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Dear First Pres,

   I don't know about you, but I was so encouraged to hear the testimonies of our high school seniors on Sunday. Some of them have been around FPC for much (if not all) of their lives. Others have only been part of our community for a few years, or a few months. And, when we're at our best, that is the way it should always be. Not only do we pray and work to raise up our own kids to become Jesus following disciple makers, but we pray and work to bring other kids into that stream of living water. That's one of the reasons I was so encouraged on Sunday - because this group of high school seniors is a wonderful example of what it means to be a Great Commission Church. Praise the Lord! And, may every graduating class of high school students reflect that same reality.

   Of course, the only way we can participate or engage together effectively in Christ's work of making disciples is through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one, at work in every believer, who empowers us to live our lives on mission with Jesus; the Holy Spirit is the one who makes us into Jesus following disciple makers. And this Sunday we remember and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost. That means, of course, that you are encouraged to wear something red to worship this week. Why wear red? Well, red is the color that marks Pentecost on the Christian calendar (purple marks Lent and Advent, white marks Easter, etc.) So, we wear red on Pentecost to help create an environment of celebration, to remind ourselves of the tongues of fire that seemed to settle above the believers as a sign of the Spirit's presence, and to encourage one another to live as Spirit-filled believers. Paul wrote to the Galatian church (Galatians 5:16), "So I say, walk by the Spirit." Wearing red and remembering Pentecost in our worship is one way we encourage one another to do the same.

   I can't wait to see you on Sunday, but may each of us walk by the Spirit today.

Blessings,

Jeremy

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

   I wish you could have seen it. They started filing in while Pastor Greg Ehlert was standing before our Presbytery on Friday afternoon. By 4 pm there must have been about 40 extra folks in the room. Why? They were there to support Meagan Bergem, our Junior High Ministry Director, while she came under care of our Presbtery as a Candidate for Ordination. There were staff folks, youth group kids and parents, seminary friends and professors ... it was truly inspiring. And I was beaming the whole time. What a blessing to be part of a church that rallies like FPC Fresno! What a blessing for the presbytery to see such a vivid example of the way that the presbytery and the local church work together to raise up candidates for ordination! And, on top of that, there were FPC volunteers working behind the scenes throughout the entire meeting (Thursday afternoon - Saturday noon) ... plus, folks who came before the meeting and those who stayed after the meeting. It was something to behold. Thank you, Church, for the way you showed up for Meagan, for the way you served our presbytery, for the way you led the presbytery in Friday night worship, and for the joy in the Lord that was made manifest through your service. I was so grateful to be a part of it.
 
   This coming Sunday will be another one of those days when I think you'll be grateful to be part of what God is doing in our church. In addition to honoring those who gave their lives in service to our country on this Memorial Day weekend, we will be celebrating those who are graduating from high school, college, and graduate school. In particular we'll have a chance to hear from some of our high school seniors as they give testimony of God's work in their lives and help to lead us in worship.  I know it's a three day weekend for many of you, but I do encourage you to prioritize being here for Sunday worship. It's going to be a wonderful morning.
 
   Finally, I mentioned a few weeks ago a very special announcement I wanted to make about the future of our college ministry. Here it is (with lots more information coming the next few weeks): the Session has decided to enter into a partnership with a college ministry called the Coalition for Christian Outreach that will start in August. That means that we will have Coalition for Christian Outreach staff embedding themselves in our congregation and working with our college ministry team to call more and more college students to wholly serve Jesus Christ with their lives. This is a significant and faith filled step to grow our college ministry deep and wide. Coalition for Christian Outreach has been partnering with churches for the sake of college students since 1971, and it's an organization whose values integrate deeply with our own. I can't wait to share the story in the coming weeks about how the Lord brought this together for us. To say the least, I am very excited about the potential of this new partnership in the Gospel as we seek to engage together in Christ's work of making disciples for the redeeming transformation of our city and world.

Blessings,

Jeremy

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

    

We trust there are lots of stories yet to be told about how God was at work during this campaign. Here's the reflections of just three FPC folks who were involved in different ways as volunteers. You'll still find a highlight video and some sentence praises here

Barbara Knepper

   I was reluctant, to say the least, when Allan suggested we should go to the Festival Friend training. But it was just training, so ok. And the training was good. It provided lots of insight into ways we relate to others and how best to share the gospel in light of our strengths. Of course, since we'd now been trained, we ought to serve, right? Reluctant again. But I knew it was valuable. And anytime you have a chance to tell someone the gospel, you can't pass that up. 

   So we went to CityFest Saturday evening to serve as Festival Friends, which are also known as counselors. Andrew Palau gave the invitation, and I had the privilege of speaking with Lisa. She had come with her future mother-in-law who is a believer. The next afternoon, I sat down with 4 year old Sasha and 8 year old Sofia, sweet sisters who raised their hands in response to the children's message. That was pure joy! Later that afternoon, Allan and I spoke with a young couple following the message at the BMX show, who committed their lives together to Jesus.  
 
   It truly was a privilege. One that I would have chosen to avoid, but for obedience. I guess that's my lesson. I don't get to avoid important kingdom work because I'm reluctant. Of course I'm unqualified. Jesus is the only one who is qualified. But if He provides an opportunity, He also provides the means. And redeems my poor efforts, because ALL things work together for good for those who love Him. 
 
Terry Jaurena 

    I walked around after I checked in to get the lay of the land. Spent a little time watching guys on motor cycles do things that thrilled me and made me nervous at the same time. And then I heard the simple testimony and invitation to raise your hand if you wanted to recieve Christ. And people raised their hands. THEY RAISED THEIR HANDS right there. And then I watched the t-shirted volunteers come over to them and begin the conversation. A small cluster of folks who had raised their hands didn't have a Festival Friend talking with them and I was just about to put on my t-shirt and step up to the task. I wasn't needed because Barbara and Allan Knepper walked up just then and began the conversation.

   I got to pick up trash for a couple of hours which let me see what was happening and how people were interacting. I was moved by Chef Jerry Dyer's testimony, grateful for his vulnerability. Then I enjoyed, sitting next to Roger & Arida Taylor, the worship and Luis Pulau's message. And once again, people raised their hands. THEY RAISED THEIR HANDS. A woman in front of me was one of the hand raisers. So i put on my Festival Friend shirt and started a conversation. She assured me she was already a believer and was just moved in the moment, so it was a short conversation. But a while later, she turned and asked if I would pray for her and her family. So I gathered her and her three adolescent children up in a group hug or huddle and prayed. I don't know what it meant to her children, but her tears told me God was caring for her in that moment and I counted it a privilege and a joy to be in on God's encouragement to her. 

Sharon Robert

    I was exhausted myself by the time CityFest was over, as I volunteered from about 1:00pm to 7:00pmon both Sat and Sun, selling Palau merchandise and then registering "Friends" of the Festival. I sold books and T-shirts, gave orange counselor t-shirts and counseling materials out, gave directions, and general information to many, many people. So my "crowd quotient" was pretty much full by the time I was done with the volunteer portion of my day. But I didn't want to miss Andrew or Luis Palau speak. I hadn't prepared as well on Saturday and my aching feet only allowed me to stay till half-way through Andrew Palau and I hobbled my way back to my car. But on Sunday, I brought my chair and was able to enjoy Luis Palau preach the message.  What an inspiration to watch all the hands raised when the call came and see many people called to Christ - hallelujah! King and Country were my favorite part, being the true rock-n-roller I am, but it was past my bed-time when it was over and I was happy to go home. What a wonderful two days and what a great way to spend my time and energy!  I hope there were others who enjoyed it as much as I did.

 
Anonymous

Dear First Pres,

I’m so grateful for the way that our congregation has been hard at work to host our Presbytery of the Pacific meeting, which kicked off today. Remember, Presbytery is our regional network of EPC churches. Elders & Pastors from every EPC church in the region (the entire West Coast) make up the voting body and do the business of the Presbytery. Our business mostly includes examining incoming pastors, caring for those in the ordination process, doing what we can to help local congregations thrive, and joining together to plant new churches in our presbytery and around the world.

For some of you, the thought of sitting in a presbytery meeting all day Friday and half of Saturday might make you yawn. And yes, for those of us who regularly participate in Presbytery, they are long meetings. However, for me, they are also encouraging, interesting, helpful, and fun. On Sunday, when I encouraged you to come to our Presbytery worship service happening in our Sanctuary on Friday night at 7:00 p.m., I said that our Presbytery is vast geographically, but quite intimate relationally. Those relationships make our gatherings something I genuinely look forward to attending.

Here’s the bottom line. I believe with all my heart that being part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and our Presbytery of the Pacific is an incredible blessing to First Presbyterian Church Fresno. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • It’s a community of churches that shares a common vision for being on mission with Christ.
  • It reminds us that we’re a part of a larger body of churches and it lifts our eyes to care for those other churches in places like Oregon City and San Diego and Wenatchee and Fairbanks and Redding and San Francisco.
  • It provides a layer of positive accountability to the leadership of our congregation.
  • It pushes us to consider how we might partner with other congregations to launch new congregations to reach more people with the Gospel.
  • It helps us to have a growth mindset as we learn from other churches and are inspired and challenged by their testimonies.

Okay, I promised a “few,” so I’m going to stop there. Being part of the EPC is a great thing for our church. That’s why I’m so grateful for the many folks who are working to host our Presbytery meeting. It is a special meeting because soon we will be making our presbytery into two presbyteries. We’ve grown too large, so we have decided to multiply so that we have continued capacity to grow. And, it’s special because two folks connected with FPC Fresno will be participating in significant ways. Meagan Bergem, our Junior High Director, is coming under care of the presbytery as a candidate for ordination, and Rev. Greg Ehlert, former Associate Pastor of our congregation, is transferring into the presbytery (Greg is scheduled to be up at 3 on Friday afternoon; Meagan is scheduled to be up at 4).

How can you get a taste of our presbytery? I think the best way is for you to come Friday night for our worship service. Come a bit early (it starts at 7p.m.); sit in the front half of the sanctuary; be prepared to greet those around you as they make their way into the room; ask them where they’re from; ask them something about their congregation; and then join them in worship of our awesome God.

Blessings,

Jeremy

 

P.S. You are welcome to come and observe the official meeting, as well. We’ll be meeting in the Fellowship Hall all day Friday, and on Saturday morning. Just make sure to check in at the registration table as an “observer.”

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

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

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