News

By Lana Roberts

   The vast majority of Americans will be confronted with mental health issues, whether they suffer themselves or love someone who does. Because of God’s call to compassion and mercy, the church would seem like a natural fit for a place to find healing and hope. Sadly, this has not always been the case. Since a significant percentage of us will experience some kind of mental illness in our lifetime, the church can and should be positioned to offer compassion, support, and help with healing. That’s why FPC recently hosted Hope Authentic’s conference on the church and mental health. “You are Enough” brought over 200 people from 50 churches to our campus for a much-needed conversation, raising understanding and compassion in the church’s response to mental illness. In Pastor Jeremy’s words, “I am grateful for the way the conference is helping us learn to talk more productively about mental health. I'm learning to think more carefully about my words to those who are in the midst of this struggle.”

   In the plenary sessions we heard powerful stories of lived-experience from church members and leaders about the ways they have lived with mental illness. Each one shared that God has been with them all along the way, and they know he will continue to give them “bright hope for tomorrow” in spite of their challenges. Our featured speaker, Joe Padilla, shared information that demonstrates the powerful, positive impact of loving acceptance and support for those who suffer with mental illness. Jesus’ command that we love one another is for our good, and that doesn’t only work in the church, it’s God’s common grace meant for everyone’s good!  It’s how God put people together, “wired us”, in the first place. Remember when God said it’s not good for human beings to be alone? Mental illness tends to isolate, but reaching out in love brings people together so healing can take place. Once again, it seems, science has “discovered” a truth that God gave us long ago in his word!   

  Breakout sessions gave opportunities to learn about a wide variety of related topics, including suicide prevention, eating disorders, the connection between substance abuse and mental health, avoiding burnout, the prescription and use of medications, and youth trauma in the Fresno area.  Margie Nunez attended the session on youth. She says, “My ear was attuned to information I learned about children. I heard that youth trauma is off the charts in Fresno County. The question the speaker posed was, ‘What can communities do to help children's mental health?’  He said the local church is the answer. We need to partner with police. The Director of the Fresno Police Chaplaincy is working to formulate a way to help churches partner with the police to bring ministry to those who need it most, and would like help in constructing how that would look and function.  I'd love for FPC to be a part of the answer in helping the children of Fresno be safe and mentally healthy.” 

   I pray that this is the beginning of an increase in our church’s compassion and skill in responding to those who struggle with mental illness. I want to say a particular “thank you” to the FPC Deacons for their part in welcoming and sponsoring Hope Authentic, and to Audrey Arce (our Front Desk and Systems Administrator), Joanie Martin, and our custodians, Oscar Rodriguez and Freddie Rodriguez, for providing their much-needed support so we could host this important event well.  

Anonymous

Dear First Pres,

    It's time to be a host again. This year we've been host to many events on our church campus. It hasn't always been easy; there's always a lot of behind the scenes work to prepare. Still, it's an important part of living out our core value of transformational partnership.  We want to be a church that is partnering with what God is doing in our city while stewarding well the resources that He has given us. Our campus, our large parking lot, our meeting rooms, these are all resources that God calls us to steward for His glory. Hosting city-wide events is part of that.
 
   Now it's time to be a host again. Next week, we are hosting the EPC Presbytery of the Pacific. Folks will be coming in from San Diego, Fairbanks (yes, Alaska), Reno, Oregon City, Wenatchee, Berkley, Boise and a number of other locations across our Pacific region. They'll be here from Thursday(5/18) through Saturday doing the business of the presbytery. (If you don't know, the presbytery is our regional body of churches in the EPC.) One element of that business will be to receive Meagan Bergem, our Director of Junior High Ministries, as a Candidate under care of our presbytery. (That'll be at about 4 p.m. on Friday.) Another part of our business will be to worship together. Please come and join us at 7 p.m. on Friday night, 5/19, for our Communion service.
 
   It's going to be great ... especially since so many of you have stepped up to help make it happen. Some have opened their homes, others are planning, preparing and serving meals, some will come to greet and guide our guests, others are providing child care. You can still jump in and be a part of our hosting team. Just contact ruling elder Shiela Skibbie, who is coordinating our efforts.
 
   Finally, Sunday is an even more immanent opportunity to be a host. Did you know that Mother's Day is one of our most attended Sundays of the year? (Loses out to Easter, but that's about it.) That means there will likely be some folks visiting our worship services this Sunday. Will you be a part of helping them feel welcome among us? Perhaps introduce them to a few of your friends, show them where they can get coffee and make sure they get a visitor gift bag. Thanks.
 

Blessings, 

Jeremy 

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor
By Beth Paz
 
   For Spring Break, High School Youth partnered with youth that attend Teen Night (Bethany Inner City Church), and our MMA gym, 701 United (Youth for Christ), coming together for 4 days to serve, learn, worship and grow together. We stayed at the Fresno Rescue Mission serving alongside the Mission in a few projects as well as serving at Bethany’s Food Ministry, going on a Justice Scavenger Hunt and more.
  
   It was a special week, one in which I felt that the Holy Spirit showed up in unexpected and powerful ways. One of those weeks where you can almost see the growth happening inside of students. It was a joy to partner with 701 and Teen Night and we have seen some of our students visiting each others' spaces in the last few weeks!

   Event Highlights - being hosted by and serving at the Rescue Mission, Preparing a meal, eating together, food distribution and playing Uno with those who are homeless at World Impact, a 701 workout, City Bus ride and scavenger hunt to Courthouse Park, Fresno County Jail, and City Hall to read scripture and discuss homelessness, incarceration & immigration, morning musical worship and Imago Dei devotionals, evening Squad debriefs and games and bonfire at the new YFC campus life center!

   We finished with an affirmation circle and the youth that were completely avoiding each other at the beginning of the week opened up to share amazing love towards one another.

   Here are a few of the things students verbalized as something they learned or was challenged by, or a way they saw God at work during the week:

  • "I was challenged by the biblical presentation on the topics of incarceration and immigration."
  • "I learned that I like to help people."
  • "I learned to trust people more and that it is good to trust people!"
  • "I need to slow down and look for the Image of God in others."
  • "I heard God's voice clearly on the bus ride tell me as I looked around, "child, are they not beautiful?" and I began to see something else entirely."
  • "I was challenged to talk to people that I don't normally talk to. I learned that I put up blinders and think in terms of "me and them," but I need to find what about God is in them."
  • "I get intimidated by people and make judgments, but I found out they're the nicest ever! I feel like I've been missing out." 
  • "I like to help and I realized that I can't fix everyone... but God can do something and God does."
  • "I used to be judgy, but after this week I learned I'm no better than anyone else."
All praise and glory to God!
Communications
Communications Assistant

Dear First Pres,

    I am delighted to share with you what God is doing in and through FPC in the ministry areas I oversee. You may recall I oversee (with Elders) the Community Growth Committee which includes the areas of Men's Ministry, Young Adults, College Group, Adult Ed Hour, Community Groups and Wednesday Nights@FPC. Let me share a couple of stories from these ministry areas.

   The first comes from my weekly Bible study with students on the Fresno State University and Fresno Pacific University campuses. I am always amazed and thankful to God for the ways he is growing the faith of these students. Waves are calmed, demons are cast out, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, those who are dead are being raised to life and we only made it to chapter 6 in our inductive study.

   In each section we ask the question, what are people like before they encounter Jesus and what are people like after encountering Jesus? Reading our Bible, students see that when people encounter Jesus their lives are changed, transformed and renewed. Sometimes we see someone who was dead and becomes alive or someone who is possessed by a demon now in their right mind. At other times people who are living in shame from their ailment are suddenly and publicly healed and identified as one of God's people.

   Yet beyond good study of the Biblical text we ask the question: What does this mean for our life here and now? I hear students articulate that they now have a greater understanding that Jesus can control the weather and because we know that, we can trust him in other areas as well. Other students have grown in their faith that Jesus can bring healing in their lives. Others now understand even more what it means to follow Jesus, just as the disciples were called and left everything to follow Jesus. 

   As we end each week in prayer, I hear the students intercede to God the Father on behalf of their peers. Every week I am blessed to receive the prayers of these college students as they pray for my ministry to the rest of the congregation. And only God can get the glory for answering their prayers for patience, for good test scores, school presentations, and reconciled relationships.

   Every month Lisa and I have gained a wonderful glimpse of the church as we have attended 5 of the 7 Community Groups. (Clovis West, I look forward to seeing you Sunday!)  At each we've had a wonderful time getting to know people in a much smaller context. These communities have brought me encouragement and delight in what God is doing in and throughout our city. Again it's the prayer time when I hear members pray and intercede for each other to our most high God that I am so thankful for the body of FPC.  In each of the Community Groups I have attended people talk about the connections that they've made with others at FPC they never knew lived in their neighborhood.

   Lastly, I'm excited about joining the eight other guys who will travel down to Mexico with me for the Men's Mexico build. Each of these men, made in the image of God, bought with a price with hearts that desire to love and serve are giving up a lot to serve the least of these. I know the trip will be long, and the border crossing may test our patience, the sun may beat down with intensity. But I will be glad to be sweating and swinging a hammer and laying cement with men who know the Lord, men who will encourage me, as I encourage them, to work hard and build whatever structure Amor has us build.

   Thank you again, friends, for welcoming Lisa and me here to Fresno. We are glad to call FPC our church home and look forward to many more stories of God's goodness experienced among us.

Peace & Joy,
Chris

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

by Beth Paz

   Confirmation – isn’t that catholic?! Well, yes and no! Confirmation in the EPC is when one who is baptized, affirms their Christian beliefs publically and becomes a full member of the church.  

 The Christian Education department just recently re-vamped our youth church membership process to offer a 6 week Confirmation Class and celebrated 12 new youth members who joined our congregation.

   The class really challenged students to view this as a step in the journey of life-long discipleship. Several activities like publically sharing their testimony, taking a spiritual gifts inventory, meeting with a Pastor, their Youth Ministry Director, and an intentional faith conversation with parents helped students grow. They explored topics like Reformed Theology, the church’s mission and our participation, Sacraments and our local church history. In doing so, they learned about themselves and decided to take the next steps of baptism and membership. What a delight to share this significant day with our youth and their families!  Our prayer is for them to grow in the grace of God and mobilize the Church to flourish as the body of Christ in the years ahead.         

   The following is a brief testimony from Senior Megan Trang:

   Growing up, I have been raised as a Christian and have gone to church for as long as remember. But as a child, I was just going through the motions and not truly believing. I remember standing at the pews on Sunday mornings and seeing how my mom didn’t sing the hymns, and there was this dissonance as I wondered if she believed in God. Yet over the years, I’ve witnessed God’s miraculous work through my mom who has grown in faith and served the Lord with all her heart. And this has really inspired me to make my faith my own and build a stronger relationship with Christ. As a senior in high school this year, I didn’t think much at first of doing confirmation class because it didn’t seem right to become a member of this church when I was soon to be leaving for college. But I asked God what He wanted me to do and He made me realize that I needed to be closer to Him—membership is a part of this journey for me, more than what is tangible. It is my commitment to God…a reminder for me when I go off to UCLA to always put God first and never stray. And I am so blessed to have you as a church in my life—my parents, Beth, Meagan, the Nunez’s, and so many more who have shaped my faith and have shown me God’s true love.      

Anonymous

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