Volunteer of the year

For several years, Grace Family Church of Providence, RI (a GCI congregation) has sponsored a Volunteer of the Year award, presented to residents of the community where the church meets who have distinguished themselves in unique ways in service to the Lord. The congregation recently announced that the recipient of the award in 2018 is Suzanne D. Cozzi, wife of the congregation’s pastor, Luciano Cozzi. Several guests from the community attended the service (below, left) where the award (below, right) was given to Suzanne.

Though she had to leave gainful employment a while back due to cancer, Suzanne never stopped helping and serving the church and the community. Now cancer free, she dedicates 30 or more hours each week to serving the church and its associated counseling center.

Though Suzanne’s example and service to the Lord has touched many lives in the congregation and the community, she has never asked for or expected acknowledgment or praise. For her, the privilege of serving the Lord is a sufficient reward. Suzanne’s sterling character as a woman, mother, wife and servant of the Lord shines brightly as a testimony to God’s grace and love. Congratulations Suzanne.

ACCM courses at Home Office

This article was written by John McLean, Director of Ambassador College of Christian Ministry (ACCM).

“I’ve got it! I’ve finally got it!,” exclaimed an enthusiastic student on the first morning of the ACCM Jesus and the Gospels course taught at GCI’s Home Office over the weekend of October 20-21. “I’ve finally seen why it really is all about Jesus,” the delighted student went on. Along with the other students, she saw clearly why Jesus changes everything.

“I’ve got it!”

Over two days together we explored and mined the deep, inexhaustible revelation of Jesus contained in the Gospels. Not just revelation, but also the relationship he brings us into with the Father through the Spirit. We learned about the method and message of Jesus’ teaching, and how to read Scripture through the lens of Jesus.

In the Christian Leadership course (held concurrently), we explored the theological foundations of leadership through Jesus, and addressed the practical implications and applications of this for leading. As GCI President Greg Williams often says, pastor-led, team-based leadership is the model for ministry and pastoral leadership that we follow in GCI. The course ideally equips participants for living out this model, yielding more effective leading for ministry and mission, while developing healthier churches.

Although the two classes met separately, each day started with combined worship—knowing that both our learning and lives are offered in worship to the Triune God.

ACCM’s interactive learning style encourages transformation, not just information. The students enjoyed that learning style through the facilitation of quality teachers as they continued their learning and formation journeys as disciples of Jesus. They were encouraged and rewarded with deepening understanding and life-changing growth and development as we shared the deep things of God together.

“I find it very inspiring,” said one participant. Another said his experience was so great that he now believes “every member needs to be participating in ACCM.” Another participant wrote, “Thank you for having this course. It has opened my eyes to a lot of things. I feel it will help me become a pastor.” Another said, “I am richly blessed by this course. I know Jesus and love him even more.” A new pastor said, “I owe it to my congregation to do these ACCM courses.” Another participant wrote, “I believe our church’s use of ACCM worldwide is preparing us for growth, and definitely healthier churches.”

A huge thank you to all who attended and special thanks to Pam Morgan and all the others in the GCI Home Office who helped make the two days such a delight.

The power of Scripture reading

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Greg and Susan Williams

In the summer of 2012, while pursuing my Doctor of Ministry from Drew University, I was presented with the unexpected opportunity of taking an elective course called Celtic Spirituality. It required that I travel with the professor and six other students by plane to Manchester, England, then by train into Wales, then by van to the village of Aberdaron, and finally by ferry boat to Bardsey Island. Remote and rather barren (see the picture below), Bardsey has only four permanent residents. Nevertheless, it holds a special place in the cultural life of Wales. Due to the large number of Christians buried there, it is known as “the island of 20,000 saints.” Legend has it that King Arthur is one of those buried there. As a result, the island attracts large numbers of artists, writers, musicians and pilgrims (my class included).

View of Bardsey Island (source)

In AD 516, an Irish priest named Cadfan sailed to Bardsey with 25 monks and began a monastery that operated through 1537. It was the mission of my class to recreate monastic life some 475 years after the monastery closed. In order to be formed into a monastic community, each of my classmates was assigned one of several roles: abbot, deacon, cellarer, cantor, acolyte, or the one I was assigned: lector. The job of the lector is to prepare the readings assigned for the mass (liturgical church service). The lector then either reads those long passages or assigns others to read them. I had no idea of the large amount of scripture that is read in these services.

Ruin of the Bardsey Abbey (source)

Initially, my reason for reading the passages had to do with fulfilling a degree requirement. But as I read, I was surprised by the profound, personal impact it had as I experienced the Word of God washing over me. As I went back and forth between Old and New Testament readings, my appreciation for Holy Scripture was renewed and deepened.

The course professor, an Episcopal priest, gave me some special attention (perhaps his Tennessee roots paired well with my North Carolina roots!). He teased me incessantly, noting that though we Evangelicals say we are Scripture-based, we read far less Scripture in our worship services than do churches that follow the historically-orthodox worship liturgy. He made a strong case for making Scripture reading a primary part of all worship services.

Being immersed for a week in Celtic spirituality had a significant impact on me. I was particularly moved by sharing in deep, rich community with fellow students. Together, we prepared meals, engaged in morning and evening prayer, daily mass, and other class exercises. But the takeaway I want to share with you is the profound power of Scripture reading in worship services. If your congregation does not already read significant portions of Scripture in each service, I encourage you to do so.

For two examples of how God is heard through the reading of Scripture, read aloud Ephesians 5:21-33. Do you hear God’s instruction concerning marriage spilling over into the mystery of the relationship of Jesus to his body, the church? As we listen, our minds become filled with awe and anticipation. The metaphor of being cleansed by the washing water of God’s Word infers how Scripture is every bit as inspiring and transforming as it is instructive. Now read aloud Psalm 119:9-16. What do you hear? What do you experience?

I encourage all our congregations to follow the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) in their worship services. Each week the RCL has assigned Scripture readings (called “lessons”)—one from the Old Testament, another from the Psalms, one from the New Testament Epistles, and another from the Gospels. Typically, the sermon expounds on one or more of these passages. You’ll find manuscripts for RCL-synced sermons written by GCI pastors and elders in each issue of GCI Equipper (click here for the sermons published to date). Along with each sermon we also provide a Speaking of Life video and discussion questions synced with the readings and sermon. I encourage you to take advantage of these resources as you proclaim and celebrate the Word of God.

Reading the Word of God with you,
Greg Williams, GCI President

New pastor installed

On November 3, Regional Pastor Tim Sitterley installed Anthony Walton as the new lead pastor of the GCI Los Angeles congregation. Over the last six years, Anthony served the congregation as an intern, pastoral resident and associate pastor under the direction of Bermie Dizon, the congregation’s outgoing lead pastor (Bermie continues to pastor the Glendora congregation). Here is a picture of the ceremonial passing of the baton of leadership from Bermie to Anthony as Tim looks on.

Women’s conference in Atlanta

The Women’s Ministry of Living Hope Christian Fellowship (a GCI congregation in Atlanta, GA) held their three-day annual conference in late September. The backdrop was a Hawaiian Luau; the theme was “Saved by Grace, Let’s Celebrate the Joy in Our Lord!”; the  theme scripture was Ephesians 2:8-9. The primary goal of the conference was to bridge the generational gap and promote a stronger “sisterhood” among the ladies of the congregation. During the conference, the women were able to have an open dialogue to address areas of concern, develop strategies for improvement, and work as a team to build stronger unity within the ministry.

Attendees at the conference ranged from 6 months to 80 plus years of age. It was a time of praying, bonding, fellowship and worship. The women enjoyed devotionals, fun games and activities, and plenty of food. According to Joyce Gordon who serves as President of the Women’s Ministry, “We were thankful for the many ladies, both young and seasoned within the church, who rose to the challenge by allowing their God-given talents and gifts be used in such a powerful way, remembering that we are all God’s work in progress.”

Retirements celebrated

On November 11, 230 members of GCI’s Spanish-speaking congregations in Southern California came together for a joint worship service in which Joseph Tkach and Lorenzo Arroyo were honored. The service featured exuberant worship and a well-received message from Dr. Tkach. The two honorees were given plaques showing the church’s appreciation for their many years of service.

Joseph, who retires from GCI employment in January, served for many years as GCI President. Lorenzo, who retired in 2017, served for many years as a U.S. Regional Pastor, and ecclesiastical supervisor of GCI congregations in Mexico and Spanish-speaking congregations in the U.S.

Joseph Tkach (with microphone) and Lorenzo Arroyo (at right) join Heber Ticas (second from left) in commissioning Jose Escalante (at left) to serve as the the District Coordinator of U.S. Spanish-speaking churches.

Church celebrates fifth anniversary

Grace Communion Fellowship, GCI’s congregation in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA, recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of its founding in a special worship service (see the picture above). During the service, Lead Pastor Angelita Tabin gave the congregation’s leaders special recognition with prayer and a gift, and children performed special music (see pictures below).

Following the service there was a meal attended by more than 100 people. Following that, there was entertainment, featuring dancers in Filipino costumes (see pictures below). Reflecting on the event, Pastor Angelita, who was integrally involved in planting the church, shared these thoughts:

We celebrated God’s faithfulness to us. Over the past years, we have seen his goodness, mercy and love. He is truly the one who orchestrates everything to make it possible for us to celebrate. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise Him above you heavenly hosts, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost!”

The wonder of the Incarnation

This “From the President” letter is by Joseph Tkach, Chairman, GCI Board of Directors.

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Joseph and Tammy Tkach

Advent, which spans four Sundays (starting on December 2 this year), is a season of preparation for Christmas. During Advent we ponder the marvels of Jesus’ multiple “comings” (advent means coming). One of those marvels is the Incarnation by which the omnipresent God came even closer to us in the person of the God-man Jesus. As Luke proclaims, because Jesus has come, “nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17, NASB). I like Luke’s use of “come to light”—it’s an idiom that points to the reality that with the coming of the incarnate Son of God to earth, things previously hidden about God and humanity are now revealed.

To see physically, there must be a source of light and the same is true spiritually. The light that gives spiritual sight is Jesus—the light of God for the world. The apostle Paul puts it this way:

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6, NASB)

Christ Pantocrator
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The Greek word translated face is prosopon from pros (meaning toward) and ops (meaning face or eye). It can also be translated presence. With the advent of Jesus, the everywhere-present though hidden God may be seen (experienced) through the Spirit in a deeply personal, face-to-face way.

Though omnipresent, God cannot be contained by created time and space. Through the Incarnation, God made himself personally present to us in Jesus. The Son of God first came to us through his human birth; since his ascension he is coming to us by his Spirit; and at the end of the age he will come again bodily. Christ has come, Christ is coming, and Christ will come again.

The season of Advent reminds us that God is not limited by the Incarnation. God remains Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and the Son of God remains who he was from all eternity, while assuming a complete human nature. Because of the Incarnation, our uncreated, omnipresent God is present to all created things while remaining God over all things.

As portrayed in the famous icon at right, the Son of God, who was divine before the Incarnation, remains divine even while being with us in the human person of Jesus. As affirmed in the Chalcedonian Creed, Jesus is one person with two natures.

Jesus was, is, and forever will be, fully God and fully human.

My mind boggles contemplating that reality. Though I cannot fully comprehend it, Advent reminds us that God the Son came from eternity and stepped into created time and space to be with us. In Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin puts it this way:

For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning! (Book 2, p. 53)

My mind continues to be boggled as I read what Paul wrote to the church at Colossae:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Col. 2:9-10)

As a baby lying in a manger, Jesus was still the omnipresent Lord, sovereign over eternity and all creation. Though he became human, the Son of God remained divine. As the author of Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). While on earth, the incarnate Son of God lived a fully human life. Paul puts it this way:

Being in very nature God, [the Son of God] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)

The incarnate Son of God made this great sacrifice in order to reconcile, regenerate and transform within himself our rebellious, corrupted human nature. That transformed human nature is then shared with us by the Holy Spirit who ministers to us the things of Christ.

The wonder of the Incarnation, which we ponder during Advent, truly is beyond our ability to fully grasp. Nevertheless, it inspires our adoration and thanksgiving. Advent, along with Christmas and the other celebrations in the liturgical calendar, reminds us that our omnipresent, triune God reached down to us so that we might be lifted up to him. Thank you, Jesus!

Love and blessings upon you all this Advent season,
Joseph Tkach

PS: Due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday next week, the next issue of GCI Update will be published on November 28. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.