Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dean Weaver featured speaker for Jubilee student conference

 
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Dean Weaver

Dean Weaver, Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa., and Moderator of the EPC’s 37th General Assembly, is a featured speaker for the Jubilee 2020 Conference hosted by the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO). Jubilee is CCO’s annual conference designed for college students; this year’s event is February 21-23 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. The theme for Jubilee 2020 is the biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

Weaver will address the topic of redemption with “The Moment that Changed Everything” at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 22.

“The conference is a life changing and transforming experience and it is exciting to be a part of engaging 4,000 college students with the gospel,” Weaver said. “It is one of the closest things on this earth to experiencing the fullness of the Kingdom of God.”

The EPC has partnered with CCO since 2007 to help local churches engage in campus ministry in their communities. Among the EPC congregations with CCO partnership college ministries are Memorial Park Presbyterian Church; Bellefield Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh; Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.; First Presbyterian Church in Orlando; and many others. In addition, CCO’s Partnership Coordinator for Western Pennsylvania, Jen Burkholder, currently serves as chair of the EPC’s Next Generation Ministries Council.

For more information on Jubilee, see www.jubileeconference.com.

16 months post-prison: an interview with Andrew Brunson

 
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Andrew Brunson

In October 2016, Andrew Brunson was arrested by Turkish authorities—along with tens of thousands of Turkish military personnel, civil servants, educators, journalists, and dissidents following a failed coup. Brunson, an EPC pastor of a small Protestant church in Izmir, became a pawn in a geopolitical chess game. He spent two years in a Turkish prison before he was released in October 2018.

After his release, Brunson became the focus of worldwide media attention. He was honored at the White House and invited to the United Nations when President Donald Trump delivered a speech on religious freedom. Brunson has written a book about his ordeal, God’s Hostage, (Baker Books) that was published in late 2019. In this interview conducted by EPConnection correspondent Peter Larson, Brunson reflects on his life and ministry in the 16 months since leaving Turkey.

First of all, how are you and Norine doing?

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Andrew and Norine Brunson participate in a question-and-answer session at the 39th General Assembly, held June 2019 at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver.

To be free is just amazing. It’s the small things that I missed while I was in prison—just normal life. Things like having breakfast with my wife or being able to sit on a park bench. It’s been good to see my children. My first grandchild was just born, and my son just graduated from basic training in the Army. It was a miracle just to be there for that!

Have you been able to heal since your time in prison?

Actually, a lot of the healing took place while I was in prison, when I was able to surrender fully to that. I went through a period when I had a lot of nightmares. I had a psychiatrist examine me who has worked with the U.S. State Department on a lot of trauma cases. He said I had Post Traumatic Stress, but not a disorder. Writing the book was cathartic, going through the pain and hardship again. There was a healing process in that.

In your book you are very honest about the faith struggles you experienced in prison. It was really a “dark night of the soul.”

The missionary biographies that I had read did not prepare me for the experience of imprisonment. Many of them are triumphalist and focus mainly on victory. Prison was a lot tougher than I expected. It really broke me. I prayed, “Lord, if I get out of this I pledge to be very open about this.” The encouragement I want to give people is to keep going in spite of your discouragement and trust in the Lord.

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At the invitation of North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis (left), Brunson delivered the opening prayer for the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., on October 15, 2019.

You grew up in Black Mountain, N.C. Are you living there now?

Actually, I’ve been traveling a lot this year. We’ve been in Kansas City, but most of the time we’ve been living out of suitcases. Because of our high profile, we cannot do the kind of work we used to do. We cannot establish ourselves in a Muslim country and do church-planting work. So, in this season the Lord is going to use us in a different way.

One thing we want is some continuity in our lives. We want to have a home base we can work out of and establish a normal life.

What is the focus of your ministry now?

Our focus is still on the Muslim world and we have a number of trips ahead related to that. In the old Ottoman Empire—the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East. Our desire is to see church planting in those places. We want to help the next generation to go into those places and equip local believers. For example, in March we’re going to be at a meeting in the Middle East with Muslim-background believes from many countries. Out of that we may be able to visit some of those places to train leaders, but we cannot live there long-term; they would probably kick us out or attack us.

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Upon Andrew’s release from prison in October 2018, he returned to his apartment in Izmir for a few hours before leaving the country.

How is your church in Izmir doing?

There’s really been a change in Turkey right now, a lot of oppression and missionaries being kicked out. But also, there is a growing interest in Christianity. People are coming to our church and asking questions. We are handing out 1,500 New Testaments every month. Younger people are being turned off by Islam. A lot of people are saying, “I don’t know what I believe anymore, but I don’t want to be a Muslim!”

Why do you think this change is happening?

Before I went to prison, I felt the Lord was telling me to prepare for the harvest. When I was in prison, I felt that assignment had been cancelled. Then, I began to realize that my imprisonment was an assignment from God. I was like a magnet that was drawing prayers to that part of the world.

So you are feeling hopeful about the church in Turkey?

What we need is a wave of the Holy Spirit to sweep through Turkey and the Middle East. In Iran, this has been happening for years—ever since the Islamic revolution. Any place where there are Iranians, they are coming to faith. I believe God is setting things in place for that to also happen in Turkey. In two of our locations in Turkey, they are maxing the building out.

What are some of your other ministry goals right now?

We are feeling a real burden to strengthen the next generation of Christians in the United States. There is increasing hostility in our nation to the Christian faith, and we are really not prepared for this. So when we have the opportunity to speak at colleges or conferences, we want them to be ready to stand firm, because it will be costly to be a Christian.

You are also engaged in ministry to the persecuted church, is that correct?

Yes, we want to highlight the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world. Some of them are historically Christian groups that have been decimated. Some of these churches have not done a lot of evangelism; they are just trying to survive. This summer, we will be doing something with Open Doors. We have also worked with Voice of the Martyrs and groups like that. Recently, an Egyptian brother asked us to help him minister to Arab communities in Spain. There are so many opportunities and doors God has opened to us.

After your release from prison, the EPC launched a financial support fund to help with your transition back to the United States. How did that bless you?

The churches of the EPC contributed more than $150,000 to help us, and it came in very quickly. Jeff Jeremiah led that and there was a tremendous outpouring. We are so grateful for that. It helped us during the transition so I didn’t have to go out and raise support.

For 23 years you were an unknown missionary serving in Turkey. Now, your name is known worldwide. How does that feel?

I believe the Lord has kept us hidden this past year to a high degree. We were at the White House and the United Nations, but the rest of the time we were hidden away. We don’t feel like celebrities at all. It’s more that when we meet people who prayed for us, we are deeply grateful. Obviously, the Lord was using that prayer to sustain me, but He was doing so much more than that. I believe there will be a massive movement of God in the Muslim world. I think God is setting things in place for that.

If churches or individuals want to be involved in your ministry, how can they help?

We are setting up a 501(c)(3) non-profit for our ministry. People can contact me at andrewnorine@yahoo.com if they’d like to know more.

Andrew, thank you for taking time to update all of us on what you are doing. May God richly bless you, your family, and your future ministry!

Thank you very much.

by Peter Larson
EPConnection correspondent
Larson serves pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Ohio

‘Fired Up Friday’ sparks church revitalization

 

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If you stop by Mt. Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church on the first Friday of the month, you are sure to encounter a lot of commotion…and a building full of kids. Ten years ago, the church began inviting children from the community to an event called “Fired Up Friday.” For two hours, kids move freely between rooms that offer games, prizes, snacks, crafts, and laser tag. The only required activity is a Bible study.

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Ashley Gardner

Ashley Gardner, Mt. Lebanon’s Director of Children’s Ministries, started the program to help a young girl—who was new to the Pittsburgh, Pa., suburb—make friends.

“The family moved here from Minnesota,” Gardner said. “And their daughter, who was in 2nd grade, wasn’t connecting with the other children. So God put it on my heart to host a smaller, more intimate fellowship outside of our regular programming. I wanted it to be a time when the kids could study the Bible but also be able to just hang out together.”

Thirteen kids attended that first event, and Gardner sensed God calling her to continue the ministry. Soon it became a regular monthly event. The numbers grew quickly, and in two years the room where they met was beyond capacity. The activities now take place in much of the church campus and nearly 200 children attend—most of whom are not from families in the church.

“Our ministry team looked around and realized that most of these kids were coming in from the community,” Gardner said. “Less than ten percent were our church kids. About a third of them had no church background at all.”

Carolyn Poteet, Mt. Lebanon’s Lead Pastor, says the church has a long history of outward focus, and Fired Up Friday is helping take the congregation back to its roots.

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Carolyn Poteet

“This church has historically had a vision for reaching people,” Poteet said. “It was founded in 1804, and in 1929 they constructed a beautiful gothic church. The sanctuary was designed to hold 1,000 people, even though the entire population of Mt. Lebanon was around 3,000 at the time.”

The opening of the Liberty Tunnels through Mt. Washington in the mid-1920s provided easy access between Pittsburgh and the Southern Hills suburbs, which caused the population of Mt. Lebanon to explode. With this new growth the church thrived, and soon become one of the largest Presbyterian churches in the region.

But by the time Poteet came to Mt. Lebanon EPC in 2017, the congregation had been shrinking for several decades. With the new leadership came intentional efforts at revitalization. They began to pray, listen, research, and conduct interviews to determine how to better reach their community and reverse the decline. It quickly became evident that children and their families, which included the Fired Up Friday program, would be a key component of the revitalization process.

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Fired Up Friday participants enjoy volleyball in Mt. Lebanon EPC’s Fellowship Hall.

“Once we compiled all our data and prayed and listened more, it became clear which part of God’s mission He was giving to our church,” Poteet noted. “Children needed to hear about Jesus, and we were good at ministering to children. Our new focus became ‘Reaching kids and their families for Jesus.’”

Poteet participates in Fired Up Friday in the “Stump the Pastor” room, in which the children interact with her and are free to ask her anything. No questions are off limits, she said.

“My favorite moment is when a child asks when God was born,” Poteet said. “The idea of infinity blows their mind every time!”

“Some of the kids get really deep and ask great questions,” Gardner said. “One boy, who was not a member of the church, spent an entire evening in that room. Another asked for a Bible at the end of the evening and told me he couldn’t wait to start reading it.”

In January 2019, Mt. Lebanon added a “Family Fired Up Friday” on the third Friday of each month, which is open to parents as well as kids. One year after launching, adult attendance has been as high as 120.

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Matt Dolphi is one of many volunteers who make Fired Up Friday happen each month.

“As Fired Up Friday has grown, we realized that while we were reaching kids, they had a much better chance of growing in faith if we reached their parents too,” Poteet said. “This smaller outreach has given us more time to build relationships with parents. Out of these relationships we are seeing incredible spiritual growth in people who had never even owned a Bible before.”

Nicole Parker, who has four children between the ages of five and ten, has been attending Family Fired Up Friday since it started.

“It’s really nice to be able to invite friends to participate in an event that is free, faith-based, and family-oriented,” Parker said. “Even with a range in ages, everyone can find activities that they enjoy.”

Sam Kudumula and Bindu Nallepogu, another family who regularly attends Family Fired Up Friday, saw the event as an opportunity for personal evangelism. They are originally from India, and have invited their Hindu neighbors to join them on Friday nights.

“They were so interested and touched by the experience,” Nallepogu said. “We were amazed that they showed up to listen to the Bible stories and wanted to come again. Our prayer is that God would open their hearts to the truth. We want to know their needs and minister to them.”

Gardner noted that a key to the success of Fired Up Friday has been the volunteers who give their time to make the program run smoothly and share the love of Christ.

“Without them we could not do this,” she said. “They have really connected with the children and their families, and are so committed to this ministry.”

FiredUpFridayDThe church is seeing growth in other areas as a result of the Fired Up Friday program.

Gardner recently started a Bible study in her home on Monday evening with some of the mothers. She continues to think about how to build deeper relationships.

“A lot of these families are not comfortable with church and do not have good memories with church,” she said. “We’re breaking down the walls and showing them that church can be fun and can be a safe place to learn about Jesus.”

Poteet and the Mt. Lebanon staff continue to explore ways to reach the community. They are considering a “Theology on Tap” group that would meet at a local restaurant, parenting classes, and a prayer and worship time that parents could attend while their children enjoy Fired Up Friday.

“The outside world is coming to us,” Gardner emphasized. “We’re being called to leave our walls and get to know our community. God is blessing us by bringing families to us, so we’re going to swing the door wide open and welcome them.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

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Mt. Lebanon’s Associate Pastor, Steve Aguzzi, delivers the message during “Family Club” at Mt. Lebanon’s monthly Family Fired Up Friday event.

Revitalization Matching Grants the latest ‘Two Minute Topic’

 

In the third installment of the EPC’s video series, “Two Minute Topics,” Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri discusses Revitalization Matching Grants, by which up to $10,000 is available to help strengthen an EPC church’s health and impact for the Kingdom. Revitalization is a component of the EPC’s strategic priority of “Transformation.”

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

The videos are available at www.epc.org/news/twominutetopics, as well on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80.

Networking, sharing best practices highlight EPC pastors gathering

 

500-999Pastors2020Fifteen pastors of EPC churches with membership of 500-1000 discussed a variety of topics relevant to their ministries and settings at their annual gathering, held January 15-17 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando. The group meets each year for networking, fellowship, community, and sharing best practices.

Evangelism in a post-Christian culture, campus security, church planting, adult spiritual formation, worship design and staffing, self- and staff care, and a variety of other topics stimulated healthy discussion.

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Michael Flake

Michael Flake, Pastor of Lake Forest Church in Davidson, N.C., attended the meeting for the first time and said the peer group provided “a lot of encouragement.”

“We brought our questions and batted them around together,” he said. “I leave here with a lot of great ideas to be more effective in ministry.”

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Carolyn Poteet

Carolyn Poteet, Pastor of Mt. Lebanon EPC in Pittsburgh, Pa., said the gathering is a “high priority” on her annual calendar.

“I always get great advice, but more than that it’s a community that’s supportive and prayerful and intentionally seeking to help the Church flourish and to help each other flourish,” she said.

Others attending were Jeff Chandler, First Presbyterian Church in Bakersfield, Calif.; Scott Farmer, Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, Calif.; Mark Fuller, Trinity Church in Plymouth, Mich.; Bryan Gregory, Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.; David Henderson, Covenant Church in West Lafayette, Ind.; Rob Hock, Southport Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Ind.; Scott Koenigsaecker, Sequim Community Church in Sequim, Wash.; Peter Larson, Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Ohio; Tony Myers, St. Paul’s EPC in Somerset, Pa.; Doug Resler, Parker EPC in Parker, Colo.; Tom Ricks, Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo.; Jeremy Vaccaro, First Presbyterian Church in Fresno, Calif.; and Richard White, Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C.

Monthly EPC budget report: December fiscal-year-to-date PMA contributions slightly ahead of December 2018, below 2019 projection

 

As of December 31, Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions received by the Office of the General Assembly since the July 1 start of the EPC’s fiscal year total $1,253,044. The amount is $3,764 more than the $1,249,280 received from July 1 through December 31, 2018.

While PMA contributions are up slightly in fiscal year 2020 (FY20) compared to FY19, year-to-date contributions are $56,865 (4.3 percent) below the $1,309,909 budgeted projection to support the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

“PMA support is the lifeblood of the EPC as a global movement of Evangelical Presbyterian churches, and I am thankful that so many of our congregations keep PMA in their ministry budget,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Unfortunately, December PMA support was our lowest since 2013. It’s obviously too soon to know if this is the beginning of a trend. We certainly hope not, and perhaps our churches felt the effects of the changes in tax law regarding charitable contributions which in turn could have affected their ability to contribute to PMA in December.”

Of the $1,253,044 received, $250,609 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $3,261,372 in designated gifts were received in the first six months of the fiscal year. This total was $276,591 (9.3 percent) higher than the $2,984,781 in designated gifts received from July 1 through December 30, 2018. Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s holiday offerings.

Of the total, $2,615,816 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $645,556 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.

“We are still rejoicing over the major gifts we received in December, including $250,000 for church planting and $50,000 for one of our World Outreach global workers,” Jeremiah added. “Non-PMA gifts were very strong in the first half of the 2018-2019 fiscal year because of donations to the ‘Welcome Back, Andrew!’ Fund and in response to Hurricane Florence. Yet we are very blessed that designated giving in 2019 has exceeded that.”

World Outreach receives $50,000 gift

 

The ministry of a World Outreach global worker who serves in a secure location overseas will benefit from a $50,000 gift the EPC received in December. The donation was the second major gift of the month, following a $250,000 contribution for church planting.

“It’s such a blessing to see what happens when believers respond to our Lord’s prompting,” said Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach. “All of us in World Outreach are confident that many people will come to Christ through this very generous gift.”

Linton also noted that the gift, which was donated through the global worker’s secure online donation form at www.epcwo.org, was made prior to the announcement of the gift for church planting.

“God is obviously at work in the hearts of His people,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “It’s exciting to think about the possibilities of how God is using the EPC through the gifts of generous donors to grow God’s Kingdom.”

To make a secure online donation to the EPC or EPC World Outreach, go to www.epc.org/donate or www.epcwo.org/support, respectively.

EPC receives $250,000 donation for church planting

 

An anonymous donor has gifted the EPC a quarter of a million dollars for church planting. The Office of the General Assembly received the online donation in mid-December.

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said the gift was unexpected.

“Obviously, it is extremely exciting—and humbling at the same time—to see this tangible evidence of God’s working in this fellow believer’s life,” Jeremiah said. “When Pat Coelho, our Director of Finance, called me to say we had received this gift through our online donation system, I was surprised and grateful for this affirmation of EPC church planting. When I called Tom Ricks to tell him about it, he had much the same reaction.”

Jeremiah said he did not know the donor, who has asked to remain anonymous.

Ricks, chair of the EPC Church Planting Team, said the group has already began prayerful discussions on how to best invest the funds in denominational church planting efforts.

“This generous gift is confirmation of several things,” Ricks noted. “First and foremost, the Holy Spirit’s leading one of our fellow disciples to give so generously to help create multiplying congregations. Secondly, it is a result of our entire denomination responding to Jeff’s vision for church planting. Thirdly, I believe it is our Father’s confirmation we’re going in the right direction.”

He added that the gift “is God’s challenge to us for even greater efforts and more generosity in sharing the gospel of our Lord Jesus through new EPC congregations all across our country. We’re just getting started!”

Interested in making a year-end gift to the EPC, even if it is less than $250,000? Go to www.epc.org/donate.

Colorado Springs media help EPC Chaplain Endorser spread Christmas cheer for local food bank

 

For the sixth consecutive year, EPC Chaplain Endorser Mark Ingles has leveraged his home Christmas display to benefit the Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado. Local media outlets have taken notice. KOAA News5, KKTV 11 News, and Fox21 News all broadcast Ingles’ efforts, and he will appear live on Fox21’s “Living Local” program on December 26 at 9:00 a.m. MST.

To watch “Living Local” online, go to http://www.fox21news.com/live.

Ingles’ initiative to help local families through the food bank has grown significantly—in his first year of collecting non-perishable food in 2014, 165 pounds were dropped off. By 2018, the haul was nearly 1,650 pounds. His goal this year is 2,000 pounds.

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Philadelphia-area churches collaborate to relieve medical debt

 

A group of churches in Delaware County, Pa., recently joined forces to provide an extraordinary Christmas gift for their neighbors. Together they raised more than $21,000, and working in partnership with the nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt, eliminated more than $2.2 million in medical debt for 584 local families.

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Paul Bammel

Paul Bammel, Pastor of Bethany Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and Stefan Bomberger, Pastor of Manoa Community Church, have been the driving force behind the initiative. Both men are relatively new to the area. Bomberger became pastor of Manoa in June of 2018, with Bammel following seven months later to serve at Bethany. About a mile and a half separate the two churches in the western Philadelphia suburb of Havertown.

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Stefan Bomberger

“When I arrived, Pastor Stefan invited me to attend a group of evangelical pastors who regularly meet together for prayer and encouragement,” Bammel said. He had been part of a similar group in Kansas, where he served as Associate Pastor for Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita for nearly eight years. That group had grown from a gathering of church leaders into a citywide prayer movement. “I wondered if the Lord might do something similar here to draw churches together to pray for our city and county.”

Around the same time, a group of churches in the city had decided to come together for a worship gathering they called “Havertown United.” Bammel and Bomberger liked that name and the idea of congregations in Delaware County teaming up for a shared purpose, so they began to call their unified prayer group “Delco United Church.”

The partnership with Delco United Church and RIP Medical Debt came about after Bammel saw a Facebook video, in which a Kansas church held an “RIP Medical Debt campaign for Easter” in lieu of spending money advertising their Easter services. Bammel brought the idea to the Delco United Church prayer group, who enthusiastically embraced it.

“We had been talking about being proactive in our community and looking for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbors,” Bomberger said. “So often as the church we sit waiting for people to come to us, rather than going out and finding the problems that exist right around us. My hope for my own church was that we could learn to recognize those problems and look for meaningful solutions.”

Bammel called RIP Medical Debt about the possibility of partnering together.

“They told me that here in Delaware County there’s about $500,000 in medical debt that’s available for purchase,” he noted, “and in Philadelphia there’s about 16 or 17 million dollars of medical debt that can be purchased.”

Since 2014, RIP Medical Debt—a New York-based 501(c)(3) founded by two former debt collection executives—has worked with donors to abolish more than $1 billion in medical debt. The organization is able to purchase qualifying medical debts in bundled portfolios for pennies on the dollar, so the philanthropic impact is unparalleled. One dollar donated relieves an average of $100 of medical debt.

Bammel learned that a group or organization would need to contribute at least $15,000 in order to participate. Then a letter would be sent on behalf of those who donated to inform the recipients that their medical debt had been paid in full.

The pastors were excited about the possibility of sending letters to the families who received the gifts.

“We wanted the campaign to have a connection to the gospel,” Bomberger noted. “This was a way for us to demonstrate how Jesus had paid our debt for sin, and as a reflection of that, we were going to pay it forward by canceling their medical debt and relieving them of their burden.”

So on September 20, Manoa Community Church hosted the inaugural Delco United Church worship and prayer gathering. More than 200 people from ten different churches of various denominations attended the service, and Manoa’s deacons served as hosts.

An offering was received for the RIP Debt campaign, and participants gathered into groups to pray for the families whose debt would be relieved. An organization called Chosen People Ministries provided drinks and desserts for a time of fellowship after the worship service.

“The Delco United Gathering was a very special time,” said Dave Woods, who attended the service. “I immediately felt a bond with those in the pews I didn’t know because we share together in God’s grace.”

Bethany member Leslie Rindone said her favorite part of the service “was talking and praying with several Villanova University students sitting behind me. Their enthusiasm was infectious for this kind of community outreach, and they expressed their love in such a joyful way.”

The goal for the offering was $15,000, which Bammel and Bomberger hoped would cover the debt relief package for all of Delaware County. But by the time the campaign ended, they had raised more than $21,000—enough to relieve debt in their own county and in a portion of Philadelphia as well.

“As a lifelong Presbyterian, I haven’t seen a whole lot of ‘playing well with others’ among us,” Bammel noted. “But this was a wonderful way for Presbyterians to unite with the capital-C church and do something well together. I loved getting to meet so many brothers and sisters in Christ and I look forward to building those relationships.”

Bammel and Bomberger hope that this is just the beginning for Delco United Church. They are already looking toward having another night of prayer and worship.

“It will be interesting to see where the Lord takes this thing,” Bammel said, “Really, we need to all get on our knees and seek the Lord’s leading.”

They also hope that more churches will follow their example and help their neighbors who suffer under the bondage of medical debt. Information on starting a campaign to eliminate medical debt is available at www.ripmedicaldebt.org/contact. Select “Start a Campaign” to initiate the process.

Daniel Lempert, Director of Communications for RIP Medical Debt, emphasized that debts of necessity, like medical, are plaguing hard-working Americans. “No one chooses to get sick or have an accident,” he said. “This campaign is helping to make things right.”

He added that the most rewarding aspect of the Delco United Church campaign has been “hearing from those whose debts have been relieved about how this act of charity has renewed their faith after years of being hounded by debt collectors.”

“This was a big win for us, and a shot of encouragement for our churches,” Bomberger said. “Instead of just dreaming about possibilities, we came together and actually made it happen.”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

December Jeremiah Journal offers helpful thoughts on stress for busy Christmas season

 

In the December 2019 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah brings Christmas greetings and offers some helpful thoughts for church leaders about managing stress.

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

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

Bellefield Presbyterian Church partners with University of Pittsburgh to feed hungry students

 

BellefieldChurchby Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

When Pastor Josh Brown looks out of the window of his office at Bellefield Presbyterian Church, he can see eight of the dormitories on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, commonly known as Pitt.

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Josh Brown

“I believe that God strategically placed us here to be a light to the college community,” he said. “In fact, even though our church is primarily made up of young professionals and families, many of them are here because someone at Bellefield invested in them when they were in college.”

So in the fall of 2014 when the university’s Dean of Students, Kathy Humphrey, approached Brown with a partnership proposal, he was eager to listen.

“The leadership at Pitt had become aware of a problem with food insecurity among their student population,” Brown said. “Many students were paying for school on their own but still living with parents, so they didn’t qualify for financial assistance.”

That left many of the university’s nearly 34,000 students choosing between paying for books and tuition or buying food—and much of the food that they could afford was lacking in nutritional value.

So Humphrey decided to set up a food pantry through PittServes, the university’s community service arm. That’s when she approached Brown and asked if they could house the pantry in Bellefield’s basement.

“At the time there wasn’t a suitable on-campus space, and retail spaces weren’t economically feasible,” explained Ciara Stehley, who serves as the Pitt Pantry Coordinator. There also was a concern that the stigma of being food insecure might keep students from coming to a location on campus.

Brown took the idea to his congregation, who welcomed the idea with open arms. Church members pitched in to clean out the basement, which was being utilized as a youth space, and Pitt Pantry officially opened during the spring 2015 semester.

At first, the pantry was stocked only with non-perishable items, but soon grew to include meat, dairy, and fresh produce. The university purchases most of the food from the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, and the rest comes from charitable donations by members of the community.

Pitt Pantry is open Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Appointments also are available every weekday for anyone who cannot get there during its open hours. The pantry is staffed entirely by volunteers, and any Pitt student, staff, or faculty member whose income is less than 150 percent of the poverty line is eligible to shop at the pantry. As many as 80 people visit the pantry each month, which Stehley said was an increase of about 50 percent since the pantry opened in 2015.

Jason Ong, President of the Pitt Pantry Student Executive Board, says that volunteering at the pantry has opened his eyes to a hidden issue on his college campus.

PittPantry

University of Pittsburgh students collected donations for the Pitt Pantry at the annual “Pitt Make a Difference Day” in October.

“I have learned that food insecurity does not have one face,” he said. “Any individual could face choosing to purchase a mandatory textbook over a meal. Beyond this, I am grateful to have met such a welcoming community at the Pantry.”

Brown occasionally encounters pantry shoppers who are curious about why the church is willing to help.

“I never want anyone to feel like the food comes with strings attached,” Brown said. “When someone inquires why we are doing this, I ask them if they were hungry that morning. And when they tell me they were, I say, ‘Then we want you to have the food you need so you won’t feel that way tomorrow.’”

Students receive food from the pantry with no obligation, though Brown hopes those who participate will recognize that Bellefield is a church that cares about students.

“We post information about our services and let them know that they are always welcome,” Brown said. The church recently added a third worship service at 5:00 p.m. on Sundays with acoustic music and a relaxed, reflective format in hopes that it would be an additional draw for students.

“Our congregation has been very supportive of the pantry,” Brown said. “We want to be aware of opportunities to reach out and connect with the community and be sensitive to the Lord’s leading through the channels that He creates.”

Brown believes the Pitt Pantry is one of those channels. He and another Bellefield member serve on Pitt Pantry’s board, and several student leaders in their Cornerstone ministry for college-aged young adults serve as volunteers.

In return, the university has also reached out to Bellefield. A few weeks ago, more than 40 PittServes students showed up at the church for a day of weeding and cleaning.

The Pitt Pantry also has brought regional awareness to the issue of food insecurity and prompted other universities to begin similar programs for their students. Stehley emphasized that being able to influence others is an exciting part of her work.

“Getting to share our successes and challenges at conferences across the country and support other schools as they improve the food needs of their students is one of my favorite things about my role,” she said. “As we move toward a holistic and proactive approach to supporting our students, we’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. But we realize that we have a continued responsibility to strive for creative and systems-focused solutions.”

Brown hopes that Bellefield will continue to play a significant part in helping to find those solutions. He said the partnership with Pitt has enabled them to meet the needs of their community more effectively together than either could have done individually.

“I believe it’s a blessing for those around us to see a local congregation and a large university working together like this,” Brown said. “Our hope going forward is that we can continue to find ways to partner with the university to care for students in ways that reflect the love of Christ and model an effective, collaborative partnership.”

World Outreach plans three summer mission projects in U.S. for 2020

 

What are you doing this summer? EPC World Outreach is planning three mission projects among non-native people groups in the United States in July 2020—one designed for families and two intended for high school students. Each of the six-day experiences are in partnership with a local EPC church.

WO-ExperienceWO2020ExperienceWO: El Cajon will take place July 5-10 in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, Calif. Participants will share the love of Christ among the local Muslim population by teaching English classes, leading children’s programs, and visiting homes in the neighborhood.

“This is a great trip for families or groups, as well as individuals,” said Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach. “You’ll learn how to spark conversations that create opportunities to share the gospel with our Muslim neighbors.”

Participants will stay with host families from the EPC’s Covenant Church in San Diego. The registration deadline for church groups is January 15. For more information and to register, see www.epcwo.org/experiencewo.

WO-SMJ2020Summer Mission Jam returns in 2020 with two opportunities for high school students. Participants will serve among Afghan, Bangladeshi, Iraqi, Pakistani, and Yemeni peoples in ethnically diverse areas of Hamtramck, Mich., July 13-18, and Sacramento, Calif., July 20-25.

Students are scheduled to spend the afternoon each day serving residents by picking up trash, cleaning yards, and leading outreach games and activities in a local park. In the evenings, students and leaders will gather for worship services and reflect on the experiences of the day.

“Summer Mission Jam is an amazing opportunity for churches to invest in their students as they learn more about Muslims and how to interact in a way that is loving and beneficial for the Kingdom,” said Shawn Stewart, World Outreach Mobilization Coordinator. “In the mornings and afternoons, students will learn how to ‘bridge the gap’ with Muslims and be the fragrance of Jesus through instructive teaching and service opportunities in the local community. In the evenings, we’ll worship together around God’s Word, inspiring students to grasp that it is worth their life to follow Jesus…no matter the cost.”

Participants in Hamtramck will stay at Wayne State University in Detroit. Those who choose the Sacramento option will stay at the EPC’s Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento. The registration deadline for either event is January 15.

For more information and to register, or see www.epcwo.org/summermissionjam.

If you have questions about any of the World Outreach summer mission projects, contact Stewart at shawn.s@epcwo.org or 828-273-2009; or Cassie Shultz, World Outreach Church and Agency Liaison, at cassie.s@epcwo.org or 407-930-4313.

Monthly EPC budget report: Per Member Asking up 5 percent from November 2018

 

As of November 30, Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions received by the Office of the General Assembly during fiscal year 2020 (FY20) total $944,416. The amount in the first five months of the EPC’s fiscal year is $45,352 more than the $899,064 received through the same period in fiscal year 2019. The fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.

While PMA contributions are up 5 percent in FY20 compared to FY19, year-to-date contributions are $2,704 (0.3 percent) less than the $947,120 budgeted projection to support the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

“I am very thankful for the continued support of the EPC through Per Member Asking,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “These PMA contributions demonstrate commitment on the part of our pastors and churches to the connectional system of being ‘Better Together’ that’s so central to who we are as a denomination of Presbyterian, Reformed, evangelical, and missional congregations.”

Of the $944,416 received, $188,810 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $2,326,763 in designated gifts were received in the first five months of the fiscal year. This total was $109,351 (5 percent) higher than the $2,219,412 in designated gifts received from July 1 through November 30, 2018. Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s holiday offerings.

Of the total, $1,970,103 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $356,660 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.

“As important as PMA support is to how we are able accomplish our mission and vision as a denomination of churches, PMA is only about 40 percent of total donations to the EPC,” Jeremiah noted. “I am very grateful for the trust that our church leaders and congregation members place in us that their financial contributions to the EPC will be used wisely to grow the Kingdom.”

Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Erie, Pa.) launches ministry relationship in Monterrey, Mexico

 

Through the EPC’s fraternal relationship with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (INPM), Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pa., has formed a ministry relationship with Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd National Presbyterian Church) in Monterrey, Mexico. The northeastern Mexican city of more than 4.5 million residents is about 200 miles west of Brownsville, Texas.

The seeds of the relationship were planted in November 2018, when Redeemer Pastor Douglas Kortyna and his wife, Sara, were visiting Monterrey.

“We wanted to worship with fellow Presbyterians while we were down there visiting family,” Douglas said. “We found El Buen Pastor and connected with their pastor, David Cruz.”

RedeemerPresMonterrey

From left, Douglas Kortyna (Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pa.), David Cruz (Pastor of Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana El Buen Pastor in Monterrey, Mexico), and Jim Moelk (retired Presbyterian pastor from Erie, Pa.). 

Through their new-found friendship with Cruz, the Kortynas began a dialogue about potential future mission trips to Mexico. After discussing a variety of possible ministry opportunities, the pastors agreed that the best fit for a first mission trip would be theological education.

“It is a universal truth that Presbyterians throughout the world love their theological education!” Douglas exclaimed.

In November 2019, the Kortynas and a retired Presbyterian pastor from the Erie area, Jim Moelk, and his wife, Jaye, traveled to Monterrey and taught on a variety of topics.

“I taught on trinitarian worship and Reformed sacraments,” Douglas said. “Jim taught through the pastoral epistles with special attention to ‘guarding your conscience,’ while Sara taught the woman’s group at El Buen Pastor on the topic of trinitarian prayer.”

In addition, the group from Redeemer learned how their Mexican counterparts were engaged in church planting.

“The church has started what they call ‘five in five,’” Douglas said. “They are working toward planting five churches within a five-year time period.”

Cruz led the Pennsylvania contigent on tours of three of the Monterrey congregation’s five current church plants.

“We were blown away,” Douglas said. “What church plants five churches in five years? Yet every time El Buen Pastor hits a certain threshold of members, they plant a church, commission the team they establish, and commit to supporting them financially.”

He explained that the El Buen Pastor congregation has “a Kingdom focus and is not interested in just building up one congregation. I couldn’t help but think we should host pastors from Mexico to help teach future EPC church planters some of their strategies!”

Kortyna hopes the November trip is just the start of a fruitful partnership.

“We would love to host a team from El Buen Pastor,” he said. “There is much to learn from our Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ while mutually serving one another, and I firmly believe we should participate with them in the missional work of church planting in Monterrey. Anyone interested in joining us is welcome to contact me at pastor_kortyna@rpcerie.org.”

Two Minute Topics video series continues with child protection policies

 

In the second episode of the EPC’s video series, “Two Minute Topics,” Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri emphasizes the importance of child protection policies and introduces a variety of helpful resources for helping churches protect the children they serve. The resources are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchprotection.

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

The videos are available at www.epc.org/news/twominutetopics, as well on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80.