Central Seminary among fastest growing theology schools

Central Baptist Theological Seminary, located in Shawnee, KS, is a partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), Inc.  For more information about this partner relationship, please check out the CBF Partner Theological Education Programs directory at the CBF partner page.

In a recent report released from The Association of Theological Schools on the numbers of students enrolled in seminary, Central Seminary, was identified as one of the 12 fastest growing theology schools in the US.  Central was highlighted as one that has seen attendance grow by more than 50 percent.  At a time of decreasing church attendance and overall affiliation with organized religious practice, it is significant that Central continues to grow.

What is the secret to Central’s success?  “There is no silver bullet,” Daniel O. Aleshire, executive director of ATS, said in the report. “The reasons that some schools have enjoyed extraordinary enrollment growth during the past five years are idiosyncratic. Each growing school has its own success story to tell.”

According to President Molly T. Marshall, it is absolutely critical to offer relevant and contextual theological education to support Central’s mission and values.  As a result, Central has overseen a record growth of more than 179 percent during the past five years.

President Marshall adds, “We are delighted that ATS cites Central as one of the twelve fastest growing seminaries among its approximately 270 schools.  It is clear that students desire the kind of education we are offering!  We are preparing creative leaders for diverse ministry contexts through accessible educational delivery.  Our core values of disciplined learning, diversity, justice, and hospitality thread through all our courses and experiences of community. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve churches and the larger social landscape through theological education.”

Central is honored to be recognized in such a significant fashion.  In a time of significant challenges for traditional seminaries, Central has found a way to remain significant, relevant, and accessible to students and those interested in ongoing theological education and spiritual development.

More About Central Baptist Theological Seminary

Founded in 1901, Central Seminary prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church and serving humanity. Central is proud to have the first woman president of a Baptist seminary accredited by the Association of Theological Schools. With course offerings in a dozen locations and serving more than 30 Christian denominations, the Seminary is ecumenical and evangelical.  Central is devoted to the redemptive gospel, the mission of the church, and to intellectual inquiry which encourages open-mindedness to the best insights of biblical and theological studies. For more information, visit www.cbts.edu.

Disaster Response Training

Sponsored by Alabama CBF and Volunteers of America Southeast.


This event will be Saturday, April 25 and will be held at Trinity Baptist Church in Madison, AL. Those from Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia are encouraged to avail themselves of this opportunity.  


Volunteers of America Southeast will be providing this training from 9:00 a.m. (CDT) - 9:00 p.m. (CDT).  Coffee and donuts will be at 8:45 a.m. and lunch will be provided free of charge


To register for the event or for inquiries, contact Lucas Dorion, Lucas@alabamacbf.org

IRS notice brings good news for small churches

By Gary Skeen

Finally, some good news for small churches struggling with tax issues associated with health care reimbursement for staff and employees: in a Feb. 18th notice, the IRS said it will not enforce the penalty to small employers that offer health care premium reimbursements to its employees.

Since the early 1960s, employers were able to directly pay for or reimburse employees for premiums of health insurance policies purchased by an employee without the employee being taxed. But on January 1 last year, the favorable treatment changed under the rules of the Affordable Care Act, and those benefits were scheduled to be taxed.

Part of the confusion with the change is that employer-purchased (group) plans were not affected, only the individual policies purchased by employees. However, an employer’s plan that only covers one employee is exempt.

All employers should stop offering premium reimbursements as soon as possible. Enforcement is still in place for employers over 50 employees, however enforcement against small employers has been delayed until at least July 1, 2015.

The final caveat is Congress may still change the law, and/or the Supreme Court may invalidate it, so stay tuned.

One of my jobs as president of CBF’s Church Benefits is keeping you up to date about changes in benefits, such as this. One thought leader I regularly monitor is CapinCrouse, CPAs, and they produced this update which has a more detailed explanation on the IRS update and changes to ACA enforcement. You can find the article here.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss your church’s benefits, please contact me or the staff at CBF’s Church Benefits. You can reach us by sending an email or calling 1-800-352-8741.

Gary Skeen is President of CBF’s Church Benefits, a ministry of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

CBF’s Stephen Reeves comments on federal proposal to end payday loan abuses

DECATUR, Ga. — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced Thursday an outline of federal regulation proposals to end abusive practices in the payday lending industry. The draft set forth would require payday lenders to verify borrowers’ income and expenses before making a loan to determine whether they could reasonably be expected to both pay off the loan and meet other living expenses, such as rent and groceries, without having to borrow again and accumulate additional fees.

Stephen K. Reeves, who oversees advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, commented on these proposals to rein in predatory lending

“Cooperative Baptist pastors and leaders are pleased that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is moving forward with rules that if finalized as outlined, would go a long way toward ending debt-trap lending and creating a truly fair marketplace for small-dollar loans. I hope that giving lenders a choice as to which approach to follow, prevention or protection, does not prove problematic considering the industry’s notorious ability to creatively avoid regulations and exploit loopholes. While this is a concern, the proposals outlined yesterday certainly represent a significant step forward for borrowers. If the rules are strongly enforced and operate as intended, they will result in major improvements over current practices in so many states.

“Our partner churches, pastors and other leaders have seen first-hand the devastating consequences of payday and auto-title lending in their congregations and communities. They have used their benevolence funds to aid neighbors trapped in the cycle of debt proven to be so central to this business model. They have offered financial education classes to their communities and have worked to develop alternative lending products and partnerships. They have also been outspoken advocates and have served as key members of coalitions working for small-dollar lending reform in states such as Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas.

“It is time to return to traditional values regarding usury and away from immoral debt-trap loans that have done so much damage to the vulnerable in our communities. The incredible consensus among faith organizations proves that no longer will people of faith stand by while our neighbors are exploited for profit. We thank the CFPB for the direction this outline represents, look forward to engaging in the rulemaking process, and call on members of Congress to support and defend the enforcement of new rules.”

To request an interview with Stephen Reeves on these proposed rules, contact CBF Communications Manager Aaron Weaver at aweaver@cbf.net or (770) 220-1610.

Bio: Stephen K. Reeves is associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a national network of 1,800 churches located across the United States. Prior to leading the advocacy efforts of CBF, Reeves served as public policy director for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, where he led a diverse coalition of faith groups to successfully secure passage of “first step” payday loan reforms during the 82nd session of the Texas legislature in 2011. A respected advocate for payday loan reform, Reeves is a graduate of Texas Tech University (J.D.) and the University of Texas at Austin (B.A.).


CBF is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry eff­orts, global missions and a broad community of support.The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

Havest Fellowship Baptist Church in Greenville celebrates 12th Anniversary

     Pastor Robert Pitts, seated at right, listens as the visiting choir from a sister Baptist Church presents special music during the 12th Anniversary Celebration Service at Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church in Greenville.          
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Pastor Robert Pitts, seated at right, listens as the visiting choir from a sister Baptist Church presents special music during the 12th Anniversary Celebration Service at Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church in Greenville.  

On Sunday, October 26, Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church marked a milestone of completing 12 years of ministry to her surrounding community in Greenville. The church celebrated Youth Sunday during the morning service, with children and youth leading in worship. Pastor Robert Pitts and his wife Zan welcomed guests to the afternoon celebration service, along with other leaders from the congregation, and to a covered dish supper afterward.

Founded as the first “church start” for CBF-MS, Harvest Fellowship has provided several vital ministry efforts in addition to weekly worship services and Bible study. Ranging from a community vegetable garden, to a residential rehabilitation ministry for recovering addicts, to the Helping Hands of the Delta community ministry, the small but vibrant congregation has faithfully sought the Holy Spirit’s leadership in reaching out to countless individuals and families.  As was requested 12 years ago, your continued prayers and encouragement for the work being done through Harvest Fellowship makes a great difference.

CBF-MS Fall Assembly focuses on service, welcomes Suzii Paynter

By Martha Strong, Olive Branch Fellowship

The CBF-MS Fall Assembly, was held Oct. 24-25 at the Shaw Cultural Center in southern Bolivar county. This year the annual gathering focused primarily on missions, including a variety of “spruce-up” projects in downtown Shaw and nearby schools.

During Friday night’s worship service, which followed a fellowship dinner, the Assembly honored longtime missions advocate Jane Allison of Hattiesburg, for whom the new CBF-MS offering for State Missions has been named. Jane spoke of the lifelong impact created by her commitment to serve Christ, quoting the Girls Auxiliary pledge she memorized as a youth.

The Assembly was privileged to welcome Suzii Paynter, National CBF Executive Director, who brought the keynote address during Friday’s worship service and stayed to assist with mission activities on Saturday. She challenged participants to notice the ways CBF field personnel are working to share the Gospel with people throughout many nations, especially in areas that are currently the focus of national and local news coverage due to crisis situations.

Saturday’s activities began shortly after the sun arose over the Delta farmland, before the early-morning mist had lifted from the beautiful cypress-lined bayou that runs through downtown Shaw. During the business session, the Assembly approved the formation of an ad hoc committee that will serve as a task force for strategic planning for CBF-MS.

Following the completion of several mission projects and lunch, the concluding worship service featured leaders from Delta Hands for Hope, a CBF-MS ministry partner. The closing sermon was presented by Jason Coker, who presently serves on the DHH board and as pastor of Wilton Baptist Church in Wilton, Conn.

The non-profit ministry group DHH has begun working with Together for Hope, CBF’s Rural Poverty Initiative. Over the summer the group hosted a summer meal program and continues to provide ongoing education and recreation activities for children and their families at the Shaw Cultural Center.

Pilgrimage to Iona

Northminster Baptist Church

Pilgrimage to Iona

Wednesday, July 8 ~ Friday, July 17




Approximately $5,000

(depending on the number of participants)

Cost includes airfare, accommodations, in-country transportation, and most meals.  Also included is additional travel to St. Andrews and Edinburgh.

Why pilgrimage?

It is possible to listen for and to hear God’s “still small voice” at most any time in most any space.  However, sometimes traveling to a space that has been marked sacred by fellow Christians for many centuries can make both the listening and the hearing easier.  Traveling with fellow pilgrims deepens the experience as we are reminded that the Christian journey is both individual and communal.  Life lived in the Spirit is life lived in community.

 Why Iona?

Iona is a small island off the west coast of Scotland and is the former home to a monastic community founded by St. Columba in 563.  Today, there is no longer a monastic community on the island, but there is an intentional community dedicated to prayer and service.  Thousands of pilgrims visit Iona each year to worship with the Iona Community, to visit various holy sites on the island, and, most importantly, to be intentional about seeking God’s presence and listening for God’s voice.  Iona is truly a liminal space—connecting outer journey and inner landscape, past and present, heaven and earth, ordinary time and sacred moments . . .

 Interested?  Questions?  Please contact Amy Finkelberg at 601-982-4703 or amy@northminsterbaptist.org.

CBF draws attention to National Preparedness Month

T  o  mmy Deal, CBF National Disaster Response Coordinator

Tommy Deal, CBF National Disaster Response Coordinator

September is National Preparedness Month! 

The 1st week of this special emphasis month will  focus on How To Reconnect with your family after a disaster. 

Make sure your family has a family emergency communication plan. For more tips and information visit: www.ready.gov/make-a-plan.

The 2nd week will focus on putting together a Basic Disaster Supplies Kit -- www.ready.gov/kit. 


CBF MS Council Member is President Elect of National Association

 Mover of the Week

 Mover of the Week

Camille Snyder has been elected president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors in Jackson and at age 29, is its youngest president.

Snyder, a sales manager with Allen Financial Group, previously worked with a technology firm in Washington, D.C.  Sidelined for nearly two years by a life-threatening illness, she then became the fourth generation in her family to join the insurance industry. She is a graduate of Washington & Lee University in Virginia.

Camille serves on the CBF of MS Coordinating Council and attends Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, MS.

Congratulations, Camille!

CBFMS State Meeting at CBF General Assembly 2014

Christian Byrd, CBF Mississippi (CBFMS) Field Coordinator, hosted the CBFMS state meeting at the CBF General Assembly (GA) 2014 on Thursday, June 26.  This hour was set aside on the CBF GA agenda for all states to pause for a short time and change the focus from national / international to individual state CBF activities.  As we all know, the CBF message is the same in state as well as internationally.  It was fun and interesting for this one hour to let "our hair down" and relax with fellow Mississippians and friends of CBFMS from around the world.  Approximately thirty-five (35) folks attended this meeting.

Personal introductions / stories were given by all who attended, with attendees being from as close as Atlanta and as far away as West Africa with Lynn Hutchinson, CBF Field Personnel,  joining us.  This part of the meeting was a lot of fun getting to know our friends better and finding out what is going on in their lives. 

We followed this with various CBF leaders from around the state giving reports.  Rusty Edwards, Pastor of UBC Hattiesburg and current moderator of CBFMS, led off this reporting session, giving us a view of the exciting CBF events occurring in the state as well as at his church.  We then received news about the work of the Delta Hands for Hope (DHH) nonprofit in Shaw, MS.  This report included information about the success of a USDA grant that is being used to feed the children in Shaw over the summer months while they are not in school.  The receiver of this grant is CBFMS with the proceeds being restricted for use by DHH.  Thanks Christian Byrd; Deenie Grubbs, Ministry Manager for CBFMS; and Jill Hatcher, CBF National grants writer extraordinaire; for working very hard to get this grant through the full process / award cycle prior to the beginning of summer.  Christian; Jason Coker, Pastor of Wilton Baptist Church, Wilton, Connecticut, and a founder of the DHH organization; and Lane Riley, the new DHH Program Director onsite in Shaw, MS; all gave us very exciting reports on what is happening in Shaw with DHH extending a hand up to those who are living in severe poverty in that area.  Shaw is located in the Mississippi Delta and has recently become a part of the CBF National Together for Hope Initiative (TFHI).  DHH is initially focused on activities in Shaw, MS, where Pastor Jason Coker grew up.  Jason reported that DHH is currently in the process of getting full IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit status so it can better continue the Lord's work in Shaw.

St. Martin Baptist Fellowship (SMBF) introduced its new pastor-director, Jay Lynn, and his wife, Anita, and announced that Jay, Anita, and their two children, Katie (13) and Sam (9), will be moving to the MS Gulf Coast from Farmville, VA, on July 24.  Also, Andy Hale, newly announced Director of Church Starts for CBF National, presented a $5000 award to SMBF.  Ric Stewart, Chair of Board of SMBF, and Jay Lynn expressed appreciation as they accepted this award.  They also expressed that the funds would be put to good use providing CBF Christian ministries on the coast and telling others about our Lord.  Also, Andy expressed that CBF National would like for SMBF to attend a CBF Dawnings training session hosted by CBF for fellowships seeking to better understand who they are, where they are headed, and how to get there in a post Christendom (aka missional / community church) era in America. 

Christian Byrd closed the state meeting by conducting a "laying on of hands and prayer" moment for Jay and family as their new work for our Lord starts on the MS Gulf Coast  on August 1.  Everyone gathered around Jay and Anita and it was a special moment for all.

Ultimately, all in attendance enjoyed this CBFMS state meeting very much and found it to be both enlightening and uplifting. 

To see more pictures of this event, either let the gallery autoplay for you or click on each picture to move to the next.

Strategic, innovative leader named CBF Global Missions Coordinator

By Emily Holladay 

DECATUR, Ga. – A strategic and innovative former field personnel and former director of one the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s flagship urban ministries was named CBF’s new Coordinator of Global Missions at a press conference today.

Steven Porter, who served as the executive director of Touching Miami with Love from 2001 to 2005, will lead CBF’s 125 field personnel in the United States and around the world, as well as the organization’s Decatur, Ga., -based Global Missions staff. Touching Miami with Love was founded in 1995 and aims to share the love of Christ by providing hope, opportunities and resources with the city’s Overtown community.

Porter holds ordination in the National Baptist Convention (USA) and currently teaches courses on the history and theology of Christian mission, including one titled Evangelism: A Contextual Approach, at one of CBF’s partner schools, George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. His academic pursuits have provided connections to other CBF partner schools as well. He earned an M.Div. at Candler School of Theology and is pursuing a Th.D. from Duke University Divinity School, where he has been involved in the Baptist House of Studies. He has also taught courses in evangelism at William Jewel College, in Liberty, Mo., and served as a teaching assistant at Duke Divinity.

Porter was commissioned as a field personnel on CBF’s Urban Team in 1998 and served in Miami until 2005. In his work with Touching Miami with Love and through his various academic pursuits, Porter has connected with many of CBF’s state and regional organizations, including CBF of Florida, the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship, CBF of Missouri (now CBF Heartland), CBF of Texas and CBF of North Carolina. In North Carolina, Porter served on the Wealth and Poverty Task Force; and in Texas, on the national CBF Missions Council. He currently is the chair-elect of the CBF Missions Council.

CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter lauded Porter’s strong connection to the Fellowship and its state and regional organizations, as well as his effective leadership at Touching Miami with Love.

“Steven is the right person at the right time to lead CBF’s Global Missions efforts into the future,” Paynter said. “His commitment to collaborative mission efforts, to recognizing and replicating best practices and to investing in long-term mission engagement has me excited about where we’ll go and what impact we will make together as a Fellowship and with our mission partners.”

Paynter also pointed to Porter as the right person to lead CBF’s Global Mission efforts as the organization carries out the 2012 Task Force report that calls on the Fellowship to continue to follow its passion to obey the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), through global missions engagement “with the least evangelized and most neglected persons of the world through sending vocational and volunteer missionaries.”

While in Miami, Porter served as a chaplain in a federal prison and a street pastor for a homeless congregation. He was pastor of Downtown Mission, Central Baptist Church, in Miami from 1998 to 2005. In his leadership at Touching Miami with Love, Porter focused the organization on its core strengths — ministry to the homeless community and families at risk in the Overtown neighborhood. Part of the decision to narrow the ministry’s focus also included a concern to identify more closely with their neighbors – to be the presence of Christ in that place.

Consequently, Touching Miami with Love relocated from downtown to a new ministry center in the heart of Overtown, which opened doors for expanded advocacy and community organizing.

Internationally, Porter has developed a passion for building relationships with Christians from the Global South having served three stints as an international student, leading an international student ministry in Miami and participating in the work of the Baptist World Alliance and the International Association of Mission Studies. In 2010, he was the recipient of a Henry Luce Foundation Research Grant for work at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

At CBF, Porter looks to build on the organization’s strengths to help it become more collaborative in its global missions work, including closer integration with local congregations and the congregational ministries side of CBF.

“There are incredible people giving their lives away every day in some of the most difficult contexts imaginable through CBF Global Missions—but the same can be said of Christians in CBF congregations,” Porter said. “We must do a better job of learning from each other within and beyond the Fellowship to leverage that wisdom and wise practices to advance God’s reign in the world.”

To help select CBF’s new coordinator of Global Missions, a 12-member search committee chaired by CBF of North Carolina Missions Coordinator Linda Jones formed in October. The committee was made up of individuals from across CBF life, including pastors, former field personnel and staff members from CBF state and regional organizations.

Jones said Porter is precisely what CBF Global Missions needs at this time.

“The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship needs a shared vision for mission engagement for the future,” she said. “This requires someone with strategic vision who understands CBF, the local church, and understands our field personnel — their passion, commitment and difficulties of being on the field. It requires an understanding of our culture and what we need as an organization to lead us forward to effective, strategic, innovative and holistic ministry in our world. Our team believes that Steven Porter is that person.”

Members of the committee were:

  • Linda M. Jones (chair), Missions Coordinator, CBF of North Carolina, Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Ryan Clark, Specialist and Training Manager for Global Missions, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Decatur, Ga.
  • Bill Coates, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Gainesville, Ga.
  • Arville Earl, Retired CBF Field Personnel, Talmo, Ga.
  • Chris Ellis, Minister of Mission and Outreach, Second Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark.
  • Beverly Greer, Retired Missions Coordinator at CBF of South Carolina, Belton, S.C.
  • Bill McConnell, CBF Moderator, Knoxville, Tenn. (Ex-officio member)
  • Michael Oliver, Senior Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Madison, Ala. (Missions Council representative)
  • Joe Phelps, Pastor, Highland Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.
  • Rob Sellers, Professor of Theology and Connally Professor of Missions, Logsdon School of Theology, Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Texas
  • Rachel Gunter Shapard, Associate Coordinator, CBF of Florida, Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Steve Wells, Pastor, South Main Baptist Church, Houston, Texas (Governing Board representative)

Jim Smith has served as CBF’s interim coordinator of Global Missions since Rob Nash left CBF for Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology to be professor of missions and world religions and associate dean. Nash led CBF’s Global Missions work from 2006 until June 2012.

During Nash’s tenure, Global Missions implemented a new strategic plan that reiterated CBF’s commitment to the most neglected while building innovative structures for engagement. Under Nash’s leadership, the Fellowship commissioned at the 2009 General Assembly the first network of field personnel, churches and individuals as a ministry team among people in China. CBF Global Missions has also implemented eight mission communities through which churches and individuals can engage alongside field personnel.

For more information on Porter, including additional biographical information, video, photos and endorsements, go to www.thefellowship.info/porter.


CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

CBF Disaster Response update on recovery efforts in the Southeast

By Tommy Deal

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Disaster Response representatives have assessed the situations in their states following the devastating storm system that struck the U.S. Southeast April 28-30.

After providing assistance in the immediate aftermath of these storms, CBF Disaster Response is now working to assist with long-term recovery operations. CBF Disaster Response encourages individuals and churches who are interested in assisting these recovery efforts to connect with the state representative listed below.

Below is a brief update on the needs and current work being done:

Alabama — The most pressing needs are in the Tuscaloosa and Mobile areas, where significant flooding occurred. Alabama CBF and CBF Disaster Response have sent financial assistance to the following congregations to aid families in need: First Baptist Church of Mobile, Woodland Forest Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa and Locust Grove Baptist Church of New Market.

Alabama CBF continues to assess needs for assistance in the Athens area. To assist in Alabama, contact Lucas Dorion at lucas@alabamacbf.org or (205) 718-9443.

Arkansas — CBF of Arkansas has completed its early work of assisting families with debris removal and preventative repairs. This work has been a collaborative effort involving a diverse group of partners. Along with partner Texas Baptist Disaster Recovery, long-term recovery options will be set up to help those with the greatest need and limited resources. To assist in Arkansas, contact Roy Peterson at roy.cbfarresponds@cbfar.org  or (501) 590-6669.

Mississippi — CBF of Mississippi’s disaster response coordinator is connecting with several partners and churches in the Louisville-area to begin formulating a plan to assist in long-term recovery operations. To assist in Mississippi, contact Jim Kirkendall at chapsky3@yahoo.com or (228) 229-3331.

All of these opportunities are positively impacted by the generosity and gifts of love and service of Cooperative Baptists as well as other friends. Financial contributions are an expedient way to give directly to help assist in these recovery efforts.

Please give online at the CBF website. You may also mail a check to the following address:

CBF Disaster Response Ministries
PO Box 102972
Atlanta, GA 30368-2972

Please designate all checks to “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship” with “Disaster Response—17000” in the memo line. All contributions are tax deductible and will be directly used to help those affected by disasters.

Tommy Deal is the U.S. Disaster Response Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Contact Deal attdeal@thefellowship.info or (706) 313-5066.