A Tale of Two Cities
Having grown by 37 percent during the first decade of the century, and with no slowdown in sight, Austin, Texas, is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. People are filling jobs in the booming technology and energy fields. New high-rises are going up downtown, and housing developments are springing up in the suburbs. When John Terpstra moved to the Austin area from Utah in 2006, he began driving some thirty miles to Providence Presbyterian Church in Pflugerville. An OP church was needed in Austin itself.
In 2009, several Providence families from south and central Austin began meeting to study the Bible and Reformed doctrine. As time went on, the group had an increasing desire to see a church planted in South Austin. While living in Utah, Terpstra served as a ruling elder, and Rev. Jason Wallace drove home the importance of church planting.
In late 2013, it became clear that a church plant in South Austin was going to be a reality. After a pastoral search, the Rev. James J. Cassidy was called in May 2014, and he arrived with his family in July. Amidst this excitement, though, there was a problem. The group contacted just about every church in the area, looking for an inexpensive place to worship. All had said no, and there was only one more church on the list. Nearly ready to give up, Terpstra left work early one Friday and met Southwest Family Fellowship’s pastor in the church’s parking lot. When he explained the situation, the pastor responded, “You’ve found your place.”
The congregation began meeting for worship in July 2014, shortly after Cassidy arrived. They continued to meet at Southwest Family Fellowship for about seven months, thankful for the space, but limited to an afternoon worship service. Early this year, the group moved to Gorzycki Middle School. Meeting at the school means more work to get things ready, but Cassidy says the congregation now enjoys each Lord’s Day with a regular rhythm of morning and evening worship, along with Sunday school.
South Austin Presbyterian Church was organized as a new and separate congregation on February 27. The majority of the congregation still consists of families from the mother church, but several others have joined them. “There’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s wonderful,” said Terpstra. “We’ve got every shoulder to the plow. These people understand that it will be hard work to establish a consciously Reformed and Presbyterian church.”
Families have been encouraged to canvas their neighborhoods using the OPC’s new Christ Proclaims a Better Way brochures. After these areas have been reached, the brochures will be mailed to a broader area. The year began with a good number of visitors, but there have been few recently. Pray that new residents and longtime Austinites alike will hear the gospel faithfully preached at South Austin Presbyterian Church. Pray that the congregation will increasingly become mindful of the need and opportunity for outreach. Pray too that the people on Austin’s northern end will be blessed by Providence Presbyterian Church in Pflugerville, and that the families which left to form the daughter church will be replaced by new ones.
The church’s website appears near the top of a web search of the words Reformed and Austin. They are reaching out to the community with social media and by word of mouth. Plans are being made for more organized outreach in the fall. Cassidy is wrapping up an officer training class, and the church hopes to have its first deacon ordained and installed in the coming months.
People responding to a 2012 Gallup Poll named Springfield, Ohio, as the unhappiest city in America. About 60,000 people call Springfield home, but the number is dropping as manufacturing plants, once the economic backbone of the region, close down. One of the OPC’s newest mission works is seeking to reach this city with the hope of the gospel.
Covenant Presbyterian Church, in Dayton (Vandalia), located about half an hour west of Springfield, called the Rev. Bradley M. Peppo as an evangelist, and he now serves as the organizing pastor for Living Water OPC in Springfield. Five Covenant families from the Springfield area formed the original core group, and three other Springfield families have been added.
Living Water’s first public worship service was held on February 1 at the Courtyard by Marriott on appropriately named Fountain Avenue in downtown Springfield. With a good number of supporters from their mother church in Vandalia, about sixty people gathered that first week. Since then about forty have gathered for worship each Lord’s Day.
There is plenty of room for growth in the room that holds about one hundred people. The group has no storage space at the hotel, but they’ve got set-up down to a science. A team of guys goes to Covenant to get all the needed copies of the three different songbooks used in worship. The sound system, keyboard, and stringed instruments used to accompany singing must all be brought in each week as well.
Peppo is still living in the Vandalia/Dayton area, and currently spends three days a week in Springfield, including Sunday. Not having an office has given Brad opportunities to meet locals as he studies. He spends most of his time in Springfield at Panera Bread. Some of the people he has met there have already visited worship.
He might also be found at Post 95, a coffee shop on the campus of Wittenberg University. There is no organized outreach there yet, as organizations on campus must be run by students. Some students from Cedarville University, about fifteen minutes from Springfield, have also come to worship services.
After attending the Church Planter Training Conference in Atlanta earlier this year, Peppo wanted to use the Christianity Explored curriculum. A small group is going through the material as a test run.
Peppo is no stranger to engaging unbelievers. He regularly interacted with atheists in Dayton. In fact, the Miami Valley Skeptics in Dayton, Ohio, recently invited him to present the “Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God” on one of their recent podcasts. The result was a “friendly discussion” between Peppo and the hosts. He has hosted campfire discussions at his home to facilitate civil, fruitful discussions about faith. He hopes to continue that practice in Springfield. Pray that this and other efforts will provide opportunities for the people of Living Water OPC to interact with many unchurched people in Springfield.