Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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.