A Visit to the EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York and Some Feedback

Recently this blog was in the New York City area. While in the area l stopped and visited the EFCA’s Salem Church as led by John Welborn. While Salem is a warm and welcoming environment to strangers, it’s sound can be hard on one’s hearing. Also this blog noticed that John Welborn is using material from James MacDonald. In light of the issues with Harvest Bible Chapel this blog hopes that Welborn will refrain from using MacDonald’s material.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

Melody Beattie

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:14 NIV

EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island

On the weekend of October 12 and 13th I visited the New York City area. The reasons why I visited will have to be for another post and deal with a promise made to my sister when my Dad was dying. Basically the trip consisted of reconnaissance for planning a trip to New York City next year. As this blog writes about the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) when I travel I drop into EFCA churches to visit and observe. Its important especially if one is going to be writing a blog about the denomination to learn and observe especially as an outsider. This post is based off experiencing the 9:00 a.m. service at Salem Church. 

 

The History of EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island 

Salem Church has its roots in John Lunde who was a Norwegian speaking man. On November 20, 1905 Lunde began befriending many Norwegian immigrants and in the course of time he began to share faith with them. Several men converted and they settled on Staten Island to found the Norwegian Evangelical Free Church Mission which consisted of eight members. You can learn more about the history of Salem Church right here. For more on the history of the EFCA, I would direct you to “A Brief History of the Evangelical Free Church of America, plus the History of the First Evangelical Free Church of Los Angeles.” While there have been a lot of shepherds at Salem Church let me mention a couple that led the church over the years. In the late 90’s you had Ivar Overgaard who led the flock for five years. Ivar from what I understand eventually moved to Norway. Then you had Nathan Clayton who led Salem for two years. Nathan was the Senior Pastor at the church when September 11, 2001 occurred. In 2005 Eddie Cole became the senior pastor at Salem. He led the church through the Superstorm Sandy which hit the New York and New Jersey area incredibly hard. 

What makes Salem a key EFCA church in the Eastern District if my analysis is correct is that it has been a launching point for people to enter the EFCA Eastern District leadership. Eddie Cole moved on in 2015 and became the District Superintendent of the Eastern District. This blog has written about him in several situations or commented on his publications. Examples of that can be found in, “Eastern District Superintendent Eddie Cole Interviews EFCA President Kevin Kompelien” , “Some Thoughts on Eddie Cole’s Article in Christianity Today on Sharing the Gospel with those Who Do Not Think of Death or Eternity” , “Eddie Cole From the EFCA’s Eastern District on Both Following Jesus and the Movement of Jesus” and ” EFCA’s Eastern District Superintendent Eddie Cole on Normalizing Failure.” Furthermore this blog reviewed a talk by Jessica Cole which you can read in, “Jessica Cole on the Vital Role Women Play in the Church (EFCA Eastern District Conference).

After Eddie Cole left Salem he was replaced by John Welborn. John Welborn according to my research comes from the Atlanta, Georgia area. However he had lived in a number of places and attended high school in Florida. Welborn then attended Liberty University and went onto Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. John became the lead pastor of Crosslink Community Church which is near Harrisonburg, Virginia. Harrisonburg if you are not familiar is home to James Madison University. John led Crosspoint for seven years. When Sandy slammed into New York, Salem played a key role in disaster relief. That is how John Welborn first became connected to Salem Church if my research is correct. When Eddie Cole left John Welborn became the pastoral candidate and soon the next leader in an EFCA church with a long and rich history. John Welborn has an older blog that he wrote when he was in Virginia. Hopefully he can get this going again in the near future. One last point as I finish the history of Salem. This blog has heard from several people connected to Salem about the role the church played in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Then Salem played a key role in helping Staten Island rebuild after Sandy hit the area. Its my sincere hope that the EFCA has documented, written about and preserved the history from both incidents. Its loss would be tragic. One additional point is that Salem had a sex abuse situation recently and this church did a solid job in handling it. John Welborn deserves recognition for how they managed a difficult situation. You can read more in, “How the EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York Handled an Alleged Sexual Abuse Situation” and “Child Sex Abuse: A Look at How Two Churches Responded – John Welborn’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York and Mark Mullery’s Redeeming Grace Church (Former Sovereign Grace Fairfax) in Fairfax, Virginia.” This situation with Angelo Paulino is still ongoing. 

 

 

What Salem Did Well and Should be Commended 

As I walked into Salem the one aspect that this church did well was welcome people and make them feel comfortable. Being escorted to a seat was also a nice touch as well. In talking with the visitors station, interacting with an usher and more I found many people very hospitable. In my view that is a sign of health in that people are treated with warmth. I can’t begin to tell you how many evangelical churches I have attended in different parts of the United States where people are ignored when they visit. Salem deserves credit for that action. Another item of notice dealt with how staff made themselves available after the service. There have been several experiences I can recall in differing churches over the years where staff can scatter as soon as the service ends. That was not a problem at Salem Church and that reveals to me that the staff there is easily accessible, which is important. 

 

Where Salem Needs Improvement in Lowering Music Volume and John Welborn Yelling 

In turning to issues that need improvement there are a couple of items this blog would like to point out. It appears to me that the worship Salem is trying to do is challenging due to the design of the building and the acoustics that exist. Having lived in California the Midwest and now the East Coast I have seen how churches deal with land issues. Running a church in an area such as New York City must be more challenging in that land is at a premium and it can be harder to acquire new property or buildings. I say this because the acoustics in the sanctuary of Salem which appears to be old lead to one major problem. The music is too loud and it can assault one’s ears. As I was listening to the worship it actually hurt my ears and was clearly too loud. I wondered later on if a person who attends Salem can be subjected to hearing damage just in participating in worship. If one service can hurt a person’s years where would one’s hearing be at in 6 or 12 months?

That raises another point this blog would like to raise. As John Welborn gave his sermon I noticed that he was yelling at the congregation. Now in evangelical culture some pastors can yell and that is a problematic part of culture. The blog Internet Monk once had a post discussing pastors who yell. I looked for it and am having problems finding it. Hopefully that post can be found and I will link it into this post. But to be honest and fair I don’t think that is what is happening at Salem. Going back to the volume of the music I am wondering if John Welborn’s hearing could have been damaged by the volume and if he is compensating for that situation. Its kind of like how an older person who is losing their hearing can also yell. I think John Welborn is a good pastor and means well, and I am not saying this to be difficult. 

 

This Blog is Calling for Salem to Drop Resources from James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel

In closing up this post there is one other item to bring to the attention of John Welborn and Salem Church. John needs to drop material related to James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel. In his notes on the Salem website John Welborn is recommending James MacDonald’sVertical Churchwhich was published in 2012. John Welborn should spend a couple of hours reading The Elephant’s Debt which details the issues with Harvest Bible Chapel. In addition this blog wrote 157 articles about the Harvest Bible Chapel scandal in Chicago. When James MacDonald fired off a lawsuit against the writers of The Elephant’s Debt and a journalist by the name of Julie Roys this blog stepped into the gap and wrote and worked with sources to tell the story of Harvest. You can read about the lawsuit in, “Why did Harvest Bible Go After The Elephant’s Debt Now? What was Julie Roys Going to Break Through World Magazine that James MacDonald is Desperate to Silence?

This blog broke a lot of stories about Harvest Bible Chapel to include the following. This blog obtained and wrote about the non-disclosure agreement that Harvest used to silence employees and cover up allegations of criminal activity. You can read about that in, “Harvest Bible Chapel’s Non Disclosure Agreement.” Then there is the black budget which Harvest had which was allegedly used to cover up criminal allegations. Harvest Bible Chapel has more in common with the Italian mafia in New York City then a Christian ministry. The black budget issue can be read about in, “Walk in the Word, a Black Budget at Harvest Bible Chapel and Finances that Resemble a Criminal Syndicate More Than a Ministry.” Harvest also mishandled sexual abuse allegations. A mother whose son stayed in the cabin of a Harvest youth pastor who is currently on trial in Chicago for sexting told her story through this blog. That can be read in, “Guest Post: An Open Letter from a Concerned Mother Disheartened About how Harvest Bible Chapel Mishandled Paxton Singer’s Arrest.” What led to James MacDonald being fired was when an audio tape was broadcast on a shock jock’s radio show in Chicago. On that audio was someone sounding like James MacDonald discussing as to how he wanted to  plant child pornography on the computer of the CEO of Christianity Today. After that emerged the elder board promptly fired James MacDonald. Salem can read about this in more detail as well as news articles that blog linked into the post in, “Mancow Muller Produces an Audiotape of James MacDonald Allegedly Wanting to Plant Child Pornography on a “Critic’s” Computer. Harvest Bible Chapel Elder Board Promptly Fires Him.” Hopefully this post will inform John Welborn on the ongoing issues at Harvest Bible Chapel and give him second thoughts before he promotes material from James MacDonald. Also there is a great parody account on Twitter of James MacDonald called Mega Church Pastor. He screams obscenities, bullies and talks about needing to upgrade to a larger mansion. And against all this his hash tag is #CTisMyBitch. You can read more about that in, “#CTisMyBitch: James MacDonald Parody Account of Mega Church Pastor on Twitter.And with that this post is done. This blog wishes John Welborn and the staff of Salem Church well. I will be back in the New York City area in the near future and I will attend again.  

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