-State Defender honored the life and influence of Tim Russell and Fred L. Davis, two leading voices in the area’s African American community. Russell served as Assistant Pastor for Middle Adults at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis. Davis was a leader in the Civil Rights movement and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in support of sanitation workers in their 1968 strike. He later was a member of the Memphis City Council for 12 years and served in numerous other civic roles.

The two men were longtime friends and died within weeks of each other earlier this year. Russell succumbed to COVID-19 on March 30. Davis died on May 12 at age 86.

Click here to read the Tri-State Defender’s full story.

In February 2018, Russell interviewed Davis as part of a Second Presbyterian Church mid-week series titled “Voices of Memphis.” Click here to listen to their conversation.

Hurricanes Hanna, Isaias affect EPC churches with rain, wind, flooding

 

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The home of a member of Genesis Presbyterian Church in Mercedes, Texas, was heavily damaged by Hurricane Hanna on July 25 (photo credit: Hector Reynoso).

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season—which runs from June 1 to November 30—is the first on record in which nine tropical storms formed before August 1. Two of those storms have affected EPC churches.

On July 25, Hurricane Hanna made landfall in south Texas as a category 1 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph. As it churned across the southern portion of the state west, it affected a wide area with high winds, heavy rain, and significant flooding.

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Mercedes, Texas, received significant flooding from Hurricane Hanna (photo credit: Hector Reynoso).

Genesis Presbyterian Church in Mercedes, Texas, is located in the Rio Grande Valley along the Mexican border, approximately 100 miles southwest of where Hanna came ashore. Pastor Hector Reynoso reported that seven families from the congregation suffered wind and water damage to their homes, including flooding; roof and ceiling damage; soaked drywall and insulation; and ruined furniture, appliances, and other belongings. In addition, the storm damaged the roof of Reynoso’s home.

In response to the need, the EPC wired nearly $30,000 from the Emergency Relief Fund to the church.

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Hector Reynoso

“Thank you on behalf of Genesis Presbyterian Church and its session for your caring and prompt response,” Reynoso said by email. “We have helped a total of 13 families—11 from Genesis and two from the community. Hurricane Hanna has caused a lot of damage to the Rio Grande Valley.”

As Hanna spun west into Mexico, Hurricane Isaias formed in the Caribbean and passed Puerto Rico on July 31, causing flooding in the western and southern parts of the island.

“In our city of Mayagüez there were severe flooding,” reported Abraham Montes, Pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica Mayagüez (Mayagüez Evangelical Presbyterian Church). “By the grace of God, our church was not affected.”

Isaias then brushed the Bahamas, where Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, reported that “all is good. My back fence and a tree were knocked down, but the church did not sustain any damage.”

Ken Lane, Pastor of Lucaya Presbyterian Church in Freeport, said they did not receive any negative effects.

“After Dorian last year, this one was more like a summer storm,” he said.

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A home in Oak Island, N.C., on August 4 near Hurricane Isaias’ landfall. (Photo credit: Ken Blevins, Wilmington, N.C., Star News)

Following a northerly turn and a slow trek off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, Isaias made landfall late on August 3 in southeastern North Carolina as a category 1 hurricane. The eye of the storm came ashore approximately 15 miles west of Oak Island, N.C., where Walter Taylor serves as Pastor of Oak Island Presbyterian Church.

“Church members were affected,” Taylor said by email on August 4. “Some flooded cars and property on the island, trees down everywhere. We ourselves are well, however.”

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Walter Taylor

Other EPC pastors in the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic reported uprooted trees, power outages, and other effects from the storm.

“We have a lot of tree limbs down on the church property, but there doesn’t appear to be any real damage,” said Stacey Miller, Pastor of Myrtle Grove EPC in Wilmington, N.C. “We haven’t heard of any major impacts to members of our congregation either. Walter’s congregation down at Oak Island drew the short straw this time around.”

Keith Cobb, Pastor of Hollywood EPC in Greenville, N.C, also reported fallen tree limbs as well “some siding off houses” in the area.

“Wind blew rain in through the steeple of our church and did slight damage to the sanctuary ceiling, but probably not enough to file a claim,” he said. “One member, a farmer, lost corn to wind and some other crops are soggy. But all in all, we’ve seen worse.”

Further north, Isaias caused widespread flooding and power outages in the Northeast.

Lanah Hamrick, Assistant Stated Clerk for the Presbytery of the East (POTE), said 13 churches in the presbytery had reported power outages, downed limbs and trees, and flash flooding. Churches in New Jersey and the Philadelphia area reported the most significant effects from the storm.

Valdir Reis, Pastor of Closer to God EPC in Kearny, N.J., said several members of the congregation experienced minor damage to their homes.

“Everyone that we know of so far is doing OK,” he said. “The church building, unfortunately, did suffer damage, especially in the region of the tower. We will see about fixing the issues and getting everything up to code again, but thankfully everyone is OK and healthy.”

Barry Case, Clerk of Session for Manoa Community Church in Havertown, Pa., said the primary issue in the Philadelphia area was widespread, ongoing power outages.

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Torrential rains from Hurricane Isaias caused the Darby Creek in Delaware County, Pa., to overflow its banks. The creek is about two miles from two EPC churches in Havertown, Pa.: Bethany EPC and Manoa Community Church (photo credit: CBS3, Philadelphia).

“We had a session meeting last night, and five of the eight people present had basement water problems earlier in the day,” he said. “Most of the water issues are one-day nuisances, but one family had a malfunctioning sump pump and 10 inches of water.”

Bob Thompson, Clerk of Session for Bethany EPC in Havertown said the church facility had “some water in the lower level, but not too serious,” he said. “At present we are not aware of any other issues.”

Other POTE church leaders reported similar impact and expressed gratitude for prayers and support as they assess damage among their congregations and communities.

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said he was thankful for the ability to respond to storm-related financial needs quickly.

“The generosity of our EPC churches and their members over the past several years had given us a healthy balance in our Emergency Relief Fund,” Jeremiah said. “Because we have the staff and tools in place to respond quickly, we have been able to help meet identified needs efficiently and effectively. I am very grateful to be able to tell our folks in need that help is on the way.”

World Outreach Philemon Project GROW Center preschool damaged in Beirut explosion

 

Security camera footage captures the moments that the shock wave from the August 5, 2020, explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, hit the Philemon Project GROW Center.

The Philemon Project GROW Center, an early childhood development center and adult mentoring program in Beirut, Lebanon, was heavily damaged by the explosion that rocked the city on August 5. The center is located approximately two miles from Beirut’s port, where the blast occurred.

The GROW Center is a project of EPC World Outreach and is led by Robert Hamd, a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Central South. Hamd reported by email late August 5 that none of the center’s staff were seriously injured, but one employee’s home was destroyed.

“Our house is completely gone,” said Azig, an Early Development Specialist at the GROW Center. “We gathered clothes, money, and important papers as much as we can. My family will go to my brother’s fiancee’s house. Please mention us in your prayers, I don’t know how we will overcome this.”

Hand reported that “not much is salvageable” at the GROW Center.

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Robert Hamd

“The building has structural damage, stuff is strewn everywhere, windows are broken,” Hamd said. “Thank God no one was in the building when it happened.”

He added that the staff is “traumatized.”

“They’re weeping,” he said. “One told me she cried for three hours straight until she collapsed from exhaustion.”

As of August 6, no major injuries have been reported among the families the GROW Center serves.

“We grieve with the long-suffering people of Beirut in the aftermath of this terrible shaking,” said Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach. “We pray God will comfort them and, through people like the GROW Center staff, give them a foundation that can never be shaken.”

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The blast shattered windows and left the facility littered with broken drywall and other debris.

More than 135 people are confirmed dead from the explosion, with more than 5,000 injured and as many as 300,000 homeless. Officials have said those numbers are likely to climb. Marwan Abboud, Beirut’s Governor, said half the buildings in Beirut are damaged. The explosion was reportedly caused by 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored in a warehouse at the port since 2013.

“Please pray for our work and witness,” Hamd said. “This is a catastrophe of epic proportions.”

The GROW Center provides early childhood development opportunities for at-risk and underserved Lebanese, Syrian refugee, and migrant children and their families in a Christian environment. For more information about the Philemon Project GROW Center, see www.thephilemonproject.org.

To donate to the center’s recovery, go to www.epcwo.org/supportphilemongrow. Hamd noted that all donations given in the near future will go toward “repairing the building, replacing books, toys, kitchen items—basically everything.”

August 12 webinar to explore racial justice/mercy ministry practices for staff, session, congregation

 

RacialMattersWebinarSession2PanelistsThe second in series of three video conference presentations on racial justice and mercy ministries is scheduled for Wednesday, August 12, at 4:00 p.m. (Eastern). The discussion will address the topic, “Specific Ministry Practices in Racial Justice and Mercy: Sessions, Staff, Congregation.”

The 90-minute forum is a follow-up to the EPC’s June 10 webinar, “Leading EPC Sessions and Congregations in Issues of Race and Justice: An Online Seminar on These Times and a Biblical Response.”

The webinar will be hosted by Case Thorp, Moderator of the EPC 39th General Assembly and Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

“I hope this series of presentations both encourages and helps equip our EPC Teaching Elders and Sessions to consider speaking for justice and equality, and against racism, injustice, and inequality,” Thorp said. “I also hope we all will work to arrest the origins of civil unrest—namely poverty, racial separation, immorality, and a lack of radical love.”

Panelists include:

Following 45 minutes of discussion led by the panelists, participants will spend 30 minutes in Breakout Room dialogue specific to church staff, session, or congregational contexts.

Breakout Room hosts include the three panelists and Thorp, plus EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah; Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.; and Dean Weaver, Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa.

The final installment of the series, “Evangelism via Justice and Mercy Ministries: Moving from Charity to Connection,” is scheduled for September 9.

For more information and to register, go to www.epc.org/issuesofraceandjustice.

40th General Assembly to be virtual only; on-site participation canceled

 

GA2020ThemeArt-BannerSeptemberVirtualDue to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the EPC’s 40th General Assembly will be virtual only, with no on-site component at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn. The National Leadership Team (NLT) made the decision in a July 30 meeting.

“I am grateful of the NLT’s careful and prayerful consideration of the questions and concerns my office has received in recent weeks,” said Jeff Jeremiah, Stated Clerk. “While we all have full confidence the ability of Rufus Smith’s team at Hope Church to conduct a safe event, the NLT felt that a cautious approach was wise given the recent surge in positive cases.”

Originally scheduled for June 23-26, the Assembly was rescheduled for September 17-18 in a called meeting held on May 1.

“A key assumption we all had in May when we postponed GA to September was that the COVID-19 shutdown would be over by the fall and life would be returning to some kind of normal,” Jeremiah added. “However, based on the information available to us in late July it looks like a return to ‘normal’ by mid-September is very unlikely.”

Tom Werner, NLT Chairman, said the safety of participants—including Hope Church’s staff and volunteers—was foremost in the groups minds as they discussed the situation.

“Reports I have seen show the middle part of the country starting to see a spike in cases now, like my home state of Missouri, Florida, Texas, and others have in recent weeks,” Werner said. “None of us wanted to put our Commissioners or anyone at Hope Church at risk.”

The virtual event will still be “business only” with no Leadership Institute. Online registration has been paused until Monday, August 3, to allow for programming adjustments.

For more information and regular updates about the 40th General Assembly, see www.epc.org/ga2020.

Reopening the church: COVID-19 surge continues to impact churches in southern-tier hotspots

 

ReopeningTheChurchFifth in a series

As the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to surge across the U.S., EPC congregations in the hotspot states of Texas, Arizona, and Florida are adjusting to the realities of how, when, and if they will be able to reopen their doors.

“We are allowed to reopen by the state, but have not,” said Lionel R. Jellins, elder and Interim Moderator at City of Refuge Church in Houston—which is located in Harris County where nearly 60,000 of the state’s 361,000 cases have been identified.

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Lionel Jellins

“We could allow our small groups to meet in person, in small groups, but have not recommended this,” he added. “Our church has a large number of medical center workers and several infectious disease doctors that we seek for counsel. They have advised us not to re-open. We will not re-open until the cases are relatively low and stable. The recent spike has materially delayed re-opening.”

Jellins said the church originally targeted June 7 as its date to reopen after closing following the onset of the pandemic, but plans to reopen currently are on hold.

“Increasing cases in Houston caused us to delay,” he said, adding that City of Refuge continues to consult their medical advisors to determine an eventual date.

Pre-closure attendance at the church was 180, and now about 85 families view the church’s live stream each week.

“We are relatively close to our pre-shutdown attendance,” Jellins said.

Doug Ashley, Lead Pastor of Longview Evangelical Presbyterian Church said East Texas has experienced a gradual uptick in cases as well—though not to the same degree that the more populous areas of the state have.

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Doug Ashley

“We are starting the see the cases rise significantly over the last few weeks,” Ashley said. “We have not had a lot of deaths so far and our recovery rate is good, but increased hospitalization could be an issue for us in the coming weeks.”

Longview EPC cautiously reopened in-person worship services on June 14—which the church dubbed The Comeback—and has remained open with social distancing and face coverings.

“Our plans have remained stable as we have had good cooperation of people attending to do so safely,” he said, adding that the Session continues to monitor the situation weekly. “We believe we still have a safe gathering space with the number of people attending services in person at this time.”

Ashley noted that their pre-shutdown attendance of between 125-170 (depending on the season) has not been greatly impacted, and the church continues to live-stream its Sunday morning service.

“We have been fortunate in that this has not significantly affected members of our congregation at this point,” he said. “But that could change any day.”

In the desert Southwest, Arizona is another COVID-19 hotspot. Grace Community Church in Surprise, Ariz., is about 45 minutes from Phoenix in Maricopa County—where 102,000 COVID cases have been identified.

Pastor Cliff Mansley quipped that the virus “has actually been good for us” despite the impact on the overall community.

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Cliff Mansley

“When things first went down we decided that we would do one of those crazy outdoor services until it got oppressively hot—and we grew during that time,” he said. “We have had 40 or so visitors, people sitting on the curb listening in and people leaning over their fences wanting to find out what is going on. We had lots of visitors come into the parking lot who had never darkened the door of the church.”

Mansley said when the church reopened its doors in early June the people who visited during the outdoor services came inside.

“You know, there is such a wonderful spirit” he said. “Right now we are just within the margin of attendance. You are allowed to have 50 people in attendance, so we are watching that carefully.”

While the number of people attending is down from the church’s pre-shutdown attendance of 150, Mansley believes a combination of creatively connecting with members of the congregation and guests via podcasts—as well as posting worship services on YouTube—has kept connectivity strong. Among the podcasts Mansley started during the shutdown are Bible studies on Gospel of John, Habakkuk, and Nehemiah.

Another podcast is “Cliff Talk,” a folksy program in which Mansley discusses a range of topics including snowbirds, the Arizona heat, wearing masks, and “becoming a bit cranky” during the crisis due to isolation before sharing spiritual truths from the Bible.

“The most fun that we’re having is called Goodness Gracious, which is anytime I can interview someone from the congregation and find out about their life,” Mansley said. “I do that for 15 to 20 minutes, which allows people who are feeling homebound to tune and learn about somebody else’s life. So our congregation is growing together in spite of it all. I think it really has helped encourage people to stay connected and to stay positive, and I think it has encouraged people to be generous in their giving.”

Despite the lower attendance numbers, Manley said giving to the church is actually ahead of last year’s pace.

“We’re tracking above all of our projections from the beginning of the year,” he said.

In Florida, which now has more than 400,000 confirmed cases, New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers reopened for public worship on June 25 with in-person services on both Thursday evening and Sunday morning.

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Eddie Spencer

Senior Pastor Eddie Spencer said the recent surge in cases will likely delay plans to restart on-campus elementary and youth ministry activities. But many positives remain, he said, including members of the congregation who continue to minister and serve despite the challenges of the pandemic.

“For years, one of our ladies has led a team of women who have weekly ministered in a local women’s jail,” he said. “Although the team cannot see the girls or fully enter the facility, the volunteers continue to visit the facility each week to drop off discipleship lessons and sit together in the car and pray for the young women.”

Spencer also noted that giving to the church “has remained excellent. I am pleased that we have been able to maintain our commitment to our employees, as well as all of our mission partners.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Church Pivot: Still traveling the ‘Sawdust Trail’

 

CaseThorpChurchPivotby Case Thorp
Moderator of the 39th General Assembly

The sweet fragrance of sawdust simply does not translate online. Sawdust—the wood shavings of my youth, and now my adulthood—were originally an innovative flooring solution for nineteenth century Christians worshipping in open-air pavilions called tabernacles. They needed a way to keep the dirt and dust down during the heat of summer and the heat of religious fervor. The floors in these historic structures christen the path the Sawdust Trail, which itinerant preachers travel as they evangelize at camp after camp. I could not take my annual pilgrimage to camp meeting this year due to the pandemic. I long to feel that holy sawdust under my feet.

Due to pandemic quarantine, the Salem Camp Meeting east of Atlanta did not meet. This is the first cancellation since the Civil War, and only the fifth time since its founding in 1828; the other four being during the aforementioned conflict.

Camp meetings are a 200-year-old Christian tradition begun during America’s Second Great Awakening. From the first Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky in 1801, this method of religious fervor spread quickly in remote Protestant communities. The sawdust trail was well-worn, both by pilgrims like me and famous itinerant preachers like Francis Asbury and later Wilbur Chapman and Billy Sunday.

At a camp meeting, people seek the saving faith of Jesus Christ, spiritual renewal, forgiveness, the sweet spirit of fellowship, and more. Campers gather from all over the country for several days in the heat of summer. The tabernacle is the architectural center of the grounds. A cathedral of oaks and elms shade the nearby fresh-water spring once used to both baptize the converted and refrigerate the eggs and milk.

Part of the appeal of camp meeting are those things that never seem to change. Preachers work up a sweat from the heat in the air and a word of conviction from the Bible. Old ladies and children intermingle in ways rarely seen today. Southern hymnody echoes from the platform as we sing along with pianists Becky Ramsey and Alice Walker. They are twin sisters who wear matching outfits for the thrice-daily worship services. Next year will be their fiftieth anniversary of praising God through song at Salem.

Through the years, however, this historic tradition has no doubt evolved. Tents, the traditional name for rough-hewn cabins encircling the tabernacle, now have plumbing, electricity, and air conditioning. The excitement recently at Salem Campground has been the new wifi and security cameras. We have been mostly United Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, but today all are welcome. I am still awaiting a reply from the Vatican inviting Pope Francis to be our annual preacher.

In spite of the coronavirus keeping us from gathering, the mission of our camp meeting, and many others, carries on: preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. We zoomed with one another for trivia night, worship, and Bible study. The campground trustees convened to discuss the budget and plan for 2021, and donations are received through electronic means. Through it all we ensure that a 200-year-old unique expression of Christianity continues.

As sawdust was an innovation to keep the dirt and dust down in a hot and humid environment, the internet is now part of the camp meeting experience. I am grateful that the sweet, sweet Spirit will remain in that place, and in our hearts.

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. He also is a member of the board of trustees for the Salem Campground in Covington, Ga.