OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries

Helping to Train, Encourage &
Connect Deacons
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

The Latest

Meet Your Fellow Deacons: Shiloh OPC, Raleigh, NC

 

Pictured: Shiloh Deacons: Leo Barcley, Brandon Gershman, Art Allen, Tim Hopper, McRay Simmons, Pete Tola

 

We asked a few of the deacons at Shiloh to share their thoughts about the diaconate. Here’s what they said:

Deacon Brandon Gershman has also been serving Shiloh OPC for about a year, and says that as a new deacon, this time has been incredibly sanctifying. He has been blessed by the godly example of his fellow deacons who have been serving longer and are showing him a deep compassion for God’s people. He is married to his wife Shasta and they have three children, Judah, Josie and Olive. Brendan says he was drawn to diaconal ministry because his family had been recipients of care by their deacons and saw how it affected their view of the church. “It opened my eyes to the fact that there are many people within Christ’s body who are poor and needy that we would never know are in that state. Deacons are able to approach people and ask questions in a way others are not.” Later he shares that he’s learning that “there are far more people hurting and needy than I ever suspected. Some have financial burdens but many have spiritual, emotional, and physical burdens that could easily go unaddressed. Christ, our prototypical deacon, sought these people out specifically, as we also should.” The diaconate at Shiloh offers financial education for its members, which Brandon sees as one of their strengths, along with quickly responding to those with obvious needs and direct and persistent interaction with those receiving assistance from the church. As a diaconate they continue to grow in ministering to the needs of the Session, reaching outside of the church to the needy and the stranger in the greater Raleigh area.

 

Deacon Art Allen has been married to his wife for twenty-five years, and they have one grown son. He has been serving Shiloh OPC for eleven months and shares that he sees that the Lord has gifted him with many abilities that seem compatible with diaconal ministry and that he loves working with his fellow officers in the church. When asked what is one of the greatest lessons he’s been learning in his time as a deacon, he says, “I think it’s very important to know your flock. Often there is limited time to interact, especially on the Lord’s Day so I try to make the most of these brief interactions to gauge where people are and find out what they may be dealing with, in order to help, if needed.”

 

Deacon McRay Simmons has served as a deacon in two OP churches for a combined total of sixteen years and says that one of the greatest joys of working as a deacon is seeing families changed by God’s grace. He and his wife are empty-nesters now, but have two grown children and ten grandchildren. He speaks warmly of the closeness of the brothers on the diaconate and of their unified desire to serve one another and the families they are called to minister to, sharing personally that, “As I have worked alongside my fellow deacons in serving others, the Lord has used those opportunities to show me my own sin and need for His grace and helped me focus on being an agent of His grace to others in more meaningful ways.” He desires growth in discernment with difficult situations where the best way of helping is not always clear. He shares that one of the ways that they are growing is in recognizing that there are very capable people in the congregation who are willing to serve if given the opportunity. “An example of that is the organization of our Safety Committee that was commissioned to put together a plan for nursery safety, evacuation plans for emergencies, etc. The members serving on that committee did an excellent job!”


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Shiloh OPC Deacons

Meet Tim Hopper

Shiloh OPC Deacons
Photo: Tim (center) along with some of his Shiloh co-laborer deacons.

Back in July of this year, Tim accepted a call to serve on the OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries. Tim now serves as a local deacon at Shiloh OPC in Raleigh, a regional deacon (Presbytery of the Southeast) and now on the denominational level. Read as Tim takes a few minutes to tell us about himself, the diaconate and his desire to serve the Lord on many diaconal levels.

By God’s grace, I was raised by faithful, believing parents and don’t remember a day I didn’t know Christ; when I was in high school, we joined a presbyterian (EPC) congregation, and I became a convicted confessional presbyterian after reading G.I. Williamson’s study guide to the Westminster Confession after my sophomore year of college. 

My first exposure to the OPC was attending Memorial OPC in Rochester, NY during a summer internship in college. After college, I joined Providence OPC in Charlottesville, VA, and in 2010, I moved to Raleigh, NC for grad school and joined Shiloh OPC.

My parents always set an example for my sisters and me by faithful serving in our churches wherever they could. I have always aspired to follow their example, and that was noticed by a brother at Shiloh who nominated me to be a deacon when I was 26. I was ordained and installed at Shiloh in February 2013, and I have served at Shiloh ever since. My wife Maggie joined me at Shiloh when we got married in 2015; we now have two little boys and a third baby on the way. 

The deacon is called to enable the church to love the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength as we free the Session for their ministry of word and prayer; likewise, we are called to love our neighbor (and call the congregation to love of neighbor) as we minister to the poor, sick, and lonely. In this way, the calling of the deacon is a calling of obedience to the greatest commandments, and it is a privilege for me to serve in this calling.

In 2015, I attended the first Presbytery of the Southeast diaconal conference and was invigorated at the idea of connectional diaconal ministry among our regional church. When my pastor asked if he could nominate me to serve on the presbytery diaconal committee (PDC) the next year, I jumped at the opportunity, and I have served on the committee since then. 

Over the years, the CDM has blessed and strengthened Shiloh’s diaconate through the summits in Wheaton and other training resources. On the PDC, we work closely with the CDM to meet needs in our local churches, train and equip our local diaconates, and serve the presbytery in disaster response. I thank the Lord for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, her congregations, and her committees, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve on the CDM. 


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Refugee Ministry Part 3:What Will We Lose by Inviting Refugees to our Dinner Table?

 

by Chris Cashen
Pastor, Trinity Reformed OPC, Lanham, Maryland and
Chairman of the Refugee Ministry Subcommittee

Ministering to refugees is an eye and heart opening experience, because the work is very personal. Consider the hospitality practices of those who have fled from Syria and Afghanistan. Their doors are always open, regardless of what they have (or don’t have) to offer. Tea or coffee is prepared and served, usually along with nuts, dates, or candies; a comfortable seat is offered, as is their time and attention. Even though Americans are strangers to them, and different languages are spoken, their welcome is immediate, warm, and sincere. That is their culture and tradition, all brought with them. It is so foreign to our Western – even Christian – culture, that it cannot help but touch the heart.

More refugees from Afghanistan may be on their way to the United States soon. Over the past week, incredible photographs of US Air Force cargo planes loaded with Afghans have shocked wide-eyed Americans. Videos have played again and again on our televisions and computer screens of innumerable men, women and children running alongside military aircraft as they taxi for take-off at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. They are fleeing their homes and country, seeking peace, refuge, and safety. NBC News quoted Utah’s Governor Cox on August 18, 2021, “We understand the pain caused by forced migration and appreciate the contributions of refugees in our communities.” The story went further to report that Utah was “offering to assist with the resettlement of individuals and families fleeing Afghanistan.’”[1]

The secular, civil government is holding out a hand to those who will become strangers and aliens here. What about the church? What responsibility, if any, does the church have in helping refugees resettle? Should the church be involved? Does the church have a role? Is there a scriptural basis for the church to enter this arena? Or, as some believe, is the resettlement of refugees, including Afghans, a bad idea? Some of the more “conservative” political commentators are warning against receiving Afghan refugees. Their position might be restated to their audience as a question: “Have you considered what we will lose if the US allows this many refugees to enter our country?”

The reality is that the church, as an institution, has no say over who the United States will admit as a refugee. That decision will be made by the current administration, which sets a cap on those admitted; Congress, which funds; and other government agencies which vet possible refugees. The only decision for the church is whether to, once they become refugees, welcome them immediately, warmly, and sincerely, in Christ’s love.

As Christians investigate whether to engage in mercy ministry to refugees, Scripture must direct and guide as it is the only rule for faith and life. The Old Testament has many passages concerning the alien, the stranger, and the sojourner.[2] Several of these verses are proof that the people of God were called to welcome and care for the refugee (stranger). In many of these passages, the Lord reminds His people that they were strangers in Egypt. In fact, this appears to be the primary foundation for loving the stranger. Leviticus 19 contains one such verse: ”You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34 ESV). Why? Why would the Lord direct the Israelites to think upon their forefathers’ time in Egypt as a reason to love strangers in their midst? It certainly cannot be because the Israelites were well-loved; the Egyptians enslaved and oppressed them. But in the midst of that enslavement and oppression, in the midst of that “strangerhood,” the Lord Himself cared for them. As aliens and strangers entering the promised land, the people of God were called to remember the way in which the Lord watched over them and lovingly provided for them in a place which was not their home.

This might cause us to think upon our status as strangers upon this earth. The Christian’s citizenship is in heaven. Yet, the living God continues to watch over, care for and love His children. And remember, there was a time when we were strangers to God. It was then, in that stranger estate that He sent His only eternally begotten Son to die in our place. Hear that again: God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, to die in the place of strangers – all those who were, at the time, alienated from Him. Thus, the call to love the stranger among us—just as Jesus loved and loves us—holds true today.

Leviticus 19 is certainly a powerful and applicable passage for us to meditate upon as we consider our response to Afghan refugees. The New Testament also offers applicable verses which might help us determine our response. We can always meditate upon the second great commandment to love our neighbor. In the parable of the “Good Samaritan”, Jesus Christ put to rest the idea that our neighbors are only of a certain class or segment of the population in parable of the “Good Samaritan”. Certainly, that command is the umbrella under which not only receiving but serving refugees fits. It provides us with much guidance as to how we are to love those strangers in our midst—those who have lost everything.

But let’s go a bit deeper. In Luke’s gospel, we read, “When you give a dinner or banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you will be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 ESV). The teaching in this passages seems to begin at Luke 14:1 where Jesus deals with serving others in mercy on the Sabbath and sitting in the right seat at the wedding feast. The collective teaching of Luke 14:1-14 is that we humble ourselves before others in everyday life. Pride kept the Pharisees from showing mercy on the Sabbath day. That same theme of humility continued when honor was bestowed at the table of the wedding celebration. Finally, Jesus drove the teaching of humility into the very personal and intimate setting of the home. He clearly calls His listeners to serve the unloved with humility seeking reward, not in this life, but in that to come.

This illustration of inviting dinner guests strikes at the heart of whether the church will minister to refugees. The question, asked by Jesus, was not whether homes would be opened to dinner guests. His teaching assumed that was happening. The question was “who” would be invited and “why?” As members of the reformed church, we enjoy fellowship in our homes—this is a significant aspect of our communion. But who is invited and why? Many times, as we serve, if we’re honest, we are seeking some sort of return; rightly to increase our fellowship within our own community, or within the church. While reluctant to admit, we might even be asking, along with the above-referenced, “conservative” commentators: “What will we lose by inviting strangers and aliens to our dinner tables?”

Thankfully, Jesus provided the answer: “Nothing!” His call to those who follow Him is to serve the poor, crippled, lame, blind, the refugee, only because He served you—a picture of the most needy. Jesus served you without any notion or expectation of repayment. Jesus served you when you were a wicked stranger to Him. Jesus served you when it was not only dangerous, it was not only hazardous to His health, it meant death. And Jesus never asked what He might lose if He served wretched sinners. He already knew the cost – the pain of separation from His Father. Yet, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV).

Certainly, Afghans are on the “front page” today. These image bearers of God, who have (and will likely in future days), fill US military airlift cargo planes, are on our minds and will be resettled somewhere—maybe even in your state and in your city. Will they be on your heart? Will the church go beyond the Governor of Utah’s invitation to merely accept these refugees, or will she follow Jesus’ lead and invite them to dine in our homes? Will the church befriend strange new neighbors from Afghanistan in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  There is no question that this will be hard and uncomfortable work. This kind of hospitality is outside of our American box. It is a bit radical. But Jesus said unequivocally that this work of mercy is a great blessing. In serving this way, we revere the name of the One who served us to His death.


[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/refugees-welcome-several-states-open-arms-fleeing-afghans-n1277079

[2] See e.g., Exodus 22:21 and 23:9, Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 10:19, and Zechariah 7:10.
 

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