Growth in God’s Girls Group

Miss Amy Work gives us an update on God’s Girls Group 

It’s been a busy year in God’s Girls Group for Diamond and me. We’ve baked chocolate chip cookies, pot of gold at the end of the rainbow cupcakes, birds nest cookies, and mug cakes (complete with an excessive amount of sprinkles). We’ve made potato soup and Irish soda bread, barbequed wings, pork chops, spaghetti pie, and chicken casserole. We’ve decorated snowflakes and valentines, dyed eggs, crafted Mother’s Day cards, painted picture frames, and created fairy gardens in a jar.

We’ve walked in the park, hiked long trails, attended festivals, dined at a fancy restaurant, had sleepovers, played board games, and labored over college choices and applications. We’ve honed skills of cleaning up after meals, paying attention to details, following instructions, finding ways to serve others, showing hospitality, and having good table manners. We’ve laughed until our sides ached, comforted each other in tough times, lamented our culture’s sin, struggled with our faith, wrestled to understand Scripture, and exploded in shouts of joy when the truth of God’s Word hits home. Most importantly, we have grown.

                                       

 Diamond and Birds Nest Cookies                                  Diamond Cooking in Elephant Slippers,                                                                                                                        a Birthday Gift

Sometimes, it’s the little things. Diamond has a habit of beginning to rinse dishes, getting distracted, and going off to do something else while leaving the water running… and running… and running. Last God’s Girls Group, Diamond was helping clear the table and clean up the kitchen. She had the water running in the sink, as usual. But this time, as she went to get something else off the table, she caught herself. She threw me a sparkly-eyed grin, flipped off the faucet, and sang out to herself the words she’s heard me say a thousand and one times: “Why is the water still running?” I laughed and threw my hands in the air. Touchdown! She remembered to turn off the water without being told!

One of my favorite moments of seeing growth in Diamond happened a couple months ago. We take turns praying before every meal and we always begin and end our time of study with prayer. Learning to pray is difficult, and learning to pray out loud is even more challenging. However, over the years, Diamond’s prayers have grown from awkward, fumbling, and rushed to much more thoughtful and heartfelt. This particular evening had been a long one. We’d had an intense study, littered with rabbit trails and tangents, all of which generated excellent questions that took us deeper into Scripture. But it was late and we needed to wrap it up. I asked Diamond to pray to close our study time. What happened next had me gripping the edge of my seat, holding my breath, and wishing it wouldn’t end. Diamond prayed like I had never heard her pray before. She opened her heart to her Heavenly Father in a completely comfortable, personable manner. She prayed for people and issues I had no idea were on her heart and mind. She spoke to God like she knew Him, loved Him and trusted Him completely. At one point she interrupted her flow and said, “God, I know I don’t usually pray this much, but all this stuff is just really important.” And then she continued to lay down her burdens at her Savior’s feet. She prayed selflessly and earnestly. And she prayed like she believed. Since that night, I have had the privilege of glimpsing her relationship with her Father through her prayers several more times. It has always blessed me richly.

And that brings me to the other growth I’ve seen – my own. Diamond is always appreciative of anything I do for her, but I keep telling her that she has no idea what a blessing she’s been to me. Every time we do a study, Diamond’s insightful (and sometimes funny) questions challenge me to reach back to Scripture for the answers. Half the time I have to wonder if God put a certain study before us for her sake or my own (it’s probably both!). When my faith is weak or I am struggling, God uses Diamond’s infectious enthusiasm for His Word, persistent questions, and joy in learning how all Scripture connects together and points to Christ to encourage (and sometimes chastise) me.

The year isn’t over yet. We still have a lot to do. College applications need to be submitted, resumes drafted, and jobs applied to. Our studies will continue to focus on Martin Luther and the Reformation and then we’ll examine the differences among a number of religions. I need one more craft idea for the coming months and need to figure out what we’ll cook for the dinners. But in all of the preparations, my deepest prayer is that God will prepare our hearts to receive His Word and cause us to grow in Him. May our love for Christ and desire to obey Him flow as richly and abundantly as the water left running in the sink!

                                       A Very Special Birthday Treat in a Fancy Restaurant

P.S. In case you’re wondering, here are some of the questions Diamond asks. How would you do with answering these?

If God knows people are going to sin, why does He allow them to? Why doesn’t He stop them from sinning if He hates sin?

Why didn’t God make somebody for Jesus to marry? Oh, never mind. What woman would be perfect enough for Jesus? But did Jesus want to get married?

Do you still have to respect your parents if they beat you or if they sold you?

What if Satan turned nice? Would that be good? Could he go to heaven?

Does God forgive the angels that rebelled against Him?

And my personal favorite: Can demons have kids?

 

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Allow me to begin with an apology for the many months that it has been since I last wrote, and to bring you up to date with an account of some of the Lord’s blessings as well as some of the difficult issues with which our mission church has been challenged so far this year.

First of all, looking back, the new year started off with an unexpected problem, when, on the first Lord’s Day, we arrived at our church building to find that vandals had tampered with our locks and we couldn’t insert the keys, meaning that we had to call for a locksmith. While waiting about an hour and a half to get in the door, we enjoyed some cheerful fellowship in mild weather and sang a few Psalms.  Even though we had to cancel Sabbath School, we were able to hold the service, after which Mrs. Nancy Pattillo purchased and installed new locks for us.

                          We also began the year with a couple of tough and somewhat tricky issues on our plate, namely that we were coming close to having to conduct disciplinary action against one of our members, and were unhappy with the behavior of one of our regular attenders which we had to find some way to deal with.  This took a lot of our time and energy and was, honestly, quite distressing while still having to deal with the other aspects of a very difficult ministry.

Pastor Frank was really exhausted by spring of this year to the extent that many people told him (and me) that we HAD to take some time off.  So, it was agreed that we should take a 5-week sabbatical, with our Sunday duties being taken over by our intern TJ Pattillo and his wife, Nancy, and our weekday duties taken over by a newly formed benevolence committee made up of four members of our congregation led by our intern.  The sabbatical was due to run from May 25th to June 30th.  Frank was to “maintain radio silence” and we were to leave everything to other people to deal with.

The day after our sabbatical started, however, we and our intern and his family came down with Covid, and the following Lord’s Day the service at ARPC had to be cancelled because there weren’t enough staff to open the building or coordinate transportation.

Meanwhile my kitchen and part of the dining room had flooded because the instant hot water tank under the sink had leaked.  It seemed at first that the only damage was to the flooring in both rooms but, nearly a month later, it was discovered that the bottom cabinets were damaged beyond repair and there was a buildup of mold on them and the wall.   Thankfully, our homeowners insurance company agreed to cover the costs of repair and renovation, starting with drying everything out and killing the mold. The kitchen was tented, loud equipment which exhausted a lot of heat was brought in, and the temperature in there was 94⁰ for a week.  Then everything was ripped out and it took until late September to rebuild it.  Going through something relatively minor like this has given me more empathy for the people who not only lost homes during the recent hurricane but for those who, while not losing their entire home, have had to deal with much more extensive water damage than I did.

Early on in the sabbatical, Frank learned that his contract with Georgia Gwinnett College where he had been employed for ten years would not be renewed.  Effectively, he had lost his job and, as we learned later, our health insurance as well.

One bright spot, however, was Frank’s participation in the joyous occasion of the installation of Drew Poplin as associate pastor at First RPC Durham, North Carolina, on June 10th.

                                                   Pastors Drew Poplin and Frank Smith

There were a number of additional challenging issues that the Lord brought into our lives during our sabbatical resulting in my not being able to accomplish any of my personal goals and in Frank only being able to work on one of his.

It was a blessing, however, that, on four of the five Lord’s Days during that period, we were relieved of having to make the difficult and occasionally horrendous journey into Atlanta.  Also, if we had not been on sabbatical during those five weeks, the various challenging and time-consuming providences would have been even harder to handle.

Maybe more importantly, as a result of our experiences, there have been times of deeper prayer.  What we went through brings to mind Psalm 119:71: “It has been very good for me That I was humbled low. It through affliction was that I Thy statutes came to know.” And so, we thank the Lord for His goodness to us and His preserving of us.

Since the end of June, we have been putting extra effort into our church building which was originally a broom factory built in 1947 and has been in serious need of repair and renovation ever since we started meeting there in October 2019.  Not least of our problems is that we have suffered a number of flooded areas following heavy rainfalls.  We know we have had a moisture issue because of a musty aroma when we first come into the building.

We had been seeking professional help from a variety of tradesmen in our area of Atlanta but were unable to find anyone reliable.  By God’s grace a number of men from White Oak ARP Church in Senoia, Georgia, spent a day with us in July 2020, demolishing the baptistry and removing a great deal of unusable/unneeded/trash items that the previous church had left behind.

In June of this year, and again, in September, men from Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Buford, Georgia, assisted by several of our church members, removed the water-stained acoustic tiles and the track on which they rested, floor tiles which had become loose and dangerous, along with more unneeded/unwanted items, and demolished three unwanted rooms made of two-by-fours and panelling which were not original to the building.  They also removed the old panelling from the worship area.

That wonderful volunteer work has left us with a much clearer idea of what is left to be done.  We have been talking to a mold and mildew expert about removing the mold and preventing it from returning and are also working to get a roofer to fix roof issues and a carpenter to replace rotten wood in the ceiling. Those are the most important priorities, and will be followed by drywalling, bulletproof windows, panic doors and electrical and plumbing issues.

                          

Thank you to everyone for your prayers for our ministry.  I hope that this article has given you a helpful update on the challenges and blessings that the Lord has providentially brought our way this year.

Praise the Lord for the following blessings:

  • The addition of two new members
  • The faithfulness of our core group of members and adherents
  • The encouragement of several members of RP churches around the country attending worship with us as they passed through Atlanta
  • Progress on the renovations to the building particularly by volunteer workers
  • Answered prayer with regard to events during our sabbatical:
    – A speedy recovery from Covid
    – A promising offer of an online teaching job
    – New health insurance obtained
    – A brand new kitchen, a truly unexpected blessing

Please continue to pray for us, however, specifically for the following:

  • That many more people would be attracted to our worship services and find salvation in Christ
  • For outreach, specifically the possibilities of a prayer table in front of our building or in the new park two blocks away from us
  • That the Lord would bring us an experienced deacon or two—firstly to help us deal with many difficult issues that arise as we minister in this area of Atlanta and secondly to help Pastor Frank with plans, phone calls and meetings with tradesmen as we move forward with the work on our building
  • Reliable, competent workmen to carry out the repairs and renovations to the building

And we know that: Unless the Lord build the house they labour in vain that build it.  Psalm 127:1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Has It Really Been Ten Years Since We Were Dodging Bullets on the Church Steps?

It was a little over a decade ago, on December 4th, 2011, that we experienced first-hand what many of our parishioners know all too well—the outbreak of violence and the threat of death. It was on that date when a gunfight broke out at the intersection of Kennedy and Brawley, one of the most dangerous intersections in the South—the place where since April 2010 Pastor Frank had been conducting our weekly Bible study at 5 o’clock on Sunday evenings.  The shots weren’t aimed at our little group, sitting on the steps of a derelict church building, or at Pastor Frank, standing out on the sidewalk with his whiteboard.  It was obviously a drug turf war.  The first round of shots was a little unsettling, but the second round resulted in all of us except Pastor Frank hitting the ground, lying flat and praying.  Our brave leader stood his ground as he dialed 911.  None of us was hurt, and we all praised the Lord for his protection of us.

That event, in which the Lord clearly was watching over us, was ten years ago. That doesn’t seem possible—how swiftly time flies. But, on the other hand, so much has happened since then. Sometimes, it seems like it’s all a dream . . . .

For another year after that shooting incident, we continued to meet at that same street corner, in all kinds of weather and circumstances. We enjoyed the interaction with people who would come by and who would sit for a spell on the steps—there was something exciting about being in that environment, outdoors, on the tree-lined street, with a feel of street preaching.  But by late 2012, after two and a half years on that corner, it was clear that we needed to take the next step toward becoming a church plant.

In December 2012, we started weekly worship services. And we were able at long last to meet indoors, as a result of the kindness of a Muslim convenience store owner who allowed us to use a room at the back of the store.  This was very awkward as there was no electricity, so we moved, in mid-2013, to the basement of a local church.  From that facility we were able to increase our outreach into the community by holding two very successful coat drives in the parking lot, giving away literally hundreds of coats and blankets.  At the end of that year, we moved into a very small building, basically a one-room Baptist church, from where, for the first time, we held a Vacation Bible School in a nearby park.  We stayed in that building for a year and a half before moving to one side of a duplex in June 2015.

By moving to the duplex, we then had a building that we could use at any time of the day, and on any day of the week.  We were no longer confined to a few hours on the Lord’s Day. And our Sunday school teachers were particularly thrilled as they had their own rooms that they could decorate, and in which they could store their teaching materials.  We made use of our new flexibility by holding a “Family Fling”, similar to a VBS but including adults, organised by one of our Sunday School teachers, Miss Amy Work.

Of course, not all was a bed of roses. For instance, the occupants of the other half of the duplex turned out to be your friendly neighbourhood crooks. Indeed, on one occasion we discovered that they had broken through the shared attic wall in order to get into our side of the building so as to run an electric cable and steal electricity from us!

But despite various ongoing challenges, our being in that duplex marked a transition for our ministry. Our group started to enjoy a stability that we had not had before.

Another important development came in 2017, when Miss Amy, the Sunday school teacher of our older children, started God’s Girls Group, specifically designed to disciple two young ladies.  They have been meeting at her apartment once a month, doing something fun and interesting, and Miss Amy has been showing them how to cook while introducing them to healthy foods.  She also tries to impress upon them the importance of cleaning up after themselves, which seems to have been a foreign concept to them.  This is followed by a study time, in which the girls have been learning what it means to live as Christians.  Although one of the girls is no longer attending, the other is showing promising signs of the Spirit’s work.

There were other helps, too, including mission teams, such as those from our Columbus, Indiana, congregation, which came in 2016 and 2018 to assist us for a week.

But the most important factor in enabling us to mature as a group was when, in March 2019, Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery voted unanimously to constitute Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship as a mission church of the presbytery. Our name changed to Atlanta Reformed Presbyterian Church. We could now offer church membership and start observing the sacraments.  Frank accepted the call to be the organizing pastor, and the installation service was held in the duplex on May 10th, 2019, with the Temporary Governing Body conducting 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.

Unfortunately, while Pastor Frank was driving the church van in order to pick up people for that service, he ran into a car that had failed to yield at a stop sign.  After having to wait a long time for the police to arrive, he finally was able to arrive back at the church. The service started about an hour late, but it went well.

A few weeks later, on the way home from Bible study, Pastor Frank and I were involved in a car accident.  It was a miracle that no other car was involved, and that we both received only minor injuries. However, both Frank and I had to miss church the following Sunday, and I missed the four Sundays after that as well.

Having been told by the owners of the duplex that we needed to vacate the building so that they could turn it into an Airbnb, Frank had been looking furiously to find somewhere else to rent, and, at the beginning of October 2019, we moved into a building that had originally been a broom factory.  About twenty years earlier, it had been purchased by a church, but the number of elderly members was dwindling, and they had been thinking about disbanding and selling the building.  So, we raised a goodly sum of money through the generosity of many people; and, in June 2020, were able to put a down payment on a mortgage provided by our Synod.

Our having our own facility—and especially one in such a strategic location—has also marked a significant transition for our congregation. We are still learning what it means to have a place we can call our own, and figuring out how to make the most use of it. But our acquisition of this property is another obvious signal of the Lord’s providential care for this ministry.

Ten years—ten years have passed since that gun battle just yards away from us. So much has happened since then. We have had people come and people go. Chris Myers and his family served for a couple of years, before moving away. Chris eventually was called as pastor of our Phoenix, Arizona, congregation. As soon as the Myers family left, Sean and Anne McPherson moved to the area from Pennsylvania and served for three years. And then, just as the McPhersons were moving back to their home state, TJ and Nancy Pattillo and their children Hannah and Sawyer started attending. TJ, an ordained Ruling Elder, is our talented ministerial intern and is also now a ministerial candidate in the RPCNA.

We’ve had others who have left us by means of death. I remember Rose, a sweet, illiterate woman, who, we believe, did come to faith in Christ; Bill, a man who was able to profess faith and be baptised; and Andrew, who professed his faith and was baptised and then, sadly, was killed in a freak accident four months later.

And I think also of those who have recently joined the congregation. One man who comes to mind in particular is a fellow who had spent many years in prison doing hard time for crimes such as grand theft auto. He had been coming to church for several years on an irregular basis.  In July 2021 we heard that he had become very sick.  When we first visited him in hospice, he was unable to communicate very well. About a week and a half later, he sent word through his sister that he wanted the pastor to visit him. When Frank went in the next time, he was very alert and expressed his disappointment that he had not been able to complete the membership course. Two days later, the elders were able to conduct a meeting with him via Zoom, in order to hear his profession of faith and admit him to membership. We never expected him to be able to attend a service. Well, the next thing we knew, he had checked himself out of hospice, walked to the bus stop, taken the bus and then the MARTA train to near his apartment from where his daughter picked him up.  When he can, he makes it to church, and, at a wonderful time of prayer following a day of prayer and fasting back in October, he prayed wonderful prayers of gratitude and appreciation to God for having forgiven his sins and saved him.

We have come a long way over the last decade—since that shooting incident on the old church steps on a December evening. A lot has changed. A lot has happened. A lot has stayed the same. And what has particularly remained the same is God’s covenant faithfulness to us individually and as a group of believers—pilgrims passing through this world on our way to the Celestial City.

Has it really been ten years?

 

What A Year!

The year 2020 brought with it a number of challenges with which we are all familiar, but throughout them all, the Lord guided, preserved, and prospered our congregation.

As you are already aware from an earlier article, we had moved into our current location in October 2019, renting it from a church which, as a result of its aging population, was in the process of disbanding.  This, Pastor Frank thought, might give us the opportunity to purchase it in the upcoming months if the Lord so willed.  The ministry had begun nearly ten years earlier, and all through the intervening years, he maintained and pursued his vision of our owning our own building and planting the flag of King Jesus in the heart of this great city of Atlanta in which we minister.

And, as you now know, in June 2020 the purchase was made, but that wasn’t the first milestone that we hit in 2020.  Having been established the previous year as a mission church rather than a preaching station, we were able to celebrate our first communion service on February 16th.

Not long after that, of course, COVID hit, and we decided that, given the unusual number of members in our congregation with pre-existing health conditions, some of whom were significantly immunocompromised, we stopped meeting in person in late March.  We figured out ways to get together using video conferencing with those who had access to the internet and phone conferencing with those who did not.  At least, thankfully, everyone in our group has a phone even though few have a computer.

We resumed meeting in person on May 10th, and less than a month later the papers were signed giving us ownership of our church building.

Even though we began meeting again in person a lot earlier than many congregations (most African-American churches in Atlanta are still meeting virtually), we had only one case of COVID in the congregation, and that was not discovered until after this man, who has significant underlying health issues, had recovered from it.  The Lord has been very gracious to us.

In order to create as little physical contact as possible at our gatherings, we met only for worship to begin with and didn’t start Sabbath school again until the first Lord’s Day in October.

Older and younger children combine for one of their Sabbath school classes

SURPRISE!
Children start to spot the surprise that Miss Michele brought them

We have been very excited that, during the months since we started meeting again, a number of first-time visitors have returned and keep coming back.  They are telling us now that this has become “my church”.  One person looked us up and started attending after watching the hour and a half long documentary Spirit and Truth:  A Film About Worship, in which we were featured.

In early summer, ARPC started a bi-weekly men’s meeting on Wednesday evenings led by Elder TJ Pattillo.  The men read and discussed a Matthew Henry book, Building a God Centered Family: A Father’s Manual.  It was put on hold for a while following Andrew Jubera’s tragic death in late June and resumed later in the year.  The number of men attending has grown since that time.

In spite of the pandemic last year, we averaged an attendance of 25 people per week.  This year we are averaging 27 so far.

Please continue to pray for us as we move forward into the new year:

  1. We are in serious need of a deacon and are hopeful that one of the local men already attending the church will be able and willing to assume this role.
  1. One of our issues is our inability to start the worship service on time because of the number of people who need to be picked up, and it would help enormously to have a church van (our old van has died) and driver so that the pastor and elder do not have to do the driving and can perform their duties at the church building.
  1. That we can take care of the needed repairs and improvements to the building.
  1. That the Lord would send a quiet spirit to the children in the congregation as we encourage them to show respect and reverence during the worship service.
  1. That more men, women, and children in this needy area would come seeking help, and that their hearts and minds would be open to receiving the Gospel.

Thank you all for your continuing interest in this ministry.

May God bless you and keep you safe.

 

In Memoriam: Andrew William Jubera, III

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of one of our church members, Andrew Jubera, on June 24th.  He was thirty-six years old, the fiancé of Jemika Crayton and father of six-year-old Micah.  He is also survived by his father, Andrew Jubera, and his mother, Cynthia Hizer.

Andrew and Jemika had planned to be married on April 25th, but the wedding had to be postponed because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew had survived being run over by a pick-up truck at the end of January while riding his bike into a Wendy’s parking lot.  As reported in my most recent article, after spending several days in hospital, with broken ribs and other injuries, he made an unexpectedly fast recovery, was able to join us at church on February 16th having missed only two Lord’s days, was baptized, and partook of the Lord’s Supper. But then, four months later, Andrew was killed in a tragic accident in which he was hit by a train.

Andrew had been a faithful attender for about three and a half years.  He had an insatiable appetite for God’s word, studied it during the week, memorized it, and frequently sought clarity with regards to doctrine so as to be able to apply it faithfully to his own life, especially as he approached marriage and all the responsibilities that would bring.

A memorial service was held at Atlanta Reformed Presbyterian Church on July 12th, which his fiancée and son and her aunt, his parents and half-sister, and friends of his mother 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.  Andrew, he told us, lived 13,498 days, which may seem like a big number but, in point of fact, is a finite number, with every second moving 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, that on one level, wisdom means following all kinds of wise sayings, such as, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

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 such as that which Andrew showed in his faithful church attendance and his servant’s heart.

Finally, Pastor Frank said that, if Andrew could speak to us now, he would encourage all of us to count our days and respond to the gospel today, because we don’t know how many days each of us has left.

Andrew was a very special person, whose presence among us was enjoyed by everyone in our congregation.  He is greatly missed, even as we rejoice that he is now safely in the presence of his God and his Saviour.

 

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.