For more than a year, your IPC Session has prayerfully considered a most important question: as a congregation, will our mission of "disciples making disciples" be more effective if we were to join another Presbyterian order? The resounding and unanimous answer is "yes." It has become increasingly apparent that our steadfast beliefs are, in many ways, at odds with the beliefs and direction being taken by our current denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or PC(USA).
After purposeful prayer, study, and reflection, we have decided to explore reafflilation with an emerging denomination, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. ECO's mission “to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ” fully aligns and resonates with IPC’s mission "to make disciples who make disciples."
As we continue on our path to discern where God is calling us, we urge you to read our recommendations regarding the denominational affiliation of IPC. We want to share with you how we arrived at the decision to explore reaffiliation, describe how the formal presbytery discernment process works, and also give you valuable resources to gain perspective on the current issues.
For your prayerful consideration:
- A Recommendation from Session about the Denominational Affiliation of IPC
- History Of IPC’s Consideration of the Discernment Process
- Why the PC(USA) Is No Longer the Best Fit for IPC
- ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians
- Los Ranchos Presbytery Discernment and Dismissal Process
- Additional Resources
May we, as God’s servants, approach this decision with trust in His wisdom and provision, and be energized and confident about what God has planned for IPC!
A RECOMMENDATION FROM SESSION ABOUT THE DENOMINATIONAL AFFILIATION OF IPC
We, as your Session, have some very important information to share with you about our vision as a congregation and our future in the larger Presbyterian denomination. Let us explain ...
A BRIEF HISTORY
After Pastor Mark Roberts left in 2007, IPC went into a period of self-evaluation. We completed a Mission Study which defined what we believe as Irvine Presbyterian Church. Subsequently, we called our present Lead Pastor, Scott Bullock. With his input, we used the Mission Study to develop a new Strategic Plan, which emphasizes the Lord’s command to carry out the Great Commission of “disciples making disciples.” Unfortunately, we also went through difficult financial times in 2012, prompting budget cuts and painful staff downsizing. Fulfilling the Strategic Plan required significant changes to the structure and operations of IPC, which we are now putting into fruitful practice.
WHAT WE BELIEVE
Through it all, God has proven His faithfulness to us. He has provided the resources to begin joining Him in this “rediscovered” mission. He sent us new team leaders who are making a difference for the kingdom. The Holy Spirit is creating a renewed energy and sense of purpose in our church family.
The four priorities of "disciples making disciples" at IPC remain unwavering. First, we come into the presence of the living God through Jesus Christ. Second, we are called to cultivate the mind of Christ. Third, we are to strengthen one another in Christ. Fourth, we are to send disciples out into our community and the world in the name of Christ.
These core priorities are grounded in the Scriptures and the time-tested truths of our Reformed Christian faith. We are all sinners, separated from God. Yet God loves us so much, He sent His only Son to die in our place, that we might be reconciled to Him. We believe in Christ crucified and in His resurrection. We acknowledge the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. We are a congregation built on a foundation of prayer.
CHANGES IN THE PC(USA)
As we developed our Mission Study and Strategic Plan, it became increasingly apparent that our steadfast beliefs were, in many ways, at odds with the direction being taken by our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or the PC(USA). During this time, the PC(USA) was adopting significant changes to what had already become a theology in transition.
Unlike most orthodox Presbyterian denominations, the PC(USA) has, for many decades, considered itself a large theological tent, accommodating a widening spectrum of beliefs, including those out-of-sync, or even in direct conflict, with the basics of our faith. Some examples: (1) the PC(USA) has ordained a number of pastors who deny the resurrection, (2) the PC(USA) now accepts the influence of individual conscience over Scripture, such that the Word of God is reduced from ultimate authority to mere guide, and (3) the focus in the mission field has changed from evangelism to humanitarianism, elevating human cooperation over divine salvation to the point that the message of salvation and reconciliation has been deemed secondary, or in some cases, unnecessary.
A TIME FOR CONTEMPLATION
Starting in 2010, Session began to examine these changes, both in isolation and taken together as a coherent trend. Sadly, we have concluded that the denomination has drifted from the values and principles our congregation, and what believers down through the centuries, have affirmed to be central to the faith. As a PC(USA) congregation, IPC is obligated to follow all policies, practices and rulings of the denomination. Session believes that continuing to accept the PC(USA)’s revisions to longstanding Presbyterian tenets compromises our theological integrity. Our constant and resolute belief in the essentials of our faith are challenged by adherence to the denomination’s current policies, practices, and rulings.
A number of churches in our Los Ranchos Presbytery have independently come to the same conclusion. In response, the Presbytery has offered its member churches the option of participating in a “Joint Discernment Process” —their name for a period of time when each congregation can educate its members on the history of denominational changes and determine if it wishes to remain affiliated with the PC(USA).
As those who have been called to serve as the spiritual leaders of IPC, your Session now believes that God is directing us to begin this process, which could lead us to affiliate with other Presbyterian congregations who share our understanding of Christ, His mission, and our place in that mission.
A NEW OPPORTUNITY
By contrast, we are excited by the faith statements of a new Presbyterian denomination called ECO, the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. ECO was founded in 2012 by individuals and churches that were formerly part of the PC(USA), and wished to remain true to the orthodox tenets of the Christian faith as consistently understood, proclaimed, and practiced here at IPC. ECO’s stated focus is the redeeming and reconciling work of Christ and His church. Its mission is “to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ” (www.eco-pres.org). Because we share common beliefs, values, and vision in the person of Christ and His church, we believe the churches of ECO would be nurturing partners who would strengthen each other in our common mission to grow God’s kingdom. We encourage you to visit their website and share our excitement in the ways that ECO expresses the Good News, and God’s mission to share it with a hurting and broken world.
Therefore, we feel it is time for IPC to enter into the formal Joint Discernment Process offered by the Los Ranchos Presbytery.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Before we initiate this process, we want you to be fully informed as to the issues and various courses of action available to us. To that end, we will hold a series of town hall meetings and small group gatherings in the near future. We will provide you with in-depth information about Session’s recommendations, and you will have the opportunity to ask questions and express your opinion. Approximately two weeks after the last small group meeting, we will conduct a straw poll of our members to determine the support for initiating the Joint Discernment Process with Los Ranchos Presbytery. If we initiate that process, it may take six to eight months and will include additional town hall meetings with Presbytery representatives. The goal of the Joint Discernment Process will be to create a “Joint Solution“ setting forth the terms under which IPC may seek dismissal from the PC(USA) and realignment with ECO. The congregation will then vote either to accept the terms of the Joint Solution or to remain a member church of the PC(USA). Further details regarding the Joint Discernment Process will be posted to the IPC website.
The nature of this decision, along with the desire for the unity of believers, has given us pause in years past, despite the denomination’s continuous drift from its Reformed theological roots. But Session believes we have now reached a point in the discussion where emphasis on the unity of the body would force us to abandon essential tenets of the faith. Therefore, please pray earnestly with us, asking for God’s wisdom, guidance and spiritual safe-keeping as we seek to do His will. May God bless us all, and the church universal in this mission.
HISTORY OF IPC’S CONSIDERATION OF THE DISCERNMENT PROCESS
IPC Session elects to join the Confessing Church Movement in the PC(USA), affirming the movement's three central statements: (1) that Jesus Christ alone is Savior and Lord; (2) that the Bible alone is authoritative for our faith and practice; and (3) that we live by grace alone and are called to live a holy life, including fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.
Congregation authorizes Mission Study for the purpose of assessing strengths and weaknesses of IPC, and making recommendations for the church’s future direction.
Session begins discussion of changing PC(USA) standards and practices.
Resolution passed by Session to continue adherence to the Reformed orthodox standards in place at IPC since its founding.
Pastors and elders attend Fellowship of Presbyterians Conference
Pastors and elders attend Fellowship of Presbyterians Conference in Orlando, Florida, which results in the formation of ECO.
Session begins and completes strategic vision process, which refines IPC’s mission and values.
Pastors and elders attend regional meeting of Fellowship of Presbyterians, held at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.
Three elders attend Fellowship of Presbyterians and ECO Conference in Colorado Springs.
Presentation to elders, deacons and church leaders on details of Fellowship of Presbyterians and ECO Conference.
Los Ranchos Presbytery invites member congregations into an open season of denominational discernment.
Session begins year-long study and discussion of discernment issues.
Los Ranchos Presbytery adopts a Property and Policy Procedures.
Session votes to formally consider discernment process.
Session forms Task Force to formulate plan for entering the discernment process.
Task Force creates plan for entering the discernment process and submits recommendations to Session. Session approves town hall and small group presentations to congregation, and straw vote of membership to determine support for entering the formal discernment process with Los Ranchos Presbytery.
WHY THE PC(USA) IS NO LONGER THE BEST FIT FOR IPC
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or the PC(USA) for short, is made up of 173 geographical districts called presbyteries. As a member congregation of Los Ranchos Presbytery, IPC has enjoyed a wonderful working relationship with this local body with whom we have much in common when it comes to what we believe about the Bible, Jesus, the Great Commission, and the work of the kingdom of God. However, the national landscape of the PC(USA) tells a much different story.
WHY IS THE PC(USA) NOT A GOOD DENOMINATIONAL FIT FOR IPC?
The PC(USA) is no longer a good theological fit for IPC.
Throughout its history, the PC(USA) has declared adherence to the truths of the Bible and to the confessions of the Reformed faith, but over recent decades it has consistently refused to define what these theological essentials are. As a result, there is a widening range of beliefs preached throughout the denomination. On the PC(USA) website, in an article entitled “What do Presbyterians believe about the Bible?” we read:
“We believe that through it God speaks to us—that it is inspired. For some, that means the Bible is inerrant. For others, it means that even though the Bible is culturally conditioned and not necessarily factual or even always true, it breathes with the life of God.”
Notice the variety of beliefs about the Bible within our denomination. Some Presbyterian leaders believe the Bible is reliable while other leaders believe that it is not reliable. If there is no common reference point for truth, it should not surprise us that there is a range of beliefs on everything from who Jesus is, what the gospel is, whether Jesus rose from the dead, to the existence of an afterlife. As a result of a 2011 survey of its own pastors, the PC(USA) reported that over half of our pastors could not affirm that Jesus is the unique and only Savior. In 1981, the PC(USA) upheld the pastoral ordination of Mansfield Kaseman who denied the deity of Christ.
But how important are these things? If we at IPC do not believe Jesus Christ is God as well as man, how could we then believe His death sufficiently covers sins against the infinite God? If Jesus is not God, how could we believe His authority to forgive sins? And, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, how could we believe His death on the cross accomplished what He promised, especially since Jesus himself told His followers that the grave would not hold Him? While we cannot be confident of what all PC(USA) pastors believe, we at IPC do know what we believe.
The PC(USA) is no longer a good missional fit for IPC.
For decades, there has been a slow drift in the denomination about what the Christian mission is. We at IPC have believed and preached that Jesus calls us to speak the word of the gospel and to do the works of the gospel. Like two wings of an airplane, both truth and love are used by God to spread His kingdom. God cares about the orphan, the widow, and the oppressed. But He also sees their dire need for a Savior. If people really are sinful and separated from a holy God, then they need Jesus Christ who claimed to be the only way to forgiveness and eternal life. While it would be hypocritical to say we care about a person’s eternal life and not care about their present suffering, it would be tragic to care only about their separation from food or physical needs, and not care about their separation from God.
While there are many in the PC(USA) who believe that we are called “… to witness among all people to Christ as Lord and Savior ... to strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks” (“Life and Mission Statements of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1985”), there are also many PC(USA) pastors who doubt that “Christ as Lord and Savior” is a necessary message. In the survey report just mentioned, the PC(USA) found that 23% of our PC(USA) pastors, and half of ruling elders, agree or are unsure that other religions of the world offer equally good ways of finding ultimate truth. The thinking is, because Hindus or Muslims are on a fine road to salvation themselves, why should Christians feel compelled to share Christ with them? However, what we believe about the Bible, Christ, and salvation impacts how and what we share with the world. It is no wonder that as the theological position of the PC(USA) has shifted, the mission of the PC(USA) has drifted as well.
The PC(USA) is no longer a good relational fit for IPC.
One might ask, “Does our denomination really matter?” or “Does it really make a difference who IPC is affiliated with, if we stay true to our identity?” It matters much more than we realize.
- Participation in the PC(USA) should be more than in-name-only. If we are a PC(USA) congregation, we should joyfully participate in its corporate gatherings and fellowship, and gladly adhere to its stated mission and policies. But, because the denomination accommodates core beliefs and mission objectives that are not in sync with those of IPC, it would be insincere to pretend to embrace what we don’t share. Part of our Presbyterian DNA is that we don’t go it alone. Presbyterians recognize the value of like-minded churches affiliating for support, accountability, and shared resources for greater effectiveness. If we don’t share a core mission, how can we support the denomination and find support from it?
- The mission of the PC(USA) will not reinforce IPC’s mission of “disciples making disciples.” When we chose to affiliate with the PC(USA), we entered into a partnership with the denomination. A good analogy for this partnership is the idea of being yoked together. If the animals yoked together are pulling in different directions, neither can succeed. If one party believes that people are “sinners, saved by grace from above” and the other believes that people are “essentially good, saved by being liberated from external oppression,” then the members in the yoke will necessarily be pulling against each other.
- Affiliation with the PC(USA) is misleading. Being affiliated with the PC(USA) tells others what we believe. People outside IPC will rightfully assume that we share the beliefs and mission of the denomination. Just as people can assume that a company name on a store means that the shopper will find a product represented by the name, so can people expect that a church would reflect the beliefs and mission of the denominational name it carries. Some people, especially those from outside our area, who may be looking for a new church home, will shy away from the denominational brand name known for being a “big tent,” where its leaders may or may not believe that the Bible is reliable, or that Jesus is the only Savior.
It is our desire that IPC be as effective as it can be in fulfilling the purpose God has set out for us. Because the PC(USA) is no longer the best fit in these three critical ways, the Session of IPC believes unanimously that a departure from the PC(USA) is necessary if we are to fully live out our mission in obedience to Jesus Christ.
ECO: A COVENANT ORDER OF EVANGELICAL PRESBYTERIANS
Who is ECO?
ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians was formed in January 2012 with a stated commitment to serve and strengthen the local church. The mission of ECO is “to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
The name ECO is not an acronym. Rather, it expresses the denomination’s passion to cultivate a healthy, diverse, resource-rich ecosystem where congregations and pastors can flourish. ECO’s full name—A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians—speaks to its core commitments:
- Covenant: To connect leaders in accountable relationships and encourage collaboration.
- Order: To commit to a shared way of life as we unite around a shared theological core.
- Evangelical: To advance the gospel of Jesus Christ and plant new missional communities.
- Presbyterian: To stand within our Reformed heritage and celebrate the life of the mind.
Because theology propels mission, ECO has a clearly articulated theology that is Christ-centered, Reformed, and evangelical. Additionally, a set of core values further speaks to ECO’s focus on Jesus Christ and commitment to gospel ministry. These values are:
- Jesus-shaped Identity: We believe Jesus Christ must be at the center of our lives, and making disciples of Jesus at the core of our ministry.
- Biblical Integrity: We believe the Bible is the unique and authoritative Word of God, which teaches all that is necessary for faith and life. The prominence of God’s Word over our lives shapes our priorities, and the unrivaled authority of the Bible directs our actions to be in concert with Christ’s very best for our lives.
- Thoughtful Theology: We believe in theological education, constant learning, and the life of the mind, and celebrate this as one of the treasures of our Reformed heritage.
- Accountable Community: We believe guidance is a corporate spiritual experience. We want to connect leaders to one another in healthy relationships of accountability, synergy, and care.
- Egalitarian Ministry: We believe in unleashing the ministry gifts of women, men, and every ethnic group.
- Missional Centrality: We believe in living out the whole of the Great Commission—including evangelism, spiritual formation, compassion, and redemptive justice—in our communities and around the world.
- Center-focused Spirituality: We believe in calling people to the core of what it means to be followers of Jesus—what “mere Christianity” is and does—and not fixate on the boundaries.
- Leadership Velocity: We believe identifying and developing gospel-centered leaders is critical for the church, and a great leadership culture is risk-taking, innovative, and organic.
- Kingdom Vitality: We believe congregations should vigorously reproduce new missional communities to expand the kingdom of God.
WHY IS ECO A GOOD DENOMINATIONAL FIT FOR IPC?
ECO would be a good theological fit.
With a clear focus on Jesus Christ and the clear articulation of theological essentials that we believe are true to Scripture, ECO provides a more congruent theological fit with who IPC is as a congregation and what we have consistently understood, proclaimed, and practiced when it comes to the essentials of our Christian faith.
ECO would be a good missional fit.
ECO’s mission “to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ” fully aligns and resonates with IPC’s mission “to make disciples who make disciples” and ECO’s commitment to strengthen the local church would serve to encourage and further equip us in our own disciple-making mission. ECO seeks to foster a culture that encourages churches to be creative and flexible in order to best respond to opportunities and challenges specific to their mission contexts. Because ECO’s primary focus is on gospel-centered mission and ECO’s commitment is to the health and vitality of local congregations, property is not held in trust for the denomination but belongs to the local congregation.
ECO would be a good relational fit.
Over the past year or so, several other leading and like-minded congregations in our presbytery have also been exploring ECO and are now in the process of leaving the PC(USA) to affiliate with ECO. These churches, and those already in ECO, would be nurturing friends and partners in our shared mission of making disciples and expanding God’s kingdom. Since ECO is still relatively young and forming as a new denomination, affiliating with them at this time would give IPC the opportunity to help shape and impact ECO’s future.
For more on ECO, including the story of how it began, its mission, values, and theological essentials, visit www.eco-pres.org.
For a copy of ECO’s Essential Tenets & Confessional Standards visit www.eco-pres.org/theology/essential-tenets.
LOS RANCHOS PRESBYTERY DISCERNMENT AND DISMISSAL PROCESS
In June 2013, the Los Ranchos Presbytery (“Presbytery”) adopted a Property Policy and Procedures (“Property Policy”) to assist member congregations that were struggling with their affiliation with the PC(USA) and their ongoing fellowship and participation in the Presbytery. This Property Policy clarifies how the trust clause in the PC(USA) constitution relates to the disposition of church property in the event a congregation wishes to leave the denomination. The intent of that trust clause is to create partnerships whereby the congregation is usually the donor, the PC(USA) is the beneficiary and the Presbytery is the trustee. As such, the Presbytery has the fiduciary responsibility for protecting the use of the property consistent with the Book of Order of the PC(USA). The Property Policy is designed to provide a path for member congregations to discern their current relationship with the PC(USA) and to seek dismissal if they believe it is appropriate. The entire 12-page Property Policy can be found under “Resources” on the Presbytery’s web site at www.losranchos.org.
The Property Policy may be summarized as follows:
First Step: A Period of Discernment
The Session and congregation engage in a period of discernment to determine whether the congregation should engage in discussions with the Presbytery regarding dismissal to another Reformed denomination. The Session may call for a straw vote of the congregation’s members following the period of discernment to determine whether the congregation is ready to engage the Presbytery in discussions regarding its relationship to the Presbytery and the PC(USA).
Second Step: Formation of a Joint Solution Team
If Session believes that it is the desire of the congregation to continue the process, it will advise the Presbytery and invite the Presbytery to enter into more formal discussions. The Presbytery will appoint two representatives who will join representatives of the congregation to form a Joint Solution Team. The purpose of the Joint Solution Team will be to:
Develop a clear statement of the reasons (“Reasons”) for considering making a request for dismissal to another Reformed denomination
- Consider the Presbytery’s response to the Reasons, i.e., is there room for reconciliation?
- Determine how the Reasons will impede the congregation’s mission and ministry and how dismissal from the Presbytery will enhance its ministry
- Determine how the ministry of the Presbytery will be harmed by the dismissal
- Determine the factors for considering the value of the congregation’s property
Third Step: Dialogue Toward a Joint Solution
If the Joint Solution Team determines that the solution is to dismiss the congregation to another Reformed denomination, the Team will work together to:
- Determine whether there is schism within the congregation
- Assess the value of the congregation’s property in light of a set of valuation guidelines
- Prepare a recommended solution (the “Joint Solution”) that specifies the provisions for granting the request for dismissal
Fourth Step: Presentation to the Presbytery
- The Joint Solution will be presented to the Presbytery for first reading
- Following a 30-day period of discernment, the Presbytery will vote to either accept the Joint Solution, reject it with amendments needed to make it acceptable, or reject it in its entirety
Fifth Step: Acceptance of the Joint Solution
If a Joint Solution is accepted by the Presbytery, the congregation and Session have 90 days to accept the proposed Joint Solution. If the congregation accepts the Joint Solution for dismissal, the congregation, Session and the Presbytery will promptly begin performing all tasks and execute all documents necessary to bring about a transfer of the congregation to the successor Reformed denomination as stated in the Joint Solution.
SUMMARY AND ISSUES
How We Got ‘Here’ — A good summary of the history of the American Presbyterian church (16 pages); explains how things have changed, are changing, and gives a forecast of what’s ahead in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
View PDF ›
More specific information about the PC(USA), compiled by the Presbyterian Lay Committee, edited by Carmen Fowler
View PDF ›
A helpful chart comparing the PC(USA) with the new denominations: Evangelical Order of Presbyterians (ECO) and The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)
View PDF ›
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Los Ranchos Presbytery
A Rebuttal to Arguments of Congregations Seeking Dismissal, by Rev. Dr. W. Keith Geckeler, Teaching Elder, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, 2006–2013
View PDF ›
Los Ranchos Presbytery
Awesome Things about the PC(USA)
Why Stay in the PC(USA), by Jerry Tankersley, the pastor of Laguna Beach Presbyterian Church
Five Reasons to Consider Leaving the Presbyterian Church, by John West, elder at First Presbyterian Church Tacoma
View PDF ›
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FOR FURTHER STUDY
Books for a more comprehensive history of the Presbyterian church:
Each of the following is an overview of the history of Presbyterianism. Each work is current enough that it does include some coverage of recent events, including the founding of ECO (Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians). The Fortson book is a quicker read; Longfield is a little more thorough.
Presbyterians and the American Culture, by Bradley J. Longfield. Westminster John Knox Press (February 25, 2013). 296 pages.
The Presbyterian Story, by S. Donald Fortson. PLC Publications (December 6, 2012). 266 pages.
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What Do Presbyterians Believe? — Articles covering theological topics from the PC(USA) website
A Snapshot of Presbyterians — Age, demographics, etc., from the PC(USA) website
View PDF ›
Presbyterian Family Denominational Tree — An interactive chart of the history of Presbyterians in America sorting through the history of the Presbyterian denominations for visual learners. Click on each Presbyterian denomination for background and more information:
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There are currently 11 churches in our Los Ranchos presbytery of 56 churches that are actively seeking dismissal from the PC(USA). The following three churches are among them. Follow these links for helpful articles, answers to questions, and additional web resources.
St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach
For the most recent statement from St. Andrews: Executive Summary, and specific reasons for leaving the PC(USA) and for affiliating with ECO
View PDF ›
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, Los Alamitos
FAQs: View PDF ›
Trinity Presbyterian Church, Santa Ana
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Los Ranchos Presbytery Discern Blog
During this time of discernment, IPC's Session welcomes conversations with you. Below is a list of the elders' names and contact information. (Click on an elder's name to send him/her an email message).
Elders are also availble to speak with you personally at "listening tables" on the patio each Sunday after worship service.
Please reach out to your elders during this time of prayer and reflection.