Home At Last

The months of February to June 2020 will go down in the annals of church history as containing a number of milestones in the progress of Christ’s kingdom in Atlanta.

Pastor Frank and I had been ministering in an impoverished area of Atlanta since April 11, 2010, starting with a sidewalk Bible study on one of the most dangerous intersections in the country.  Now, almost ten years later, here we were, with a core group of faithful attenders, baptizing adults and children, and preparing for communion the following week.

Plans for this day had begun months earlier, when Pastor Frank started preaching a sermon series on baptism and the Lord’s Supper, so that everyone would understand the biblical basis for, and the important ramifications of, these precious sacraments.

As already reported, in March 2019, Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery had voted to promote Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship, as we were previously known, from a preaching station to a mission church.  This meant that we would be offering church membership and administering the sacraments.  Pastor Frank and members of the TGB (temporary governing body, acting as a session) took their time in preparation in order to make sure that these new privileges were undertaken decently and in order.

The first thing was to invite anyone in our congregation who was interested in becoming a member, to attend mid-week evening classes on not only the rights and privileges of membership but also the duties.  They needed to understand what they would be doing if and when they took membership vows.

Pastor Frank held eight sessions, the first one being an introduction and overview, and then seven sessions, each one covering one particular vow.  The participants had “homework” to be completed during the week, answering questions which he had written on the meaning of the vows.

On February 9th, we witnessed the baptism of two adults and five children.  Pastor Frank officiated, assisted by Pastor Steven Work (TGB Moderator) and Elder T.J. Pattillo.

In conjunction with the baptisms, the two adults along with three people who had been baptized in the past took communicant membership vows, with the children becoming non-communicant members.

One other person, Andrew Jubera, had been scheduled for baptism but had been involved in a serious bicycle accident nine days prior to the date, had been hospitalized for several days, and was not able to be there.  However, he was present the following week, the day of our first celebration of the Lord’s Supper, at which he took membership vows, was baptized, and partook of communion all in the same service.

Taken during fellowship time following the baptismal service:

Wynter, Miyani, and Hannah

 

Michele with Tawana and four of her children

Miyoshi, who has attended almost from the beginning, excited to become a member of Atlanta RPC

In mid-March it became obvious that we may have to put a temporary hold on holding worship services in person.  Apart from the federal, state, and local coronavirus guidelines, we were concerned about the low quality of health of many of our local folk, including kidney disease, HIV, and other immunocompromised issues. There were other concerns, too, such as the impossibility of maintaining distancing while transporting people in our cars. Accordingly, we made the decision that we would not meet the following week, March 22nd.

Pastor Smith encouraged people to listen, on that day, to Dr. Joel Beeke’s sermon on dealing with the pandemic, and also to call each other so that some form of fellowship could be engaged in.

By the following Lord’s Day, Pastor Frank had emailed or texted people with the information to call in to a telephone conference call at 3:30pm.  We engaged in a cheerful time of fellowship followed by Pastor Frank bringing a short message on Psalm 56.  We followed the same format the following Lord’s Day and then, on April 12th, started meeting by Zoom video.  Times of fellowship and spiritual exercises continued on in this way for a further three weeks, with either Elder T.J. Pattillo or Pastor Smith bringing the message.  We were encouraged by the number of participants during this time, ranging from 14 to 21, with an average of 17.

On May 10th, we met in person for the first time in eight weeks.  We decided that, for the first time back, we would meet outside on our porch and grass.  Even though the temperature was only 72⁰, the sun was shining directly onto the porch and there was precious little shade, so, one by one, people moved inside, to a cool spot from which they could still hear the preaching.  We had fifteen people join us in person, with another four listening in and participating by speaker phones.  T.J.’s family listened on his phone, and church member Jimmie Snider listened on my phone, and, as he told me afterwards, sang the Psalms with gusto (“. . .could you hear me?”, he asked me later).

T.J. Pattillo, his wife Nancy, with Hannah and Sawyer

Jimmie Snider

Who IS that masked man?

Miss Amy, pretty in her coffee filter mask

There is another exciting piece of news, which has to do with the purchase of the building that we had been leasing since October.  At the beginning of December, we had just a bit over $15,000 in our building fund. In my article towards the end of that month, I noted that we then had $20,000, and I asked your help to raise at least a further $30,000 in order to have a 25% down payment on the $200,000 building.   Well, the Lord was more gracious than we could have thought or imagined.  By the end of May we had received over $75,000, and had been granted a 3% mortgage by the Trustees of Synod for a loan of $150,000.  On June 1st we had all of our paperwork in hand (title insurance, proof of property insurance, etc.) and were able to close on the building.  In addition to the loan, Synod awarded us a $10,000 grant at closing, increasing the total amount of building fund moneys to close to $86,000. This means that in six months, we had raised more than $70,000!

The day of the closing, however, was not without drama.  There were technical issues regarding getting the mortgage loan funding actually transmitted to the attorney’s office.  By God’s grace, however, the money arrived as we were actually in the process of heading down to the closing, and from then on everything went smoothly.

Because of the gracious giving, the extra donations will allow us to do some much needed repairs, improvements, and even a new sign.  We would also like, by means of future donations, to be able to pay off the 20-year mortgage ahead of time.

So, a big THANK YOU to you all for your most kind and gracious gifts.  We stand amazed at the Lord’s blessings, and look back at His awesome providences in bringing us this far.

Pastor Smith signing the purchase papers

Pastor Smith with the seller, Elder Ernest Gates

We now have three big causes for celebration, deserving of a party when we are able to do so!  The first is one that had been planned by Michele for her young Sunday School class of 5 to 10 year olds, on March 22nd, for having memorised the Ten Commandments—not a summarised version, but the entirity of Exodus 20:1-17.  And that turned out to be the first day that we did not meet for church in person.

The second is the ten-year anniversary of our ministry in downtown Atlanta which would have been celebrated on April 12th.

The third cause of celebration, will be in gratitude to the Lord for the finalisation of the purchase of our own building, planting, more firmly, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in the heart of this great metropolis.

We need your help!

As you may know, Pastor Frank and I have been ministering in a poor, crime-ridden area of Atlanta for almost ten years.  Throughout that time, I have been writing articles to send to people and churches who are interested in this ministry, who pray for it and, in some cases, support it financially.  I have shared stories about life in “the Bluff”, and I have tried to keep everyone updated with our activities and progress (in spite of several months offline recently due to malicious hacking).

In all these years, by means of your faithful giving, the Lord has met all of our needs.  Thus, we have never made a direct financial appeal to our friends and supporters.  However, now, the time has come, and I pray that you will carefully and prayerfully consider the following appeal.

As reported in my most recent Penny’s Pen, following months of effort to find a new location when the lease on our previous building expired, we were eventually led to a building which had been built as a broom factory, but has been used as a church for twenty years.  The congregation which owns the building is elderly and is planning to dissolve in the near future.  The property, which is in a prime location, has been appraised at $250,000, but we have an informal agreement to purchase it at $200,000.  However, unless we exercise that option when the lease expires at the end of March 2020, chances are good that the property will be sold out from underneath us.

At the moment we have about $20,000 in the building fund, either in hand or pledged by the end of the year.  We need to raise at least another $30,000 in the next three months, in order to be in a good position to be approved for a loan from our denominational Trustees of Synod.

We have three requests of you:  PRAY;  GIVE;  SPREAD THE WORD.

First, please do PRAY.  Looking back over the last ten years, we can see how the Lord has directed our paths every step of the way.  And we also know that, without his leading and guiding hand, the advance of the ministry would not have been possible.  Looking to the future, we need to spend much time on our knees.

Secondly, please GIVE.  No gift is too small.  (For that matter, no gift is too large, either!)  Given the urgency of the situation, we are hoping that there will be churches or individuals willing to give special, one-time gifts of maybe $500, $1000 or more.  But we would gratefully receive more modest amounts, perhaps $10, $20 or $50 on a regular, on-going basis.  Please be assured that whatever you give will be greatly appreciated.

(It has been suggested that giving a donation in the name of somebody who already has everything is a great idea for the holidays!)

Thirdly, please SPREAD THE WORD about this unique ministry in the heart of Atlanta.  In addition to “liking” our Facebook page, you can also refer family and friends to it, where they can watch a short video.  You can also refer them to our website (atlanta-rpc.org) which contains much information about our history and vision.  You can even spread the news in the old-fashioned way, by word of mouth, and encourage friends, family, and groups to adopt us for their own giving.

There are more than 500 people on this email list—if everyone on the list forwarded this information to just ten others, and everyone of them donated just $10 each, we would raise $50,000 just like that!

Some of you have been readers of “Penny’s Pen” for about a decade—that is, since our ministry to “the Bluff” began in 2010.  Some of you have only recently heard about us.  But whether a long-time reader or a recent one, we trust that you have come to appreciate our work among “the least of these” in Atlanta, and would want to give generously to help us to plant a permanent foothold there.

As our Lord said to the apostle Paul, speaking of wicked Corinth, “I have much people in this city”.  Please help us to purchase this building so that we have a stable situation from which to continue to bring the light of the gospel to another wicked city, Atlanta, which is in such desperate need of that light.

Thank you.

“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it”.   Psalm 127:1

P.S. There are three ways to donate:

Via a crowd-funding website (Click here)

Via PayPal:  Click on the Donate button on our website home page (atlanta-rpc.org)

Via check: mail a check, payable to Atlanta RPC, to 5830 Millstone Drive, Cumming, GA 30028

 

It’s Been a Roller Coaster Ride!

May 10th, 2019

As reported in my most recent article, one of the most exciting things that took place this year was that Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship was granted Mission Church status on February 28, 2019 at the Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery meeting.  One result of the change is that people can now become members in the church, and we can observe the sacraments.  This was something that we had been working towards and praying for, for several years, and was a cause of great celebration and thankfulness to the Lord.

The following day, March 1, Pastor Frank accepted the call to be the organizing pastor.  The men of presbytery do not normally applaud the acceptance of a pastoral call, but in this case they did, given the fact that the work had begun as a preaching station almost ten years earlier, and the process to become a mission church had taken about five years.  There was a sense of excitement and relief that we had finally met all the requirements of the presbytery.

The men who had been serving on the Atlanta Commission were relieved of duty, with thanks, and a TGB (Temporary Governing Body) comprising the elders (as individuals) on the session of South West Ohio Reformed Presbyterian Church (SWORP), led by Pastor Dick Knodel, took on this responsibility.   When it was noted that South West Ohio is a long way from Atlanta, Pastor Knodel quipped, “It’s not that bad really.  After all, we’re located on the same street: I-75!”.  And, of course, Pastor Steven Work, one of the SWORP elders, who is also the moderator of the TGB, has a really good reason to head south, namely that his daughter, Miss Amy Work, is deeply involved with us as the children’s coordinator.

The installation service was planned for Friday, May 10th, and the TGB came down to conduct the proceedings.  We were gratified to have a large number of people in attendance, including representatives from the PCA, OPC, ARP, and the Free Church of Scotland Continuing.  With 55 people there, we were at maximum capacity.  Everyone, except for some of our local residents who needed to be picked up, had arrived early and were seated well before the start time of 6:30pm.

However, as Pastor Frank was still picking people up at 6:22pm, and was approaching an intersection in our residential area, a car coming from the right failed to yield at a stop sign and Pastor Frank collided with him, hitting his rear end and pushing the back end of his car into a telephone pole.  One of our guests drove me to the site of the accident so I was able to go back to the church and inform everyone of what was happening.  Naturally, everyone was upset and concerned for Frank.  Pastor Work prayed a beautiful prayer which helped us all to be calm.  He then suggested that the group pray and sing Psalms while things got sorted out.  Another of the SWORP elders, Tim Vincze, led the singing, while my daughter-in-law, Bethany, and I went and picked up those who still needed a ride to get there, as did Elder Warren Jackson, who had led the Atlanta Board of Advisors while we were still a preaching station.After the police had taken the details, including citing the other driver with “failure to yield”, Frank was able to drive the van back to the church, and the service started about one hour late.  Pastor Knodel preached the installation sermon, Elder Tim Vincze prayed the installation prayer, Pastor Work gave the charge to Pastor Frank, during which he warned him that he and the congregation would be under increased spiritual attack, which had already been demonstrated that evening, and Elder Scott Damerow gave the charge to the congregation.

Pastor Steven Work

A full house

Sean McPherson and son Samuel

Miyani

Adrienne

Felson

During the fellowship time following the service, Miss Amy Work, our Children’s Coordinator, presented faithful attender, Miyoshi, with a birthday surprise.

A rather dramatic ending to an already dramatic evening occurred as people were fellowshipping outside of the building, when the Moderator fainted.  After being treated at the hospital, he was released with no serious issues.

 

May 12th

Two days after the installation, following the evening service, Pastor Frank led the congregation in a discussion about whether or not to change the name of the church.  Following a lively and respectful discussion, the name Atlanta Reformed Presbyterian Church was adopted, with the intention that it be shortened to Atlanta RPC when appropriate.

June 27th

As also mentioned in my recent article, in terms of practical considerations, our most urgent need was for a new meeting place.  We were told by the owners of the duplex in which we have been meeting for more than 4 years that when our lease is up (originally at the end of August, but now at the end of September) they will be upgrading the building and turning it into an airbnb.  This led to months of scrambling to find a new location.

On June 27th, Pastor Frank and I travelled into downtown Atlanta to meet with one of many local pastors with whom he had spoken on the phone or met in person.  Pastor Gates had indicated to Frank that the church may well be willing to rent, and was even looking towards the possibility of selling the building.   Pastor Gates had led the small group of parishioners at The Beginning Walk of Faith Church for many years and is ready to retire and disband the group.  We met him there along with his wife, son, and a deacon and his wife.

The building, originally built as a broom factory, is in need of a lot of TLC, with ceiling damage, some rotten timbers and a musty smell.  But it is of a solid cinder block construction and therefore, we are told, has good bones.  Neither the worship area nor the social hall has windows.  There are rooms for the two children’s Sunday school classes and a cry room.  Discussions regarding the cost of rental began that afternoon, after which Pastor Frank and I carried on to the duplex for a Bible study, held in the evening.

On the way home following the Bible study, heading north out of Atlanta on a busy highway, Pastor Frank lost control of the car, which seemed to take on a mind of its own, causing us to swerve in one direction all four lanes of traffic, then back the other way.  At this point we were perpendicular to the traffic and slammed into the concrete centre divider head on.  We bounced back, spun around, and finally came to a stop.

I was able to open the door on my side and crawl out.  Frank had to clamber over to my side to get out.  The fact that we weren’t hit by any other cars is a miracle.  Frank was not badly hurt, only a cut lip from hitting the steering wheel, which needed stitches, and a mild whiplash.  I was not as fortunate.  I had a severe whiplash, and bruised ribs and chest wall from the seat belt, which is OK seeing as it saved my life.  We hit the wall so hard that our glasses flew off our faces.  I couldn’t move most of the upper half of my body including my neck or head, so I wasn’t able to see the two police cars, fire engine or ambulance when they arrived.  I got scooped up and taken to the hospital and had a couple of x-rays and CAT scans on my neck and back which revealed that nothing was broken.  I was out of commission for a while, unable to attend church for five weeks, but am just about back to normal now, having undergone several weeks of physical therapy.

I must say that my husband was a wonderful nurse, cook, dish washer, cleaner upper, grocery shopper, cat parent, etc., etc., during the time that I was unable to perform these functions 😊  Our family brought a week’s worth of food, and we received many cards and well-wishes.  Miss Amy wrote down the duties that I normally perform at the church, and everyone stepped up to the plate and, between them, got everything covered.   Frank and I couldn’t help but keep thanking and praising the Lord for our escape from serious injury.  It was remarkable that we hit no other cars as we swerved back and forth, that no-one hit us, and that therefore no-one else was injured.

Meanwhile, the hunt for a new location was put on hold.

July 10th

The moderator of our Temporary Governing Body, Pastor Steven Work, had come down from Ohio in order to preach for Frank on the first two Lord’s Days in July.  On the evening of one of the days that he was in the area, he and his wife Jeannie met up with Frank at The Beginning Walk of Faith Church along with our two children’s Sunday school teachers and three of our regular attenders to take a look around it. 

August 4th

We were saddened to hear from Sean McPherson that he and his family would be moving back to Pennsylvania, and that their last Sunday with us would be August 4th.  We have been extremely thankful for the McPherson family and so grateful to have them with us for three years.  Sean served as deacon, having been ordained in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and he did a masterful job teaching the adult Sunday school class.  He even preached on the first Lord’s day following our car accident, turning his Sunday school material for that day into a sermon which was, by all accounts, extremely well done.

Seeing as Sean and Anne desired to transfer their membership to Atlanta RPC before leaving, it was arranged that they, along with Pastor Smith, Penny, and Amy Work, would take public vows of membership on their final day.  At the end of the evening everyone joined in a group photo.

September 1st

For several years now we have been praying for and advertising for an intern to come along:

1) in order to be of assistance in diaconal work such as financial giving to those in need; in helping to bring local residents to church and take them home again (there are so many, from different directions, that we are unable to start Sunday school or the service on time); in assisting me with dealing with unruly people who wander in off the streets or who disrupt the service; and anything else that may come up.

2) whom Pastor Frank can take under his wing and mentor, to the point that the man might be sufficiently interested in the ministry that he might look at the possibility of assuming total responsibility when, for example, the time comes for Pastor Frank to retire.

Our prayer has been answered in the form of TJ Pattillo, who, along with his wife, had been a member of Northminster Reformed Presbyterian Church.  He was ordained years ago in the PCA as a ruling elder. He has taken some seminary courses and desires to take more, with the goal of becoming a pastor himself one day.  He is committed to Presbyterian doctrine and worship and therefore appreciates our denomination’s distinctives.

TJ started worshipping with us starting in mid-August, and, with the permission and approval of our Temporary Governing Body, came on board as a member of the staff on September 1st.  Following the departure of our regular Sunday school teacher, TJ has assumed that role.   As you can imagine, we are very delighted and thankful that we can welcome this additional member to our staff.

September 13

Pastor Frank continued looking into possibilities for a new location for the church as soon as he was able, but none of the options seemed as viable as the “white building”, as we now referred to it.  (As opposed to the “pink building” that we looked at, which really was painted pink, possibly because it had previously been led by a female minister.)

It had become evident that the pastor of the white building was more interested in selling it as quickly as possible rather than renting it.  He arranged for an appraisal to be done, which came back with a value of $250,000.  This seems rather high for a building that needs so much repair, but it has to be admitted that it is partly because of the location.  It is only two short blocks from a multi-million-dollar park that is being created, which, in addition to normal park features, will also have statues of African-American heroes, water features, and a tower up which one can climb to view the city skyline.  In addition, it is four blocks from the Georgia World Congress Center; about two-thirds of a mile from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and a MARTA train station; about a mile from the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, and CNN Center; about a mile and a half from Bobby Dodd Stadium in the heart of Georgia Tech; and within two to three miles of several HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) institutions, including Morris Brown College, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College.

After discussing possibilities such as “renting with option to buy” with the pastor, and with time running out on us, it was agreed that we would rent the building for six months for $1,000 a month (which is only $50 more than we pay at the duplex) during which time we would start fund-raising to see if it was feasible that we purchase the building one year from the start of the lease, for $200,000.   The Beginning Walk of Faith Church congregation would continue meeting there in the mornings for a while, until they disbanded.  During that time, we will continue meeting as we have been since the end of June, namely for Sunday school in the late afternoon and worship in the evening.

Pastor Frank and I met with the pastor, his son, and others at the building on Friday, September 13th, signed the agreement, gave the pastor a check for October’s rent, and were given the keys.  We have already started moving our church furniture, Bibles, psalters, etc., to the new building and will begin services on October 6th.

Prayer Requests

  • For a smooth transition to the new building.
  • That many people in our new area will come and join us for worship.
  • That we will be able to raise funds to be able to purchase the building at some point during the coming year.
  • That we will be able to correct some of the more egregious issues regarding the condition of the building.
  • For safety in all our travels.

Catching Up

(The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)

April 2019―First of all I must apologise for my lack of articles for many months.  As you may know, our website was hacked in a rather malicious fashion, and, even though it is partially repaired, the most recent Penny’s Pen that can be accessed is from May, 2014!  The latest information about bringing the website back on line fully is that we anticipate that it will happen soon.

We therefore decided that, in order to keep you updated with events here, we would occasionally send my articles as email attachments to everyone on our list of correspondents.

The Good

As reported last year, we started a morning service in addition to our evening service on February 4th.  The average morning attendance for the 48 weeks between starting the two services and the end of the year was 14, and the average evening attendance was 23.  During that time period only five times were there more warm bodies in the morning service than the evening.  This move resulted in an interesting phenomenon, namely that, even though the services, with rare exception, are identical (along the lines of a church having two identical morning services), an average of about 6 people each week chose to come to both, thus making the average total attendance 31 after subtracting overlaps.

As soon as we started morning services, we started serving lunch to those who attended, along with anyone off the street who came in looking for a meal, and we delivered meals to any of our regular attenders who were unable to attend because of sickness.  Those who come in the evening still get their snacks to enjoy during fellowship time or to take home.

Shortly after that, a gift of large print Bibles was made to the fellowship, for which many of our people have been enormously  grateful.

The third Sunday in February 2018 we had the pleasure of welcoming six members of the Selma (Ala.) Reformed Presbyterian Church to our evening service.   André Pickens preached a very powerful sermon, and we raised the roof singing psalms in four-part harmony.  It was glorious.  Just as our guests were leaving to go home, there were gunshots very near our building, so the ladies and gentlemen of Selma maybe got a little more of the Bluff experience than they had anticipated!

That same morning, William (Bill) McCoy had been baptized.  William had started coming to church in April 2017, having been invited by our semi-resident diaconal assistant, Robert, who had also been witnessing to him.  Living in a van and undergoing the final few weeks of chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer, Bill lapped up all that he could learn about Christian doctrine, and asked the kind of probing questions that led to his coming to a point that he could fully articulate the gospel.  With his chemotherapy treatments having ended, he started to look more healthy and his hair started to grow back but then he discovered that the cancer had reappeared, this time in his brain.  William started failing rapidly, and it was obvious, with slurred speech and confusion, that things would only get worse.  He therefore urgently requested that he be baptized while his brain still functioned.  The Atlanta Commission pulled out all the stops to figure out a way that this could be achieved even though APF was only a preaching station with no authority to conduct baptisms. Thankfully, with RPCNA approval, we were able to arrange to have Southbridge Community Church, a congregation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Hanover Presbytery) in Savannah, Georgia, to receive him, and we then were able to conduct his baptism at APF under the auspices of that congregation.

William McCoy, flanked by Robert LeBus and Pastor Frank

The baptism took place on February 18, 2018, and William went to be with Jesus less than four months later.

Adult Sabbath School has been humming along with an excellent series on People of the Bible by our deacon, Sean McPherson.   Unlike many adult Sabbath School groups, there is a lot of lively interaction and Sean has to be ready, constantly, to field all sorts of questions.  He is always prepared to take his time in making things clear, and is even willing to travel down sanctified rabbit trails for a while if it is of benefit to the assembled group.

One unusual event that took place last year was a workshop entitled Ask A Lawyer which was held on a Saturday morning in May.  A colleague of Pastor Frank’s, a business law professor from Georgia Gwinnett College, Dr. Vlad Bursuc, talked to interested people from our group about points of law with which they may have had negative experiences or were concerned about.  These ranged from their rights while being questioned or arrested by police, to how to complain about landlords unwilling to make repairs, to how to deal with unhealthy and unsanitary conditions in their apartments.  He also covered the best way to apply for and achieve welfare, disability income, and other matters.  He left plenty of time for questions, and had a number of printed hand-outs for people.  It was considered a great success, and Dr. Bursuc has indicated his willingness to return and hold another such workshop.

In an effort to get together socially with our brothers and sisters at the Birmingham (Ala.) Reformed Presbyterian Church, we held a psalm-sing with them in December last year.  A large group turned out for the event in Birmingham, and Pastor Frank and I rented a mini-van to take ourselves and five other people to represent APF.  We had a wonderful time, with one of our teenage young ladies even requesting Psalm 23B during the requests time, and another teenage young lady admitting afterwards that she was too shy to make the request but that she wanted to ask for 68E, showing that the young people in our group are really starting to appreciate the psalms.

Several of our young people, even down to almost the youngest of them, are starting to sing some of the psalms without the need of the psalter. They have memorized selections such as 100A, 106A, and 134B, and, according to their mother, can even be heard singing them around their home.

Still a little young to join in singing the psalms, although he does a good job of beating time, just like his mother Anne, our precenter, Samuel McPherson looks like a promising Sunday School teacher, sitting in his father Sean’s chair before the start of the adult class.

The most exciting thing that took place recently was that APF was granted Mission Church status at the Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery meeting February 28th – March 2nd, 2019.  This is something that we had been working towards and praying for, for several years, and was a cause of great celebration and thankfulness to the Lord.

Celebration cakes provided by Miss Amy Work

One Thursday in February this year, when Pastor Frank was in Atlanta visiting some of our folk, he spontaneously suggested getting together for a Bible study that evening, and he ended up with 14 people in attendance!  Those studies have now turned into membership classes, with each lesson delving into the meaning of each of the seven vows of church membership.  At the same time, he is continuing his sermon series on the sacraments which he had already begun, but with extra emphasis now that many of our people are looking to the possibility of becoming communicant members.

We continue to have Sabbath school classes for all age groups, with faithful teachers for the older children, the younger children, and adults.

The young Sabbath school class giving a presentation before the evening service

Miss Amy Work continues to invite our two teenage girls over to her apartment once a month to engage in some food preparation followed by instruction appropriate for young ladies.  On one occasion she was joined by her parents, visiting from Ohio.  Her father, Rev. Steven Work, preached for Frank the following day and on one other occasion recently, and her mother, Jeannie, helped teach the girls how to prepare a healthy evening meal.

Jeannie, Diamond, Miyani and Amy preparing apple pies

Miss Amy and Jeannie brought a meal for lunch after the service the following day, and the apple pies turned out brilliantly, providing a wonderful dessert:

The Bad

Given the nature of the ministry, and the fact that people whom we don’t know are often invited in off the streets, we have to be careful about making sure that our valuable items are safely secured.  Since we moved into the duplex nearly four years ago, there have been four occasions on which phones were stolen.  Amazingly, on three occasions they were retrieved when we realised very quickly what had happened (on two of those occasions, we were able to give chase by means of the phones’ GPS tracker).  The first time that happened it was a phone belonging to a Korean-American lady who was visiting and had brought others who were visiting the States from South Korea.  It was all rather exciting, with two of our men giving chase in a white pick-up truck and finally cornering the thief in a back yard behind a convenience store.

In April last year it was my phone that was taken, and when Pastor Frank got near the lady who had stolen it and called it, and it rang, she took off running, throwing things at him including rocks and bottles, two of which smashed near his feet.  A tree branch actually hit him in the chest.  Frank called the police and me to his location and the three of us continued the chase.  She had thrown the phone away but by continuing to call the number we eventually found it. She has tossed it behind a large dumpster located on vacant ground between the backs of houses and an apartment complex.  The thief was let off with a warning.  On the third occasion we were pretty sure that we knew who had taken it, and simply tracked her down near the church building.

Another interesting  incident occurred on a Saturday morning in May, when Frank had been asked to speak at a neighbourhood gathering designed for distribution of food and clothing, and for former drug/alcohol addicts to give their testimonies.   At one point I was driving back to the event from the church by myself when I came up behind a car from which both the driver and passenger were firing into the air, scaring to death four young men who were running, weaving and trying to get away from the shots.  It didn’t look as though the shooters were trying to kill, just to scare–probably a drug deal gone bad.  I turned off onto a short street and pulled over but then heard local residents shouting and begin running indoors or diving for cover.  That was because the car and its quarry had turned around and were coming up behind me, so I slid down in my seat to make sure I was below the level of the car windows.  And I prayed.   I called Frank who came, along with a couple of armed security guards, but the perpetrators got away.

As you can imagine, we try to keep our building as kid-proof as possible, but somehow, a canister of Drano and a spray bottle of bathroom cleaner containing bleach, found their way under the sink of the bathroom used by the little kids’ Sunday school class.  In January of this year, a six year old boy found them, took the tops off both containers, and poured the contents into each other and into the sink, thus producing a cloud of thick green gas that emanated from the drain.  The Sunday school teacher (Miss Michele) picked up the canister which was too hot to handle, dropped it into the sink–and immediately a small explosion came out of the top.  She called out “gas!”, at which point, our deacon, Sean, who was teaching the adult Sabbath School class, tore upstairs, grabbed the canister with a wad of paper towels, flew back down the stairs, out the front door, and tossed it as far away from the building as he could.  The child had made chlorine gas, which, after we opened doors and windows, dissipated quickly.   Even though Cl2 is very dangerous and potentially fatal, no one, by God’s grace, was seriously hurt (though Miss Michele did have numbness on her tongue for a few days).

And The Ugly

As might be expected in a ministry such as APF,  there is never a dull moment, and disruptions can occur even during the worship service.  Things such as:

–  One Lord’s day in August Pastor Frank invited a lady in off the street during the Sabbath school time.  The lesson was on Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  “Whom will you serve?”.  One of our regular ladies asked a question about how to witness to others, and the visitor became extremely agitated.  She started talking drivel, about how you can worship any higher power as long as it’s not a jar of mayonnaise.  As our teacher and Frank tried to explain to her that Jesus is the only way to be saved, she kept arguing over the top of them.  Eventually she started to walk out but changed her mind and came back and sat down with the obvious intention of continuing to disrupt the lesson.  She continued to talk over the teacher, accusing him of not knowing what’s in the Bible, and, thankfully, did eventually leave.   Our blind lady, who is a true prayer warrior, was sitting right in front of the visitor and became very upset, saying that it had been a demon that was sitting behind her.  Our eyes, of course, are not open to the spiritual warfare that is taking place over the Bluff, but occasionally we do get glimpses of it.

– Also in August, Pastor Frank had invited to church a lady he had met in Burger King.  He called her on Saturday evening to arrange to pick her up the next morning.  For about a full half an hour she did nothing but hammer him about how churches don’t do anything to help people.  So he tried to bring the conversation to an end and she said, “that’s it?”  So she obviously expected something.  It ended up with Frank saying he’d pick her up so that she could have a hot shower and lunch at the church after the service the next day.  However, the effort to find her was extremely time consuming, as she was not giving clear direction as to where she was.  When we finally found her, she said that she saw a spider crawl into her bag and she wasn’t going anywhere with that spider in there.  We had to give up.  Our relationship with this lady continued for some weeks until we became pretty confident that she was never actually going to come to church.

– In September a very strange man came into the service, peering around at everyone in a most creepy fashion and making movements that made everyone uncomfortable.  His antics eventually became so disruptive during the sermon that two of our men tried to coax him out, but he wouldn’t be moved.  Not long afterwards, however, he left on his own.

Finally

As many of you know, Pastor Frank and APF have been very warmly received and appreciated by the residents of the English Avenue and Vine City districts of Atlanta, where the Bluff is located.  As mentioned in a previous article, City Councilman Ivory Lee Young and his wife Shalise had developed a very friendly relationship with Frank over a period of several years.  We were therefore most saddened when Mr. Young became gravely ill and passed away.  Pastor Frank was honored when asked to participate in Councilman Young’s funeral.  In attendance were the current mayor of Atlanta, several previous mayors, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Congressman John Lewis, police and fire commissioners, and too many ministers to count.  The presence of these dignitaries was a token of the esteem in which Councilman Young was held.  Pastor Frank was able, briefly, to comment on Councilman Young’s faith and compare him with other Christian statesmen in history, specifically Alfred the Great, Edward VI, and Abraham Kuyper.

We were also saddened by the passing of RPCNA elder and friend Bob Shapiro, who went to be with the Lord in September following a lengthy battle with cancer which suddenly worsened in the final few weeks.  Bob and his wife Patty and daughter Abby were supporters of APF and attended when they could, his final worship service attendance with us coming less than three weeks before he died.

Prayer Requests

Please pray that the Lord would give the leaders at APF:

– Wisdom―to know how to deal with some very difficult issues that arise within the congregation.

– Stamina―that we would, like the apostle Paul, be willing to spend and be spent.

– Resilience―in the face of spiritual attack.

“All of our own strength is weakness, and all of our own wisdom is folly”  (John Owen).

Please pray that our people would come to understand the meaning of church membership and be willing to work towards becoming qualified to participate in the Lord’s Supper and, where necessary, to be baptized.

Please pray for those of our number who are suffering physical health issues, and for those who are suffering from depression.

In terms of practical considerations, our most urgent prayer request is for a new meeting place.  When our lease is up at the end of August, the owners of the duplex in which we meet will be upgrading the building and turning it into an airbnb.  We therefore have less than five months to find a new facility.  It would appear that we will have to find a temporary place while we continue the search for something permanent.

Having been ministering in Atlanta now for a total of ten years, and, as of April, in the Bluff for nine years, we reflect on the many ways in which the lord has blessed us, and we look to him to meet our needs.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths”  (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The Atlanta Six

July 2018―Two years ago, in June 2016, Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship had the pleasure of welcoming to The Bluff a group of seven volunteers from one of our Indiana churches who styled themselves the Atlanta Seven.  It comprised seven people who each shared a heart for downtown ministry and wanted to be of service to us and the people to whom we minister.   Fast forward two years and now, in July 2018, we were thrilled to welcome a group of six volunteers, five from Indiana and one from Kentucky, which we dubbed the Atlanta Six.  One person from the Atlanta Seven, namely McCheyne McNamee, the son of elder Gary McNamee who led the 2016 delegation, was now a member of the Atlanta Six, as was Jenny Decker, the sister of Joy Decker, another member of the  2016 team.

The leader of the team was Parker Hilliard, who recently came under care of Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery, which was his first step towards achieving his career goal of becoming a pastor.  Joining Parker, McCheyne, and Jenny, were Josh Erney and Trinity Myers, the thirteen year old daughter of Captain Chris Myers who, with his family, spent two years supporting our ministry by travelling the hour and a half to Atlanta from near Fort Benning for worship services almost every Lord’s Day.

The sixth member of the team was Tré Cranford, who had been ordained in another denomination, but is now a ministerial candidate in the RPCNA, spearheading a new church plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

It so happened that we had been thinking about replacing the carpet in the duplex, which we would tie in with a Vacation Bible School.  So plans began to bring a group of young people to Atlanta, and Parker took the lead, with the Columbus, Indiana, session overseeing the effort.

When the team rolled into the driveway of our home on Saturday evening, July 14th, we were delighted to find that Jenny had completed a college course in interior design and was the perfect person to guide everyone else through the somewhat daunting task of carpet replacement.  Prior to the team’s arrival, some initial work was done: Pastor Frank ordered 1100 square feet of random carpet planks which are similar to carpet squares, and which, unlike wall-to-wall carpet, do not need professional installation.  Because of their being random, they were very cheap.  Also prior to the team arriving, Pastor Smith arranged for two of our local attendees (along with a husband and wife whom he knew as a result of his teaching at Georgia Gwinnett College who volunteered their time) to remove most of the grungy, worn out and badly stained old carpet, which speeded up the floor prep on the Monday morning.

Before Monday arrived, however, the team played an important part in the Lord’s Day services.  Tré preached for us both morning and evening, and Parker led the adult Sunday School class.  Everyone introduced him or herself, interacted well with our congregation, and was very quick and ready to deal with any and all issues that arose, from keeping children under control during worship, to talking calmly while witnessing to a variety of people including a homeless man dealing with schizophrenia as well as drug addiction issues.

On Monday morning the floor planks, tied up in bales just like hay, were picked up by Pastor Smith and McCheyne in a rented pick-up truck.

After the planks were hauled into the duplex, Jenny and other team members arranged them from a random mass into colour-coordinated piles so that they could be laid in attractive arrangements. Here are Jenny and Trinity starting on the worship room:

Simple patterns went down pretty quickly, but more sophisticated patterns took much longer. Here are some examples of finished rooms:

While Jenny, along with Trinity and Josh, worked on the carpeting on Tuesday, Pastor Frank, Parker, Tré, and McCheyne went door-to-door in pairs distributing about 500 flyers advertising VBS. In the afternoon they elicited the help of two of our regular young ladies, Miyani and Diamond, both of whom enjoyed the experience.

Between putting down the new flooring and starting VBS, the team took an afternoon off and drove to a local beauty spot, Amicalola Falls, which, at 729 feet, is the tallest waterfall in Georgia and the fourth highest east of the Mississippi. Here is Josh’s obligatory “selfie”:

Vacation Bible School, on Thursday and Friday afternoons from 4:30 to 7:00, went very well, with 42 people in attendance on both days.  On Thursday there were 25 children and 17 adults, and on Friday we had 24 children and 18 adults.  We include adults in our VBS because a number of our local people enjoy taking advantage of any opportunity to learn.  The team prepared for this by having Parker lead an adult class on how to study the Bible, while the other members prepared lessons for the children which revolved around a skit each day.  The adults wanted to see the skits, so their classes were held during the children’s game and craft times.

Each day, the whole group warmed up with some singing, including a song based on Joshua 1:9: Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

On Thursday they, somewhat hilariously, told the story of Moses pleading with Pharaoh to “let my people go”, complete with representations of the plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea.  Emphasis was put on the fact that the Lord was sovereignly in control of these events.

There were also games and crafts for the children, and Chick-Fil-A kindly provided chicken sandwich boxed dinners for thirty of the attendees.  Pastor Smith brought in Burger King cheeseburgers to make up the difference in numbers.

Friday also went well with a continuation of the adult class, and a different story for the children’s class, this time depicting Joshua and the Battle of Jericho.

Much effort was put into creating a brick wall comprising lunch bags stuffed with newspaper which would fall down at the appropriate time:

Tré was the narrator, and he made sure that the children understood the significance of this historic event.

It is difficult to express the appreciation we feel for the Atlanta Six and what they achieved in one week. Not only did they perform, exceptionally well, all that we asked of them, but whenever they became aware of anything that needed doing such as touch-up painting, or cleaning, or repairing all kinds of things, they just got on with it, including laying fresh new vinyl flooring in one of the bathrooms. They even dealt well with providential mishaps and irritations such as a flat tire.
Everyone on the team worked extremely hard, putting in very long hours, on one occasion pulling into our driveway at two minutes to midnight!

We give thanks to the Lord for sending us such a talented group of young people who showed such tenacity and creativity in getting so much done.  The result was an amazing renovation of the interior of our building, which had become quite shabby and was not a good example to our flock or our neighbours.

In addition, the word of the Lord was faithfully preached through another servant’s voice, and instruction in how to read the Bible was given.

Parker, Josh, McCheyne, Jenny, Trinity, and Tré were a wonderful example to the people to whom we minister in terms of their godly conversation, their warmth and even the fact that they remained cheerful, showing a real sense of humour throughout the whole week.  We are also grateful to the Columbus session for their generosity in using a portion of their missions budget not only to cover the team’s expenses, but also the cost of the new carpet!

We have now negotiated the terms of our lease for the coming year, and the owner of the duplex has agreed to a monthly rent of $950 per month instead of the $750 we have been paying.  This is still less than the going rate for the area of $1100 per month.  This lease, however, will expire at the end of August 2019, at which time, given the gentrification of the area, the owner may decide to upgrade the facilities and change from having monthly renters to weekly renters at $1,000 per week!  So please be in prayer for us that, between now and then, the Lord will lead us to new facilities and, if it be his will, to something which we can purchase as our own.

Christ’s Dominion Over The Bluff

By Dr. Greg Burgreen

May 2018―As soon as my daughter Lily and I stepped into the meeting room of the Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship, we anticipated that this would be an experience involving the conventional and the unconventional. We were standing in an L-shaped living space in one side of a rented duplex. The room had rows of mismatched chairs arranged to accommodate 50 or so attendees.

The setup was quite unconventional and did not fit the standard RP model of worship. Or, did it? Both sections of the room had its chairs oriented to face the centerpiece of this unconventional sanctuary: the pulpit. Front and center in this affair is clearly the preached Word of God. How conventional and traditionally Reformed.

We were warmly greeted by Penny Smith, who said that her husband, Frank, was out and about collecting folks from the neighborhood. Dr. Frank J. Smith is the minister of this outreach effort, which was begun in 2010. Soon enough, Frank arrived and called Lily and me down to take a 9-cent tour of the area. I climbed into a dilapidated 12-passenger van that had seen its better days long ago. “Ding” sounded a hotel service desk bell that had been duct-taped to the dash of the van. Frank explained since the van often was filled with noisy children, eight dings meant to buckle up and two dings meant “QUIET DOWN!” There were only us three in the van, and two of us were too wide-eyed to require two dings.

Frank chauffeured us through the 20-block communities of English Avenue and Vine City. One easily could spot deep decay in the physical and cultural aspects of the area. As we moved through endless stop signs and traffic lights, Frank informed us that this area of Atlanta is known as the Bluff.

As we drove, I noticed the people we passed. They did not walk; they shuffled. It was as if they were burdened with ankle shackles. Frank was a nonstop tour guide speaking of the area’s history and local interests, including the life and fate of C.J. Johnson, a college baseball star years ago. To the east of the Bluff, separated literally by one street, were several of the icons of success and grandeur in Atlanta, including the Georgia Tech campus and the now-imploded Georgia Dome adjacent to its impressive replacement stadium that sports a huge Mercedes-Benz emblem. This stark division was a classic urban example of the Haves and the Have-Nots.

In typical Southern tradition, the Bluff is dotted with different houses of worship on every corner, including a building run by a Nation of Islam organization faithful to the original founder and another building run by those loyal to the Farrakhan-led Nation of Islam. Most of the churches are attended by Bluff outsiders and have essentially abandoned the local community.

All along our circuitous route Frank was sharing that “we worshiped there, we held Bible studies there, I preached in that church, I know this pastor well, so-and-so lives here.” Frank knows the Bluff.

In fact, Frank has invaded the Bluff. I began to realize that Satan owns most of the Bluff, and the destroyer has done his job well. Destruction and decay are all around. I also realized that the driver of this dilapidated van is an ambassador of King Christ and a visiting member of the victorious kingdom. This human representative of the true owner of the Bluff had arrived several years earlier and was now freely driving all over it, recounting how the King’s ownership of the Bluff is being exhibited.

For example, the Atlanta Fellowship has openly worshiped in the elements on the front steps of the formerly majestic, but now burned-out St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Fellowship has held open-air Bible studies in the Vine City Park. The Fellowship was invited to hold its meetings in a storefront building in the center of the Bluff by its Muslim owner. Frank was invited to preach in a local Baptist church in order to demonstrate that racial epithets spoken against him were without merit. So, as ridiculous as it seemed, the railroad-engineer-cap-wearing, large sunglasses-bespectacled, duct-taped-bell ringing driver of this trashed van is and has been exercising Genesis 1:28 spiritual dominion over this satanically decimated patch of Atlanta. Pastor Smith has been actively and boldly redeeming the claims of Christ in the Bluff through the calling and power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

After making her own rounds to collect folks, Penny called Frank to ask if we should start the Sunday school as Frank, now without us, was making his second collection run, being slightly delayed by our last-minute tour. The L-shaped living room was now bustling with 35 or so people. And what a group this was. Half white, half black in numbers. People from every background. Children running to and fro. Infants in the arms of mothers. Apart from the Smiths, I counted at least four other faithful helpers: Amy Work, Sean and Anne McPherson, and Michele Haag. These helpers are solid young men and women who have heeded a call to invest their talents and energy into this ragtag group.

Miss Amy and Micah

Sean led an absolutely masterful Sunday school class, eliciting much interaction from the congregation, who answered well and asked solid questions, such as about the relationship of God’s sovereignty and our free will. You would know the questions well—they were the very questions we all have asked at some point along our journeys toward theological understanding. This group is being grounded in biblical truth with a Reformed theological rigor. Upstairs, the children were being catechized and infants cared for by the squad of faithful helpers.

After Sunday school and a short time of loud and lively fellowship, the worship service began. All parts of the various family units were in attendance. I appreciated that Pastor Smith intentionally placed corporate recitation of weekly memory verses and Westminster Shorter Catechism questions prior to the formal call to worship. This was so that any present, including the children, could participate by reading the questions to the group, who responded with the answers, and no consciences were bound in reciting non-inspired catechism passages during formal worship. The service itself was exactly what one would expect in a Reformed Presbyterian church: preaching, singing, and prayer saturated in Scripture. Basic, simple, and sufficient. Highly conventional.

The worship service was also highly unconventional. There were some who understood the principles of the Reformation, the regulated liturgy, and the practice of exclusive psalmody. But there was also a second group who had no background in these matters, who likely have never uttered the word soteriology, and who would likely not know what the acronym EP stood for, much less be able to debate the propriety of exclusive psalmody in corporate worship. Yet here in the worship service in this L-shaped living room were these two groups of people sitting under the same ministry of the Word, singing the same psalms, and jointly praying as one people before the Lord.

Lily and I were warmly welcomed by the Smiths and the faithful helpers. But the extent of the hospitality soon ended, not because they ceased to be hospitable, but because we felt the need to give rather than receive hospitality. As those who have tasted the goodness of the Lord and experienced His kindnesses, Lily and I felt the burden and the pleasure of welcoming, engaging, and serving the various people in this crowded room of our Father’s house.

Some of these folks are the forgotten ones of our society. They needed to feel welcomed. They needed to know that they have a standing and hearing within this small room in which the Lord of hosts was present with us for worship. Were there distractions during the service? Plenty! Movements, crying, whispering. Some of the movements were from the faithful helpers and Penny, who were unobtrusively attending to the needs and mishaps of the people in order to keep the service proceeding orderly and quiet. When I say quiet, I’m excluding the amens and other affirmations heard during the sermon.

The pastor faithfully reminded the people of their biggest problem: it is not their relationships, not their housing needs, not foreign aggressions, but it is their sins before a thrice holy God. One realized many were indeed listening as evidenced by the sudden silence. At various crescendos of the sermon, such as when the pastor was relaying the words our Lord declares in His legal action of justification, “not guilty, not guilty,” all noises in the room ceased. One could hear a pin drop. And one could hear the relief and gladness of the people as hushed interjections of “amen,” “praise God,” and “thank you, Jesus” were voiced. This relief, gladness, and joy also translated in a mighty way into the singing from this group. It was loud. It was robust. It was heartfelt. I could not hear myself singing, and I was singing for all I was worth.

This was perhaps the most alive worship service I have ever experienced. There is something amazing occurring in Atlanta at the Bluff. This is no liberal, feel-good-about-my-selflessness social justice ministry. This is no unbiblical exercise of Marxist liberation theology.  This is the pure-and-simple gospel of Jesus Christ being proclaimed to a forgotten, discarded, and destroyed community. It is the gospel preached to all men everywhere.  The message is delivered with faithful words, but the message is also communicated in practice via the Fellowship’s genuine embrace, love, and service to the people of the Bluff. The message delivered in the power and uncompromised truthfulness of the Holy Spirit. The worship is confessional. The worship is Reformed. The worship is regulated. The worship is pure Acts 2 worship.

In the midst of gifted students at Georgia Tech who are cramming advanced material to excel on their Monday morning exams, in the midst of the throngs of faithful fans cheering the Atlanta Falcon football warriors in the shiny new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in the midst of international businessmen who are strategizing future fortunes and powers across the street from the Bluff, on every Lord’s Day, there in the small L-shaped living room of the Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship, for a few short hours and perhaps, for some, for eternity in the next age, the roles of the Haves and the Have-Nots are gloriously reversed. I pray that those in the Bluff who have responded to the call to “come out of her” and bend the knee to the true owner of the Bluff will come to fully understand this grand truth and great mercy. May our Lord be pleased to continue to bless the efforts being invested in downtown Atlanta.

Our guest writer is Dr. Greg Burgreen, a professor at Mississippi State University.  A ruling elder in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, he is a member of the Birmingham (Ala.) Reformed Presbyterian Fellowship.  The above article, describing his experience in Atlanta when he first visited APF in November 2017, appeared in the RPCNA’s denominational magazine, the Reformed Presbyterian Witness, in its January-February 2018 edition.

Blessings and Encouragements

February 2018―We have had a very exciting start to the New Year, with an average attendance of 34 which is more than 25% higher than this time last year.  A significant part of this increase in numbers has come from newcomers right here in the Bluff.

A new and exciting development is that on the first Lord’s Day in February we launched a morning worship service in addition to our regular afternoon/evening Sunday school and service.  With seventeen in attendance in the morning, and twenty different individuals coming in the evening in addition to four “overlaps” which included Pastor Frank and myself, we ministered to thirty-seven people with a total attendance between the two services of forty-one.

Another new development has been the activity of one of the members of our fellowship, Robert, who spends a number of days in Atlanta each week, and has been enjoying talking to residents of the Bluff as he is out and about.  He has engaged many people in conversation, even to the point of taking the hungry for a meal and sharing the gospel with them. Over the months this has led to a number of people starting to attend worship on the Lord’s Day and continuing on a regular basis.  One of those men recently professed faith in Christ as a result of the witnessing of this man, and under the preaching of Pastor Smith.

Robert has now begun a mid-week meeting for men from the area, and at the conclusion of the first one, they decided to meet again the next morning for breakfast and continue the conversation.  He engages in this type of activity almost every day that he is in the neighborhood, thereby exercising a kingdom presence there.

One man who meets with Robert regularly was someone that he had known from twenty-three years ago when he owned a motorcycle shop and this man was one of his customers.  He ran into him providentially when he was driving in the area and now they are working together to reach more of the neighborhood for Christ.

We have been extraordinarily blessed by encouragement from a number of people who have visited for worship whilst passing through the area.  One of those men, a member of a group of Reformed believers in Birmingham, Alabama, which is desiring to be taken under the care of a presbytery in the RPCNA, wrote a very descriptive account of his visit which, along with photos, was published in the January/February issue of our denominational magazine, the Reformed Presbyterian Witness.  For those who do not receive this magazine, we intend to post the article as the next Penny’s Pen.

An encouraging note came from Chandler Fozar, a truck driver passing through from Texas, who wrote the following on his Facebook page:

I want to tell you about the Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship, a congregation of the RPCNA.  APF is in one of the worst neighborhoods in Atlanta.  To say it is a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood would be an understatement.  Dr. Frank Smith, a tall, slender, highly educated yet remarkably humble man is the pastor who took me on a ride along.

Every week, he and another member drive through the community picking up people in an old, worn out van and a personal vehicle.  “While I was picking up a person there,” he said, “I heard pop, pop, pop, and I turned around and saw men exchanging fire directly behind me.”  The tour continued, “That’s where one member was stabbed and stumbled down the street to his death.”  One of the people who helps told me the pastor helped rescue one lady from the neighborhood from the arms of her drug dealer.

 It worships in one side of a duplex in the same neighborhood.  (I promise you I know people who couldn’t bring themselves to cross the threshold and grace the church with their presence.)

There is no seeker friendly stuff here, no dumbing down the music or the message.  The pastor faithfully leads worship like he would anywhere else. Do you know how cool it is to see an old guy with a hardened expression, dreadlocks and a cane sing a Psalm a’ capella, and sing well!

Chandler asked us if we would provide a link on our website to his prison ministry, which we are happy  to do.  It is as follows:  http://www.hopeprisonministries.org

Yet another encouragement has come from our new friends the Hollo family.  Ben, who recently retired from the Air Force and now flies for Delta Airlines, was excited to discover an RPCNA ministry in Atlanta where he is frequently passing through. Though living in Florida, their entire family was able to worship with us one Lord’s day in February. We have met with Ben on multiple occasions both in worship on the Lord’s day and mid-week for lunch and we have all rejoiced at the encouragement and blessing God has provided us in each other. Ben writes the following:

Having worshiped in Stillwater, OK and been one of the original families in the Enid congregation, moving to different churches with the Air Force I have long desired to sing the Psalms in worship. Therefore, I rejoiced at the Lord’s provision and the opportunity to worship at APF. As many have mentioned the church is a unique mix of diverse social, racial and economic backgrounds. I was thoroughly impressed by God’s work in the lives of the poor, needy, fatherless, and downtrodden people who worship there as well as the love for the body of Christ and faithful service of those driving in from the surrounding area. The adult class before worship was remarkably simple presenting foundational biblical truths to spiritual babes. But then Dr. Smith’s preaching was full, expositing God’s word in a manner that would convict and encourage any lifelong believer yet with a clarity that everyone in the room could understand and attain to. And what a sweet thing to sing the Lord’s song together. This is the gospel in action, and praise God for the work he is doing at APF. Also, if you have the chance, encourage Frank and Penny as they do the dirty work of putting Psalm 41:1 in action!  Psalm 74:21.

As a final encouragement let me finish by sharing with you the comment from a lady visiting from out of state:

I was so happy to have been able to visit and see what God is doing in Atlanta through the RP work there. My heart was captivated by the evidences of his mercy in those in attendance from the Bluff and surrounding area. I won’t soon forget those faces and their stories- and the sight and sound of them all, including all those precious children! singing Psalms to God with such reverence and joy. It broke my heart with joy and hope. I trust my memories will stay refreshed through future visits.

As much as by the “regulars” from the area who attend, I was captivated by the quiet commitment of those who are helping you there; the children’s workers and those who help with transport, and help with a hundred other things, I’m sure.

. . . May the Lord bless and bring more and more increase from the labors there; “hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee; send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion.”

Amen

The Italian Chef, the English Chef, and the French Chef

January 2018―It takes a village to raise a child. I am part of the village for the girls in my Sunday school class.  I only see Miyani (age 16) and Diamond (age 12) once a week for a few hours, but an idea has been bubbling around in the back of my mind for a way that I could do more to address specific needs and weaknesses I observed.  I wanted an opportunity to show the girls a healthier way to eat and how to do some basic cooking.  I also noticed that practicing table manners would benefit the girls.  I knew that they could also benefit from learning various domestic duties.  And, listening to the kind of questions they’d ask and comments they’d make during Sunday school, I am convinced that we need to address some specific issues from a Godly point of view.  So, I invited them to come to my place for an evening of cooking together, eating together, cleaning up together, and studying together.

A couple weeks in advance, I broached the idea to the girls and their parents, all of whom enthusiastically agreed to the girls’ night out. I sat down with Miyani and Diamond to go over food allergies and likes and dislikes.  But then we ran into a little trouble.

Me:  “Ok, I thought we’d cook something called Barbecups.  It’s biscuits filled with barbecue flavored beef and—”

Diamond:  “I don’t like barbecue sauce.”

Me: Sigh. “Ok.  We’ll make you a couple without the sauce.  Also, we’re going to have some vegetables.  What kinds of vegetables do you guys like?”

Silence.

Me:  “Do you like corn?”

Diamond:  “Yes!”

Miyani:  “No!”

Me:  “Hmm.  Ok, Miyani.  Do you like peas?  Beans?  Asparagus?  Broccoli?”

Miyani: “No, no, no, no!”

Me:  “You don’t like any vegetables?”

Miyani:  “I like collard greens.”

Collard greens?  I’ve seen those on TV, but I’m not sure I could even pick them out in the grocery store, much less cook them!  Plus, I’m pretty sure collard greens is something everybody has a different way of making, so I’d never make it the right way.  And I bet any way that Miyani would like it cooked would be unhealthy!  Uh-oh.

Me:  “Ok.  We’ll come back to vegetables.  So, we’re also going to have salad.  We’ll have lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers—”

Diamond:  “I don’t like cucumbers!”

Miyani:  “I do!”

You get the idea.  No matter what I said, one girl liked it and the other didn’t.  It was a discouraging start.  We ended up sticking to the original plan and I just explained that sometimes we have to try a little bit of something, even if we don’t like it.

I spent the next week making final preparations, most of which consisted of a lot of prayer.  I was so excited about the event that I had trouble going to sleep the night before.  The day at work seemed to last forever, but finally I was able to leave and drive down to Atlanta.

I picked up the girls from their apartments, and we headed to my place.  We chattered about the days off school they’d had because of weather, books they’re reading, and the fact that, no, Miss Amy is not going to teach Miyani how to drive on the highway!  Miss Amy needs her car!

When we arrived, Diamond was so excited about being at my place, she insisted on closing her eyes as she stepped in so it would be a surprise.  I don’t think I disappointed!  I gave the ladies the grand tour and kept laughing at their comments.

“This is exactly like what I imagined your apartment to look like!”

“It’s so peaceful here!”

“Everything is so decorated!”

“Is it always decorated like this?”

“There’s a picture of your mom!  And your dad!  Do they ever come here?”

They were interested in everything.  I showed them my room and my bulletin board where I have several of Miyani’s drawings on display.  I showed them my keychain collection of goals I’ve accomplished and some of my childhood toys.

Then we got down to the business of cooking. Miyani was in charge of browning the meat and Diamond and I tackled making a tossed salad.  Miyani had never heard of browning meat, but she took to the task quickly after a short demonstration.

Diamond and I washed the vegetables and I gave her a knife to start slicing the carrots.  After a little coaching, she was on a roll and slicing like a pro.  I complimented her and she said, “My mom never lets me do this. I don’t know why.”  I fought down a small moment of panic when I realized I had given her a very sharp knife before asking how experienced she was.  But I figured I had plenty of bandaids and the best way to learn is by doing.  And then I handed her the cucumber to cut up, too.

As she sliced away, I popped a piece of cucumber in my mouth and crunched in satisfaction. “Mmmmm,” I said.  “This is what you get to do when you’re the cook, and we’re the cooks!”

Diamond raised an eyebrow.  “Can I try one, too?” she asked.

“Sure!”

She tentatively put a cucumber slice in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully.  Then both eyebrows shot up.  “I do like cucumbers!” she exclaimed.  “I don’t know why I said I didn’t!”  I had to laugh.

In fact, there was a lot of giggling that went on as we sliced and diced, stirred and mixed.  Miyani declared she was an Italian chef, so Diamond became an English chef and I was a French chef.  We proceeded to narrate what we were doing in our respective accents.  That is, until the giggles made it hard to understand!

There was also a lot of mess-making.  Run-away carrot slices made a break for freedom across the kitchen floor and barbecued beef dribbled down the stove.  But, the girls learned my favorite cooking adage: Good cooks make a mess!  So each time some messy mishap occurred we laughed and declared what good cooks we must be!  Diamond was fascinated by the designs on wash cloth, napkins, and paper towels we used to clean up our messes.  “Miss Amy,” she said to me later. “Your house is like a dollhouse. Everything is decorated—even the paper towels!”

When our meal was ready, we sat down and put our napkins on our laps like proper ladies.  I even let the girls light the candles so we could dine by candlelight.  Wanting to make sure the girls were comfortable with this new dish, I was going to show them how to eat it with their hands.  “Oh, no, Miss Amy,” Miyani chided.  “We’re ladies.  We have to eat it with a fork and knife.”  I laughed again.  Here I was so concerned about teaching these ladies proper table manners and they had shown me up!  So, like ladies, we ate with forks and knives.

I was so pleased with the girls.  They were polite, respectful, eager to please, and quick to help.  I had envisioned a battle getting Miyani to try some of the corn, but she took a small helping without complaint and finished it all.  Diamond even made sure to eat all of her barbecued beef, saying she didn’t want to be rude . Everybody helped clean up and did so cheerfully.

Next, it was time to bake brownies for dessert.  More messes were made, but they were chocolate messes and a lot of fun to clean up!  Diamond was excited to use a spatula that was also decorated!

While the brownies baked, we sat down to do our study.  Diamond cuddled up with a couple of my stuffed animals and both girls were attentive and interested.

I am using the book, Lies Young Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dannah Gresh.  It covers a range of topics teen and pre-teen girls may face such as, “Beautiful girls are worth more,” “I can’t overcome my sin,” “It’s not really sex,” “I need a boyfriend,” “God is not really involved in my life” and “Having a career outside the home is more valuable and fulfilling than being ‘just’ a wife and mom” to name a few.  We covered the introduction and took a little quiz to see in what areas of our lives we may be believing unbiblical lies.

The evening ended with packaging up samples of our cooking for the girls to take home to their families.  I drove them home and watched to make sure they got to their apartments safely.

It had been an incredibly fun time and I am still thanking God that everything went so smoothly and pleasantly.  I was, however, pretty tired.  How do you parent people do this all day every day?

Still, I am very much looking forward to next month and will pray, as I have been, that our times together will be glorifying to God and will cause us all to grow.

Now, what shall we cook in February?  Hmmm…

In Memoriam: Rose Lee Hillman

August 2017―In the last issue of Penny’s Pen we reported on the celebration of Miss Rose Hillman’s birthday in January, when we surprised her with a birthday cake.  She was 55 years old.  But now, it is my sad duty to tell you of her death.

Rose started feeling poorly in early April but, however sick she felt, she still dressed up and came to church for as long as she could.  The last couple of times she attended it became obvious that she was in considerable pain, specifically, she told us, in her side.  She was eventually diagnosed with stomach cancer and she passed away on June 23rd.

Everyone remembers Miss Rose as being a very sweet person.  She was loyal, faithful, and had a servant’s heart.  She worked hard and was always volunteering to be of help in whatever way she could.  And she did so with a big smile.  She is sadly missed.

When it became obvious that her life on Earth would soon be over, Rose’s family asked Pastor Frank to conduct her funeral service, but that didn’t work out because, when she did pass away, it was only a little over a week until we left for a vacation in the UK.  So it was conducted instead at a funeral home.  However, when we returned to Atlanta, we held a memorial service for her at our church building, which four of her family members and a friend of the family attended.

The sermon at the memorial service was entitled “Counting our Days”, an exegesis of Psalm 90, verse 12.  This psalm, which was originally a prayer of Moses in which he reflected on the shortness of life, urges us to be wise in how we live.   Utilising the entire psalm, Pastor Frank talked about what it means to count our days, and why we should do that.  Rose, he told us, lived 20,234 days which may seem like a big number but, in point of fact, it is a finite number, and every second moves us closer to the end of our days.  And, of course, when our days are up, we enter eternity.

Knowing this, we count our days so that we may seek wisdom.  What is wisdom?  Pastor Smith made the point specifically to those who live in the Bluff, especially the children who were present, that on one level, wisdom means not getting into trouble: for example, not getting addicted to drugs and not doing stupid things.

But the wisdom of which Psalm 90:12 speaks is much deeper than that.  True wisdom, he averred, is based on knowledge of God.  It shows itself in repentance of sinful deeds, and in faithfulness.   Miss Rose, he said, showed faithfulness, not only with her servant’s heart but with her faithful church attendance even when she was in physical pain.

True wisdom is found in the word of God, and Miss Rose also showed her commitment to this by hanging on every word that the pastor spoke.  And, even though she was illiterate, she would be able to join in the singing by hearing and lip-reading so quickly that she could reproduce the words immediately and sing along with us.

Towards the end of the sermon Pastor Frank made the point that Miss Rose, in her simple way and with her simple commitment, was wiser than many people in this world who may have a lot of knowledge and intellectual ability but reject the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Finally, he said, we should all count our days and respond to the gospel now, because we don’t know how many days each of us has left.

Downtown Update

April 2017―Over the last twelve months we have had to say goodbye to some old friends and hello to some new ones.  We were very sad to lose the Myers family (Chris, Misty, Trinity, Houston, Elissa and Anastasia) in May when the United States Army transferred Chris, who had been recently promoted to the rank of captain, to Fort Lee in Virginia.  The family had been an invaluable asset to the ministry for more than two years.

We then had to say goodbye to Paul Struwe, who, with a big heart for inner-city ministries, used to travel about 45 minutes from his home in Dallas, Georgia, to be of service in whatever way he could.  For many months he taught the teenage Sunday School class and was beloved of everyone in the Fellowship.  Paul moved to North Carolina to take up a new teaching position in a school in Gastonia.

Having lost these seven people in such a short space of time we felt very thin on the ground in terms of helpers, with only Pastor Frank and myself, and our three stalwart Sunday School teachers.   The Lord was most gracious, however, in bringing a new family, the McPhersons, to join us.  Frank first heard from Sean McPherson while we were on vacation in early July.  It was while we were sitting on the balcony of our hotel, looking out over the breakers of the Atlantic Ocean at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, that the surprise phone call was received.  Sean and his wife Anne were intending to move to Georgia which was very exciting news, of course, and we were thrilled to welcome them to the ministry in late July.  Starting in August, he has been teaching the adult Sunday School class, and has demonstrated not only a deep theological understanding but also a tremendous knack for patiently answering deep questions.  Anne has been serving as our regular precentor, and also is a substitute children’s Sunday School teacher.

As you already know, since June 2015 we have been worshipping in one half of a duplex, which has worked very well for us.  Our Sunday School teachers are particularly thrilled as they have their own rooms that they could decorate, and in which they can store their teaching materials.  The occupants of the other half of the duplex, however, turned out to be your friendly neighbourhood crooks!   The first of two sets of neighbours comprised a ten year old girl living there with her grandmother because her mother had passed away.  At some point a male friend of the grandmother moved in and problems started to develop.

On arriving at the building one day in the middle of a week in early April a year ago, we found a heavy-duty extension cord running from the neighbours’ side to our outside light fixture.  To begin with we tried to be gracious and allowed them to continue to use our electricity until the weekend.  After that, we threw the circuit breaker to that light whenever we left the building.  A week and a half later as we got to the church on the Lord’s Day, I noticed a number of bits of pink attic insulation on the floor in the upstairs hallway.  At first I couldn’t imagine what it was doing there, but then it dawned on me, with a shiver, that someone had entered our locked building via the attic stairs since we were there last.  It was one of our helpers who suggested that the most likely explanation was that someone from next door had cut a hole in the attic wall separating the two halves of the building and had accessed our side in order to steal electricity.  This was confirmed after the service when someone climbed up into the attic and reported that there was, indeed, a hole big enough for a man to climb through.

We said goodbye to these people when they were evicted in the middle of the year and shortly afterwards we said hello to the new family that moved in―a man and a woman and seven children.  To begin with we had a good relationship with them.  We were happy to have their children come to Sunday school and church and they were not too badly behaved.  Very quickly, however, another couple moved in with four children.  The man was quite an unpleasant character and the children were very badly behaved, which rubbed off on the first family.  Then the grandmother of the first family moved in, making five adults and eleven children living there.

The children from next door came to the Vacation Bible School which was held in June courtesy of a group of seven members of the Columbus (Indiana) RP Church (See Penny’s Pen dated June 24th, 2016), and every week a few of them came to Sunday school and/or church.  Sometimes we were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers who “invaded”, and, because they lived next door, they wandered in and out as they pleased.  Some new rules had to be written to prevent serious disruption of the worship service.

As time went by, our relationship with the adults really deteriorated.  The grounds became a real mess, with enormous amounts of trash which grew every week.  Many Sundays when we arrived Miss Amy or I would walk around picking up trash, often ending up with a bag-full.

The water bill was paid by the landlord because there was only one water meter.  We aren’t sure what the neighbours were doing with regards to water, but the landlord ended up with a $6,000 bill.  Even taking into consideration the high cost of water in the city of Atlanta, this was extraordinary.  The landlord had the water turned off for a while which really angered the men in the house.  To do that was illegal, however, so he had to turn it on again.  Eventually these families were evicted, leaving a dreadful mess behind them which was quite costly to clean up.  As a parting gesture they turned all the water taps on full as they left the house.  Thankfully the property manager came by the next day and turned them off.  When we arrived on the Sunday, however, we found that water was pouring onto the ground from beneath the kitchen and running down both driveways.  As the door was unlocked we went in and found that someone had torn out the kitchen sink leaving it in the living room, and had stolen some of the pipes leaving the main pipe gushing water without any way to turn it off or cap it.  One of our men had a tool with which to turn it off at the street.  In addition, a truck parked on the property which the owner had purchased for the property manager to use was stolen.

Not surprisingly, the owner, a church in the Los Angeles area, decided to sell the building.  So we now have a new landlord and an uncertain future.   We are hoping and praying that we will be able to stay on here, at least for the time being.  And one would think that, even though our lease calls for a monthly rent of less than the going rate for the area, the new owners would be more than happy to have us continue as tenants given the fact that we actually look after the property.

We are in the process of trying to start a building fund so that we can raise funds in earnest for a property of our own.  One challenge is that, with the increasing gentrification of our ministry area, prices have gone up rapidly.  However, as Pastor Frank has said, “Nothing that half a million dollars can’t solve!”

We celebrated two birthdays this year―the first was a celebration for Miss Rose’s birthday in January, when we surprised her with a birthday cake:

The second was in March when we welcomed the arrival of Wynter Nicole Franklin, whose mother, Tawana, is a regular attender.  Baby Wynter is pictured here with her mother during her first visit to APF, and with big brother Cornelius:

Those of you who have visited Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship will remember Jenario and Miyani Robinson who, along with their mother, Miyoshi, have been with us since shortly after we started a Bible Study in 2010:

Other prayer requests include the following:

  • That Jenario and Cornelius would soon find work.
  • That those to whom we minister would be protected from the fiery darts of temptation.
  • That Tawana would continue to seek the Lord and that she and her other children would soon be able to enjoy the blessings of the covenant as expressed in Christian baptism.
  • That one or more workers, such as a ministerial intern or pastor assistant, would be raised up.
  • That we would be able to acquire our own permanent location.

Overall, the number of people attending the service on any given Lord’s Day is down relative to last year.  But this is a community that moves around a lot so we never know for how long we will have the opportunity to minister to any given person before he or she moves on.  Even Jenario and his family have moved nine times in the six-plus years that we have known them but, thankfully, always to somewhere close enough that we have been able to pick them up and bring them to church.

Even though we are averaging fewer people in attendance we do feel as though we have a stronger core group, which gives us the time to minister to individuals more effectively.  With fewer undisciplined children attending, and with the addition of a nursery/cry room into which the service can be piped by intercom, our worship services have been quieter and more reverent, which has been much appreciated by the adults who are thereby developing a deeper knowledge of biblical doctrines and the application of them to their lives.