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“I Didn’t Expect to be Here!”

2016 September 15
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Bishop David EppsI had been thinking for a couple or three of months that I really needed to get back into the gym. I became short of breath when walking up a flight of stairs and I wasn’t able to swim as much before getting winded. Three weeks ago was the clincher when I drove into town to get a newspaper and became out of breath walking to the paper box.

I went home and told my wife that I thought my lung capacity was diminished. She said I needed to go to Urgent Care, since it was a Saturday. “What could they possibly do for me there?” I asked. “Well, give you a prescription for an inhaler if they find you need it,” she replied. That made sense so I agreed. I should mention that my wife is a very smart lady. Also she is a registered nurse, holds a Ph.D. in nursing, and is the associate dean of the Tanner School of Nursing at the University of West Georgia. I said that I had to visit two people in the hospital so I would go to Urgent Care on the way. And I did. That’s when everything spiralled out of control.

The nurse practitioner saw me almost immediately, asked a lot of questions, asked to call my wife, and administered an EKG. She then called my wife back and said that I was being transported to the emergency room by ambulance and that she might want to meet me there. Shocked, I protested. I argued. I flatly stated that I was not going anywhere and certainly not in an ambulance. That’s when I was told that I was not in control of this situation and, yes, I was going to do what I was told to do.

The ambulance came, I was strapped into a gurney, put in the back, had a second EKG administered, and had a line inserted into my left arm. At the hospital, I was taken back to a room where there were medical people waiting (including my wife who had to break every speed law in Georgia getting there before me) where yet another EKG was performed.

Somewhere in all of this I was made aware that the tests showed that I had an atrial fibrillation, that my heart rate was at 150 beats a minute, that it was beating improperly and irregularly, and that my blood was not being oxygenated properly. The ER doctor saw me twice, administered some IV medication, took an X-ray, and I don’t know what all else. In the end, I was discharged, told to be on extremely light duty, and to go see a cardiologist on Monday. Which I did.

I have been restricted from riding my motorcycle, have had to cancel or postpone several meetings, have been confined mostly to the house, and have had a number of appointments to be drained of blood, have an echocardiogram administered, and, yesterday, have an endoscopy and a cardioversion performed (that’s where they shock your heart in hopes of restoring a normal rhythm).

In the ER I said to the Chaplain, “Wow, when I got up this morning I sure didn’t expect to be here today.” He said, “No one ever does.” It’s funny how quickly things can change. Maybe that’s why the Psalmist prayed; “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” Psalm 90:12, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

What’s the future? The prognosis? I don’t know just yet. But I’m not worried. My life is in His hands, as I have discovered through the years. But, assuming that things go well, I am looking forward to getting back into the gym, eventually, and getting back into some reasonable kind of shape. And a diet. I think that’s in the future for me as well. Oh, and I think I will keep listening to my wife. She’s pretty smart about things like this.

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 Final Lap

2016 September 14
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Bishop David EppsI have begun the fourth unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, also known as CPE. Although CPE is standard and required fare in many seminaries, back in my day CPE was available but not in all locations. So, it was a part of my education that I missed. Or skipped. Truthfully, I didn’t think much about it unless some other member of the clergy asked me, “Where did you do your CPE?”

A few years ago, one of the clergy in our diocese, Father Jim Taylor, enrolled in CPE. He took a unit at Emory University Hospital and the rest in the Piedmont Hospital system. I should explain that a unit is 20 weeks long. There are about 100 hours of class time and at least 300 hours of clinical time, or ministry spent on the hospital floor, that are also required. That does not include the copious amount of reading, verbatim reports, reflections, book reports, private times with the supervisor, didactics, and more that must be done in addition to the 400 hours. It is not a walk in the park. It takes the successful completion of four of these units before one can become a candidate for Board Certification.

Anyway, after Father Jim began his CPE endeavors, he was joined by Father Dan Hale and by the Rev’d Andy Ellis, all clergy in our diocese. Father Dan completed five units (an apparent glutton for punishment) and Andy completed his four units. There are a number of other priests in the diocese that had CPE so I figured that, even in my advanced stage of life, it was about time I took the plunge.

I had only intended to take one unit. I am a busy person, after all, and I thought that, while it would be a unique learning experience, one was plenty. So, here I am in the beginning stages of the fourth unit. I find that I have enjoyed this experience far more than I anticipated. My supervisor, Father Taylor (Dr. Taylor, actually), makes the class enjoyable. He demands that the work be accomplished, but attending the classes on Tuesdays has become an event I look forward to. My fellow classmates are another reason I have continued on. Here, in Unit 4, I share the room with three ladies who started out with me in Unit 1. I have learned so much from them and I miss them when the class is between sessions.

I have also enjoyed meeting the other students who have joined the classes and I have been enriched by them as well. They have all brought a depth of experience and they have all demonstrated wisdom. I have learned from them. In this current class there are six students. There is another class that meets on Wednesdays under the supervision of The Rev’d Kim Holman with about the same number of participants.

I have had my theology challenged, my preconceived notions re-examined, and I have had to account for why and how I did what I did or said what I said when visiting patients. I have also had the opportunity to see the hospital from the inside, as it were. In my previous 40+ years of visiting hospitals, I have always been the outsider, coming in to visit people that I knew. Over the last many months, I have operated as a member of the health care team, ministering to patients that I had never met before. I have seen how dedicated these healthcare professionals and employees really are and my confidence in them has been significantly boosted.

I have seen a number of professional people find a quiet place to cry when they have lost a patient or when a patient has received a devastating diagnosis. I have seen exhausted people try to save lives when all hope seemed lost—and sometimes win that battle. I have a new and growing respect for doctors, nurses, administrative staff, and all those who work in the hospital or on the ambulance, who touch hurting people for a career.

So, I am on the last leg of this particular educational journey—the final lap of a long and challenging intellectual race. Having gone this far, I intend to become a candidate for Board Certification by the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, one of the oversight organizations.    Both laity and clergy of all types can enroll in CPE. I recommended it, if one is willing to work, to learn, to grow, and to be challenged. It is a worthwhile endeavor.

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.

Hearing When There Is Silence

2016 September 13
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Bishop David EppsOn Sunday afternoon, I was confined to the house due to a medical issue. Somewhere that afternoon, I decided to go sit by the pool where it was quiet. There’s very little about my life that is quiet. Between all the tasks, meetings, appointments, and drama, I find that quiet is almost unknown. So here I decided to sit and to read.

After a time, I put the book aside and decided to simply bask in the quiet of a Sunday afternoon in the backyard. No family or friends were coming to drop by, and my activities were restricted. The telephone had been left inside the house and the computer was downstairs in the home office. And, so, I closed my eyes under the warm sun and listen to the sounds of silence.

But silence is not what I heard. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked repeatedly. Then came the “caw” of a crow from off in the woods. Then I heard the song of a bird. As I listened intently, I began to hear the songs of other birds, perhaps fifteen in all—all with a different song. A car drove by in front of the house. From the back of the house, I heard the sound of the tires on the asphalt. Then the sound of a truck passing by on a four-lane road I could not see.

There was a low rumble that came closer. I looked up and saw that an airplane with two propellers, one on each wing, was passing by perhaps a half mile, maybe a mile overhead. Then came the splash from a pool in the neighborhood, followed by the muted sound of children talking and playing. Then, another sound in the sky. An airplane, a jet I presume, flying so high that I could not see it. But hear it, I did. All of these sounds I did not hear as I was concentrating on reading. Only after the book was laid aside and my eyes closed did I hear the cacophony of sound around me.

I thought, “There shall be silence in the waters of the pool,” so I jumped into the deep end. I heard, of course the sound of the splash. But then, I heard the sound of the bubbles rising to the surface—bubbles created by my entry into the water. As the last bubble ascended, I descended to the bottom of the nine feet level and expected to hear nothing. But I did hear. I heard the hum of the pump and the slight mechanical buzz of the pool cleaner. Even here, there was no silence.

As I climbed out of the pool, I saw a beautiful black and yellow butterfly fluttering past. It made no sound. Or so it seemed. But I had learned from a learning channel that, if one had a microphone powerful enough, one could hear the sound of a butterfly as its wings flapped against the air.

None of these things had I heard on countless visits to the backyard pool. Because, I suppose, I had been too busy or too focused on other things. But now, I heard, it seemed, sound everywhere. And I heard it because there was sound and because I had time to listen. “Is God like that?” I wondered. Is His voice all around us all of the time but we do not hear because, for whatever reason, we are not listening? I believe that is so. I believe that He is omnipresent and that He is not silent. I believe that the problem is not that He is not speaking but that we are unwittingly blind and deaf to all that occurring around us.

I believe that the lesson of Sunday afternoon is that, if I am not seeing and I am not hearing, then the fault lies not in the God who is not silent but the self who is not listening.

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 Celebration of Faithfulness

2016 September 7
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Bishop David EppsThis is a week of some significant anniversaries. First of all, last Tuesday was my 45th wedding anniversary. I was 20 and the former Cynthia Scott Douglas was 19. I’m pretty sure that nobody—and I mean nobody—thought we would last. My parents were sure that I would never finish school and, as far as they were concerned, I had jettisoned my hopeful future for something immediate and fleeting. I’m pretty certain that Cindy’s parents weren’t overly thrilled either. After all, she won numerous academic awards in high school, was a person with an infinite future, and, at age 19, she, too, was throwing her life away on a guy with no discernible future.

And I get it. With the advantage of hindsight, I can easily see how everyone was absolutely right. It was a huge mistake for two kids who were clueless, education-less, and jobless (except for menial jobs) to get married at 20 and 19. Except we didn’t throw our lives away. Against all odds, we finished college, went on to get advanced degrees, and both wound up exceeding everyone’s professional expectations. Except for our own expectations. We knew it would be hard and we knew life would require a lot of extra effort. But we were determined to do the best we knew how. And here we are 45 years later, three sons and eleven grandchildren bear witness that we made it.

This Sunday is also an anniversary for our church, Christ the King. On September 11, we celebrate 20 years as a congregation. When one realizes that 92% of all new church plants cease to exist before their 10th anniversary, it makes this day especially meaningful. We began with 11 people plus a few members of my family in our living room in Sharpsburg. After a month, we occupied the chapel on Sundays at Carmichael-Hemperley Funeral Home in Peachtree City for over six years. Finally, we built a sanctuary on our own 12 acres and followed that up with a Parish Life Center. On Sunday, we will have our International Patriarch, Archbishop Craig Bates from New York, join with us in celebration and thankfulness. This, too, has succeeded against all odds.

And finally, as the founding pastor of the church, it is also my 20th anniversary with this congregation. In some ways it was much easier to be a church planter than I thought it would be. In other ways, it was much more difficult than I anticipated. This is, by several years, my longest tenure at any church. In many ways, it is still a new church and, at 20, there is a new excitement, a new vision, and a new mission.

And here I must give thanks and credit where credit is due. In our marriage, in the church, and in my ministry as a pastor, there have been many, many people who have encouraged, sustained, and helped us along the way. We did none of this by ourselves. We owe much to so very many.

But the greatest thanks and gratitude goes to God. He never gave up on us, never turned His back, and never made provision for failure. Through it all, God was faithful, even when I was not. There were lean times, hard times, bitter times, and times when the future looked black and bleak. And those were the very times, when our own resources were at an end, when it seemed we could hear Him say, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope'” Jer. 29:11.

And those three anniversaries converge this week in that message… a message of a future and a hope. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

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.

Ask Father Paul – Unmarried Couples Living Together

2016 August 18
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Paul MasseyDEAR FATHER PAUL:

Today it is commonly accepted that many couples live together and partake in a sexual relationship without being married. Will you comment on this? What does the Bible say?

-Anne

DEAR ANNE:

Thank you for your timely question. It is today, indeed, very common for unmarried couples to live together. Authorities report that in 1960, 10% of couples lived together without marriage. By 2012, the number had grown to a whopping 70%.

So what is going on? And, what does the Bible have to say on the subject?

Couples who live together justify it in several ways. The most common is that, “It is cheaper, and saves us a lot of money.” They also argue that, “We really love each other a lot and we want to spend all of our time together.” And, “We do plan to get married someday, but we feel that we need to live together for a period of time to ‘test’ whether or not we are compatible for the commitment that marriage requires.” And lastly, my personal favorite, “everybody else is doing it.”

These all sound like perfectly good arguments don’t they? Basically, the argument is,
“We think it is OK, and that’s all that really matters.”

This is the “relativistic” attitude of many in the present age. To these people, “It’s all about me. What I want to do, what I think is right and what will make me happy. Rules are ‘quaint’ and hopelessly out of date.” Basically, they say, “I believe that there is no such thing as ‘absolute and unchanging truth or absolute right and wrong’. There is ‘your truth’ and there is ‘my truth,’ everything else is relative.” Talk to them about God and the Bible, and they will often say something like, “I believe that God is a stern old man with a long gray beard, sitting up on a cloud, who has lots and lots of ‘rules’ the purpose of which is simply to spoil my fun.”

The Bible doesn’t talk about an unmarried couple living together per se. But it does talk a lot about unmarried couples having sexual relations before marriage, and, let’s be honest, sex goes with living together in 99.9% of cases. The Bible calls that act “fornication” and says that it is a serious sin against God.

The word “fornication” or a variation, like “fornicator” is used forty-four times in the Bible—God’s Holy Word. Its an “old-fashioned” word found first in the 1603 King James translation of the Bible. Today’s modern Bible translations still use the word, but sometimes translate the word as “sexual immorality, or sexual sin.” Either way, the meaning is clear—sexual intimacy outside of marriage.

All forty four Bible verses condemn fornication. One short example is I Thessalonians 4:3 (New Living Translation), “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from sexual sin (fornication).” 1 Corinthians 6:18; Galatians 5:19; Acts 15:20; Acts 21:25; Colossians 3:5; and Ephesians 5:3 also warn us about fornication.

So is God really an old-fashioned, out of date, prude who is just trying to spoil our fun? Absolutely not! God is a kind and loving (heavenly) Father who, like any good father, has instituted “rules” to keep us, his children whom he loves, from getting badly hurt—and cohabitation can and does often hurt us.

Consider the very real risks of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and the cost of eighteen years of child support, a statistically 33% higher divorce rate for those who later do marry each other, the fact that 40% of cohabiting couples break up and do not marry each other resulting in years-long painful fights over property ownership, much higher percentages of physical abuse. =The fact is that there are lots more good reasons NOT to cohabit than just the Biblical warnings.

We hear the argument, “Who on earth would buy a car without a test drive? Isn’t marriage more important than buying a car?” To which I answer, that argument makes sense if you are the “driver,” if you can just walk away if you aren’t happy with the car. But what if you are the “car” in that scenario? Then, you are just going to get dumped back on the dealer’s lot. So how is that gonna work for you? Think about it.

Do you have a question? Email your question to me at paulmassey@earthlink.net and I will try to answer your question in the paper.

Father Paul Massey is Pastor Emeritus of Church of the Holy Cross in Fayetteville, Georgia. Visit us at www.holycrosschurch.wordpress.com and visit us in person this Sunday.

What’s Church For?

2016 August 13
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsWhat is church for? I mean, really, why does church exist? After all, Jesus said, “…I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” That’s a pretty serious declaration. The word “church” comes from a Greek word which means “those who are called out to gather together.” So, the church is not a building. Which is a good thing since the church basically did not own a building for some 300 years after its founding. The Church is people. People who have been called out from wherever they were in life but called out to gather together, primarily for worship. Not for fellowship, not to have a variety of ministries, not primarily for education, not to build a facility, and certainly not for recreation. For worship.

So, perhaps a better question should be “Who is the Church for?” Most of us think it is for us, but it is not. Some contend that the Church exists for the “lost” who need to be evangelized. But that is not correct either. The Church exists for God. Throughout the Old and New testaments, the story of God could well be described as “God in search of a people.” In the creation story, the perfect parent creates the perfect environment and places in it two individuals who, by the way, are made in the image of God. Given the power of choice, they make bad decisions and the story of humankind becomes a sad and desperate drama.

Jumping ahead several millennia, the Apostle Paul writes to the “called out ones who are gathered together” in a place called Corinth and states that, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins against them.” Through Jesus, God reaches out to a people who the Apostle Peter calls “a chosen generation” and the Church is born. That’s a simple statement, but the full story is too long to give full explanation here. In any event, God has His people and He calls them The Church.

When the Church gathers together, they gather for the primary (though not the sole) purpose of worshipping the One who has “called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.” They celebrate the reality that “in times past you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” And, so, the response is worship.

The songs are sung to Him, for Him. The actions of worship are to be addressed to the audience of One. We are the performers, He is the audience. We have become so narcissistic and self-absorbed that we have come to the belief that the Church, if it is about anything, is about us—our desires, our needs, our demands, our whims, our goals, and our plans. But it is not. It is not about me and it is not about you. It is about Him.

Church divisions or splits, as a retired Baptist pastor once wrote (because he dared not write it while he still served as a pastor) “…are not about morals, theology, or any such things. Most are about ‘who shall rule in this place.'” In other words, people are more interested in getting what they want and couldn’t care less about what God wants.

I sat in a church service many years and thought, “If God never showed up in this place, we would still have a good time because the service is so exciting.” And by exciting, I meant entertaining. Nothing about the service was about God that day. It was all about giving the people what they thought they wanted—about keeping the children entertained, providing music that excited people, about a sermon that would wow the congregants. Who am I to make such a judgment? I was the pastor and it was my church.

We were about us and we claimed we were about what God wanted. But we deceived ourselves.
It is a constant struggle and requires vigilance to try to keep things God-focused and Christ-centered. It is far too easy to compromise or to slip back into old, familiar patterns. It is far easier to give the people entertainment than it is to give a Holy and Awesome God the worship and the glory due His name.

The hard part is not God showing up. He tells His Church that if even two or three of the called out ones gather in His name, He will be present with them, in their very midst. No, the hard part is coming to the realization that Church is about God and God alone. It is the called out ones gathering together to worship the only One who has ever been worthy of worship. Everything else that the Church may legitimately do flows from that beginning point. It is not a step that may be skipped. If it is not about God, then it is not the Church. At least it is not the Church that God Himself envisioned.

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 Pilgrimage to Oak Hill

2016 August 12
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsIt was a fairly long drive for so simple a task. It was approximately 360 miles from my house to Oak Hill Memorial Park in the Lynn Garden area of Kingsport, Tennessee. I was there to visit the graves of my parents. My father’s headstone revealed his name as William E. Epps, Jr. and that he was born in 1927 and died in 1996. It further announced that he was a World War II veteran of the United States Navy with the rank of S1. He dropped out of high school to enlist, finishing later.

On his left was his wife, my mother. Thelma Kathleen Luster Epps was born in 1926 and passed from this life in 2003. She worked until I was born and then became a homemaker for the rest of her life. My parents were married a bit shy of 50 years and had two sons, myself and my younger brother, Robert Wayne Epps.

Cancer, specifically lung cancer that, after two surgeries and a boatload of treatment, spread to the brain, took my dad. My mom suffered for years from emphysema until, all at once, in an eight day period, her bodily systems shut down one after another. Their lasting legacy is, so far, two sons, three grandsons and a granddaughter, and 13 grandchildren, four boys and nine girls. Another grandchild, a girl, has joined them in Heaven.

Part of the reason I periodically make this pilgrimage is to prove my mother wrong. She often said, “When I die, no one will ever visit my grave.” Sometimes, I will walk up to her marker and say, “Wrong again, Mom.” But there is a deeper, more serious reason.

One of the Commandments is to “Honor thy father and mother.” I think that, sometimes, I didn’t do nearly enough of that when they were alive. Loved them. Respected them. Tried to honor them. But, for a few years, I was in the Marine Corps and, even when I came home, I was interested in being with the girlfriend du jour. Later, I was married and building a career and raising a family. Part of that time, we lived in Colorado for a few years and much of those later years, we lived in Georgia—360 miles away.

I wrote them, sent them photographs, and even sent newspaper clippings and sermon tapes. In fact, I mailed them something every day that the mail ran from 1981 until my Mom died in 2003. But, does honoring one’s parents end with the event of their death? I think not. And so, the journey.

I went to the cemetery and noted that the artificial flowers were out of season. So, I went to a department store and bought summer flowers. I returned to Oak Hill and threw away the old flowers and added the new. Then, I went to the car and took out two items that I had brought with me—an American flag and a flag of the United States Navy. It’s part of my ritual. Part of my efforts to honor this man, my father, who was willing to leave Hawkins County, Tennessee and to put his life on the line before he ever married or had children.

There was an older flag which was a bit weather-worn that I had placed on my last visit. I removed it, looked around, and found a neglected and bare headstone of a World War II soldier. I put that flag on his grave. I placed the new Stars and Stripes on my father’s grave, added the Navy flag, stood at attention and saluted him.

I lingered awhile and paid respects to my grandparents and a few others and then headed back to the hotel. The next morning, I drove the 360 miles back home.

Someone said to me once, “You don’t need to do that for them.” I know that. I do this for me. I do this because there is something in me that still compels me to honor them, to respect them, to say, by my presence, that I miss them still. I will go back in the Fall when it’s time to change the flowers and replace the flags. And to tell my mother that she’s wrong yet again.

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.