Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Hurricane Ida leaves communities, EPC churches in state of ‘relief, recovery, rebuild’

 

by Bill Crawford
Pastor, First Presbyterian Churches of Houma, La., and Thibodaux, La.

Bill Crawford

It’s been an amazing, intense, depressing, and glorious two weeks. Sunday, August 29, will sit in a long history of devastating storms as one of the most catastrophic storms ever recorded. I know as my family and I watched from the windows of First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux. I could see the power of the storm, but I had no concept of the scope. As we woke up and walked out on the streets of Thibodaux it was like people walking into Oz. We discovered that the loud noise we heard in the night was the collapse of a brick building downtown. Eventually we traveled home to find our home surrounded by broken trees but mostly intact.

It was typical of Thibodaux that we immediately started clearing trees. We spent an hour cutting a hole through my neighbor’s driveway so he could evacuate. That began the slow process of coming to grip with the truth that it wasn’t just us. Thibodaux and Houma are at the heart of a storm that left a trail of power outages from Morgan City—35 miles west of us—to Mobile, Ala.—200 miles east of us.

Yet, to our amazement the assistance began to roll in from those who were also without power. I can’t mention every church and person who dove in and helped us, but First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge—in the person of TE Whitney Alexander—has been steadfast. We know he represents the whole staff and congregation.

The churches of the entire Gulf Coast have been amazing. Help poured in from Houston; Monroe, Covington, and New Orleans, La.; a nonprofit called Advancing the Call Together (ACT) from Ohio; the EPC Office of the General Assembly in Orlando; and from individuals from several states outside Louisiana. Pastors came with lay people like Korey Duncan organizing trips, and Nathan Edwards crawling in the dirt to fix our pipes. Will Shirley, Parks Lanier, and others came representing so many congregations. We were blessed to see brothers and sisters in the Methodist and even Catholic believers. Our cup runs over.

Damage from Hurricane Ida in Thibodaux, La. (Photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

The last two weeks have been a joint effort of those above, a small group of volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux, community leaders, and—simply put—personal friends old and new. We have seen God move through the generosity of the Presbytery, local people, friends, family, and strangers from across the country.

Many individuals and congregations have made contributions for us to make sure we could meet expenses and meet needs. Thank you! By your gifts we’ve been able to do some amazing things.

We’ve paid to tarp three homes that had no available person to do it. Through a food pantry at First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux (FPCT) we have served 150 distinct households representing 554 people—in just the first 10 days after the storm. With the work of ACT we have helped serve 1,500 hot meals in Point Aux Chene (about an hour south of Thibodaux in the bayou)—where with your donations we set up a satellite relief warehouse larger than the one in Thibodaux. We’ve given food, water, and gasoline to hundreds of residents in the Point Aux Chene area, and built connections with the Dardar Indians and the local Fire Department.

I have to share one heartbreaking story. One of our deacons has an adult son with special needs. We discovered one of her son’s friends, who also has special needs, a few days ago. He was home alone with his dog, where he rode out the storm in a closet because his caretakers had abandoned him. Our deacon is currently housing both young men in her two-bedroom home, and we are providing some funds so she can buy enough groceries.

In addition to financial support, volunteers have helped clean out two houses and moved members’ furniture into First Presbyterian Church of Houma. The church facility is currently closed due to its own damage and loss of power and water, so we are using it as temporary storage.

Today (Monday, September 13) we are helping two widows pack up anything salvageable before we rip their homes to the studs. We are in a race against time with Tropical Storm Nicholas bearing down on us with the potential for heavy rain over the next few days.

Relief, Recovery, Rebuild

So what is next? The three Rs of a disaster are Relief (meet the basic needs of daily survival), Recovery (save the valuables that cannot be replaced and mitigate further damage), and Rebuild (help people rebuild their lives).

Damage from Hurricane Ida is providing an almost unlimited avenue for ministry in South Louisiana. (Photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

We are wrapping up the relief phase, which I have never seen happen so quickly. We have more than enough water. We have more than enough food (although hot food is a value). Gasoline has gone from a one-hour wait to almost no lines in Thibodaux. But further south, those down the bayou are catching up. By your gifts we have delivered more than 200 gallons of gas into Point Aux Chene. We have used about that in Houma and Thibodaux.

Recovery is going to be a heavy lift. As we say, “We’re all in the pot.” My home is still without power, and I am living at my neighbor’s house. I put the cook team in my house this week thanks to a generator generously provided from folks in west Louisiana. I might move home next week. But literally everyone has damage. We have only two members in the two congregations who have power. Several moved home, their generators failed, and they’ve moved back out. The damage is just astounding. I can drive for three hours in one direction without leaving this zone. As I go south it just gets worse and worse.

As you try to help us, please be patient. We can likely only handle one group at a time for now. Saturdays may be the best time, but we can’t handle all of you at once! There’s plenty of work—we’re literally surrounded by it—but knowing where to point you takes time and planning. It’s a 50-mile congregational parish and we’re all in the pot!

Further out is the next phase to help rebuild several homes. We will need skilled labor for that work. It will have to be a collaborative effort and will require an entrepreneurial attitude and an adventurous spirit.

I don’t even know what else is going on in the world, but for the last two weeks we’ve been living in the eye of the storm. We are grateful that the Eye of the Lord is on the sparrow and that He watches us to the point that He knows the hairs of our heads!

This is a long report, but it is written out of a sense of amazement and joy. There is so much work to do; so many stories to tell. Each day full and each night restful. Clarity comes in the storm. What matters most is made crystal clear. But clarity comes and grows each day as we experience relief, recovery, and are rebuilt by the Holy Spirit.

God bless you all—we love you and we thank you.

TE Bill Crawford

Secure online donations to help with recovery efforts can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

Prayer requested for COVID-stricken Georgia church

 

“Hear our prayers, O Lord, and raise up our brother and sister for the glory of Jesus our Lord.”

Walter Turner

Please pray for the congregation at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Rome, Ga. A member of the Session contracted COVID-19 and died last week. Covenant’s Pastor, Walter Turner, has COVID and is on a ventilator in a Rome hospital. His wife, Margaret, also has COVID and is resting at home.

Let us join hearts and voices in prayer for the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church, and for Walter and Margaret Turner.

Louisiana EPC church members suffer ‘total loss’ from Hurricane Ida

 

Hurricane Ida left downtown Thibodaux, La., strewn with bricks and rubble. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Reports of damage to EPC church buildings and congregation members’ homes resulting from Hurricane Ida continue to emerge in the days following the storm’s August 29 landfall in Louisiana.

Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux, La., said several families in the congregation suffered “total losses.”

“One of our losses is just crippling,” he said. “She in her 50s, uninsured, and her husband died in December. Another family lives out in the bayou and it’s really bad.”

Crawford reported that he and his family were staying in the home of a church member who had evacuated and has a generator.

“My home has two trees that have fallen over the fence and are hanging on the neighbor’s power line, so I’m leaving them alone,” he said. “My roof has shingles missing everywhere, the garage roof is leaking, and the tarp I put over the damage is leaking. Thankfully it’s only over the garage, and so many people here are dealing with much worse. Some of these folks are just beside themselves trying to figure out what’s next.”

This home of a church member suffered significant damage. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Crawford said the church building escaped major damage.

“Structurally, the church building in Thibodaux is sound. The building has always had leaking issues, but they have been mitigated and we are good there,” he reported, adding that he and his family are using the church as a makeshift relief center.

“We are set up for relief and giving out supplies in the dark—but what’s how we roll around here,” he said. “For now it’s me and my family because the members of the church are dealing with stuff too. We have received an initial load of supplies from the Presbytery, and even though we are not advertising we’ve had about 30 households come through and pick up bottled water, tarps, and other things.”

Crawford also serves as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Houma, La., about 15 miles south of Thibodaux.

Bill Crawford

“The ridge cap blew off the roof of the church building on Houma, and there are leaks all over,” he said. “Bricks are on the roof, but they are not our bricks. If I can’t get the insurance folks over I’ll have to figure something out. As for our members, everyone is just coping. For the most part, people either evacuated or are in serious trouble. The big problem we are going to face is mildew—this is South Louisiana, so we are literally in a swamp.”

He said one family who lives in a trailer home “has a hole in their roof and no tarp” while another was “completely flooded when water overtopped the levee. Another family lost everything—they are in Florida now.”

The courtyard entrance for First Presbyterian Church in Houma was littered with roofing shingles and other debris. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Amid the devastation, Crawford noted that the area is “one of the most churched places in America. There are so many good Christians here jumping in to help—we are blessed.”

Northeast flooding

The news is better in the Presbytery of the East, where the remnants of Ida delivered heavy rains, flooding, and tornadoes across a wide area of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

Glenn Marshall, Pastor of Park Avenue Community Church in Somerdale, N.J., said his congregation escaped significant damage.

“We are all fine,” Marshall reported. “We had storms all around us. One family who lives in Mantua Township had a tornado close to them, but they are thankfully unscathed.”

Mantua Township is about 4 miles from Mullica Hill, N.J., where a confirmed EF-3 tornado with 150 mph top winds destroyed numerous houses on September 1.

About 80 miles north in Kearny, N.J., Pastor Valdir Reis said the Closer to God Evangelical Presbyterian Church building’s basement flooded, but the members of the congregation fared well.

“Thankfully, so far no one has reported any loss or anything serious following the storm,” Reis reported by email on September 3. “There were members with minor leaks but that was all taken care of and everyone is healthy as far as we know.”

In the northern portion of Brooklyn, N.Y., Pastor Jamison Galt said many parishioners of Resurrection Clinton Hill had flooded basements, “but nothing worse. We are grateful.”

About 5 miles south, Brian Steadman said parishioners of his congregation had their homes elevated as part of their recovery from Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge in 2012, and only experienced minor issues. Steadman is Pastor of Resurrection Park Slope in Brooklyn.

Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk, said he has been in contact with church and Presbytery leaders across the affected areas.

“Several churches in the Presbytery of the Gulf South are coordinating relief efforts and work teams,” Weaver said. “As they assess the situation and start to be able to host volunteers, we will get that information out. In the meantime, we are accepting donations to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund to help with immediate needs. We’ve been told the most pressing items are fuel, tarps, bottled water, and Gatorade.”

Secure online donations can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

Back in Louisiana, Crawford said they would continue to distribute relief supplies as they are delivered and looks forward to hosting work teams as soon as they can.

“At this point, we are just chugging along and accomplishing tasks,” he said. “We are a really small congregation and it’s a bit overwhelming. I can’t imagine how those with a large group are keeping up with everyone. Just knowing our EPC friends are praying for us and that they care is a huge comfort.”

EPC Pastors report widespread damage from Hurricane Ida

 

Hurricane Ida tore a path through the Presbytery of the Gulf South, where EPC churches are marked with red icons.

Following Hurricane Ida’s landfall on August 29 in Louisiana and slow march northeast through Mississippi, reports are emerging about how the storm affected EPC congregations in the region.

Bill Crawford, Pastor of the yoked congregations First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux, La., and First Presbyterian Church in Houma, La., rode out the hurricane in the Thibodaux church building. Houma and Thibodaux—about 15 miles apart—are the closest EPC congregations to where the storm came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds. Crawford was interviewed by WWL-TV Channel 4 News in New Orleans. Crawford said he watched roof tiles “flying away.”

Brandon Queen, a Ruling Elder for the Thibodaux congregation and a Juvenile Detective with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, said the most extensive damage he has seen is in the southern areas of the Parish.

“Some areas look like Third World countries,” Queen said. “Our church in Thibodaux has some leaks, and the members I’ve talked to have roof shingles off and fences blown down. I am told that the church in Houma did not fare so well, and I’ve heard that some church members in Houma had significant damage to their homes.”

On the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain north of New Orleans, Hunter Gray reported by email that there are “lots of trees on houses” in Covington and Mandeville. “We’re cutting them out and putting tarps on.” Gray is Pastor of New Covenant EPC in Mandeville, La.

He noted that the electricity was out and likely would be for several weeks.

“We’re good; just lacking comfort,” Gray wrote.

Approximately 75 miles west in Baton Rouge, Jane Cooper—a Ruling Elder for First Presbyterian Church—also reported that power was out “with no predictions or promises” for restoration.

“Although some church families have had property damage, no one was injured,” she added.

On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Kory Duncan reported by email that “all is good in Ocean Springs” and that volunteers were “gearing up to help our sister churches in Louisiana.” Duncan serves as Associate Pastor of Missions and Congregational Care for First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs.

Michael Herrin, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South, reported by email on August 31 that ten of the Presbytery’s churches have gathered an initial load of supplies and will be transporting it to New Covenant EPC on Wednesday, September 1. These include such items as chainsaws, generators, gasoline, tarps, duct tape, bottled water, batteries, trash bags, cleaning supplies, and more.

“That’s only the beginning. In the weeks and months to come, many more supplies will be needed,” Herrin wrote. “Once power is restored, work teams will be welcome to help with debris removal.”

He added that First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux will be able to host volunteers soon, but first needs an experienced plumber to help them get their showers operational.

“We’ll continue to have opportunities to show the love of Christ in practical ways to the people of South Louisiana for quite some time,” Herrin concluded. “Let’s pray for those who are in need, and then let’s get to work!”

To aid in relief efforts, the EPC Emergency Relief Fund will distribute funds to EPC congregations in the region for identified needs. Secure online donations can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief.

“As we all realize, this is an unprecedented time of seemingly endless tragedies,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “Our Emergency Relief Fund provides us with maximum flexibility to respond to this, as well as previous and ongoing situations.”

Spaces still available for October pastor-spouse retreat

 

Twenty spots remain available for the October pastor-spouse retreat for EPC pastors who serve in Presbyteries that are not hosting their own renewal retreat this fall or winter. The retreats will be held October 18-22 at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Southwest Pennsylvania, and February 14-18, 2022, at the Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center in Central Florida.

The retreats are offered at no cost to the pastor and his or her spouse—singles are welcome— and registration for each is limited to 50 couples.

For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/pastorspouseretreat.

Registration open for EPC pastor-spouse retreats

 

The Office of the General Assembly is hosting two pastor-spouse retreats for EPC pastors who serve in Presbyteries that are not hosting their own renewal retreat this fall or winter. The retreats will be held October 18-22 at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Southwest Pennsylvania, and February 14-18, 2022, at the Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center in Central Florida.

“We believe that the health of our churches correlates directly with the wellbeing of our pastors—who are at the point of the spear on the front lines of the advancement of the gospel,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “These five-day getaways are designed to provide our pastors and their spouse with refreshment, renewal, and recharge.”

Based on the theme, “Moving out of the COVID Wilderness: Working through Trauma and Transition,” the two gatherings will feature Bible studies and prayer times led by Jim and Shari Hobby of the Anglican Church in North America. Christian psychologist Tara Gunther will be available for counseling sessions, and plenty of free time is built into the schedule for exploring the retreat centers’ amenities or local attractions.

Each of these retreats is offered at no cost to the pastor and his or her spouse, and registration for each is limited to 50 couples.

“The pastor’s Presbytery, congregation, and/or Session is encouraged to express care for their pastor and spouse by providing transportation costs as well as childcare options, since childcare is not provided,” Weaver noted. “A limited number of scholarships are available to help defray travel and childcare costs if needed.”

For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/pastorspouseretreat.

Reaping a harvest: Ward Church family befriends with apples

 

Jen and Mike List

This summer, Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Northville, Mich., is learning how to engage and befriend the people God has placed in its path. But turning neighbors into friends feels like it’s becoming a lost art. In people’s hectic lives, the last thing many want to do is try and cultivate any kind of relationship with those living on the other side of the privacy fence. And yet, that’s exactly what Mike and Jen List set out to do when they moved on to Harrison Street in Livonia, Mich., in 2014.

It may seem like that kind of neighborhood community now only lives in sitcoms and the memories of an older generation. But the Lists are proving that all it takes for authentic community to exist between neighbors is good food, warm hospitality, and a willingness to invite some intimacy and vulnerability into your lives.

It all started with apples.

The Lists’ home is situated on a full acre of land, and with that came a half a dozen or more apple trees. The apple harvest was plentiful in 2015, so they had an idea—invite the neighbors to help bring in the harvest, and then stick around and enjoy some of the fruits of their labors (pun intended). It wasn’t an entirely mercenary scheme. Jen had grown up in a close-knit neighborhood where everyone knew each other, and life easily flowed between homes. She wanted that again, especially for her two young daughters.

Mike List and his helpers grind freshly picked apples into cider.

“Neighbors were a big part of my life. We did everything with them,” Jen said. “So, when we moved here in Livonia, for me it was important to meet our neighbors.”

Even before they moved into their home, they came trick-or-treating in the neighborhood in hopes of meeting new people and establishing relationships. The harvest party was a natural next step for them in meeting more people. They printed flyers and went door to door, inviting everyone to their inaugural List Family Harvest Party.

“I like the quote, ‘If you’ve been blessed, build a bigger table, not a higher fence,” Mike said. “We thought it would be cool to have this Harvest Party. And we really did have a lot of apples.”

That first year, the turnout was modest, but the Lists started building friendships with those who came—especially two young families who lived nearby. Year after year, the harvest party grew. More families came. A chili cook-off was added, as well as doughnut taste-testing as people brought fresh doughnuts from cider mills around the state. The Harrison Street community grew with it.

“This is your community, whether you like it or not,” Jen said. “Regardless, you are sharing life with your neighbors so you might as well make the most of it.”

The Lists have hosted people from across the cultural spectrum. Musician friends, neighbor friends, work friends, church friends; people who would not necessarily hang out together have met at the List Family Harvest Party.

“Then you find out that random people know each other, or know someone who knows someone else, it shows just how small the world really is,” Jen said.

Article author Kelly Skarritt-Williams

This is where my family and I come in. We also moved onto Harrison Street in 2014. We lived a further down the road from the Lists, so didn’t meet them or learn about the annual harvest party until another life event threw us in their path. We met at the corner bus stop when our son and the Lists’ daughter were in kindergarten together. It’s amazing the conversations you have when you are waiting 15 minutes for the bus to show up. Soon, the Lists invited us to one of their “neighbor dinners” that they host throughout the year for young families living in and around Harrison Street.

To say that knowing them—and the other people we’ve met on our street—has been a blessing would be an understatement. I grew up not knowing my neighbors in any intimate way, but I had always longed for that. In fact, I had been praying for nearly three years to meet some families in the neighborhood with whom we could do life together.

For those of us in this neighbor friend group, we’ve seen the potential for spiritual conversations to emerge—even when not all the friends are Christians. Having a trusted relationship has opened doors to conversations and questions.

“Inviting people over was never about a mission or a project, but just a way to make friends,” Mike said. “However, conversations naturally come out of that because you are already a community.”

The community has grown to neighborhood text chains and sharing of resources. Tools, equipment, food—you name it, we share it. In addition to being a gardener, tree farmer, and musician, Mike also is a beekeeper, barista, and baker. Every once and a while we find baskets of bread and honey on our doorstep. My daughter has dubbed him the “bread fairy.”

In addition to summertime neighbor dinners, we plan holiday parties, birthday parties, camping trips, and bonfires. When my daughter was in the hospital for a few days in 2019, we came home to the neighborhood guys raking all the leaves in our yard.

“I feel like our neighborhood community has become one of the strongest communities we are a part of,” Jen said.

This community of friends and neighbors on Harrison Street exists today thanks to a family who didn’t wait for people to reach out to them. They reached out to others, opened their home, and allowed those seeds to produce a harvest of friendship.

More ideas for reaching your neighborhood

Want to start building a community in your neighborhood but not sure where to start? Do what comes naturally to you! Here are some ideas to start with. Just start reaching out. You never know who you might meet or what friendships might emerge!

  • Make cookies and drop off on doorsteps with a note.
  • Hang out in your front yard.
  • Hand out free lemonade to people walking by.
  • Plan a neighborhood bonfire.
  • Do a Rake and Run, or help with yard work or snow removal (e.g., clean the sidewalks after a big snow).
  • Build a little free library or use that space as a small food pantry.
  • Plan a neighborhood potluck and cookout.
  • Walk your neighborhood and stop and chat with people you pass (just be open to conversations that might happen spontaneously).
  • Be a curious person and genuinely interested in the people and things you might see around your neighborhood.
  • Take it upon yourself to keep your neighborhood clean, such as picking up any litter you find.
  • Be present and pay attention to the needs of your neighborhood. Is there a neighbor who seems like they might need a hand with something? Offer your help, but not in a pushy way.

by Kelly Skarritt-Williams
Ward Church Director of Digital Marketing and Communications

Brad Strait elected Moderator of 41st General Assembly

 

Brad Strait, Senior Pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colo., was elected Moderator of the EPC’s 41st General Assembly on June 23.

In his opening remarks, Strait noted that as a teenager he became a Christian in “one of the very first EPC churches as the EPC was being formed.”

“I grew up really not knowing anything but the fact that there is this denomination called the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which stands for something,” he said. Later as a young businessman, Strait began serving in volunteer ministry leadership roles at the urging of Irv Rinehart, Moderator of the EPC’s second General Assembly.

Brad Strait (left) receives the Moderator’s cross and stole from Glenn Meyers, Moderator of the 40th General Assembly. (photo credit: Scott Wiest)

“I said yes, and that became a piece of what I did,” he said. “God blessed the whole church, and some of that excess flowed into our ministry. Eventually I was asked to leave the business world and become a pastor.”

He reported to the Assembly that he and his wife, Cathy, spent a week in fasting and prayer over the decision. “We heard nothing from God,” Strait confessed. “So as a step of faith I said, ‘let’s start walking this out and see what God tells us.’ He confirmed it, and the fact that the path has led here is completely overwhelming.”

Strait led the Assembly in a recitation of Psalm 119:68, “God, you are good. All you do is good. Show us your way.”

“I believe God is good, and everything He does is good,” Strait declared. “Which means the last year is good. And the next year will be good. And even if there is great difficulty and struggle and suffering ahead of us—and my brothers and sisters, I believe the world is going to get harder, not easier—the key is: will we find His way? Lord, show us what it is that you are doing that is good. That is my hope for the future. And that is my hope for the EPC.”

Strait has more than 30 years of pastoral experience, and also teaches at Denver Theological Seminary in both Leadership and Spiritual Formation. He served as a grief counselor following the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the Aurora Theater tragedy in 2012, and the 2004 tsunami in south India. He has taught the Bible around the world and worked in refugee camps of Central America, South America, Africa, and Asia. He also has served as Chaplain for the Colorado House of Representatives, the Denver Rescue Mission, and several police and fire departments. He is a former Chairman of the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee and was part of the team that produced the EPC’s Leadership Training Guide: A Resource for Pastors, Elders, and Churches.

He and his wife, Cathy, have been married for 39 years. They have three daughters and three granddaughters.

#epc2021ga

2021 Leadership Institute: Creating Church Planting Networks

 

In the 2021 Leadership Institute seminar Creating Church Planting Networks and Partnerships, Shane Sunn discussed three bottlenecks for starting a new church.

“First is having the right planter—an available, properly assessed church planter,” Sunn said. “We always want to have planters in the pipeline.”

He noted that the other two potential bottlenecks for planting a church are funding and location.

“We know where we want to go next, and it’s not always a city,” Sunn said. “We just planted a church in Kansas in a community of 2,500 people. But we always want to have a variety of options available—we don’t fully know how the Holy Spirit is working in the planter’s life.”

Sunn is Director of the Aspen Grove Church Planting Network in Denver, Colo.

The Leadership Institute is an equipping component of the annual General Assembly meeting.

#epc2021ga

General Assembly to consider new Presbyteries, Book of Government amendments, Approved Agency separation

 

Commissioners to the 41st General Assembly will vote on a variety of recommendations from the EPC’s permanent and interim committees and boards. The Assembly is June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. The meeting is the EPC’s first “hybrid” General Assembly, in which Commissioners will participate both in-person and virtually.

“Since our hybrid format requires us to close registration on June 4 and not permit walk-up registrations or day passes at the Assembly, we wanted to announce ahead of time some of the business items that the Assembly will consider,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk.

Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

The Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic is overturing the Assembly to split into three presbyteries, effective January 1, 2022. With 117 churches, the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic is the EPC’s largest. Between 20 and 73 churches comprise each of the EPC’s other 13 presbyteries, and each of the new presbyteries would include a similar number of congregations.

Theology Committee

The Theology Committee is recommending that the Assembly withdraw approval of Bethany Christian Services (BCS) as an Approved Agency of the EPC. A Christian adoption and child services organization, BCS announced in March 2021 that they would change their national policy and begin placing children with same-sex couples.

“This recommendation is not set before the General Assembly lightly,” said Zach Hopkins, Theology Committee Chairman. “Our committee was asked to review the EPC’s relationship to BCS in light of our commitments to Scripture, the Westminster Standards, and our Constitution—especially as it is expressed in our Position Papers. When this matter was first brought to the attention of the General Assembly, the concern was focused on only one specific chapter of Bethany’s organization. However, within two years, Bethany has made the approval of same-sex adoption a matter of national policy. The EPC cannot in good conscience remain in partnership with an agency that does not align with the doctrine and practice of the historic Christian faith.”

Hopkins is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes, and serves as Pastor of Edgington Presbyterian Church in Taylor Ridge, Ill.

The Theology Committee also will present a motion to amend the EPC’s Book of Government regarding ministry to and inclusion of the disabled.

National Leadership Team

The National Leadership Team (NLT) is presenting a motion to name current Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah as Stated Clerk Emeritus upon his retirement at the conclusion of the Assembly.

Case Thorp, NLT Chairman, said the committee’s decision to honor Jeremiah with the title “was unanimous and easy.”

Other motions presented by the National Leadership Team are the EPC’s fiscal year 2022 administration budget and Special Projects, as well as an in-depth description of the role and purpose of the Office of the General Assembly.

Nominating Committee

The Nominating Committee is presenting Brad Strait, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the West, as its nominee for Moderator, and Rosemary Lukens, Ruling Elder in the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest as Moderator-elect. Strait serves as Senior Pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver, Colo. Lukens is a Ruling Elder for Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor, Wash.

“I am thrilled that Rosemary accepted the Nominating Committee’s invitation to be presented as Moderator-elect,” said Dean Weaver, Stated Clerk-elect. “She has served with distinction on the National Leadership Team and will bring a wealth of leadership development experience to the role.”

Chaplains Work and Care Committee

The Chaplains Work and Care Committee (CWCC) will present a motion to amend sections of the Book of Government and Book of Worship that address Chaplains’ administering of the sacraments. The CWCC also will present for vote a revised Policy Statement on Chaplain Ministry to Same-Sex Couples and LGBTQ individuals.

Giving Culture Study Committee

The Giving Culture Study Committee will recommend that a proposed change in the EPC’s funding formula from Per Member Asking (PMA) to Percent of Budget (POB) be sent to all Presbyteries and churches for study. On Thursday afternoon, June 24, committee member Scott McKee will present the rationale behind the formula change. His presentation will be available to virtual participants and those viewing the live stream, and will take place concurrent with the Assembly’s Standing Committee meetings. McKee, a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Midwest, serves as Senior Pastor of Ward Presbyterian Church in suburban Detroit.

In addition to the business items, Weaver will be installed as the EPC’s fourth Stated Clerk, and Gabriel de Guia introduced as the new Executive Director of EPC World Outreach.

The Commissioner’s Handbook includes each of the recommendations to the Assembly. The Handbook will be posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/ga2021documents no later than June 1.

Registration for the 41st General Assembly ends on Friday, June 4, at 5:00 p.m. (Eastern). Online registration is available at www.epc.org/ga2021.

#epc2021ga

Second Presbyterian Church offers localized theological education through Memphis City Seminary

 

Carl Ellis, Provost’s Professor of Theology and Culture at Reformed Theological Seminary, teaches Minority Church History for Memphis City Seminary in February 2021 at Second Presbyterian Church.

Starting a new seminary during a pandemic would not appear to be a wise thing to do. But when the purpose and strategy of Memphis City Seminary (MCS) are taken into consideration, it makes total sense. A ministry of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, MCS launched in February 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the United States.

The organizers weren’t sure of the seminary’s immediate future at the time, recalled Taylor Tollison, MCS Director of Operations, who also serves as Domestic Outreach Coordinator for Second Presbyterian Church. Yet in looking back, he said the school’s flexible, local-oriented model—plus low tuition cost of $100 per credit hour—turned out to be “a great approach” during a time of restrictions on travel and in-person gatherings.

He explained that from the beginning, the seminary was designed to provide not only flexibility in academic preparation for ministry, but also a focus on “place-based” education. That means that MCS, training students for ministry in the urban landscape of Memphis, would ensure its students would gain an understanding of how their biblical and theological studies would be applied in their local context. Specifically, recent U.S. Census data shows that the Memphis metro area of more than 5 million is nearly 48 percent African American and only 43 percent non-Hispanic white.

Taylor Tollison

“MCS offers a distinct curriculum that is designed to prepare pastors for the Memphis context and the surrounding region,” Tollison said. “We want to learn from those voices in theological education that are often underrepresented by offering specific courses and requiring specialized reading.”

Tollison noted that a key value of MCS is that the seminary views its students as more than just “academic thinkers.”

“Our hope is that our students will receive a holistic and comprehensive theological education that equips them in four key areas: knowledge, character, skills and vision,” he said. “Our aim is not merely to transfer information to the mind, but to take part in the full-orbed formation of Christian leaders. We believe the demands of gospel ministry require the whole person to be equipped—not merely the mind.”

George Robertson

George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church and MCS Academic Dean, said the school’s faculty are “pastoral scholars” who integrate education with practical ministry.

“We are making our experience and the best of biblical and theological scholarship available and affordable to Christ-centered leaders in Memphis,” he said.

Brian Lewis, Second Presbyterian Church’s Director of Domestic Outreach, serves as MSC’s Executive Director. He said the seminary is “well on its way” to providing affordable, high-level education for ministers who do not want to leave Memphis to receive their theological education.

Brian Lewis

“We are attracting bivocational workers and many people of color,” Lewis said. “We strive to be very multi-cultural, which mirrors our Memphis culture. We believe we will also steadily attract students regionally and nationally, because Memphis has world-wide appeal.”

Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis and a member of MCS’ Board, said that he often promotes the seminary’s “affordability, accessibility, and action-oriented training for gospel ministry in churches, non-profits, and the marketplace.”

Tollison said MCS is officially “authorized” by the State of Tennessee—which legitimatizes it as a school of higher learning—and is pursing official accreditation through the Association for Biblical Higher Education and the Association of Reformed Theological Seminaries. He hopes MSC will receive full accreditation in three to five years.

The groundwork for MSC started in 2006 when Second Presbyterian Church began to envision what an urban seminary for Memphis might look like, with the ultimate goal to offer an entire Master of Divinity degree locally. From 2006 to 2009, a venue for offering seminary education was through the Memphis Center for Urban Studies initiative. In 2009, Second Presbyterian Church began hosting a Reformed Theological Seminary extension site.

Limitations Lead to Vision

For the next 10 years, Lewis and his wife, Joanne, directed the RTS extension. Students could begin their seminary degree in Memphis, but were only eligible for a Certificate of Biblical Studies (CBS) upon the completion of 29 hours. After 29 hours students could complete an MA degree online, or for other degrees were required to transfer to a degree-granting seminary location to complete their coursework.

To bridge this gap in local seminary education, MCS was launched in November 2019 as a degree-granting seminary for both Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity degrees. Twenty degree-seeking RTS students joined 30 other students to bring the initial enrollment to 50.

Spring 2021 enrollment has grown to 60 students—35 men and 25 women—with 16 of those being minority students. Local churches represented by MCS students include Downtown Church, Fellowship Memphis, First Evangelical Church, Hope Church, Second Presbyterian Church, and The Avenue Community Church.

“One of the things I love most about my job,” said Joanne Lewis, MCS Director of Enrollment, “is to see students in our classroom who have dreamed, prayed, and waited for an opportunity to pursue their theological education but until now were unable to do so.”

Braden Tyler

Braden Tyler, a teacher and soccer coach at a private Christian school in inner-city Memphis, is one of those students.

“I am 31 years old and have wanted to do seminary ever since becoming a believer [while] in college,” Tyler said. “However, college debt, getting married, and having children kept me from pursuing this. All the seminaries that I wanted to attend were too expensive and not located in the city of Memphis. I could do online seminary, but it would be too expensive for me and it would be a lonely road.”

He noted that relocating to an in-resident seminary would require quitting his job, moving to a new city, and having his wife get a job in order for him to be a full-time student.

“Unsatisfactory options like this kept putting seminary on the back burner,” Tyler said. “Then along came MCS—an affordable, flexible, and local seminary that could give me the high quality, biblical education that I wanted. I could keep my job and keep my family in our city. Christians shouldn’t have to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars and have to leave the context of their city in order to get a seminary degree. I have talked to many people and it seems that seminaries like this could be the future for the church.”

He said that after he receives a degree from MSC, his goal is to continue his education by pursuing a PhD to teach in a seminary or become a pastor.

Denny Catalano

Denny Catalano, director of Campus Outreach in Memphis, said MSC is “a great complement” to his work.

“I chose Memphis City Seminary because I wanted to grow in my knowledge of God, in my character, and in my skills to more effectively reach the lost and shepherd my team,” he said. “We serve a very broad ethnic and cultural demographic, so I was looking for something that would give me a broad and thorough understanding of God and how He has worked throughout history among all nations. I count it a great privilege to be able to learn from some of the best scholars out there while being able to collaborate and learn alongside people ministering in a broad array of contexts.”

Bradley Morrow, Second Presbyterian Church’s Recreation Coordinator, said MSC makes a seminary education financially possible for him.

Bradley Morrow

“MCS has allowed me to gain a sound theological education that is affordable and allows me to work a full-time job where I am able to apply what I am learning in class to my ministry in the city,” he said. “MCS is equipping me to read, study, and teach the Scriptures in a way that reveals Jesus and proclaims the gospel as good news to every ZIP code in the city.”

Tyler agreed, adding that is it is a “big advantage” taking seminary classes alongside people from the city where you live.

“This is very unifying for a city and for churches,” Tyler said. “The next spiritual leaders of the community are people who have been trained in the same seminary and are friends with each other. This seminary can provide classes that fit the needs of Memphis and can better train leaders to impact this city.”

For more information on Memphis City Seminary, see www.memphiscityseminary.org

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

General Assembly World Outreach gatherings celebrate Phil Linton, commission new global workers, introduce new Executive Director

 

EPC World Outreach is sponsoring a variety of gatherings at the 41st General Assembly, June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

On Tuesday, June 22, longtime World Outreach global worker Mike Kuhn will lead “The Israel of God” as part of this year’s Leadership Institute.

As ongoing tensions have flared into military conflict in recent days between Israel and the Palestinians, the territorial and political dispute is just one of many challenges facing the missional outreach of the church to the Muslim world. Kuhn’s presentation will discuss the identity of Israel in the biblical narrative (apart from contemporary political considerations), examine God’s purposes for His covenant people as revealed in Scripture, and seek wisdom as to how Christ’s church should respond with compassion and justice to both Israelis and Arabs.

Kuhn serves as Missional Theology Specialist for World Outreach’s International Theological Education Network (ITEN). He spent more than 28 years in Morocco, Egypt, and Lebanon, where he served as Professor of Biblical Theology and Discipleship at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut from 2012-2018.

Tuesday evening banquet

Josh Hanson, Senior Pastor of Gateway Church in Findlay, Ohio, is the speaker for this year’s World Outreach banquet. His topic is “Unexpected Kingdom.”

Attendees will have opportunity to celebrate Phil and Janet Linton as part of the evening’s program. He is retiring as Director of World Outreach following the 41st General Assembly. In addition, he is preaching at the Wednesday afternoon worship service prior to the Assembly’s first business session.

Wednesday evening dinner

The Global Worker Presentations Dinner on Wednesday, June 23, 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 24, World Outreach will commission its newest global workers during the evening worship service. The speaker for the service is D.A. Carson, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.

Networking Lunches

On Wednesday, June 23, on-site participants can meet the new Executive Director of World Outreach, Gabriel de Guia, and his wife, Rachel. He is the unanimous choice of the nine-member search committee to succeed Linton, and previously served 26 years with Cru in a variety of capacities.

On Thursday, June 24, the 2021 class of global workers will discuss the ministry God has called them to and share their hearts for the Kingdom of God. These workers will be commissioned in the Thursday evening worship service.

All on-site 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 services on Wednesday and Thursday will be live-streamed and available to virtual participants of the hybrid Assembly. Other gatherings are limited to on-site Commissioners and guests.

For complete details about World Outreach activities at the 41st General Assembly, see www.epc.org/ga2021worldoutreachevents.

For more information about the 41st General Assembly, including registration, daily schedules, and more, see www.epc.org/ga2021. For details about the World Outreach Banquet, contact Cassie Shultz at cassie.s@epcwo.org or 407-930-4313.

#epc2021ga

April 2021 EPC budget report: PMA support continues strong, now outpacing 2019 level

 

Contributions to Per Member Asking (PMA) received by the Office of the General Assembly in fiscal year 2021 (FY21) through April 30 total $2,034,971. April PMA support was $224,546.

The total is $312,346 (18.1 percent) more than the $1,722,625 FY21 PMA support projection to fund the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

With the strong continued support, PMA contributions through ten months of FY21 (which runs from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021) are $10,357 above the $2,024,614 contributed over the same period in FY20. In addition, April PMA support of $224,546 brought the 12-month rolling average for monthly PMA contributions to $200,186. The rolling average has now increased for two consecutive months, and for the first time since September is at the same level as FY20.

“Two months ago, I expressed concern that the negative trend in our monthly rolling average might indicate an unfavorable longer-term trend,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I praise the Lord for this amazing reversal over the past eight weeks. I am very thankful for the generosity of our churches, and for their commitment to the EPC.”

Of the $2,034,971 received, $406,994 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $4,745,074 in designated gifts were received through April 30. This total was $282,697 (5.6 percent) lower than the $5,027,771 in designated gifts received in the same period in FY20. As noted in previous monthly reports, the discrepancy is largely attributed to significant donations to the Emergency Relief Fund following Hurricane Dorian’s devastation in the Bahamas and North Carolina in September 2019, and several large anonymous gifts designated for church planting efforts.

Of the total, $4,632,323 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $112,751 was designated for EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings.

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.

2021 Leadership Institute features Ligon Duncan, George Robertson, Rufus Smith, practical training workshops

 

Ligon Duncan, George Robertson, and Rufus Smith are the keynote speakers for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s sixth annual Leadership Institute. The Institute is a strategic component of the EPC’s 41st General Assembly, to be held June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Each of the plenary speakers will address a topic related to this year’s General Assembly theme, “God Will Restore.” The theme is based on God’s promise in Joel 2:25 that He “will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten … You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you … ”

Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., will address “Combating Biblical Anemia: Scripture, Discipleship, Worship, and Preaching” on Tuesday, June 22. His presentation will be available via live stream on the EPC website.

On Wednesday morning, June 23, Robertson will discuss “Soul Care for Pastors.” He serves as Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, host church for the Assembly.

On Wednesday afternoon, Smith will speak about “Kindness that Leads to Reconciliation.” He serves as Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Memphis. Both Wednesday sessions will be available via live stream and include time for Q-and-A.

Four ministry-specific leadership development gatherings will be available for in-person Assembly attendees.

  • Chaplains Workshop, featuring Mike Berry, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas, and Mark Ingles, EPC Chaplain Endorser. Berry will lead sessions on “Why Religious Freedom Matters and What Our Nation’s Founders Intended” and “Threats to Religious Freedom and What We Can Do to Protect It.”
  • Creating Church Planting Networks and Partnerships, led by Tom Ricks, Lead Pastor of Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo., and Chairman of the EPC Church Planting Team.
  • Transitional Pastor Training, led by Bob Stauffer, Church Development Coordinator for the Presbytery of the Alleghenies.
  • The Israel of God, a discussion of the identity of Israel in the biblical narrative—apart from contemporary political considerations—in which God’s purposes for His covenant people as revealed in Scripture will be examined, as well as thoughts on how Christ’s church should respond with compassion and justice to both Israelis and Arabs. The seminar will be led by Mike Kuhn, Missional Theology Specialist for EPC World Outreach’s International Theological Education Network.

Each of these workshops is open to anyone attending the 41st General Assembly in person.

See www.epc.org/ga2021leadershipinstitute for more information on the Leadership Institute, including full seminar descriptions, times, and speaker bios.

See www.epc.org/ga2021 for more information about the 41st General Assembly, including a full schedule, links to online registration, and more.

#epc2021ga

March 2021 EPC budget report: PMA support continues above projection

 

Contributions to Per Member Asking (PMA) received by the Office of the General Assembly in fiscal year 2021 (FY21) through March 31 total $1,810,425. March PMA support was $400,603.

The total is $261,927 (16.9 percent) more than the $1,548,498 FY21 PMA support projection to fund the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

PMA support at the three-quarter mark of FY21 (which runs from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021) is $51,856 (2.8 percent) behind the $1,862,281 contributed over the same period in FY20, and only 3 percent lower than the original FY21 PMA projection—which was later reduced by 17 percent and approved by the 40th General Assembly in September 2020 as the “Bare Bones Plus budget.”

“I think I’ve said this every month now, but I am very thankful for the PMA support that our churches provide,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I am especially grateful that God has blessed our churches in such a way that they can continue to contribute so generously to the EPC over the past year.”

Of the $1,810,425 received, $362,085 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $4,195,783 in designated gifts were received through March 31. This total was $272,555 (6.5 percent) lower than the $4,468,338 in designated gifts received in the same period in FY20. Jeremiah noted that the difference can be attributed to more than $350,000 in donations to the Emergency Relief Fund in fall 2019 following Hurricane Dorian, and a December 2019 gift of $250,000 for church planting.

“Giving to specific projects outside of those two funds is up more than $360,000 this year over the previous year,” Jeremiah said. “I am grateful for this level of generosity in such extraordinary times.”

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 Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings.

Of the total, $4,088,595 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $107,188 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.

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk models Revelation 7:9 with local outreach efforts

 

A beacon of hope and light sits on the top of a hill in Nassau, Bahamas. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk is a church with a rich history and tradition. It was established in 1810 to bring the rites and traditions of the Church of Scotland to Scottish immigrants—some of whom were “loyalists” banished to the Bahamas following the American Revolution nearly 30 years earlier. But the picturesque, inviting structure houses a congregation that looks very different today than it once did.

“When I arrived at the church in 2010,” said Pastor Bryn MacPhail, “There were about 40 persons attending worship and only two or three children.” He added that the congregation was predominantly white in a country where 90 percent of the population is Black.

“I really believed our church should reflect the diversity of the community around us,” he noted. “I found an orphanage nearby called Ranfurly Home for Children and started volunteering there once a week so I could build a relationship with them.”

Bryn MacPhail

MacPhail also discovered that the church bordered the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhood in the city, known as Bain and Grant’s Town. He began volunteering in a local community center, the Urban Renewal Center, and soon was bringing others from the church with him to play sports, provide tutoring, and take kids to lunch.

“It took a while for people to warm up to us,” MacPhail recalled. “But we kept going, week after week. That went on for a couple of years. Eventually the director of the center told me that most of these kids did not go to church. She suggested that maybe we could find a way to get them there.”

So St. Andrew’s hired a bus and driver, which cost $60 a week. They began driving around the neighborhoods of the inner city, inviting kids to come to church. In the first year and a half, they averaged two to four kids per week on the bus.

Their persistence paid off—eventually the bus filled up with kids from the city, and a second bus was added to bring youth from the Ranfurly Home. On any given Sunday, as many as 50-60 children and youth came for Sunday worship.

MacPhail soon realized that the influx of young people was more than the church could handle, so he asked a local missionary, Bob Mastin, to become the church’s ministry partner. In addition, a St. Andrew’s deacon who had served as Assistant Commissioner of Police stepped in as the point person to help with logistics and to make local connections.

Luncheons for area residents are just one of many ways St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk blesses its neighbors in Nassau.

Mastin, who serves with Bahamas Youth Network, already had a strong rapport with the youth and ran a parallel ministry in Nassau. He had moved to the island in 2017 after several years of visiting on short-term mission trips. As a coach and teacher, his love for youth and passion for sports were natural connection points for helping him relate to inner-city kids.

“My heart is in working with underprivileged kids,” Mastin said. “When I arrived, I was the only white guy in my neighborhood. One day I was out canvassing the streets when the police pulled me over and asked for my ID. They thought I was lost and warned me that I was in a dangerous area. I told them that this is where God had called me and my wife, and we were here to stay because we wanted to help the community in whatever way we could.”

Mastin agreed to partner with St. Andrews while maintaining his commitment to Bahamas Youth Network—which keeps him busy visiting local high schools, coaching soccer, and teaching family life classes.

“We’re all doing this together, and it really is making a huge difference and having an impact,” Mastin noted. “I recently had lunch with two guys who I have built a relationship with. One of them is schizophrenic and has been in the mental hospital 12 times trying to kick a drug habit. He told me that since I came down and brought the gospel, he has found meaning and purpose for his life. I told him that it’s not me, it’s the Lord. And he said, ‘But you are the vessel God used in my life.’”

The partnership between Mastin and St. Andrew’s is bearing fruit in the form of a Thursday night discipleship group with eight boys between the ages of 12 and 18, which started in January.

“We’re studying a curriculum that invites them to talk about painful moments in their lives,” MacPhail said. “One 14-year-old boy shared about how on his sixth birthday he watched the police come and arrest his Dad and take him away. The stories we hear are horrific.”

St. Andrew’s has a long-standing partnership with McDonald’s to provide backpacks and school supplies to children in several neighborhoods near the church in downtown Nassau. The backpacks were filled with books, pens, pencils, and other supplies. Children who received the backpacks attend the St. Andrew’s Sunday School and Big Harvest Community Sunday School.

Mastin believes that growing up in a tough environment has made them more resilient.

“They really are great kids,” he said. “You can see that they are hungry for something different, and they are growing in their faith and seeking after the Lord.”

A few of the youth have chosen to be baptized, and some of them serve on St. Andrew’s audio/visual team.

“I can’t wait to watch their stories unfold,” MacPhail said. “We told them that we will invest in them every week, and our hope is that they will grow in their faith and become deacons and leaders in the church someday. We even promised them that if any one of them feels called to be a pastor we will help with their education.”

The group already has an inspiring role model who is one of their own—Jude Vilma.

“Jude was born in Nassau and grew up in a Haitian Creole community on the island of Abaco, about 100 miles north of here),” MacPhail said. “Through a variety of influences he graduated from high school, received a scholarship to work with Bahamas Youth Network, and started attending college.”

It was around that time that Vilma—who currently is studying at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando—met MacPhail and got connected with St. Andrew’s.

“God called me to full-time ministry, and I served as a Youth Coordinator with the Bahamas Youth Network and also a pastoral intern with St. Andrew’s Kirk,” Vilma noted. “This partnership enabled me to serve in the church and work with this community organization that is big on discipleship. I was also eager to take theology classes online because of my love for God’s Word and for learning.”

Jude Vilma

MacPhail said his dream is that Vilma will one day return to the Bahamas and become the Senior Pastor at St. Andrew’s.

“God’s been gracious to me and has blessed this ministry, but a white foreigner can only do so much,” said MacPhail, who hails from Canada. “Most of our inner-city kids are from a Haitian background, and many of the adults do not even speak English. I believe the church would absolutely explode in size if Jude took over. He can speak to them in a way that I can’t.”

Vilma said that he plans to return to the Bahamas once he has completed his education and as the Lord leads.

“My hope for the church in the Bahamas,” he said, “is that there would be more pastors and leaders who proclaim sound doctrine, that there would be unity among believers, and that Christianity would be seen as a lifestyle—not just a religion or something you do on a Sunday.”

Until Vilma’s hope is realized, MacPhail said St. Andrew’s will continue to faithfully serve their neighbors in Bain and Grant’s Town, even though the pandemic has not made it easy. He said they have been unable to visit the orphanage in 13 months, and they started operating a food pantry out of MacPhail’s office just to try and meet all the needs. He reported that in the past year alone they distributed more than $50,000 worth of food.

“People occasionally ask me what the secret is, and how we have been able to succeed in the face of adversity,” MacPhail said. “I tell them one thing: Just keep showing up.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

Jeff Jeremiah: Easter means living hope

 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade!” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

This great passage declares a number of significant and life-changing truths that we celebrate each day, but especially on Easter Sunday. One of the most prominent and precious is the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.

Can there be a greater contrast between the world’s view of hope and the Christian’s hope? The world’s view can be summed up well in the little boy’s statement, “Hope is wishing for something you know isn’t going to happen.” You can hope for something to happen in the future, but it’s ultimately futile because you can’t control what happens in the future. Hoping is no more than wishful thinking. The testimony of God’s Word is that hope isn’t wishing. Hope is a certainty, a fact that God has promised and will fulfill. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday is the event in human history—the certain, factual basis of our hope as Christians.

Here’s another distinctive about our hope. It’s alive. What does that mean? The opposite of living hope would be dead hope, and that calls to mind a similar phrase: dead faith. In James 2:26, the Apostle writes “faith without works is dead.” Dead faith has no effect, no power, no influence. Living faith—and, by analogy, living hope—has power and influence. In short, it impacts your life. This living hope makes a difference in our lives today in at least three ways.

First, hope that lives gives you courage to face the challenges and trials of life. We’ve certainly faced enough of them in the past year! You need not cower in fear, for you know at the end Jesus is victorious over the greatest enemy to life. In Him, you will be too. If He’s solved the problem of death, you can be sure He’s taken care of all the other problems, difficulties, and trials we face. In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Second, hope that lives gives you confidence because you know who’s in control. The resurrected Christ is not only alive at this moment—He’s alive in power and glory! The sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords is in control of creation, in control of human history, and yes, in control of your life. Because of what He did for you on the Cross, in love—giving His life for you—you can know that He’s personally, positively, and passionately committed to you. You can be confident because you know His purpose for you is good, for He declares, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Third, hope that lives in your life gives you comfort in the face of death. You’re freed from the fear of death, because you know that as Jesus conquered death, so too shall you. And that victory will usher us into an eternal life that is glorious, where in the presence of God Himself you’ll enjoy praise and peace, love and joy. There will be no more pain, no more tears, no more sorrow, no more death. This is the living hope that can be yours because the tomb is empty, because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead!

There is a reason why hope is described in Hebrews 6:19 as “an anchor for the soul…both sure and steadfast.” Because Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, ours is a hope that is certain, ours is a hope that is alive, ours is a hope that is a difference-maker as we live as followers of Jesus Christ.

Jeff Jeremiah has served as Stated Clerk of the EPC since 2006.

March Jeremiah Journal outlines 2021 Leadership Institute adjustments

 

In the March 2021 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah describes some additional scheduling changes for the upcoming 41st General Assembly since last month’s edition in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s Assembly is scheduled for June 22-25, 2021, at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/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.

Two Minute Topics video series continues with IRS non-profit organization group exemption changes

 

In the latest installment of the EPC’s video series, “Two Minute Topics,” Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri discusses two steps EPC churches must take in order to comply with recent changes to the Internal Revenue Service’s non-profit organization group exemption.

“Two Minute Topics” are short, informative videos that address questions that the Office of the General Assembly frequently receives.

 

January 2021 EPC budget report: PMA support 6 percent above projection, slightly behind 2019 pace

 

Contributions to Per Member Asking (PMA) received by the Office of the General Assembly in fiscal year 2021 (FY21) through January 31 total $1,409,822.

The total is $190,581 (15.6 percent) more than the $1,219,241 FY21 PMA support projection to fund the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

PMA support in the first seven months of FY21 (which runs from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021) is $61,312 (4 percent) behind the $1,471,134 contributed over the same period in FY20, and roughly the same percentage lower than the original FY21 PMA projection—which was reduced by 17 percent and approved by the 40th General Assembly in September 2020 as the “Bare Bones Plus budget.” In addition, January PMA support of $174,936 lowers the 12-month rolling average for monthly PMA contributions to $195,210—approximately 3 percent less than the rolling average as of January 31, 2020.

“I am very grateful that as we turned the calendar from 2020 to 2021 our churches continue their commitment to the EPC through Per Member Asking,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “God gets the glory that PMA contributions have remained strong. At the same time, we made some drastic cuts to this year’s budget that are not sustainable for the long-term. So even though we are ahead of our projections, I hope our churches continue to commit to PMA.”

Of the $1,409,822 received, $281,964 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $3,386,153 in designated gifts were received through January 31. This total was $235,107 (6.5 percent) lower than the $3,621,260 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 Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings.

Of the total, $3,314,830 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $71,323 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.

Leadership development the topic of February 24 installment of Church Revitalization Workshop

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, February 24, with a discussion of how to develop a leadership pipeline for the church officer nomination and training process.

Facilitators of the workshop include John Mabray, Associate Pastor for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La.; Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

Puerto Rico churches gather for virtual prayer summit

 

On January 21, the Sessions of the EPC’s three churches in Puerto Rico gathered virtually for a time of prayer and thanksgiving. Nearly 30 individuals participated in the video conference.

The congregations are Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster (Westminster Presbyterian Church) in Bayamón, Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica Mayagüez (Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Mayagüez), and Iglesia Presbiteriana Evangélica en Añasco (Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Añasco). All are members of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

The group, which included pastors Juan Rivera (Bayamón), Abraham Montes (Añasco), and Ariel Toro (Mayagüez) convened the prayer time to give thanks for the blessings received during 2020, and pray in the same spirit for the church, its projects, the sick, Puerto Rico, and the United States. Enid Flores, Ruling Elder for Westminster Presbyterian Church and current Moderator of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean also participated.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to pray together, using the best tool that we have in our hands to entrust our life, our projects, and serve the island of Puerto Rico,” Enid said. “To God and God alone be the glory!

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Comenzando el año 2021 las tres iglesias del Presbiterio de la Florida y el Caribe de la EPC ubicadas en Puerto Rico que son la Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster (IPW), la Iglesia Presbiteriana en Mayaguez (IPEM) y la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Añasco (IPEA) se unieron, en un solo espíritu, en un tiempo de oración para la gloria de nuestro Señor.

Los tres Consistorios, con sus pastores, Pastor Juan Rivera, Pastor Abraham Montes y Pastor Ariel Toro lideraron el tiempo de oración con el fin de dar gracias por las bendiciones recibidas durante el 2020 y orar juntos en un mismo espíritu, por la iglesia, sus proyectos, los enfermos, Puerto Rico y los Estados Unidos en los momentos que estamos viviendo.  Los acompañó como invitada la Moderadora del Presbiterio de Florida y el Caribe, la Anc. Enid D. Flores.

Damos gracias por la oportunidad de orar juntos, utilizando la mejor herramienta que tenemos en nuestras manos para encomendar nuestra vida, nuestros proyectos, y con ello servirle a la isla. ¡A Dios y solo a Dios sea la gloria!

Session 3 recording of Church Revitalization Workshop now available

 

The recording of “The Revitalization of the Session,” session 3 of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop, is now available. The workshop is being held via video conference on the fourth Wednesday of each month through May 2021.

The presentation was hosted by Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo. Panelists were:

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, where registrations for future installments is available, and on the EPC YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Audio podcasts of each workshop session are available on the EPC podcast channel and iTunes.