Category Archives: Uncategorized

April 2022 EPC financial report: PMA support behind budget, designated giving up 22 percent over 2021

 

Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions to the Office of the General Assembly in fiscal year 2022 (FY22) through April 30 total $1,946,152. The total is $76,977 (3.8 percent) less than the $2,023,129 FY22 PMA support projection to fund the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations. April PMA support was $183,842—$23,138 less than the monthly projected budget amount of $206,980.

PMA contributions through 10 months of FY22 (which runs from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022) are $88,819 (4.4 percent) behind the $2,034,971 contributed over the same period in FY21.

“I am very grateful that so many of our churches remain faithful to support the mission and vision of the EPC through their PMA,” said Stated Clerk Dean Weaver. “The downward trend is concerning, but our Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills. That truth gives me peace that even during rampant inflation and economic hardship for so many, that He is able to do more than we could ever ask or think. I continue to pray that we close the growing budget gap over the last two months of the fiscal year.”

Of the $1,946,152 received, $389,230 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $5,724,144 in designated gifts were received through April 30. This total was $1,032,471 (22.0 percent) more than the $4,691,673 in designated gifts received in the same period in FY21. Much of the increase over the previous fiscal year can be attributed to nearly $400,000 donated to Ukraine relief through the EPC’s International Disaster Relief Fund and $275,000 donated through the Domestic Emergency Relief Fund following Hurricane Ida’s landfall in Louisiana in August 2021.

“While I hope and pray that our PMA support catches up, the generosity of the EPC when disaster strikes has gone way beyond what we could have imagined,” Weaver said. “I have no doubt that God is going to continue to use those sacrificial gifts to His glory in Eastern Europe and elsewhere around the world.”

Of the total, $5,281,570 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $442,573 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.

Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and church health initiatives, and the EPC’s Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings.

World Outreach gatherings at 42nd General Assembly present Master Plan, commission new global workers, provide ministry updates

 

EPC World Outreach is sponsoring a variety of gatherings at the 42nd General Assembly, June 21-24 at Ward Church in Northville. Mich.

On Tuesday, June 21, the revised World Outreach Master Plan will be unveiled as part of this year’s Leadership Institute. The presentation will be led by Rick Dietzman, Chairman of the World Outreach Committee; Gabriel de Guia, Executive Director of EPC World Outreach; and Jason Dunn, Associate Director of World Outreach.

“Our Master Plan outlines our mission, values, and priorities,” de Guia said. “We couldn’t possibly work with every unreached people group in the world that needs to hear the gospel. The Master Plan is our strategy for reaching those who we believe God has specifically called us to.”

Tuesday evening banquet

Ed Stetzer is the speaker for this year’s World Outreach banquet. He serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., where he also serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center.

Stetzer has trained pastors and church planters on six continents., holds two earned master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and 12 books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for Bible story.

Wednesday evening dinner

The Global Worker Presentations Dinner on Wednesday, June 22, from 5:00-6:30 p.m. provides opportunity to hear World Outreach global workers describe how God is using and blessing their work among those people groups of the world that have little to no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Global worker commissioning

On Thursday, June 23, World Outreach will commission its newest global workers during the evening worship service at 7:00 p.m. The speaker for the service is Marcelo Robles, Senior Pastor of La Misión Church in Buenos Aires, Argentina. From 5:00-6:30 p.m., General Assembly attendees can enjoy dinner with these new global workers, when they will discuss the ministry God has called them to and share their heart for His Kingdom.

Networking Lunches

World Outreach ministry leaders also will host several Networking Lunches throughout the week.

On Wednesday, June 22, de Guia will again present the revised Master Plan.

On Thursday, June 23, Bruce Anderson and other leaders from the International Theological Education Network (ITEN) will provide an update on ITEN’s ministry around the world. Also on Wednesday, World Outreach leaders will provide an Engage 2025 update on EPC efforts to send teams from each Presbytery to reach those with least access to the gospel.

On Friday, June 24, attendees can find inspiration and resources for reaching their neighbors in the Networking Lunch, “Creative Outreach with Your Community and Beyond.” Shawn Stewart, World Outreach Mobilization Coordinator, will host the discussion.

All GA attendees are invited to participate in these World Outreach gatherings, but registration is required for the Tuesday evening banquet as space is limited. The worship service Thursday will be live-streamed.

For more information about the 42nd General Assembly, including registration, daily schedules, and more, see www.epc.org/ga2022. For details about each of the World Outreach activities, see www.epc.org/ga2022worldoutreachevents.

#epc2022ga

International Disaster Relief Fund receives $437,000 to date

 

As of Thursday, May 5, $437,481 has been donated to the EPC’s International Disaster Relief Fund. This amount includes two separate gifts of $50,000 each and nine additional donations of $10,000 or more.

“I should never be surprised at the generosity of the EPC when people are in need,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “Our churches and church members have demonstrated God’s love over and over again when the need is the greatest.”

The fund was launched on March 1 in response to the crisis in Ukraine, with contributions to the fund currently being sent to EPC partners in Eastern Europe that are helping with refugee efforts.

Bruce Anderson, Director of the International Theological Education Network of EPC World Outreach, said donations are meeting humanitarian needs, including “tons and tons of food supplies for people who are running out of food. They have no access and are even running out of water.”

He added that some of the money was used to distribute Bibles, Christian literature, trauma kits and medicine, as well as purchasing two vehicles being used for evacuation efforts.

Bruce Anderson

“Our friends have distributed 1 million prayer, Scripture, and gospel booklets that were printed up in the Ukrainian language and distributed inside Ukraine for people who are broken and crying out to God,” he said. “Many of them are not yet followers of the Lord but are turning toward Him.”

Anderson reported that $115,000 in donations recently wired arrived “just in time.”

“Our partner in Poland sent me a text message in which he told me that they had 20 tons of food, medicine, and essential items ready for shipping, but another partner had not sent them the money for the transportation cost. They feel the urgency, right? They know people are dying and are being traumatized, and they are going to send the supplies without having money,” Anderson said.

“So his text says, ‘we prayed this morning about funds NOW—N.O.W. capitals—for this transportation. After the prayer, I opened the account and received the EPC gift for Ukraine. God is great! Praise the Lord for His timing!’”

Anderson noted that donations are not only helping provide material assistance, but also arrived in “God’s time” for those ministry partners “to know, as he said to me, that God is with us and the EPC is with us and we are not alone.”

Click here to donate to the International Disaster Relief Fund.

The purpose of the Fund is to help relieve suffering when needs arise round the world that are outside the scope of the domestic EPC Emergency Relief Fund, which is used for situations in North America.

General Assembly Networking Lunches offer connection, equipping

 

Networking Lunches at the EPC 42nd General Assembly provide opportunity for GA participants to connect with others with similar ministry interests. Networking Lunches are held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, June 22-24, from 12:00-1:15 p.m. at Ward Church in Northville, Mich. For more information about each lunch, see www.epc.org/ga2022networkinglunches.

Wednesday, June 22

  • Building Retirement Savings and Tax-Exempt Housing Expense Withdrawal (hosted by Bart Francescone, Executive Director of EPC Benefit Resources, Inc.).
  • Christians Need to be Evangelized, Too (hosted by Cameron Shaffer and the Westminster Society).
  • Church Planters and Friends (hosted by Rodger Woodworth and the EPC Church Planting Team).
  • Developing Six Key Relationships to Avoid Burnout (hosted by Jay Fowler and Clark Tanner of PastorServe).
  • Empowering Leaders to Spark Disciple-Making Movements (hosted by Marcos Ortega and The Antioch Room).
  • Guarding Your Soul While Caring for the Soul of Others (hosted by Jan McCormack, Associate Professor and Chair of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Programs at Denver Seminary).
  • Offering Grace and Truth: The Transgender Experience (hosted by Scott Kingry, Program Director for Where Grace Abounds).
  • Strengthening Our Leadership Relationships (hosted by Roy Yanke, Executive Director of PIR Ministries).
  • The Evangelistic Challenge to the Pro-Life Church (hosted by Deborah Hollifield, Executive Director of Presbyterians Protecting Life).
  • The Opportunity to Recharge a Church During a Pastoral Transition (hosted by Bob Stauffer and the EPC Church Heath Team).
  • Women’s Connection Lunch (hosted by Rachel White and the Ward Church Women’s Ministry).
  • World Outreach Master Plan (hosted by Gabriel de Guia, Executive Director of EPC World Outreach).

Thursday, June 23

  • Female Teaching Elders and Ordination Candidates (hosted by Carolyn Poteet and the Presbytery of the Alleghenies).
  • How to Flourish in the Grind of Ministry—Caring for Your Soul (hosted by Jay Fowler and Clark Tanner of PastorServe).
  • International Theological Education Network (hosted by Bruce Anderson, Director of the International Theological Education Network of EPC World Outreach).
  • Reaching the Next Generation Next Door to Your Church (hosted by Jen Burkholder, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Coalition for Christian Outreach).
  • Re-Equip: Your Church as Seminary (hosted by Scott Manor, President of Knox Theological Seminary).
  • Revelation 7:9 (hosted by Rufus Smith and the EPC Revelation 7:9 Task Force).
  • Spiritual Friendship: A Practice of Vocational Resilience and Resistance (hosted by Brandon Addison, Denver City Network Leader for the Made to Flourish Network).
  • The Opportunity to Recharge a Church During a Pastoral Transition (hosted by Bob Stauffer and the EPC Church Heath Team).
  • What Does Your Personal Well-being Look Like? (hosted by Bart Francescone, Executive Director of EPC Benefit Resources, Inc.).
  • World Outreach Engage 2025 (hosted by EPC World Outreach).

Friday, June 24

  • B.O.O.M.: Boomers Out On Mission (hosted by Ken Priddy and the GO Center of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic).
  • Building Retirement Savings and Tax-Exempt Housing Expense Withdrawal (hosted by Bart Francescone, Executive Director of EPC Benefit Resources, Inc.)
  • Creative Outreach with Your Community and Beyond (hosted by Michelle Munger and the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic).
  • Discipling Through Deconstruction (hosted by Nicole Unice and the Ward Church Women’s Ministry).
  • Executive Pastors and Church Administrators (hosted by Patrick Coelho, CFO for the EPC Office if the General Assembly).
  • Faith and Work Ministry at Your Church (hosted by Brandon Addison, Denver city leader for the Made to Flourish Network, and Case Thorp, Orlando city leader for the Made to Flourish Network).
  • Sharing the Gospel in Times of Tumult: Ancient Wisdom for New Challenges (hosted by Joey Sherrard and the Westminster Society).
  • The Essential Role of the Smaller Church (hosted by Roy Yanke and Ed McCallum of the EPC Smaller Church Network).

For more information about the 42nd General Assembly, including online registration, schedule, and more, see www.epc.org/ga2022.

Colorado family finds hope after suicide through Cherry Hills’ Alpha ministry

 

On the first Saturday evening in September 2019, Will and Maria Bales slipped into the back of the room at an Alpha meeting at Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo. They weren’t sure they really wanted to be there.

Tyler Grissom

“I noticed them sitting off by themselves,” said Tyler Grissom, Evangelism Director at Cherry Hills who leads the church’s Alpha Course—interactive discussions that explore the basics of the Christian faith in an open and informal environment. “So I went and sat with them. They slowly began to open up. Then the tears started flowing.”

Grissom learned that the eldest of the Bales’ two sons, Nick, had taken his life almost a year earlier. He was only 17.

Their grief hit close to home for Grissom, who also is the father of two boys and lost his father in a tragic accident a few years before. He went through weeks of counseling afterward to find healing.

“I was able to share my own story with them, which helped,” Grissom said. “It enabled me to connect with them in a way I could not have if I had not experienced loss myself.” Most of all, though, Grissom just listened.

Friendship evangelism

He learned that the Bales—who did not have a church home—came to the Alpha meeting at the invitation of a friend.

“I will never forget that day,” said Ashley Gonzales, who attends Cherry Hills. “There were eight of us who knew Maria from playing tennis together. When we heard about Nick all of a sudden there was this chain of phone calls and we were all there.”

The women, who came from all different backgrounds and had never even had a spiritual conversation, did the one thing they could think of to do in the moment. They joined hands and started to pray.

“After the funeral, we wanted to continue to support Maria so we decided to meet every Friday for prayer at her house,” Gonzales said. “We didn’t even really know what to do, so we’d read a devotion from Jesus Calling, then pray and see where it would lead. Sometimes we ended up having deep conversations about life and faith.”

Nick and Maria Bales. (photo courtesy of the Bales family)

The women started calling themselves “The Prayer Warriors” and soon began to grow closer to God and to each other. Occasionally Will also would come in and listen.

“That’s when I got the idea to invite Will and Maria to Alpha,” Gonzales said. “Pastor Tyler had just announced that Alpha would be starting up again. Another friend in the prayer group had been through Alpha at her church, and we both thought it was worth mentioning to them.”

Gonzales had her doubts that they would say yes. But she knew that Alpha could provide some tools that the Bales needed to work through the grief, so she was willing to take a chance.

“I remember walking in that first night of Alpha, so anxious about whether or not they would show up. I realized this was my one opportunity, so I sent a text to Maria during worship saying, ‘I hope you can come.’”

Maria said their initial experience with the Alpha group was both “a good and bad experience,” but they returned the next week. At that meeting, they asked Grissom if he would speak at the remembrance ceremony for Nick in the Bales’ back yard on Sunday, September 29, which was the anniversary of his death.

A divine appointment

At Alpha two weeks later—on the night before the ceremony—Maria raised her hand during an invitation to say “yes” to Jesus. Her hope and peace were now in Christ, strengthened by learning from a relative that Nick had opened up his heart to Jesus before he died.

“I know that I’m going to see Nick again,” Maria said. “As much as I want to have him here, I am thankful to God for taking care of him. There’s no better place to be than in heaven.”

On the day of the ceremony, Grissom pulled into the neighborhood and saw cars stretched down the block, lining both sides of the street.

“There were a lot of people,” Gonzales said. “Young kids and families all there to support the Bales. I was praying hard for Pastor Tyler. I knew he wanted to acknowledge and celebrate Nick’s life, but also use the opportunity to share the gospel.”

Grissom delivered a powerful message, and when he asked if anyone would like to receive Christ, hands shot up all across the yard.

A few weeks earlier, Maria and some friends were in the mountains west of Denver when they were suddenly surrounded by a swarm of white butterflies. Maria said she knew at the time that it was a sign from Nick, so she ordered 1,000 butterflies in individual boxes for guests to release at the end of the remembrance ceremony. As dozens of people made the decision to begin a new life in Christ, the sky above the Bales’ home filled with butterflies rising toward the heavens.

“I believe God creates miracles every day,” Maria said. “Nick had a mission here—to be a light among all of his friends. Losing him was hard, but he has brought so much hope to other kids. I know that was Nick’s purpose.”

Nick Bales

When he was 9, Nick lost a friend to suicide. Three more friends took their lives later. His own battle with anxiety and depression started in the 6th grade.

When he was a 15-year-old sophomore, he launched an apparel company called Brought to Reality (BTR). He designed the T-shirts and hoodies to send a positive message, and he donated 10 percent of his profits to mental health efforts. He shared the story of his friend’s death on his website, and wrote these words to his peers: “My message is that life is precious, and I want to live every day to the fullest by being present, being myself, and following my dreams.”

But he started to isolate himself again early in his junior year and grew increasingly agitated. He even pushed away his brother, Tyler, which broke Maria’s heart because the two had always been close. One day after a heated argument, she exclaimed, “I don’t know who you are anymore!”

The pain in Nick’s eyes told her he did not either.

“I will never forget that moment,” Maria said. “The look he gave me was one of desperation.”

She threw herself into the fight to pull her son through his illness.

“It’s like a cancer,” she said. “Their brain is lying to them. It’s real, physical, brain pain. I can’t tell you how awful it is to watch your child suffer.”

As Nick started his senior year the next fall, he seemed to have turned the corner. He was doing well academically, playing on the hockey and lacrosse teams, and planning a Spring Break trip with his friends.

Tragedy

But on Friday night, September 28, he went to a football game, then texted his mom to let her know that he would be getting home late. Maria, who normally would have texted back a quick “Thanks for letting me know. I love you!” was particularly tired that night and fell asleep without responding. A friend brought him home a few minutes later.

The next morning the Bales found Nick’s lifeless body.

“Nick was a really good kid,” Maria said. “Mindful and sweet, athletic, energetic, so full of life. He was kind to everyone, and they all loved him. He was as comfortable with adults as he was with his peers and would talk to everyone in the room. He always liked to make sure people were included.”

Grissom emphasized that the Bales’ grief journey did not end at the remembrance ceremony, and more than two years later continue to walk a difficult road. Yet he noted that the tragedy of suicide is not beyond God’s redemptive work.

“What happened at the remembrance ceremony was all about the things that Alpha is built around—prayer and dependency on the Holy Spirit,” Grissom said. “God is unfolding His plan and allowing us to be a part of it. Only He could write a story like this.”

He hopes that Alpha will continue to be a place where families like the Bales can ask honest questions and find hope in Christ.

“Jesus was asked 183 questions in the New Testament,” Grissom said, “And He only answered three directly. Even His way of ministering to people—especially those outside—was to ask questions and let people wrestle with the answer until they came to a place of receiving the truth.”

The Bales family now runs BTR as a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called the Nick Bales BTR Foundation. The Foundation continues to produce “Street Wear for a Cause” and supports teens suffering from mental health issues and aiding in the prevention of teen suicide.

“All the proceeds go to helping pay for therapies for those less fortunate,” Maria said. “We don’t ever want young adults to make a permanent decision because they could not afford therapy.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) is a free, 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons and those around them with support, information, and local resources.

“In All Things” podcast episode 19 welcomes Roy Yanke, Executive Director of PIR Ministries for discussion of pastoral transitions, health, coaching

 

Episode 19 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Roy Yanke, EPC Ruling Elder and Executive Director of PIR Ministries, a commended resource of the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee. This week, host Dean Weaver and Yanke discuss how he got involved with PIR, and the services the ministry provides to pastors, Presbyteries, and local churches.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

National Church Health Team developing personal evangelism resource based on Three Circles method

 

When it comes to healthy church growth, evangelism should be a primary means of adding people to the church. The church is strengthened spiritually and numerically when the gospel is proclaimed, and the Holy Spirit enables people to respond by grace through faith.

Bob Stauffer

Bob Stauffer, EPC National Director of Church Health, said that the unfortunate reality is that churches often experience a disconnect between understanding evangelism’s role in church growth and becoming a church that actively evangelizes. Church leadership must both value evangelism and teach members how to share their faith, Stauffer often says. However, a 2019 Lifeway Research survey found that 55 percent of people who attended church at least once per month reported that they had not shared with someone how to become a Christian in the past six months.

“Over my many—many—years in ministry, one thing I can almost always count on is that an evangelistic church is much more likely to be a healthy church,” Stauffer noted. “One of the first things we wanted to do as a Church Health Team is offer a resource that can help our congregations in the area of knowing how to share their faith.”

Turning Everyday Conversations into Gospel Conversations (and companion Life on Mission smartphone app) and its Three Circles evangelism method is the resource Stauffer and his team are starting with for a clear, practical, and simple approach to personal evangelism.

Developed by Jimmy Scroggins, Lead Pastor at Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., Three Circles is a simple way to explain the gospel through the lens of God’s design: sin’s entrance into the world and the brokenness it creates, and how the gospel of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection gives people the means to recover and pursue God’s design for their lives and the created order.

If a narrative of God’s design, our brokenness, and the redeeming power of the gospel sound familiar, it’s because the language echoes ideas Reformed thinkers have articulated for years—often using the terms creation-fall-redemption-consummation.

But why base a resource on a specific evangelism method? Why not endorse several—or let churches choose their own method?

The Church Health Team believes that if churches have to select their own evangelism method, the chances are good that they will pick nothing.

Glenn Meyers

“It can be a real challenge to encourage people to share their faith in ways that are practical and doable,” said Glenn Meyers, Pastor of Ardara United Presbyterian Church in Ardara, Pa. Meyers is a member of the Church Health Team and also is current Chairman of the EPC National Leadership Team. “Because Three Circles is simple, graphic, and adaptable, this tool is just what we needed.”

Over the past few months, two Family Church pastors have conducted Three Circles training with various groups in the EPC. These include nearly 150 attendees at the fall meeting of the Presbytery of Alleghenies, and the January meeting of the National Leadership Team at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando.

Meyers attended both meetings and has since shared the Three Circles model with the congregation’s junior and senior high school students. He also plans to train church’s elders and deacons in how to use it.

“By training the entire church in the same evangelism model, we will have a shared language of evangelism—a vocabulary that translates across groups in the church,” Meyers said. “I hope this shared language will strengthen a culture of evangelism in the church.”

Stauffer noted that what’s true in one church can be true across the denomination.

“If churches embrace the Three Circles method and use it to actively evangelize, I believe an EPC denominational culture of evangelism will grow and flourish,” he said. “The best place to start is the Turning Everyday Conversations into Gospel Conversations book and Life On Mission app.”

Scroggins will lead an evangelism training session on Tuesday morning at the 42nd General Assembly, June 21-24 at Ward Church in suburban Detroit. Registration opens on April 1.

“I believe God is preparing us to be actively involved in the ongoing outreach of His gospel love, all to the growth and the glory of His Kingdom,” Meyers said. “The Three Circles are going to be a handy tool.”

by Megan Fowler
EPConnection correspondent

“In All Things” podcast episode 18 explores EPC ordination process, pastor health with MVC Chairman Fred Lian

 

Episode 18 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Fred Lian, Chairman of the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee (MVC). This week, host Dean Weaver and Lian discuss how the MVC serves the denomination, its churches, pastors, and ordination candidates through the ordination process, as well as several MVC pastor health resources, including PastorServe and PIR Ministries. In addition, Lian reflects on his nearly 40 years of ministry in the EPC.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Church planting and fermentation: Pastor’s bivocation built on hops

 

Christian Cryder, Pastor of All Souls Church in Austin, Texas, and owner/operator of Lazarus Brewing knows you can’t serve two masters. But he also thinks all Christians should be bivocational and see their Christian walk as full partner with their secular profession. (photo by Craig Bird)

Three-fold calling and one-fold obedience. With a beer on the side.

That is how Christian Cryder sees the faith walk that has carried him through three career arcs: 14 years as a software programmer in Seattle, 7 years as co-pastor/church planter in Montana, and now Texas pastor/church planter (since 2013) and rookie brewery owner (since 2016).

Between arcs one and two, he earned a Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia—and discovered the ministry focus of the rest of his life when he “fell in love with pagans.”

He spent “a ton” of time in coffee shops, where he met all sorts of people he did not encounter growing up in Montana. Artists, activists, gays, Jews, liberals, atheists.

“And they weren’t bad people,” Crowder said. “Many of them cared more about the poor and justice than I did—more than most Christians I knew.”

People often ask Cryder if “as a pastor” he has a problem with beer. His stock answer: “I do if it’s bad beer.” Then, if you have the interest and he has the time, he is more than willing to explain the history of when brewing was firmly tied to the church—and explain that Martin Luther’s wife’s brewing skills helped fund the Reformation. Luther would take no money for his overhaul of the European religious world.

Luther hosted seminary students in his home for beer and discussion, Cryder notes, adding that the Reformer generally is credited with declaring, “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”

A gift from God

“Our spiritual ancestors saw beer as a gift from God, to be received with gratitude,” Cryder said. “For over 1,000 years, some of the best brewers in the world were clergy. They felt faith and beer could work together to create a better community. Maybe beer lends insight into people. Maybe it helps keep us grounded.”

While still ministering in Montana, Cryder and his wife, Marilyn, “felt God calling us to pursue two things: start a brewery, and plant another church—both from scratch, both at the same time, in a world class, culture-shaping city.”

The EPC church plant God placed on their hearts would be “a safe place for the unchurched, dechurched, burned by the church, and given up on the church to ask questions.” There would be no paid staff and no buildings—thus the need for an entrepreneurial venture.

A dominant feature at Lazarus is the overhead stained glass designed and executed by a Costa Rican artist. It recalls the Sistine Chapel ceiling in which God and Adam extend touching fingers. In the glass at Lazarus, Jesus is reaching out to a woman reaching for Him. Following the clues, it becomes clear the imagery is from Luke 7 and the woman is who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointed them.

Cryder had no vision for returning to the tech world, but the brewery route was not clear at first either. Earlier, on a whim, he bought two hops vines to provide shade for his home pergola. When they “roared to life, growing 6 to 12 inches a day, and literally swallowed our patio in a blaze of green,” he faced a dilemma.

“We couldn’t just toss all that grain,” he said. “If you grow too many tomatoes you don’t throw them away. You make pizza sauce. Obviously a good steward wouldn’t let hops go to waste.”

Marilyn had been roasting their own coffee for years. Why not try brewing beer? It’s just a hobby, right?

Fast forward, and that hobby led to a partnership with Montana’s Big Sky Brewing. The company produced it, and the church sold All Souls Ale to benefit a Imagine Missoula, non-profit organization Cryder started. Imagine Missoula connects volunteers with people “whose community is thin” who have simple needs like home maintainence, yard work, or rides to the doctor.

The partnership led to a lasting friendship/mentorship with Bjorn Nabozney, president of the largest brewery in Montana. That relationship eventually made Cryder’s bivocational choice clear, and Nabozney played a significant role in helping Cryder discern and submit to the call to the third arc.

“Every time we’d get together we’d talk about God,” Cryder said, “but he always wound up saying, ‘Dude, you need to start a brewery. You can do this.’”

As their friendship grew, “we started taking deep dives into that pool of religious brewing,” Nabozney recalled. “We talked through the conflicts from the religious viewpoint. We also talked about funding and operating a brick-and-mortar facility and managing a business. Somewhere along the way I simply said, ‘I think you could do both—I think you should do both.’ I’m glad he took the dive, glad he trusted his faith and trusted himself.”

Nabozney also gave Cryder his deep personal mission statement: “I don’t want to change the world; I just want to change this one part of it. That will help the world improve itself.”

Leaning into Timothy Keller’s argument that the church’s job is to change culture and culture primarily is shaped by cities, the Cryders looked for a city of at least one million that had a significant cultural impact, a thriving craft beer scene, and a large population of pagans. Welcome to Austin.

To be clear, Lazarus Brewing (Coffee. Beer. Tacos. Joy!—just like the sign says) and All Souls Church are not two parts of the same job. They lead parallel but independent lives.

Cryder never intended to meld the church and the brewery. He wanted to foster two communal spaces, on secular and one spiritual, where people could gather and find the joy in life.

Using the tavern as bait to get people within reach of a sermon is not only ineffective evangelism (“People would see through that pretty quickly,” he said.) but also unethical and thus unChristlike, Cryder holds. “Jesus is not a brand,” he said. “Neither is the Bible.”

He understands that people in post-Christian culture tend to be very skeptical of Christians.

“If they felt we were using the business as a ‘front’ for the church, that would be the death of the business,” he said. “No one would want anything to do with it. But if they ever felt like I was hiding my identity as a Christian, they might conclude I was trying to bait-and-switch. That is death, too. The challenge is how to be open and honest about who we are, but in a way that people can appreciate—even if they do not share any of our convictions.”

Yet Cryder does not believe his job is to convert people.

“In fact, I don’t think I can,” he said. “God has to change people’s hearts. My job is just to try and make the best coffee, beer, and tacos that I possibly can as if I were working for Jesus, which I kind of think I am, and to try to treat every single person that walks through our door with dignity and respect.”

He noted that Lazarus Brewing’s “brand” isn’t simply Bible names for beer, the four Ls in the logo that form a cross, or the large stained glass skylight of Jesus and the woman who anointed his feet reaching for each other’s hands (ala Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, in which God and Adam stretch to touch fingers).

A family brand

“Our brand is our family,” Cryder emphasized. “Our brand is those crazy folks called Cryders who migrated to Texas from Montana and who hunt and fish and plant churches.”

The Cryders’ daughter, Rebekah Daniels (left) and Marilyn Cryder back each other up at Lazarus Brewing. Rebekah is the English-trained head brewer, while Marilyn roasts and brews custom coffee. A few months after this photo, Rebekah gave birth to Asher Joy Daniels, which in turn birthed a new beer—Ode to Joy—to mark the occasion.

The brewery décor reflects the family brand. The reading room features a table made from a walnut tree Cryder’s grandfather cut down in 1969. The tap handles on the beer kegs are from the same wood. A massive elk head—Cryder’s father hunted it in Montana—hovers over one of the couches.

“I love beer. My wife roasts coffee. Our daughter is the head brewer. We are passionate about Jesus and the church and going on adventures with friends. Everything I do flows out of my theology—I just don’t preach it all the time,” he said. “I get to know people before sharing my faith. If you ask pagans questions about their lives, they will ask you questions about yours. And people come to Jesus.”

He noted that some of his beers are named Prodigal Pils, Double Predestination (“we are Presbyterians, remember”), 40 Days and 40 Nights, Road to Damascus, and Walks on Water. But Lazarus also serves beers called Shackleton (a British explorer), Achilles (“a reference to the Greek epics, as well as to the massive armored elk that hangs on our wall, which my dad shot back in Montana”), 20 Pound Brown (“a monstrous brown trout that my son caught”), and PMD (“short for Pale Morning Dun, which is a kind of fly that fish love”).

Other—usually subtle—Christian signposts are a natural part of Lazarus. The name, for one.

“Lazarus is a nod both to the Christian roots of brewing and to my own faith journey,” Cryder explained. “Most people vaguely know Lazarus has something to do with coming back from the dead in the Bible but that’s about it. I love that it symbolizes  moving from death to life. I’ve never met anyone who says, ‘you know, we really need more death.’ Everyone instinctively understands we actually need more life. Lazarus is a symbol of that.”

When the Cryders arrived in Austin from Montana in 2013, they promptly launched All Souls Church in their living room. It remains, while spreading (so far) to three other houses scattered across Austin. The current 30 members connect for worship by Zoom. Future growth will be house by house.

When the Cryders overhauled the iconic Cool Store for Lazarus Brewing, they not only left the signature Bob Marley mural intact, they restored it—a gesture the neighborhood vocally appreciated.

Lazarus took about three years longer to show up on the Austin map, but has steadily grown in space and popularity. A second location is in the works, with partial funding provided by “patron saints” who in exchange for support get free beer for life.

True to its official motto (“Share Life”), Lazarus contributes to the community it lives in.

  • When Austin was under a boil-water alert after a January 2021 freeze knocked out the water system, Cryder suspended brewing beer to produce pure, safe water. Anyone with a container was welcome.They gave away thousands of free tacos. Over just two weeks, the small congregation donated $30,000 to pay people’s bills, buy their medicine, and fund home repairs.
  • When an employee’s cousin was murdered a few blocks from the pub, Lazarus launched and managed the family’s GoFundMe page.
  • The “no sports on the television” rule is suspended for soccer because families benefit. “We had one entire family from Uruguay come in and grab the front row,” Cryder recalled. “The kids chanted and sang along with the live crowd and waved their flags. They wouldn’t get to see the games otherwise.”
  • Once a year, Cryder intentionally and structurally overlaps All Souls Church and Lazarus Brewing. “We opened at 11:00 p.m. on December 24, 2016,” he said, smiling at the memory. “There were 200 people there to read the Christmas story, sing hymns, share wine and beer, and celebrate community. We do that every year now.”

As Cryder looks both back and forward on the journey to and in Austin, he is thankful for the calling on his life—and the God-given courage to answer.

“God has called me to pursue the two things at once, not because it is a means to an end but because God cares about both—and because it is good for me and the people I serve to learn how to both things well,” he said. “If I have learned one thing over the last seven years, it’s that God still speaks. And when He does, you’d better listen—and respond—even if everyone thinks you are crazy. Even if you might fail.”

If you don’t fail, you might end up as a question on the television game show “Jeopardy,” as Lazarus Brewing did in an episode aired on December 28, 2021.

For more on the continually unfolding story of Lazarus Brewing, see www.lazarusbrewing.com.

by Craig Bird
EPConnection Correspondent

Pagans urged to question everything—even their doubts—at Texas EPC church plant

 

Is God putting old wine into new wineskins?

Christian Cryder sees Him “doing something new in a way that looks a lot like something ancient and old,” the Pastor of All Souls Church in Austin, Texas, explains. He calls this fresh encounter with an ancient faith “Sacred Americana.”

Cryder and his wife, Marilyn, relocated their family from Montana in 2013 to plant an EPC church. They knew their focus would remain on a post-Christian population that has little use for—and trust in—the institutional church. But “new” showed up even before they started packing.

Early on, they understood this call to include doing at least two things differently from their previous plant. First, they would not strive to be “big” and successful, but would start—and continue—as a house church. Second, they would be bivocational. No church buildings, no paid staff.

Christian Cryder celebrates communion at one of the clusters that make up All Souls Church in Austin, Texas. He and his wife, Marilyn (rear), have spent their ministry connecting pagans to the gospel. (photo by Craig Bird)

Their first priority became “being the church to each other” and not numerical growth, Cryder noted.

“If you plant a church you ‘might’ make disciples,” Marilyn explained. “But if you make disciples you ‘will’ plant a church.”

Cryder said the group developed a spiritual life together that was “surprisingly rich and deep, and our folks started saying, ‘Hey, we don’t really want to outgrow the living room. We like it this way,’” he said. “But the gospel just kept inviting folks into the party, which is refreshing, but soon you don’t all fit into one living room!”

Faced with that reality, the Cryders decided that All Souls would both grow and stay small. By early 2020, the church began meeting in two separate houses. Cryder led one service on Sunday morning and one on Sunday afternoon.

Then the world was displaced by COVID-19. Holding intimate worship gatherings in crowded rooms was no longer feasible. Like most churches, All Souls was forced to go virtual.

“Because we were so small it was actually relatively easy to pivot,” Cryder said. “We learned how to use Zoom. And people started dialing in. Some people kept showing up physically too … and because it was small groups, we could spread out, maintain distance, and be safe. In the process, we started to realize just how important physical proximity is to our spiritual well-being.”

A key part of an All Souls gathering is sharing what God has taught them through the common Bible study passage for the week. On-screen is Andrea Mosher, who could not access the virtual service while she went through basic training at the Air Force Academy last fall. Now graduated, she can connect again. (photo by Craig Bird)

Wearied by leading multiple services and frustrated that he couldn’t “read how everyone was doing over Zoom,” Cryder delegated and innovated. He grabbed a handful of leaders from each of the three clusters to gather, call, meet with, and shepherd small handfuls of people.

Each week, a different cluster rotates into the Cryder’s living room, while the other clusters (and individuals) meet by Zoom. Each cluster has a discussion afterward over lunch.

“Those discussions have become electric,” Cryder said. “People are processing, wrestling, responding. And new leaders are starting to assume responsibility for other people’s spiritual care; they are starting to lead.”

As for the fresh encounter with the ancient faith Cryder calls “Sacred Americana,” he notes that his experience with All Souls Austin can be distilled—or perhaps more appropriately, brewed—into 15 thoughts:

1. Crazy failure is a potential outcome.
“God still speaks, and when He does, you’d better listen and respond—even if everyone thinks you are crazy. Even if it’s possible you might fail. We believe God called us, but that He offered no guarantee of success. He might actually have called us to do something where we are going to fail. But even then, maybe our little leap of faith could prove helpful to others who were also seeking to explore new ways of planting churches in a post-Christian context so they say, ‘we certainly don’t want to do that.’”

2. All your friends won’t be fans.
“Some people, even longtime friends, will think you are wasting your time by encouraging questions or being vulnerable. And hanging out with sinners. We are often told, ‘You’ll never succeed in planting a church there—there aren’t enough Christians!’ But we figured, isn’t that kind of the point?”

3. Lose the infrastructure.
“Maybe we need a different model that’s not so capital-intensive. Maybe we can learn something from pre-Christendom Christianity, which didn’t have much money either and it certainly didn’t slow them down. Paul made tents. Maybe post-Christendom pastors should consider getting a job?”

4. Your heart is where your home is (or should be).
“You’ve got to live in a neighborhood you want to serve. It’s hard to do that if you’re commuting.”

5. Check your vision.
“God is deeply interested in all the people in this crazy, mixed-up world—not just those in our churches. And He wants those of us who follow Him to be as serious about wading out into that mess of humanity as He was. Be like Jesus and hang out with sinners.”

6. Name is a big part of the game.
“I rarely use the term ‘unbeliever’ or ‘non-Christian.’ Those are pejorative terms and are heard as judgemental: ‘I not a Christian yet and you want to change me.’ I listen to grasp what they prefer to be called—pagan, spiritual-not-religious, unchurched.”

7. This isn’t your father’s prospect list.
“Christianity is seen not just as backwards and unenlightened, but actually what is wrong with American culture. People think they knew what Christianity was, and they rejected it. So much of our ministry involved deconstructing that image until people scratch their heads enough to say, ‘You aren’t like what I thought about Christians—explain this to me.’ We seek to be friends with all sorts of people. And most importantly, we sought to seek the community, not just our own church.”

8. About that old wine in new wineskins …
“We trace our roots to the creeds and the Apostles and the first century Christians. Whenever possible we tend to be liturgical, to celebrate old truths. But we try hard to do so in a way that is cogent to the down-to-earth and relevant questions. We seek to ground ourselves in something older and deeper, with lots of characters: Tim Keller, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, John Knox, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Augustine.”

9. Curiosity grows the Church.
“As our website says, “All Souls is a curious little community of faith where you don’t have to share any of our convictions in order to be our friends can learn how New Testament Christianity answers life’s big questions can meet others who will encourage you in your spiritual journey where just might encounter Jesus in a whole new way.”

10. Question everything, please!
“If Christianity is true, it should be able to stand up to tough questions. We wrestle with the Scriptures to discover how the biblical Jesus answers life’s big questions, we see what He expects of those who follow Him. Not all of us reach the same conclusions. When people were real with Jesus, He was real with them Some of us believe. Some are still exploring. But all of us are learning what it means to live as disciples of the biblical Jesus.”

11. Worship is a verb.
“We try to see worship as a verb—a heartfelt response to a personal encounter with the living God of the Bible. It can only happen through repentance, belief, and understanding the gospel.”

12. Worship is a noun.
“But Worship is also a noun—a public ritual that invites everyone to reckon with the great claims of Christianity and with the unbelief that lurks in all of us. A worship service should speak to both.”

13. Focus on double vision.
“People in our churches must come to share in this sense of bivocational calling, to find divine purpose in their secular work and to discover that He has also built them to be spiritual builders, forming Christian community wherever God plants them. I think that is what being a disciple is really all about.”

14. Dream big but think small.
“Presently we have 30-40 people meeting in two clusters at the same time—one church, one service. But this model actually scales. We could have clusters meeting in 10 homes, possibly more. And it’s not exhausting. In fact, it’s actually probably the most vibrant, refreshing, dynamic church community I’ve ever been a part of. And I think it probably looks a lot like the ancient, early church.”

15. You divide to conquer.
“When do you split? I think there’s a sweet spot between 10 and 20. Fewer feels small and low on momentum. More and not everyone can share.”

by Craig Bird
EPConnection Correspondent

“In All Things” podcast episode 12 features longtime EPC pastor and author Rodger Woodworth

 

Episode 12 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Rodger Woodworth, Pastor of New City Church in Pittsburgh, Pa., and author of several books. This week, host Dean Weaver talks to Woodworth about his experience in cross-cultural church planting, English philosopher and theologian G.K. Chesterton’s notion of the “radical center,” and Woodworth’s recent book, Playing Favorites: Overcoming Our Prejudice to Bridge the Cultural Divide.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Prayer requested for Kazakhstan in wake of January riots

 

In the aftermath of January riots in Kazakhstan, leaders of the Presbyterian Church of Kazakhstan have requested prayer for the Lord to restore peace and stability in the country.

Between January 2-6, citizens across the Central Asian nation took to the streets to express dissatisfaction with a spike in gas prices. Some of the protests escalated into violence. The Kazakh government reported 227 deaths and nearly 10,000 arrests, but unofficial reports have put the death toll as high as 2,000.

“No one from our church and Presbytery was hurt or injured,” one of the EPC’s ministry partners in Kazakhstan reported by email. “Churches continue to be online at this time due to Omicron-spreading issues, but after January 31 we think we should be allowed to meet in our buildings. Could you please lift up in prayers our country, our people, and the Church in Kazakhstan? Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

EPC Stated Clerk Dean Weaver is asking all EPC congregations to pray.

“We have had a long-time fraternal relationship with The Presbyterian Church of Kazakhstan,” Weaver said. “They are wonderful followers of Jesus and great partners in the gospel. In Galatians 6:2, the Bible calls us to share one another’s burdens. I hope each of our congregations will do that in prayer.”

In this video from The Telegraph, protesters in Kazakhstan’s largest city stormed the presidential residence and the mayor’s office on January 5 and set both on fire as demonstrations sparked by a rise in fuel prices escalated sharply in the Central Asian nation.

“In All Things” podcast episode 10 features EPC World Outreach operations with Jason Dunn

 

Episode 10 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Jason Dunn, Associate Director of EPC World Outreach. This week, host Dean Weaver and Dunn discuss the operational side of the EPC’s global missions arm, including how Dunn’s background as an engineer informs his systems development process.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Florida magazine profiles EPC church planters

 

If you live near Jacksonville, Fla., and happen to pick up a copy of the “Ponte Vedra Beach Neighbors” magazine this month, you may notice some familiar faces on the cover.

Brady and Christy Haynes, EPC church planters in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean, were featured in the magazine, which is mailed to every home in Ponte Vedra Beach. The publication shares stories about local citizens who are making a positive impact on their community.

Ponte Vedra Beach is about 20 miles southeast of downtown Jacksonville on Florida’s “First Coast”—so named because 30 miles further south is St. Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the United States.

“In July of 2021, the editor of Ponte Vedra Neighbors Magazine reached out and asked if they could profile our family,” Brady said. “The editor is a Christian, and she said that God had laid it on her heart to call us. We took this opportunity to share our family story.”

The Haynes lived in Ponte Vedra for six years while he served as Director of Family Ministries at Ponte Vedra Presbyterian Church. In October 2019, they felt God calling them to move to Vilano, a community 20 miles south of Ponte Vedra and just outside St. Augustine. Little did they know that in just a few months a pandemic would shut down the world and God would open a new door of ministry for their family.

Ripe for harvest

“If you were to do a search for churches along the 16 miles of barrier island that stretches between South Ponte Vedra Beach and Vilano Beach, you would notice that there are no churches at all,” Brady said. So when COVID hit and public beaches were closed, the Haynes had an idea.

“We hit the sand across the street from our home and started ‘Devotion by the Ocean’—a daily video posted on several social media platforms,” he explained. Filmed at sunrise and set against the background of Christy’s beautiful photography, the videos included Scripture, a devotional thought, prayers, and music.

“Our purpose was simple,” Brady noted. “We wanted to create something that would lift people’s spirits with the Word of God and also encourage them with a sunrise on the beach.”

The videos gained an audience, and it wasn’t long before the Haynes were getting comments from neighbors about how much they enjoyed the series and missed connecting with a church. At about that same time, public beaches began slowly opening back up.

“A lot of people were still uncertain about meeting indoors, so we started a Sunday Bible study on the beach at sunrise,” Brady said. Neighbors began to tell other neighbors about the service, and soon people from all over the community were showing up on Sunday mornings.

“Through all of this, God has confirmed that He has called us to plant a beach church in our area that ministers to the needs of the people here,” he said. “With over 33,000 people in the South Ponte Vedra to Vilano stretch of the island, the field is ripe for harvest.”

The area has seen a lot of growth over the past seven years, with many of the new residents coming from New York and California. The business market of Vilano has also grown in the past two years, lending to the vitality of the island.

“Our calling is to plant a beach church that loves God and loves people while capturing the ‘vibe’ and heartbeat of this unique place,” Brady said. “There are a lot of hurting and spiritually hungry people in desperate need of the gospel, and they are looking for a place to connect and to serve.”

On October 16, Haynes was ordained by the Presbytery of Florida and Caribbean and he and Christy began to lay the foundation for Seaside Church.

Seaside by the sea shore

The Haynes hit the ground running, establishing Seaside Ministries in November. They meet every Sunday morning on the beach, and have seen attendance continue to grow. When the weather does not permit them to meet outdoors, they gather in homes across the street, and have even had local families host the services.

At Thanksgiving, the group served a meal to homeless families. On Christmas Eve, they gathered for a lighting of the advent candle, traditional carols, and worship. The evening also included their first communion as a church.

21 families joined Brady and Christy Haynes for a Christmas Eve candlelight service at the beach.

“Brady led us in some traditional Christmas carols as the sun set behind us over the Guana nature preserve,” Christy said. “Once it was dark, we all began to light our candles. It was a very special time of worship, with over 21 families who have been coming faithfully to Seaside Sunday Services.”

Even though the church does not officially launch until next year, the families who have been attending the gatherings are impacting the community. They have partnered with several local ministries—raising money to help rehabilitate women in the sex industry, collecting clothing items for the women’s shelter and food for the local food pantry, and supporting a local therapy center that works with children and veterans.

The Haynes plan to sponsor a community surf event next summer as a means of reaching youth, and partner with a local surfing ministry to put on a camp for underprivileged children in Vilano Beach. They have begun hosting block parties around the fire pit and leading beach cleanup days alongside their neighbors.

The Haynes have also earned the respect of their neighbors as small business owners in their community. Christy has been using her photography skills to photograph families and do beach fashion shoots for the past 12 years. In addition, she owns two beach-themed stores—Beach Chic Weddings and Beach Chic Threads. The Haynes can now look back and see how God has been preparing them in every aspect of their lives to serve in a coastal community.

“I grew up in a home that didn’t go to the beach very much,” Brady said. “When vacation time rolled around we headed to the mountains. When I married Christy, who is a nine-generational Floridian, I not only fell in love with her, but I also fell in love with the ocean. We have been blessed to serve in some amazing places. But we have found ‘our people’ to be coastal people.”

Seaside Church will officially launch on Easter Sunday, which will be held at Guana nature reserve (Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve) beach access.

“We are very excited about launching Seaside Church in 2022,” Brady said. “God has been affirming His calling in our lives through this process, and we cannot wait to see what He does here in our coastal town. Vilano is called ‘the island without a name.’ We want to show this ‘island without a name’ that hope has a name in Jesus Christ!”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

EPC Emergency Relief Fund to assist Cumberland Presbyterian Church congregations

 

The heavily damaged Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Dresden Tenn., shown in Google street view and following the December 10-11 tornado, is only one of many CPC churches affected by the quad-state tornado outbreak. (photo credit: Ministry Council of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.)

While the deadly quad-state tornado outbreak on December 10-11 did not have a major impact on EPC congregations, the effect on churches of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC) denomination was severe.

“I spoke with the CPC Stated Clerk, Michael Sharpe, on Saturday,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “They have had numerous small congregations severely affected by the storms—some completely destroyed. Some members were killed, and many lost all of their possessions.”

Weaver noted that the EPC has received many inquiries “about whether or not we are doing anything to aid in the relief work that is so overwhelming” in the aftermath of the storms. In response, the EPC National Leadership Team has approved distribution of donations to the Emergency Relief Fund to the CPC.

“One of our pastors (and former Director of World Outreach), George Carey in Kingman, Ariz., saw the photo on the EPConnection article with the damaged CPC church in the background,” Weaver said. “He emailed me and asked if we could do anything to help. He has a heart for the CPC, since that is the denomination in which he was saved and called to ministry. I am thrilled that the NLT has approved soliciting emergency relief funds to help our brothers and sisters in need.”

Secure online donations to help CPC churches in the affected area with identified needs can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church formed during the Great Revival of 1800. The denomination has more than 650 churches around the world, with strong concentrations in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Missouri, southern Illinois, Arkansas, and Texas. The CPC Office of the General Assembly is located in suburban Memphis, Tenn.

“In All Things” podcast episode 6 highlights EPC collaborative ministry efforts with Michael Davis

 

Episode 6 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Michael Davis, EPC Chief Collaborative Officer. This week, Davis and host Dean Weaver discuss the role of the Chief Officer, and how evangelism is the foundation for the EPC’s strategic priorities of church planting, church health, global movement, and effective biblical leadership.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Heartland Seminary’s innovations benefit students and EPC congregations

 

TE Kent Mathews serves as President and Academic Dean for Heartland Seminary and School of Ministry in Kansas City. The school is a commended resource of the EPC Ministerial Vocation Committee.

“Why is it,” Kent Mathews keeps asking, “that preaching is the only class in which seminary students are required to practice what they’re learning?” An EPC Teaching Elder who serves as President and Academic Dean of Heartland Seminary and School of Ministry in Kansas City, Mathews asks a long list of other questions related to seminary education in the 21st century:

  • Why are academics so often separated from application?
  • Does someone learn to become an evangelist simply by reading books and listening to lectures—shouldn’t he or she be required to actually “do” evangelism, or apologetics, or pastoral care?
  • Why don’t seminaries attempt to make traditionally academic subjects like theology or church history more practical?
  • Why are students not asked to reflect on how what they study might apply to their daily lives or their current ministries?
  • Why aren’t students required to identify and meet weekly with a mentor—someone who is resourced by the seminary to invest his or her life in the life of the student and whose purpose is to discuss the student’s failures and successes; patterns, processes, and learned behaviors; attitudes and approaches to ministry? In short, to take the student under his or her wing and impart the things that seminary doesn’t address?
  • Why is so little of what future pastors actually do in day-to-day ministry taught—or even talked about—in seminary courses?
  • Why is seminary education so expensive?

Mathews knows students are asking them too, along with this one: How will I pay off my exhorbitant student debt why working in my modestly paid pastoral position?

“According to a ten-year-old study, seminarians were asked if they could change anything about their seminary experience,” Mathews noted. “The top three answers were to reduce the cost of tuition, allow me to practice what I’m learning or make seminary courses more hands-on practical, and provide a mentor to invest in my personal development.”

Mathews explained that those answers are the basis for Heartland Seminary’s Master of Divinity program.

“Heartland is the first accredited MDiv program to make all three of these things non-negotiables,” he said, adding that the program meets all of the EPC’s educational ordination requirements for Teaching Elders and was recently recognized as a “Commended Resource” by the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee.

“The MVC was very excited to commend Heartland as a resource for the EPC,” said Jerry Iamurri, Assistant Stated Clerk. Iaumurri serves as the Office of the General Assembly’s staff resource for the MVC. “As seminary education continues to evolve to meet the needs of the next generation, Heartland offers students a unique avenue for ministry preparation that will surely benefit the EPC and its churches.”

Heartland is firmly committed to conservative biblical scholarship, Reformed theology, and the Westminster Confession. Tuition for the 72-credit Master of Divinity degree is $500 per course.

“Typical seminaries charge between $1,500-$2,000 per course,” Mathews said, adding that each Heartland class is completely accessible online and incorporates a close mentor relationship for every student.

Heartland also maintains an in-person Master of Arts in Applied Theology program in the Kansas City area that has been pioneering its program since 2000.

“The plea for practical training has been proven in our program,” Mathews said. “Our second-most popular course is Cultural Analysis and Engagement, where we talk about the major issues that are currently polarizing both culture and the church. We discuss how to understand both sides and how to engage positively in the discussion and affect change.”

The most popular course? “How to Not Only Study the Bible, but Actually Apply It in Your Life.”

Mathews said the curriculum is also non-traditional in that “up to half of the books students are required to read are books that the student identifies for himself or herself—as long as they are approved by the professor—which allows each student to focus on areas of particular interest to him or her within the scope of the course curriculum.”

He added that assignments in all courses are geared toward application.

“For example, students read top-level, highly regarded texts on each of the three broad periods of church history, then are required to write research papers on the 25 most important people, events, and developments in each period and how they should affect both daily Christian living and effective pastoral ministry,” he said.

Julien de Leiris and Paulo Barros are “textbook examples” of the effectiveness of Heartland’s innovative approach. De Leiris has just begun his MDiv studies while Barros completed his this past summer. Both men are on staff at Colonial Presbyterian Church EPC in Kansas City, which hosts the in-person Heartland classes.

Paulo Barros

Barros, who serves as Colonial’s Director of Worship and Arts, has been a worship leader for more than half his life—the last 21 as a fulltime vocation. At 57 years of age, he was the oldest student in the program.

“I hadn’t been in school for a long time and it was tough,” he admitted. “But I always wanted to learn how to pastor others. I needed that knowledge and felt drawn to it, so this was part of my dream to be a better worship leader. When you work with vocal leaders and musicians, you develop relationships, you shepherd them. I can do that much better now.”

De Leiris, Colonial’s Executive Director of Ministry and Programs, also leads Called to Serve, a ministry intending to do no less than “energize and revitalize the Reformed Church that is slowly dying in France.”

Julien de Leiris

Two years ago, after two decades as CEO of major public works projects for the city of Leon (the second largest city in France), de Leiris felt God calling him “to serve Him, not just faithfully but fully.” To the consternation of his non-Christian extended family, he resigned his job and moved his wife and children across the Atlantic and half of the United States to be obedient to that call.

Called to Serve will bring French youth leaders to study a variety of successful churches in the Kansas City area for several months before returning to apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge in local French Reformed Churches,” De Leiris explained. “The FRC funds one-year of sabbatical for every pastor after his or her fifteenth year in ministry. We are developing a practical continuing education program for them over here as well.”

“Just like Paulo and Julien,” Mathews said, “all of our students gain invaluable skills and insights that will bless both them and their ministries. But the benefits to the EPC go further. EPC churches will be able to call new pastors who won’t make all of their initial mistakes at the expense of their first churches.”

Mathews emphasized that Heartland MDiv graduates “have acquired more than just information from their education. Churches will also be able to call pastors who don’t have five to ten to twenty years of student debt to pay off. And the denomination will begin to develop a growing subculture of ministerial leadership development—one that believes the current generation of pastors should be involved in the discipleship of the next generation of pastors.”

For more information about the Heartland Seminary and School of Ministry, see www.hsmkc.org.

by Craig Bird
EPConnection correspondent

“In All Things” podcast episode 4 highlights Theology Committee with Zach Hopkins

 

Episode 4 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Zach Hopkins, Pastor of Edgington Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Taylor Ridge, Ill., and current chairman of the EPC’s Theology Committee. He and EPC Stated Clerk Dean Weaver discuss the scope and work of the Theology Committee, and highlight Hopkins’ involvement with the Westminster Society.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

“In All Things” podcast episode 3 highlights EPC World Outreach with Gabriel de Guia

 

Episode 3 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Gabriel de Guia, Executive Director of EPC World Outreach. This week, host Dean Weaver and Gabriel discuss Gabriel’s journey to faith in Christ, more than 20 years serving with Cru, and now leading the global missions arm of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Open Enrollment for EPC benefits underway through November 30

 

November is Open Enrollment month for EPC Benefit Resources, Inc., (BRI), which presents an opportunity for churches to newly enroll or make changes to their benefit plan offerings to eligible employees. In addition, the Open Enrollment period introduces the EPC’s 2022 Benefit Plan enhancements, changes, and premium rates. All enrollment changes made during Open Enrollment will be effective January 1, 2022.

  • Eligible individuals can be enrolled in the EPC Benefit Plans for the first time.
  • Changes can be made to an eligible individual’s benefit selections for 2022.
  • Churches can enroll in EPC Benefit Plans for the first time.
  • Churches can change their Plan offerings for 2022.

Open Enrollment is a “passive process” for current participants, said Bart Francescone, BRI Executive Director. “That means those already enrolled in the EPC benefit plans will automatically retain their 2021 benefit elections unless they choose a new plan or decline an existing coverage for 2022.”

The EPC provides five Medical Plan options to the staffs of EPC churches and ministries. Plans include traditional Platinum, Gold, and Silver Plans, as well as High-Deductible (HDHP) Gold and Bronze Plans with Health Savings Account (HSA) options. Other available programs include Dental and Vision benefits, as well as Life and Disability Insurance coverages.

Bart Francescone

“The variety of benefit levels offered and range of premium rates allow for churches to select plans that meet budgetary constraints and satisfy their benefit commitments to staff,” Francescone said. “All five plans use the same nationwide, unrestricted network of hospitals, doctors, medical practitioners, and pharmacies that are used by major national employers and health plans throughout the country.”

He added that all five medical plans include 24/7 telemedicine, prescription drug coverage, and wellness programs. Additionally, the plans provide special assistance programs to support those with chronic conditions, or who encounter an unexpected diagnosis or utilize high-cost medications.

Enhancements to the BRI medical plans for 2022 include:

  • My Active Wellness, a program to promote awareness of preventative care, keep healthy members healthy, and to start others on a track to improved physical and emotional health.
  • Care Management and Nurse Health Coaches for those with common conditions such as chronic pain; heart, lung, and kidney disease; and asthma.
  • Livongo, a nationally recognized chronic conditions management program focused on supporting those with high blood pressure, diabetes, and pre-diabetic conditions, as well as addressing associated co-conditions such as depression and weight loss.
  • Healthcare Bluebook, with procedure-quality rankings in 35 clinical categories for more than 4,000 hospitals and 200,000 doctors, as well as pricing transparency tools.
  • Single ID card for both Medical and Prescription Drug coverage.

“As many as one in three adults in the U.S. are diabetic, or on the threshold of becoming diabetic,” Francescone said. “In addition, medications for heart disease—such as drugs treating high blood pressure—are our most common prescriptions. These chronic conditions and their side effects affect us not only physically, but emotionally and financially. The Livongo condition management programs are personalized and have a proven record of member satisfaction, with measurable  and sustainable results. This will be a real blessing to those who have struggled with these conditions. We hope our participants will take advantage of the program, which is included in all five of our medical plans.”

Francescone also noted that premium rates for the 2022 medical/prescription drug plans are increasing by only 2 percent—substantially less than the current rate of inflation.

“The BRI Board of Directors believes this is the lowest increase we’ve ever had, and it follows last year’s low average increase of 3.6 percent,” Francescone said. “The BRI Board of Directors and staff have worked hard to maintain our high-quality plans at the lowest possible cost. This has enabled us to keep our increases significantly lower than the national weighted-average medical cost trend, despite the ongoing situation with COVID and the national healthcare landscape.”

Premium rates for the Vision, Life and Disability Insurance are unchanged for 2022, while premiums for the Dental plans will increase by 8 percent.

EPC benefit plans are available to all full-time (30 hours or more per week) employees of EPC churches, as well as Chaplains, ministers serving out-of-bounds, and various other categories.

“Anyone new to the EPC—or interested in enrolling in one of our benefit programs for the first time—should reach out to whoever handles benefits at their church regarding their interests,” he said.

For more information about 2022 benefit offerings, see www.epc.org/2022openenrollment or contact BRI at (407) 930-4492 or benefits@epc.org.

Reformed Theological Seminary dedicates Jeremiah Patio

 

EPC Stated Clerk Emeritus Jeff Jeremiah and his wife, Cindy, were honored on November 3 with the dedication of the Jeremiah Patio at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Orlando. The 32-by-16-foot fellowship space is centrally located adjacent to the main entrance of the campus and features seating for up to 20 people, lighting, and two woodburning fire pits with removable tabletops.

“I am very grateful for the relationship that I’ve enjoyed with Reformed Theological Seminary that extends back to the mid-to-late 1980s,” Jeremiah said. “I especially remember conversations with leadership of RTS then about the possibility of online learning and how that might expand the education of the next generation of leaders in the church of Jesus Christ.”

In remarks made prior to cutting the ribbon to open the patio, Jeremiah thanked Scott Swain, RTS Orlando Campus President; Leigh Swanson, RTS Executive Vice President; Mike Glodo, RTS Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Jeremiah’s predecessor as EPC Stated Clerk; and the staff of the EPC Office of the General Assembly, many of whom attended.

In noting the heavy travel responsibilities of his 15 years as Stated Clerk, Jeremiah also thanked his wife, Cindy, “for her sacrificial commitment to her Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, the sacrificial commitment she made to the EPC, and the sacrificial commitment she made to me.”

The patio was announced at Jeremiah’s retirement banquet during the 41st General Assembly in June and is a joint effort between RTS and the presbyteries of Florida and the Caribbean, East, Gulf South, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and West.

Swanson also spoke at the dedication, thanking the EPC and the contributing presbyteries “for making this beautiful fellowship space possible.”

“We also honor Jeff and Cindy, thanking God for their ministry,” she said. “They have been steadfast in their service to Christ. They have given care to countless pastors and their families. They have made sacrifices well beyond what we have seen. It is our privilege to name the patio in your honor.”

Georgia pastor Walter Turner succumbs to COVID

 

Walter Turner

Walter Turner, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Rome, Ga., since September 2017, has succumbed to COVID-19. In addition to serving the Covenant congregation, Turner was chairman of the Undergraduate Department of Religious Studies at Beulah Heights University in Atlanta.

Please pray for the Walter’s wife, Margaret, their two children and their families, and the congregation at Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Memorial gifts or condolences cards can be sent to the attention of Dr. Walter Turner’s family, Covenant Presbyterian Church, 1645 Cartersville Hwy. SE, Rome, GA 30161.

Bob Stauffer named National Director of Church Health

 

Bob Stauffer

Bob Stauffer, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, has been named the EPC’s National Director of Church Health. This new role at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando will oversee the denomination’s strategic priority of Church Revitalization.

“I am excited to serve the EPC in this capacity of helping churches better understand how they can be healthy congregations,” Stauffer said. “We are already developing plans for a church health structure both nationally and within each Presbytery to give the entire process ‘rails to run on’ in the areas of evangelism, church health, and transitional pastorates.”

A member of the EPC’s first ordination class in 1982, Stauffer has served in a wide variety of roles in his 40 years of ministry. Among these are Associate Pastor of NorthPark EPC in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Planting Pastor of Carmel Valley EPC in San Diego, Calif.; Pastor of Tabernacle EPC in Youngstown, Ohio; Planting Pastor of Gateway EPC in Slippery Rock, Pa.; and several transitional pastorates. He also served as the EPC’s National Outreach Director; Church Development Coordinator for the Presbytery of the Alleghenies; a Church Health leader for Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic’s GO Center; and Regional Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. For the past 34 years he also has served as a high school baseball and strength and conditioning coach.

“I am thrilled that Bob is leading this critical effort in the life of the EPC,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “Those who know Bob know that his passion for the local church to be everything God has called her to be as the Bride of Christ is infectious. In addition, his vast experience helping churches all across the EPC through the revitalization process will be a tremendous benefit to the entire denomination.”

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Stauffer is a graduate of Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., and Pittsburgh (Pa.) Theological Seminary. He also holds a doctorate from Reformed Theological Seminary.

He and his wife, Debbie, have been married for 42 years and have three children—all involved in ministry—and eight grandchildren.