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The Roads Less Traveled

2017 July 15
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsWhen I first began in the ministry, there was a generally accepted path to success accepted by most of the other clergy I knew. The path was simple. One paid their dues by serving at smaller, poorer churches, probably in rural settings, and then, having done a good job, the reward would be accepting the position of pastor at a slightly larger church and so on. By the time one achieved middle-age, the pastor might find himself (or herself) in a relatively comfortable position for the remainder of his/her career. Some would go on to greater successes and much larger churches, but few would drop back to the small, rural (or sometimes inner-city) settings. Mixed in with this path to success might also be stints as an associate minister at a very large church and the obtaining of an advanced degree.

The alternative, and less traveled, path was to stay in one church for a lengthy amount of time, perhaps decades, and become part of the community and enter into the lives of the members of the congregation. It was certainly possible that the church would grow and provide upward mobility for the minister but it was also possible that the church, and thus the salary, would remain small as well. If the church prospers, the pastor prospers (if it has an ethical governing board). If it doesn’t, then the pastor shares that burden as well.

For the first part of my ministry, I was on the first path. I started out in youth ministry, then became the pastor of a small rural church. After that came the opportunity to move to a different county with a larger rural assignment. Later, I was back to a smaller city church and then as an associate at a church adjacent to a university. Finally, I became an associate at a quite large downtown church out West. And here is when the switch was made to the alternative path. It wasn’t a conscious thing, in the beginning. But it was a definite change in direction.

In 1983, I returned to the south to become the pastor of a then-smallish church in Georgia. Somewhere along the way, I wanted to put down roots and allow my children to experience a more stable life. I also desired to be part of the people’s lives, not just the guy who came and went. I decided to abandon the upward mobility pathway and opt to be part of the community. I received several offers to go to bigger churches—especially since the church I served had some dramatic growth—and though tempted, I stayed with it. It was a good group of people with excellent lay leadership.

I was there for over thirteen years when I left, it was not for money or status, but to plant a different kind of church with a different type of emphasis. Truthfully, if prosperity was my goal, I would have stayed where I was—and it was difficult to make the decision to leave. But I did leave and, along with my family and eleven other folks, a new church was established. Something like 80% of new churches fail within the first five years. In the first 10 years, that percentage rises to 90%.

For me, it has been well worth the financial sacrifice. In a couple of months, I will have served this congregation for twenty-one years. I have been in the hospital waiting room when almost all of our church children have been born and prayed the first prayer over them. Now, I am marrying some of these very same children or am watching them go off to college, the work force, or the military. It was announced a few weeks ago that two of our young women are engaged to be married. I have known them both since they were eight years old. There is a great deal of joy in a long pastorate.

There is also sadness. There has been a fair share of funerals of people I have known and loved during these past twenty-one years. There have been still births and miscarriages, weddings and divorces. People have lost jobs and sickness has been part of the lives of more than a few. Sometimes people move away due to job changes or promotions. Sometimes people leave for unknown reasons or reasons which I cannot fully comprehend. It has all been part of the cycle of life. Joy, sadness, laughter, tears…a season for everything.

In the early part of my ministry, I learned, sometimes the hard way, not to get too close to people. At the very least, I was going to be leaving them at some point in the near future. These last two decades, I have been a spiritual father…now, I suppose, a spiritual grandfather. I have ceased to be an ambitious, upwardly mobile professional, and I have chosen (or perhaps have been called) to be a simple shepherd. I have had the opportunity to see people grow, develop, mature in their life and faith, and I have learned to not give up on any of them when they take a path that is not in their best interest.

Like all pastors everywhere, I want our church to grow, to have more money, to increase ministries—but, mostly, I want to be a good father and shepherd. And, for the most part, I am content to leave the ambitious things to God.

The great poet, Robert Frost, wrote:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.”

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

My Grandfather’s Cane

2017 July 9
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Bishop David Epps

Written 26 June, 2017

I missed doing an article last week. During the last 1,065 weeks, or 21 ½ years, of writing for this newspaper, I have missed only three weeks. One of those weeks I was out of the country in Africa. The other, I experienced last minute computer problems and the article, that I did have ready, failed to send. The third was last week. I could say that the deadlines changed but that wouldn’t be the reason. The reason is that I had total knee replacement surgery and, even though I thought I would be able to submit an article in plenty of time, my thinking was wrong.

I really need both knees replaced, something my orthopedist has said for years. We’ve tried a number of treatments, but the results, though good, have always been short term. I first started having knee problems in my mid to late 20’s. I was jogging on the high school track after work one frigid winter day in northeast Tennessee. The temperature was about 20 degrees and a strong wind was blowing. I heard a popping sound and tried to figure out what it was but gave up and continued my run.

Once I returned to the car and turned on the heater, I began to thaw out and my knee began to hurt intensely. So much pain, in fact, that I drove myself to the emergency room where, after examination, the doc said that I had almost no cartilage in the knee and that I needed surgery. He said that, whether I did or didn’t have the surgery, I would probably never do anything athletic again. With that diagnosis, I declined the surgery and went home.

Things did, however, improve and I eventually took up martial arts studies and practice again. I continued to compete in tournaments for another ten years and continued to teach well beyond that. Playing pickup basketball was out, as was bowling. So, I took up pool and became reasonably competent at that. But the problem never went away.

Sometimes, in church, I would literally stand on one foot because one or the other of my knees would be so painful. This condition lasted, literally, for years… maybe a couple of decades. So, finally, a few months ago, I agreed to have the knees replaced, beginning with the left one. I spent three days in the hospital and came home to a walker. After about ten days post-op, I graduated to a cane… my grandfather’s cane, as it turned out.

Progress is slow, painfully so… figuratively and literally. I have missed the last two Sundays at church and have had at-home rehab several days a week. We have lots of stairs in our house so that has been a challenge. All the folks I know who have had this surgery say, “You’ll be so glad you did.” Well, I’m not there yet. I still have 21 or the 42 staples sealing the wound, the other 21 being removed last Friday. I can get around better than I did a few days ago, so that’s something.

I had intended to have the right knee done in October but I may push that into next year. Maybe I’ll give up my right knee for Lent. We’ll see. In the meantime, my wife, recently retired, is looking after me and, as a life-long nurse and nursing professor, is not letting me get by with much. I did have someone ask a few days ago, “You are getting the other one done, right?” That’s a bit like asking a woman who delivered a baby three hours ago, “So, when are you having the next one?” Bad timing. Ask her later. Ask me later.

On a bright note, I have started re-reading the “Jack Reacher” series of novels by Lee Child. I have discovered that is almost nothing on daytime TV worth watching. And, maybe most importantly, I have learned anew that healing takes as long as it takes. One can cooperate with the process and move along or not cooperate and impede the healing. All healing—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, relational—takes what it takes.

My grandfather died in 1973. In about 2006, I inherited his cane. I have thought about him every time I try to get to one place from the other with it in my right hand. I am reminded of frequent fishing trips, dinner at his house with all the family (especially Christmas Eves), the perpetual pipe in his mouth, his like-new 57 Buick that was two-tone blue, his Democratic leanings up until George McGovern ran for President, and other memories too numerous to count. So, in a sense, the surgery that led me to this cane also led to happy and priceless memories of a man I loved dearly.

Forty-seven years after his death, my hand goes where his went, in the curve of the cane, as I struggle, as he did later in life, to get from place to place. It’s one of the unintended and unexpected surprises of this surgery. Perhaps I should have had this surgery in my 20’s. If I had I would have, doubtless, purchased a newer, “cooler,” more modern steel or titanium cane. But this one will do, this simple wooden cane.

I’m going to try to be in church Sunday and possibly preach from a stool and let our ministers do everything else. With the help of my grandfather’s cane, maybe I’ll make it down the aisle.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

The Greater Cause

2017 July 6
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Bishop David EppsJuly the Fourth has come and gone this year but this past celebration was memorable for me for a couple of reasons. It’s the first Fourth that two of my grandsons spent Independence Day in the United States Marine Corps. Forty seven years ago, I spent July 4th at the U. S. Army Quartermaster School in Fort, Lee, VA. I had graduated from Parris Island in May and several Marines were assigned to the school. I held the rank of Private, E-1.

Lance Corporal Isaac Epps is in San Diego, CA having recently arrived at Camp Pendleton from Camp Lejeune, NC for additional training. Recruit Tristan Epps is in Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, SC and, God willing, will graduate on July 14. Someone said, “You must really be proud.” And I am. But I am also concerned. We live in a dangerous and violent world and, throughout the nation’s history, the Marines have been the point of the spear.

And these young men are not alone. When I attended Ike’s graduation, there were four battalions of men and women who were graduating with them—who were putting all on the line for their country. Sometimes people lament the condition of youth in the nation. It depends on which youth you are talking about.

I have never been a fan of college fraternities. I know that some people swear by them but, to me, it’s always seemed like an extension of high school tribalism. When I got out of the Marines and went to college, I had several fraternities that asked me to pledge. I politely declined. Later I lived across the street from one of these organizations and the behavior I witnessed and the disregard that the frat had for its neighbors only solidified my feelings on the matter.

Someday, the frat kids will be running the world. Someday the current generation of Marines and other military personnel will also be running the world. I’m sure that, together, they will do fine, but if I had to choose, I’d go with the men and women who know something about self-sacrifice, working for a greater cause, knowing and appreciating the history of this land, and who have had serious responsibilities thrust on them. A 19 or 20 year old college student is learning to be an adult. A 19 or 20 year old Lance Corporal is likely a fire team leader who has responsibility for his team in combat.

I’m not disrespecting those who choose not to serve in the nation’s military. But I am saying that, in four years, there will be a profound difference in the two groups’ life experiences and their maturity. Frankly, I think everyone, male and female, ought to serve the nation’s military for two years. If there are religious objections, fine, then serve two years in the Peace Corps. But serve a greater cause. Be part of something bigger than yourself. So, yes, I favor a draft for a variety of reasons.

I am proud that all three of my sons have served a greater cause at some point in their lives. Jason, the oldest, served as a police officer and detective for 20 years. He is now a priest. The next oldest, John, served as a police officer for several years. My youngest son, James, served a 5+ year enlistment in the United States Air Force and came out a Staff Sergeant. He now serves as a Management Analyst for the U. S. Forest Service and is a firefighter trained to battle those forest fires out west we hear so much about.

Anyway, self-sacrifice, a greater cause, putting one’s self on the line—that’s the back story of July 4th. One third of the early colonists wanted to remain loyal to England. One third wanted to just be left alone. One third wanted independence and a new nation. Those are the people who made the difference. When the chips are down, when the nation needs them, they still make the difference today.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

A Matter of Desire

2017 May 14
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Bishop David EppsAt the present time, the tuition for in-state students at the University of West Georgia is about $4,080 a year. The tuition is scheduled to increase slightly in the coming year but, when compared to many others schools, and especially private universities, it’s a steal. Still, to me it seems like a lot.

When I first began my collegiate life, tuition for in-state students at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., was $85 a quarter for a full-time student. That translates to $285 a year, excluding books and minimal fees. The two schools are, or were, about the same size, as far as student population goes.

When I began, I frankly had no money and my parents didn’t seem to have any either. Maybe if I had bothered to ask them, they could have come up with the cash but, for some reason, I thought that part was my responsibility. I didn’t know about Pell Grants, there were no HOPE scholarship programs, I certainly didn’t qualify for any scholarships, and I didn’t know about student loans — or if they were even available back then. So I went to the bank.

I made an appointment with a bank loan officer to request that I be allowed to borrow $100 on a 90-day signature note. I was all of 18 years old. The loan officer asked the purpose of the loan and I told him, “Tuition and books for one quarter.”

“And how will you pay it back?” he inquired.

“I have a part-time job, I live at home, and I will save the money and pay you back.”

“And what about next quarter?” he asked. “How will you go to school?”

I replied, “Having established myself as a good risk, I will borrow another $100 from your bank.” I got the loan and fulfilled all my obligations.

It wasn’t easy. Minimum wage at that time was $1.60 an hour and, although gas was cheap compared to today, I had that expense as well. The minimum wage hasn’t increased that much in 48 years but tuition has.

At some point, I dropped out, did a stint in the Marine Corps, and came back with my earned GI Bill benefit and was able to finish college, although I still had to work to make ends meet.

Sometimes, high school students will say, “I can’t afford to go to college.” Well, yes, you can. For one thing, state schools are still a good deal, community colleges and technical colleges are often even a better deal, and there are a plethora of grants and scholarships if you didn’t loaf in high school.

You may not be able to go to Harvard or Emory and you may not get to live on campus and live the fraternity or sorority high life, but college is within your grasp if you want it badly enough. There are jobs to be had on campus and off.

Some people see university as a sort of “finishing school” for those who didn’t gain their maturity in high school. It is not. It is a pathway to a more successful life and a prosperous career, assuming you don’t waste your time majoring in Byzantine literature with a minor in Aboriginal languages.

The purpose of college is to get a job; to be able to have a family and not have them starve or live in poverty.

So, while college is not free — and by the way, it is never free — if you don’t pay the tuition, say, as in New York, then the taxpayers have to absorb that load while you go to school on their dime — college is within the reach of nearly every capable person who qualifies for admission.

Besides, one can always go part-time and take a little longer. Again, it depends on how badly one wants it.

Not everyone wants to go to college nor should everyone. There are plenty of well-paying skilled jobs that often pay higher than one can make with a degree. Still, it is all about education. There are some exceptional people who can make a fortune without schooling or formal training, but those people are uncommon.

Yet, it is still America and the opportunities are still there. One can still succeed — if one wants it badly enough. It’s a matter of desire.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

Homesick on Easter

2017 April 14
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsIt was Easter Sunday morning in 1970 and I was away from home for the first time on an Easter. I was undergoing Marine Corps Recruit Training, or boot camp, at Parris Island, SC. I don’t remember why but, on Sunday morning, I was alone and standing looking east across the water at the rising sun. I must have been on guard duty at the boat basin. Otherwise, I was never alone except for this type of assignment. The date was March 29.
I had arrived at Parris Island some weeks prior on Friday the 13th of February. I had a long way to go until graduation and, because of the horrendously busy training schedule, I had not had time to feel homesick. Until now. Now, as I watched the sun come up, I began to think about home. I turned 19 in January and had graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School, in Kingsport, TN, the previous June. I worked construction for four months before trying my hand at college life. Not knowing what I wanted to do with my future, I enlisted. Now that world seemed so very far away.

I let my mind wander. Before long, my parents and my 10 year old brother, Wayne, would be waking up. My friends, with whom I had gone to church for the past five years, including Steve Duncan with whom I had been close friends since we were five, would be getting ready for breakfast and traveling to Mountain View United Methodist Church for Easter services where the Rev’d Fred L. Austin would preach the resurrection message. I missed them. I missed all of them and the feelings were palpable. Mercifully, I was relieved of duty soon, went back to the squad bay, and would be in church myself at the 2nd Battalion Chapel for Protestant Divine Services, as they were called. I didn’t get homesick again. There just wasn’t time for it.

This Easter, my grandson Isaac Epps, will be missing Easter services. He, too, is at Parris Island and in the 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, almost 47 years to the day since I was there for boot camp. For him, since Easter is later, he only has three weeks to go. But the day after Easter, on April 17, another grandson, Tristan Epps, is scheduled to ship out to Parris Island. For a short time, they will both be on the Island together, although it is highly unlikely that they will see each other. There is no liberty, no days off, essentially no free time, no phone calls, no ability to move around and see the sights. It is the Marine Corps and boot camp is incredibly strict.

I have prayed for Ike every day and have written him almost every day. As soon as I get his address, I will do the same for Tristan. I know what it takes to do what they are doing and I respect them both for wanting to serve and for attempting this great challenge.

I don’t think I have missed an Easter Sunday service since that day in 1970. In fact, there’s no other place I’d rather be. All across this globe, our men and women in uniform will spend Easter away from family and friends. This Sunday they, too, will be in my prayers as they combat a longing to be home. May God bless Isaac, Tristan, and all those who celebrate this sacred season. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed, Alleluia!

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

Dr. George Dillard and Good Friday

2017 April 8
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Bishop David EppsI first came to the Peachtree City area 34 years ago this coming June. I hadn’t been in town too long when I received a phone call from one of the local pastors inviting me to a weekly breakfast meeting of Peachtree City clergy. I accepted the invitation and soon became a member of the Wednesday morning breakfast group. It really wasn’t a ministerial alliance, just men (and sometimes women) who shared the same profession, from different denominations, sharing friendship, food, and life together. It was a very meaningful meeting that I would seldom miss.

When 1984 rolled around, I was asked to participate in the Community Good Friday services. The idea for the service had come from within this breakfast group a few years earlier. Seven of us would preach a 10 minute homily (less than 10 minutes was recommended) on “The Seven Last Words from the Cross.” I was a bit nervous since I was the new kid on the block and the youngest kid on the block. I also served one of the city’s smaller churches. But, again, I accepted the invitation and this year will be the 33rd time I have participated (I was unable to be in the service one year due to the death of my grandmother).

While all of us preached, and the cast of characters changed depending on who attended the breakfast meetings, the person who put in all together was Pastor Bob Tyler of Peachtree City Christian Church. The services were held at churches that were large enough to accommodate the crowd, often over 1,000, and host churches would provide special music. Bob had been involved with a similar service in Ohio and he volunteered to do the grunt work.

When Bob left the church, the then-new pastor at Peachtree City Christian, who had been Bob’s associate minister, took over putting the services together. Dr. George Dillard has done so for the last 19 years. Now, there are usually at least nine or ten ministers participating although there are still seven doing the Seven Last Words with one doing a sort of “wrap-up.”

While George assisted in putting the services together as Bob’s associate for about five years, the last 19 have all been him. He has done a marvelous job at bringing a very diverse group of pastors together to stand in unity on Good Friday. Over the years, participating clergy have included Baptist, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, Assemblies of God, Church of Christ, Independent Charismatic, Christian, Greek Orthodox, Independent Evangelical, Charismatic Episcopal, and some I am sure I have left out. That had to be like herding cats but, every Good Friday, we gathered, stood together, and proclaimed the Gospel.

I was saddened to learn that Dr. Dillard is stepping aside and having someone else coordinate the Good Friday service. Thankfully, he will continue to participate and, hopefully, the services will go on for another 35 or more years. As I said, I was the new kid on the block and the youngest kid on the block. That is no longer true. Now, I’m the longest serving participating pastor and may just be the oldest kid on the block. Still, it is an honor to be included.

Thank you, Dr. George Dillard, for your leadership over the last 19 years of serving the entire Christian community by ensuring that these services have been continued and that they have always been of superior quality. The clergy and churches of this community and the Christians who attend the Good Friday services, owe you a debt of gratitude. Well done, good and faithful servant!

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org

Fellow Strugglers

2017 March 22
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsAs a member of the clergy, I have been able to come to the realization that most people deal with a great deal of pain, disappointment, and sorrow in their lives—and yet they still get up, go to work, do what needs to be done, and soldier on in the midst of it. While not everyone, at a precise moment, may not be going through a dark valley, nonetheless, we are surrounded by people who are. Not that you’d know it. Most people keep their troubles to themselves.

One visiting minister to our church several years ago said that, every Sunday morning, on a sixteen person pew, there are at least twelve of those people living in some sort of brokenness at that very moment. That’s a lot of people. He said that most of those people kept their difficulties to themselves and come to church hoping for some sort of answers and looking for the strength to cope and to overcome. Which means, of course, that nearly everyone we encounter is going through some sort of crisis. And we may be among them.

It may be that some of the people we encounter are struggling financially, not knowing how they are going to make ends meet. Others face the prospect of going home to abusive or indifferent spouses. Still others have lost a loved one due to accident, ageing, or disease—or are in the process of doing so. Then there are those who have gone through the trauma of divorce and are raising kids alone or are not being able to see their kids except at limited, prescribed times. There are parents who are deeply concerned about the direction their children are headed. And grandparents who have the same concerns.

It may be that many are struggling with various addictions that rob them of hope, money, self-respect, peace, and a future. Countless people are dealing with handicaps or one sort or the other. Others are being laid off or downsized. Millions are uninsured or underinsured, despite government efforts to the contrary. And, a surprising number of people we encounter are trying to cope with serious physical or mental illnesses.

But, for the most part, we are oblivious to these people and are focused on our own troubles. One enterprising person has started a business in California where people can be hired to listen. These folks are not trained therapists—they are just average people who are paid to simply listen to the customer. One aspect of the business is to offer the services of “walkers,” people who will walk with people and share conversation at the rate of $7.00 per mile. Social media, which seemingly offers the promise of connecting people, actually more often results in increasing the isolation of people as they relate to a screen and not to actual persons.

What the future holds is anybody’s guess. But perhaps one step toward a more positive outcome is simply to be kind. Be kind to the person behind the counter, to the young lady at the fast food drive through, to the server at the restaurant, to the clerk at the supermarket, to those who, by chance, we encounter. Kindness and civility are in short supply in our country. It is entirely probable that we have the ability to bring a small bright moment into the life of a fellow struggler by merely offering a smile and a greeting. Or we can increase their sorrow by being dour, unkind, rude, critical, or complaining.

Nearly everyone we meet is going through a difficult time in one way or another. If we could get out of ourselves for a while and determine to help lift another’s burden—or at least not add to their problems—life might look and feel different at the end of the day. It’s worth a try and it’s just not that hard to do.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org