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Appeals Court Hears Oral Arguments in PCUSA Defamation Case Brought by Roger Dermody

(By Leslie Scanlon, The Presbyterian Outlook). FRANKFORT, Ky. – A three-judge Kentucky Court of Appeals panel heard oral arguments June 26 in Roger Dermody’s appeal of a state court ruling in the defamation lawsuit he filed in May 2015 against the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Roger Dermody

Dermody, the PCUSA’s former deputy executive director for mission, was one of four men who lost their jobs with the denomination in 2015, following an ethics investigation involving the 1001 New Worshipping Communities program.

Dermody’s lawyer, Stephen Pence, argued before the Court of Appeals judges that while the PCUSA claims that Dermody violated its ethics policy, he did nothing dishonest or deceitful – which is what “people in their common, everyday language” think of as unethical.

While the denomination might say that Dermody violated its ethics policy, it’s defamatory to say “he had actually engaged in any unethical conduct,” Pence said. “He did not. … There was no dishonesty. There was no deceit.”

Dermody and three other PCUSA employees – Philip Lotspeich, Eric Hoey and Craig S. Williams – lost their jobs in 2015 following an investigation involving an unauthorized $100,000 grant sent to a nonprofit corporation set up in California. All of the money was repaid, and Linda Valentine, former executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, has said none of the four acted for personal gain. The 1001 program is the denomination’s effort, endorsed by the 2012 General Assembly, to create 1001 new worshipping communities from 2012 to 2022.

Representing the PCUSA, lawyer John Sheller told the appeals court panel – presiding Judge Glenn Acree, along with judges Sara Walter Combs and Debra Hembree Lambert – that Dermody was not involved in setting up the corporation, but supervised those who did.

In September 2015, a state court judge in Louisville dismissed Dermody’s lawsuit, granting the PCUSA’s request for a summary judgment in the case. In that ruling, Jefferson Circuit Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman wrote that for the court to determine whether Dermody had committed an ethics violation, as the PC(USA) determined he had done, would require the court to interpret church doctrine and policies. And that’s not allowed, she wrote, under what’s known as the “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine and ministerial exemption,” through which the courts decline to become involved with matters of internal church governance.

In appealing that ruling, Dermody is asking that the case be sent back to state court for a jury trial.

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222nd General Assembly Amendments Roundup

(By Stephen Salyards, The Presbyterian Outlook). The cycle of [Presbyterian Church (USA)] General Assemblies bring with them a certain rhythm. And as we reach the midway point between the last GA and the next, we mark the completion of the presbyteries’ amendment voting process and the publication of a new Book of Order with the approved changes.

All 16 constitutional amendments proposed by the 222nd assembly in 2016 were approved by the presbyteries by large margins. The new provisions will take effect on June 25, 2017 – one year from the adjournment of the assembly.

And so, we have new constitutional documents – some with small and subtle modifications, others with large and sweeping changes.

Directory for Worship

The most extensive change is the revision of a whole section of the Book of Order with the approval of a revised Directory for Worship (DFW). The rewriting of the DFW was a decade-long process, so it also reflects the philosophy behind the earlier complete revision of the Form of Government section and creation of the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity section. Specifically, the revision provides for a “shorter, better organized, more accessible, and thoroughly Reformed” document, as the rationale associated with the General Assembly action puts it. It goes on to say that the new DFW “seeks to foster freedom and flexibility, with openness to a broader range of worship styles and cultural expressions.”

The new DFW is roughly one-third shorter than the previous version, though it remains mostly parallel in structure. However, the concluding three chapters (which discuss personal worship; worship and the community of faith; and worship and the ministry of the church in the world) have been combined into one chapter that is more narrative in nature than the previous version. The new DFW is intended to emphasize guidance rather than be viewed as a rulebook. For example, the previous sequential formulation of W-3.3603 (which included four baptismal vows, the affirmation of faith and two promises of the congregation) has been replaced by a narrative section:

“W-3.0405: Candidates for Baptism or their parents shall renounce evil and profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Those who are being baptized upon profession of faith declare their intent to participate actively and responsibly in the church’s worship and mission. Together with the congregation they profess their faith using the Apostles’ Creed, the baptismal affirmation of the early Church.”

Along with the revised DFW is a proposed change to the section in the current version that discusses the theology of the Lord’s Supper. However, since the new wording has already been incorporated into the newly adopted DFW, this amendment is redundant. But since this is a significant change in wording and theology, it is worth noting that it addresses who may receive the Lord’s Supper. The rationale for the amendment also discussed our theology of the table versus the usual practice when the sacrament is administered. The previous wording explicitly stated that the invitation “is extended to all who have been baptized” and to baptized children according to their level of maturity. The new wording opens up the invitation saying:

“All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended.”

Teaching elder vs. Minister of Word and Sacrament

An amendment with the name “Ordered Ministry Titles” may seem like a bit of wordsmithing to some, but to others it is a discussion at the heart of our Presbyterian polity.

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Weaver Elected EPC Moderator

Weaver

The Rev. Dean Weaver (Photo by Scott Thomas Wiest}

The Rev. Dean Weaver was elected yesterday (6/12/17) as the moderator of the 37th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Weaver, pastor of Memorial Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa., is a member of the EPC’s Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Years ago, Weaver and his church were a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and as that denomination began straying from its Biblical and Reformed foundation, Weaver helped start and became co-moderator or the New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC), which eventually became part of the EPC.

Years ago, the EPC created a place for the New Wineskins churches, that “we very desperately needed. As we got to know one another and know this church that was Presbyterian, Reformed and missional, we found that we were parts of the same family,” said Weaver, following his unanimous election. “Over the past 10 years, for many of you who are like me, this has become home and we love it and we cherish it.”

Weaver continued, “God is still reforming and realigning His church, according to the word of God. We stand at this moment, for me, with incredible gratitude not just the business before this assembly but before this church … the bride of Christ in my view has never been more radiant or more beautiful.”

In her seconding speech, prior to the election, Betsy Rumer said she first knew Weaver as a pastor, then a boss, and “now I know him as mentor – most importantly I know him as my friend, my brother in Christ. …I will tell you as a colleague, Dean loves the bride of Christ. He loves the church. He has devoted himself and dedicated himself faithfully to the church for over 30 years. … I think Dean has been raised up for just such a time. He has the mind, the heart and the vision and the skill set to take the EPC into the next season.”

Weaver graduated from Grove City College in Grove City, Pa. in 1986; earned his master of divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; and his doctor of ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He currently is pursuing a Master of Theology in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell.

He and his wife, Beth have six children and one granddaughter.

Photo at the top: Past EPC General Assembly Moderators and Stated Clerks Pray for Weaver, and His Wife, Beth.  (Photo by Scott Thomas Wiest)

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EPC Opening Worship: Passing the Faith from Generation to Generation

generation

Rev. Kirk Bottomly (Photo by Scott Thomas Wiest}

The 37th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church began yesterday (6/21/17) at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in Fair Oaks, Calif., with worship and a sermon by the church’s pastor.

The Rev. Kirk Bottomly based his sermon on the GA’s theme “Generation to Generation,” reading from Psalm 78:4-7 and Psalm 145:1;4-7.

“One generation shall praise Your works to another,” said Bottomly, highlighting the words from Psalm 145. “Declare, meditate, speak, celebrate and sing, that is how the Gospel gets passed on from generation to generation. … The church is a multi-generational program. We contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, and we do it again, and again.”

Back to the beginning of Presbyterianism, back to the Apostles, the Gospel is a multi-generational project, he said.

In Deuteronomy 6:7-9, Moses said “these words that I command you today shall be on your year, you shall teach them diligently to your children.”

“You should do this in your house,” said Bottomly. “You relate God’s word to every activity in your life. … reinforce these lessons again and again, so that the faith takes in the next generation, so the generational hand-off takes place.”

Bottomly said that Psalm 145 speaks to the worship setting, while Deut. 6 speaks to the family setting.

“We do not live by bread alone, but on every one of these holy words that comes from God,” he said, These words that shape children into committed, thinking, spiritually mature, world changing believers.

God works through the parents, to teach a Biblical-centered worldview to the children, he said.

“Who is working in your family, in your church? Are the parents and grandparents in your church Biblically-literate enough to pull this off?”

Or, Bottomly asked, are they expecting the church to do this, “one hour a week during Sunday school? This is a tough assignment. We have families in our pews suffering from a famine of the Word. This is not a problem the greatest Sunday school in the world can fix.”

generation

Rev. Kirk Bottomly (Photo by Scott Thomas Wiest}

The other venue for the generational hand-off is the church. Quoting from Psalm 145, “One generation shall praise your works to one another.”

“The story of God, the truth about God and faith in God – they get passed to the next generation through praise, through worship,” said Bottomly. “The kids that are learning these things … they see Mom and Dad and grandparents worship God in genuine thanks and praise.

“The parents have the primary responsibility,” he said, “and the church has the secondary responsibility to equip the parents.”

“We not only need great preaching, we need great worship. Dry unemotional orthodoxy is a half-truth. It doesn’t touch the heart.”

Bottomly referred to Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16, both of which speak of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”

Bottomly continued by defining the terms mentioned in the verse:

  • “Psalmoi” or Pslam: the psalter, any song accompanied by a plucked instrument.
  • “Humnoi” or hymn: the new songs composed by the church phil 2; 1 Tim 3; Eph 4 1 Cor 15
  • Odai pneumatikai: the spiritual songs.

“That is how you celebrate the faith and how you transfer faith,” he said. “It captures the heard and the mind and can be passed on from one generation to another.”

Bottomly asked if the church was willing to make the changes needed to pass on the faith to the next generation? “Is your church aging out or will it pass the baton to the next generations. It’s such a fragile transfer,” he said. “I don’t know how it happened for 2,000 years, except for the One who sits in the command center, who said ‘I will build my church.’”

“The question for us, the evangelical church, is will we be a part of that?”

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PCUSA Church to Close Doors

(By Bridget Ortigo, The Jacksonville Progress, TexasOne of Jacksonville’s historic churches is set to close its doors on June 25 after more than 145 years serving the community.

First Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, which was established in 1871 will have its final worship service at 10:30 a.m. on June 25 and church members are inviting the community to come celebrate  years of service with a final call to witness.

Current members, their family and friends as well as community members and past church members are invited to attend the final worship service which will be immediately followed by a light luncheon at the Fellowship Hall.

While church members are sad to see the doors close, they said they are blessed to have been able to serve God through the historic church.

“I was born in Jacksonville and grew up about a half a block from the First Presbyterian Church,” lifelong First Presbyterian Church member Mary (Bone) Adamson, 83, said.

“Other than when I lived away from Jacksonville during my educational/training years, I have been a member of this church all of my life. I’m what might be called a ‘cradle Presbyterian’.”

Adamson said the Bone family helped create the church in Jacksonville.

“The Bone family came from a long line of Cumberland Presbyterians in Tennessee where my father was born and raised,” Adamson said.  “When he was a boy, his father moved to Texas and their family joined with other Cumberland Presbyterians who were moving west and planting Cumberland Presbyterian churches along the way.”

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville was established in 1871 by the Rev. Nicholas  Davis.

The church’s building, located at 411 S Bolton St in Jacksonville, was built by Davis in 1882.

Throughout the years, the building has been renovated, updated and added on to as the church has grown.

“Following the merger of three branches of the Presbyterian Church, the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville voted in 1906 to became affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA,” Adamson said.

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PCA Experiences More Growth in 2016

A third Presbyterian denomination experienced growth during the past year. Along with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) grew in almost all categories during 2016.

Click on image to make it larger.

In total membership, the PCA increased by 3,829 people, from 370,332 in 2015 to 374,161 in 2016. It also added 11 churches for a total of 1,545 congregations in 2016; and three presbyteries, totaling 85 in denomination.

Total contributions were also up in 2016 – by more than $30 million. PCA contributions for the year totaled $814,314,196, up from 2015’s total of $783,835,109. That’s a total increase of $30,479,087.

Other 2016 increases included:

  • Missions: 347 in 2016; 327 in 2015; an increase of 20
  • Teaching elders: 4,761 in 2016; 4,630 in 2015; increase of 131
  • Candidates: 637 in 2016; 549 in 2015; increase of 88
  • Licentiates: 170 in 2016; 142 in 2015; increase of 28
  • Professions of faith by adults: 5,306 in 2016; 5,182 in 2015; an increase of 124
  • Communicants: 291,147 in 2016; 287,746 in 2015; an increase of 3,401
  • Infant baptism: 5,581 in 2016;  5,424 in 2015; an increase of 157

There were slight decreases in some areas including:

  • Professions of faith by children: 4,423 in 2016; 4,497 in 2015; a decrease of 74
  • Family units: 141,877 in 2016; 142 in 2015; a decrease of 380
  • Sunday school attendance: 95,000 in 2016; 97,719 in 2015; a decrease of 2,719
  • Adult baptisms: 7,399 in 2016; 7,435 in 2015; a decrease of 36

45th General Assembly

The Presbyterian Church in America held its 45th General Assembly this week in Greensboro, N.C.

Dr. Alexander Jun, founding member and ruling elder of New Life mission Church in Fullerton, Calif., was elected as moderator of the assembly.

According to the PCA’s online news magazine ByFaith, Jun is a “departure from previous moderators … As a West Coast Presbyterian, a member of a Korean Presbyterian Church, and a Korean-American, Jun represents the changing face of the denomination.

ByFaith quoted Jun saying that his election “gives hope for other minorities who have always seen just one dominant group represented consistently. It could represent change in the way we recognize different leadership styles.”

Other PCA General Assembly news can be found on the ByFaith web site:

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Following Two Year ‘Storm,’ Virginia Church Dismissed from PCUSA to ECO

The process took two years to complete, but First Presbyterian Church Gloucester, Va., is now a member of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians after being dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) in April.

The Presbytery of Eastern Virginia dismissed the congregation by a vote of 77-8 at its April 25 meeting, but at a cost. Not only was the church required to change its name – it is now known as Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church it was also required to pay the presbytery $400,000.

The first $200,000 installment has been paid and two more $100,000 payments are required by Dec. 31, 2017, and June 30, 2018.

Weathering the storm

“There is a high level of excitement at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church,” said the Rev. Dr. Douglas (Doug) Nagel, pastor of the church. “We weathered the storm through much prayer and support.”

Nagel said that four years earlier, the church had started a monthly Celtic Prayer Gathering. “Participation at that monthly service really picked up in August of 2014 when we were faced with making a decision as to what to do in reference to the actions of the General Assembly.  It continued with increasing participation as we moved forward through the process.”

It was during the 2014 General Assembly that commissioners voted to change the definition of marriage and allow same-sex marriages to be conducted by PCUSA pastors and in PCUSA churches. Presbyteries ratified that decision in the spring of 2015.

Prayer also saturated other areas of church life. Nagel said the church’s session began every meeting praying that “God’s will might be done and that God might be glorified in whatever outcome we experienced. In addition, we asked for and received the prayers of the ECO staff, the prayers of our fellow churches in our ECO presbytery, and from others throughout the country.”

Discernment with presbytery

In August 2015, the church asked the presbytery to “initiate a period of discernment to help the session of FPC consider whether or not dismissal to another Reformed and Presbyterian denomination is the best solution for the continued future spiritual development of our congregation.

In its Aug. 25th letter (see page 69) to the presbytery, the session said it felt that “the direction of the PCUSA:

  • “Lacks broad and consistent theological conviction across the denomination
  • “Provides inadequate defense of sound Biblical doctrine
  • “Desires to alter the biblical message of the PCUSA to align with culture
  • “In a number of instances has subordinated the guidance of Scriptures and the Book of Confessions to the Book of Order.”
  • “The actions of the most recent General Assembly have already negatively affected our mission and our budget. PCUSA changes have become a distraction to the pursuit of our community mission. We wish to remain in fellowship with the worldwide Christian church from which the PCUSA is diverging. We have never stopped identifying strongly has a Reformed and Presbyterian congregation.”

On Sept. 11, 2016, the congregation voted by 88 percent to leave the PCUSA and join ECO. At its Oct. 25, 2016 meeting, the presbytery voted by 74 percent to dismiss the church “pending settlement of property issues.”

As representatives from the church and presbytery worked to negotiate a settlement, Nagel said the congregation “continued to pray.  Many in our congregation believe the turning point was when we ‘prayer-walked’ our property and claimed it for the glory of God and our continued presence and ministry as a Presbyterian congregation in this location.”

The future

Looking toward a future in ECO, Nagel said:

“Our plans and hopes are a continuation of our direction prior to 2014.  We participated in the Healthy, Growing Congregations Initiative of our presbytery and had made commitments to becoming an outwardly-focused, missional congregation that would seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We are continuing in the direction.  Preaching, teaching, and Sunday School classes for adults are all more intentionally directed toward building reliance upon the Holy Spirit, spiritual disciplines, and theological foundations.  I have just finished a two-year sermon series on the Westminster Shorted Catechism.  I am currently engaged in a preaching series called “Design for Discipleship.”

“Session is currently reading and discussing Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit (Brad Long, Paul Stokes, Cindy Strickler) and beginning in January of 2018, we will begin participating in “Becoming a Flourishing Church.”  We will “re-launch” our church as Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in the fall with a celebration service and installation service for pastor and officers.”

Related resource:

First Presbyterian Church, Gloucester, Va., Meditation Submission — Considerations for Gracious Dismissal: A Moral, Ethical, Financial and Missional Argument

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EPC Continues to Grow in 2016

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) experienced another year of growth in 2016 – adding 26 churches and 967 members during the year. The denomination also increased its worship attendance by more than 2,000.

By the end of 2016, the EPC had 150,042 members, an increase of 967 from the 2015 total of 149,075. Total churches increased from 576 in 2015, to 602 in 2016 – an increase of 26 churches.

Between May 28, 2016 and May 22, 2015, 11 churches from the Presbyterian Church (USA) joined the EPC during the year, while four churches were either dismissed or dissolved.

An increase in worship attendance was also reported. In 2015, the EPC reported that 93,736 attended worship. That number increased by 2,168 in 2016 to a total of 95,904.

Other statistics found in the 2016 Annual Statistical Report Summary include: (Statistics found on page 362 of pdf file.)

  • Adult profession, 1,071
  • Youth profession, 1,351
  • Transfer gains,  1,870
  • Transfer loss, 942
  • Death,  1,461
  • Infant baptism, 1,502
  • Adult baptism, 701

GA begins Tuesday

The 37th Annual General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church begins Tuesday (6/20/17) at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif.

The GA’s theme – Generation to Generation – comes from Psalm 79:13: “From generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.”

GA documents can be found here, and #epc2017ga is the assembly’s official hashtag to post, follow or comment on the work of the assembly. The GA brochure that includes the schedule, descriptions of events for adults and children and information on the keynote speakers is available here.

For more EPC General Assembly news, visit the EPConnection.

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ECO Gains 78 Churches in 2016

The newest Presbyterian denomination continued to grow in 2016. ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians gained 78 churches and approximately 18,475 members last year.

While the 2016 membership numbers have not been completely finalized yet, Stated Clerk Dana Allin said that the numbers so far show that at the end of 2015 “we had 100,081 members and at the end of 2016 we had 118,556.” That’s an increase of 18,475 members.

ECO ended 2016 with 326 churches, up from 248 at the end of 2015, and according to the ECO web site, halfway into 2017, the denomination has grown to more than 340 congregations.

Exciting New for 2018 National Gathering

In other ECO news, the speakers for the 2018 National Gathering scheduled for Jan. 23-25, 2018 in Houston, Texas, have been announced.

“We are super thrilled with our speakers this year,” said Allin. They include:

  • Condoleezza Rice: Former U.S. Secretary of State & National Security Advisor, professor, author, pianist, golfer and avid football fan.
  • Ed Stetzer: Teacher, speaker and writer on theology, missiology, church planting, church revitalization and church innovation.
  • Kyle Strobel: Teacher of spiritual theology for Talbot’s Institute for Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Formation Focus programs. His areas of interest include systematic theology, Jonathan Edwards, spiritual formation and prayer.

The theme of the Gathering is Renovate, based on Nehemiah 2:18. “Drawing on lessons from Nehemiah, we will learn and grow together so that we may strengthen our hands for the good work that God has in store for us.”

Registration opens Aug.1.

ECO developed out of The Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP). A FOP gathering in August 2011 drew more than 2,000 people to Minneapolis, Minn. At a similar gathering held five months later with approximately 2,220 attending, ECO was established, providing a new denominational home for those ready to do church differently while upholding a conservative or traditional Reformed faith.

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How One Deep South PCA Church Left Segregation Behind

(By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, The Gospel Coalition). Elbert McGowan grew up five minutes from Trinity Presbyterian Church on the north side of Jackson, Mississippi. He passed by it daily. Never once did it cross his mind that one day he’d end up the pastor in that building. In fact, he never even considered entering the door.

That’s because the church was exclusively white, and McGowan is black.

Trinity was born in 1950, one year before 13 parents in Topeka filed what would become Brown v. Board of Education and five years before Rosa Parks would refuse to give up her bus seat. Many leaders of what would become the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) barred blacks from membership, defended white supremacist organizations, and taught that the Bible opposed interracial marriage and supported segregation.

The past is ugly, so much so that the PCA confessed and apologized for the actions of its leaders even though the denomination wasn’t formed until nine years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Set in an all-white neighborhood in north Jackson, Trinity wasn’t exempt. But as its white neighbors left for the suburbs and black neighbors moved in, Trinity didn’t budge.

One move, one church plant, and two pastors later, McGowan doesn’t just drive past anymore. He pulls open the church doors every day. He has an office and a desk with photos of his family. He runs the meetings; his kids run down the hallways.

And every week, he preaches to a congregation that’s one-third African American. They sing songs found in both Presbyterian and African-American hymnals. The congregation does more hand-raising and clapping than a typical Presbyterian crowd, while the theology is solidly Reformed.

“What the Lord is doing in and through [this church] is nothing short of astonishing,” Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) chancellor Ligon Duncan wrote. “Only God could accomplish what has been done here.”

Changing Neighborhood

Nearly 70 years ago, Presbyterians built Trinity on the last paved road on the north side of Jackson—the address was 640 East Northside Drive. The neighborhood that sprang up around it was full of small, A-framed, wood-plank houses, tossed up one after another for returning World War II veterans. Trinity was a neighborhood church; membership peaked in 1968.

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Related articles:

From Kneel-Ins to the Condemnation of “Racial Sin:” The Meaning of the PCA’s “Overture on Pursuing Racial Reconciliation”

First Presbyterian Church (PCA) Seeks Healing, Redemption for Sins Committed During Civil Rights Era

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