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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Awakening

Our second church, Cobleskill, has now completed their consultation weekend (which they called Awakening), their Town Hall meeting and their vote on the prescription for moving them to greater health.

The vote to proceed was 125 to 3!

I am happy to report that Dr. Borden was very impressed with the overall health of this church. Several times he mentioned that they were in better shape than most of the churches he is called to consult. However, there are still areas to improve, and the Cobleskill church has said a resounding 'yes' to moving forward with their part in the District Transformation Project.

Here are the strengths, concerns and prescription as posited to the Cobleskill Wesleyan Church on March 20.

STRENGTHS

1. Pastor and Spouse: Andrew and Kathy Fetter are key assets in this congregation. God has raised up a leader who is committed to leading the congregation to fulfill the “Great Commission”. He is respected for his leadership, preaching and connection with people. Last year at least forty people expressed their commitment to follow Jesus Christ as a disciple. Under his leadership this congregation is filled with “new Christians”, younger people, people from all walks of life and people from a variety of denominations. “Fetter” is doing an excellent job!

2. Worship: This congregation is known for its worship services. People are led to honor God through music, the creative arts and the preaching of the Word. The services are relevant and reaching many people who are coming from either un-churched or de-churched backgrounds.

3. Children: The Children’s ministry is ranked highly by those who attend. The leaders are making do with limited facilities while serving families and children. Strategies and tactics are employed to reach out to children in the community as well as those children that attend on Sunday.

4. The Leaders: The leaders of the congregation were and maintain continued commitment to directing the congregation to fulfill the purpose Jesus Christ gave to The Church, which is to make disciples who make disciples. There is unity among the leaders in being committed to a common mission.

5. Welcoming Congregation: When this congregation states that it is a friendly congregation, it is true. We heard story after story of individuals who felt so welcomed their first Sunday that they made the decision that day to return and become regular in their attendance.

CONCERNS

1. Large Church Mindset: This congregation is in the top ten percent of all congregations in the country. However, the congregation limits its effectiveness by thinking and acting as a small congregation. God has sent this congregation many human resources and these resources need to be leveraged to achieve the Great Commission.

2. Discipleship: This congregation, while doing a good job of making new disciples for Jesus Christ, is not skilled in helping the new believers (and older believers as well) in becoming reproducing disciples for Jesus Christ.

3. Finances: The finances set aside for building are not going to help this congregation reach its missional potential. The current attitude towards money reflects viewing staff members as financial liabilities not as financial investments.

4. Facilities: The current facilities are limiting growth and will hinder and perhaps prohibit the accomplishment of the mission long term.

5. Growth of the Senior Pastor: The Senior Pastor, though highly gifted in many areas, is not currently equipped to lead the congregation to its next level of effectiveness.


PRESCRIPTIONS

1. Large Church Mindset: In large congregations mission and vision is placed above self-interest. This congregation has the right mission but not an accountable vision. One will be established by the leaders, reported to the DS, and be in place by May 15, 2011. Large congregations are led by staff members who are recruited to cover those ministries people expect when they visit and attend a congregation. The major ministry that is missing is one that connects new people to Jesus Christ, His Body and then mobilizes them for ministry. Such a ministry will be in place and led by a staff member by September 1, 2011. The pastor’s new staff will be deployed, resourced, and begin to be held accountable by September 1, 2011.

2. Discipleship: The pastor and his staff members will develop a description of what a disciple of Jesus Christ looks like in current culture. They will then develop an intentional path to help people become such disciples. Such a path will help the leaders evaluate progress collectively and individually. This description and this path will be in place by December 31, 2011.

3. Finances: The pastor and board of the congregation will ask the District Superintendent and the District Board of Administration to release the $100,000 committed to land and facilities so that $50,000 to $75,000 can be used for hiring staff members and funding various ministries. This request will be made by May 14, 2011. Assuming it is released, funds will be used to hire part-time staff members to help with the assimilation and discipleship strategies and for hiring a key administrative person. Funds will also be used for training and providing resources for key staff areas and for coaching the Senior Pastor. Coaching will begin by May 31, 2011 and staff members will be in place by September 1, 2011.

4. Facilities: The congregation needs to move into larger facilities as soon as possible. These facilities will need to be rented or leased since the congregation is not in a position to purchase either land or erect new buildings. No deadline can realistically be placed upon such a prescription; however, a transition plan will be in place by October 1, 2011. Church leaders will mobilize the congregation for a week of Spring Cleaning in order to thoroughly clean all existing church properties. Trash and non-essential items will be removed. This will be completed by May 15, 2011.

5. Growth of the Senior Pastor: The senior pastor will employ a coach approved by the DS to help him lead the congregation to its next level of effectiveness. This coach will be in place by May 31, 2011.


THE PASTOR WILL LEAD THE CONGREGATION TO VOTE TO EITHER ACCEPT OR REJECT THIS REPORT BY APRIL 30, 2011. IF REJECTED THE CONSULTATION IS OVER. IF ACCEPTED THE DISTRICT COMMITS TO HELP THE CONGREGATION FULFILL THE PRESCRIPTIONS BY PROVIDING THOSE RESOURCES IT HAS AT ITS DISPOSAL FOR THIS DISTRICT TRANSFORMATION PROCESS THROUGHOUT THE NEXT TWELVE MONTHS.

Submitted by:

Dr. Paul D. Borden
Rev. W. Paul James
Rev. Stanley K. Hoover

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Intervention! Pt 3

(In order to get a better understanding of what is to follow, I suggest that you read Pt 1 & Pt 2 first)

The morning of April 10 dawned bright. "What did God have in store for us today," we wondered. Soon we were to find out.

Following a message based on the key words 'Forgiveness', 'Surrender', and 'Confession', the service moved to the public confession stage. The vice-chairman of the Local Board of Administration moved to the platform and brokenly began to read...


Ezra 9:5-7
Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God 6 and prayed: “I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. 7 From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.

I stand in front of our Lord and this body of believers today with a contrite spirit and a deep longing for a cleansed and healthy church!

As a sitting member of our Local Board of Administration for the last 15 years; I confess the sin that has emanated from the leadership of Ridge Road Wesleyan Church, for more than two decades.

In his report to us, Dr. Borden addresses the sins of the tongue; both the sins of commission and the sins of omission. This day the Local Board of Administration confesses and repents of both of these types of sins.

I confess that the LBA has not always been easy to work with for Pastors. I confess that at times the LBA has “Lorded it over” pastors and not behaved in an appropriate spirit of cooperation with pastors and in a spirit of seeking to come along side and support, but with a mind to stop “uncomfortable” change and control the church.

I confess that the Local Board of Administration has swerved from the focus of representing the mission and vision of the church; to focusing on making sure certain groups in the congregation were represented. We have most often been inwardly focused, with little focus on our responsibility before God to take the transforming message of the Good News to our community.

James 4:17 - Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. I confess that the Local Board of Administration has been largely negligent in the principles spoken to in Matthew 18. Whether it was due to being uncomfortable with confrontation, or fearful of fallout in the church; we have been woefully inept at appropriately dealing with Church discipline.

As leaders; we have failed in effectively modeling and instructing people on how to apply the principles in Matthew 18; as often times reports came from individuals in the congregation, but we did not insist or most often even encourage people to go and seek restoration with the other party.

On those rare occasions when the LBA has been involved in addressing behaviors which were sowing disunity in the body; I confess it was not done effectively; with too much anger, not enough prayer, and not enough seeking to understand before attempting to be understood.

Today, the LBA confesses these and any other sins. We humbly ask the Lord, the church and the community to forgive us for the devastating affects our behavior has had on the Kingdom. May God have mercy on us and reach out to those who were deeply offended and wounded by our behavior and thus driven away from our Lord.

A hush had settled over the congregation. He sat and a lady representing the congregation took his place...

In Matthew 12 versus 36-37, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.” Jesus reminds us that what we say reveals what is in our hearts.

I am here this morning to represent the people in our present congregation as well as past congregations to repent for the sins of this church and ask forgiveness from our Father in heaven and from all those who have been hurt by us in the past. The word Repentance means to experience sorrow for and seek to change wrong behavior. We have certainly caused much sorrow and engaged in years of wrong behavior. We will not let our pride keep us from admitting our sins this morning.

We ask forgiveness for not trusting in the leadership of our former pastors, for not giving our support even though they are clearly men of God. We ask forgiveness for not showing grace to the wives and children of our pastors. We feel great sorrow for the pain and alienation these families must have experienced. Beyond our leaders and their families, we have spread our gossip and negativity for the sole purpose of hurting others. We ask forgiveness for the times we were not transparent in our motives, the times we did not communicate or communicated in such a way to be hurtful and deceptive. We ask forgiveness for putting our personal preferences above God’s work, for being resistant to change even though it would have meant reaching others for the Kingdom. We ask for forgiveness from all those who have been hurt by our quickness to judge and our self-centered actions to the point of exclusion. We are deeply saddened by our words, thoughts and actions that have caused so much pain for so many people throughout our community. We are truly repentant for all the times those of us stood by and allowed the sinful behavior of a few to continue. Because of our tolerance and complacency, many have been hurt.

And still, as I stand before our Lord God and all of you, my heart has only these words,

Dear God, as your sinful people, we come before you now and we cry out for your forgiveness and the forgiveness of those we have wronged through our thoughts, words and actions. Please heal us and all those we have harmed so that we may be the congregation you intended.

Amen

A song gave all time to breath. Then we were back to the confessions. It was my turn!

As District Superintendent of the Eastern New York/New England District of the Wesleyan Church, I stand before you with a broken heart. I repent of the spirit of pride that has permeated our district and our churches. We have been proud of longevity while ignoring our lack of fruitfulness. We are in danger of hearing Jesus say, as He did of the fig tree, "Where is the fruit? Cut it down and cast it into the fire."

I am distraught over the fact that many of our church are full of disease and disobedience; making very little difference in the lives of these they serve and minimal impact on the communities in which they are located.

I repent for allowing a spirit to prevail that would allow the Ridge Road Wesleyan Church to become a disobedient, sinful church--one full of gossip and slander, so much so that the witness to this community has been damaged almost beyond repair.

I repent for tolerating a spirit of rebellion that had manifest itself, a spirit that clamors for MY WAY!

I repent for the communications that have come from my office that have been heavy-handed and destructive, rather than redemptive and missional.

I repent for allowing individuals who should know better to muddle, interfere, and sow seeds of discord and negativity in a church that God was trying to bless.

I am heartbroken over the manipulations, the attempts to control, the desire to return to the past and the refusal to cooperate with leadership as they sought to lead Ridge Road to become a purposeful, outreach-driven church.

As district leader, I repent for myself and my Board, for our prayerlessness, for our lack of spiritual concern and for allowing secular business to come before spiritual, life-changing business. May God forgive us all.

I sat as Pastor Dean rose to take my place. He represented pastors, past and present...

It was Isaiah the Prophet, who, upon seeing God in His holiness, exclaimed, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isa. 6: 5)

I stand before you representing the cadre of Wesleyan and non-Wesleyan pastoral leaders who have served this congregation since its founding in Glens Falls, New York.

I confess that we have felt like Moses of old, who must have wailed, “This people is a stiff-necked people whom you have asked us to lead.” As a result of those feelings, we have sinned against You, O Lord, by not upholding Your holiness among the people (Deut 32:51). Because we’ve held improper attitudes and done wrong deeds, we pastors have not seen the Promised Land of spiritual growth, the lush valley filled with saved souls, nor climbed the mountain of true numerical blessing. Instead, we’ve only seen the land of promise from a distance; we could not enter it because of our sin (Deut. 32: 52). Forgive us, O Lord!

Like Isaiah of old, we should have asked You for the seraphim to fly to us with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar, and received the gift You had prepared for Your preachers: “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isa. 6: 6). O Lord, we, instead, trampled on the holy and abused the sacred honor of declaring Your Word. We used our mouths to utter sinful, unholy things to the sheep that had been placed under our charge. Our words have caused great hurt and deep wounding to the people. We have sinned, O God, against You and Your people. Please forgive us, I pray!

I confess that though we were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, we did not throw off everything that hindered and the sin that so easily entangled. We failed to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. We did not endure the cross You gave us, nor did we consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, but, instead, grew weary and lost heart. Forgive us, O Lord!

I confess that we have talked badly about the people and acted as if we had had an injustice done to us because we were called to serve at 543 Ridge Road. We have complained about the hardships, resented having to put up with the continuous grievances, mourned the loss of income, and wished that we could move away and be free of this lot. For our sin of ingratitude and indifference, we ask for Your forgiveness, dear Lord!

I confess that we have sinned against our leaders, as the people have sinned against us, by not following them as we are called to do in scripture. We confess that we have been critical and worked against them by not helping them advance Your Church. We repent of our sin today!

O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have not lived up to our true leadership calling but have, instead, embraced the methods of the world in an attempt to manipulate the people into doing what we’ve wanted. We’ve deserted Your proven tools of prayer, fasting, scriptural study, and spiritual admonition and, instead, taken the easy route of growth seminars, downloadable podcasts, and packaged programming. We, and the people You’ve given us, have grown fat on programmed fast food while becoming ill from not ingesting the health fruits and vegetables found in the Word of God. Forgive us, O Lord, we pray!

As Moses declared so long ago, I too, declare today, my Father: “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Ex. 32: 31-32)

You, alone, are God and we are the under-shepherds called to lead this flock. We humble ourselves before You, and them, and ask for Your cleansing healing to come upon the pastoral-congregational relationship in this church. We thank You for hearing our confessions and forgiving our sins. Amen!

At this point, he turned to address the former pastor and family who were seated in the congregation...

Marc and Becky, we have invited you to return to our church today because we know that we have sinned against you by the way we treated you while you were our shepherds. We spoke ill-will to you in front of your children. We misjudged your intentions and criticized your decisions, and failed to do God’s prophet no harm.
We did not live up to our calling to honor God’s servant but instead made your time with us unpleasant and painful and burdensome. We believe you left us wronged, hurt and grieving your time here. It is not right how we’ve acted. We ask you, Marc, to please forgive us for our sins!

Becky, we treated your husband with disrespect and failed to honor you as our Pastor’s Spouse. We have brought tears to your eyes and sorrow to your heart and we are so very sorry for the wrongs that we have done to you. Please forgive us our sins!

Kids, we were not good role models to you while you were here with us. We know your Mom and Dad loved us but we spurned that love and resisted their influence in our lives. We stood back and let others hurt them and we did nothing to stop it. It must have hurt you to see your parents hurting so much. Kids, we did not act like a church should act towards its leaders and their children and we ask you to please forgive us for our sins!

After the church had given Becky a bouquet and gift, and each of the kids had received a card with a check in it, Pastor Marc was given a Nook, a Barnes & Noble reader, something pastor Dean said that he wished the church had given to him. Can you imagine shamelessly using a prayer and repentance service for hint-dropping?(LOL)

Marc and Beck addressed the congregation, asking for forgiveness for words, deeds and attitudes that they had exhibited during the days of stress.

Later that afternoon, I received a text message from Marc...


Pastor Paul, We are almost to Buffalo...Becky and I have been sharing how this has been a Great Day...a Life-Changing Day. What a difference God can make when His people seek Him (Forgiveness, Surrender & Confession).

I don't know what the future holds for Ridge Road Wesleyan Church, the District Transformation Project or the ENY-NE District, but one day at a time I am enjoying watching God be God and one step at a time I want to follow Him.

"He is God," Rick Warren said, "And I am not".

Intervention! Pt 2

(In order to get a better understanding of what is to follow, I suggest that you read Pt 1 first)

At the conclusion of the report, Pastor Dean took several minutes to share with his people that he was in total agreement with the intervention report and prescription. He spoke words of love, hope and challenge. The congregation left to pray and meditate over the report, but they also left with hope of a new day!

Two weeks later I went back to lead an all-congregation Town Hall meeting. For two-and-a-half hours the report and the prescription were debated. Some took the opportunity to vent about things that had bothered them for years. We listened! We answered questions! I believe that all went away feeling that they had been heard and that their questions had been answered. Now we were prepared for the vote that was to be taken on April 3 following the morning service.

One of the strengths of the Borden consultations is that the congregation is allowed to develop ownership. It is not a top-down process; rather it is a grass roots, bottom-up event with ownership events built in along the way.

I attended the service at Ridge Road on April 3. People were upbeat. Optimism was in the air. Hope had arrived! The music was good, the message right on. At the close of the service, the vote was taken. This was the moment of truth. An unfavorable vote would not only throw Ridge Road into a tailspin, it would greatly hamper the momentum that we were developing with our District Transformation Project.

The vote was taken. Ballots counted. Results announced. Fifty-four were in favor; zero were opposed. A miracle had occurred! Never had anyone expected this. Ridge Road had not been united like this in years--decades. We all left with the understanding that God was at work. We were standing on holy ground.

There was still the spiritual disobedience part of the report that needed to be dealt with. How could we, as a body of Believers, cooperatively confess for wrongs/sins that had accumulated over the years. Was a public service of prayer and repentance feasible? What would a service like that look like? How would it be received?

The Ridge Road leadership team decided to take one more risk--to take one more step of obedience. A service of prayer and repentance was scheduled for April 10. A former pastor and his family that had been wronged were invited back. Following the scriptural patterns of old, this congregation was being invited to publicly and corporately face their sins.


To be continued... (Please don't stop before reading the next part)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Intervention!

Recently I experienced the church being the church. Let me tell you about it. This blog may be long enough that we will post it in several parts over several days. Hopefully some of you will read it all the way through.

Many of you are aware that our district has embarked on a ‘District Transformation Project’—an experiment designed to transform churches from illness to health. In March, Dr. Paul Borden joined us for a consultation/intervention at our Ridge Road Wesleyan Church in Queensbury, NY. Dr. Mark Gorveatte and Dr. Dan Berry were also a part of the consultation team.

At the conclusion of the interviews and focus groups, a report was written and presented in the Sunday morning service. The following is what was shared with the leaders and congregation. I have made a few comments to help the article flow. My remarks are italicized.



Ridge Road Wesleyan Church
Consultation Report - Dr. Paul Borden
March 11 – 13, 2011

STRENGTHS

1. Pastor and Spouse: Dean and Rosalie Brown are the best strengths of this congregation. Everyone with whom we spoke valued them and their ministry to the congregation highly. Many complimented Dean’s preaching and his overall approach to leading the congregation. People appreciated Rosalie’s commitment to children and women and in providing care and direction for the congregation with her husband. They have earned the respect and trust of many in the congregation. Their track record in leading congregations is evident in their calling to this church.

2. Dedicated Leaders: There is a core of leaders dedicated to serving with the pastor in leading the congregation. These people understand mission and have a heart to see the congregation become effective in reaching many in the community with the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. They realize that this congregation has a stewardship before God to serve the community by bringing to it the “Good News” and by ministering the love of Jesus to those in need.

3. Desire for Evangelism: We consistently heard from the pastor and his spouse, key leaders and others in the congregation the desire to see more people become new disciples of Jesus Christ through the life of the congregation. There are a number of people in the congregation (though not all) who realize that God did not create the Church for Christians but rather to mobilize Christians to serve their community by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

4. Facilities: The current facilities provide the congregation an excellent resource in which to conduct its mission. As with most facilities improvements could be made, however, that which has been done including the recent painting of the worship center create the potential to conduct excellent ministry endeavors in serving the community in which the congregation exists.

5. Location and Accessibility: Though not on a main thoroughfare the facilities are located on a busy road that is used by both commuters and those seeking access to other highways. This location and the access that goes with it is a resource enabling the congregation to conduct fruitful and effective ministry.

Next, the team listed the concern(s) that had surfaced during the weekend of interviews and focus groups. In this case, there was only one overriding concern (according to Dr. Borden this has occurred only a few times in over 500 consultations).

CONCERN
Spiritual Disobedience: This congregation has one major concern that over shadows all other concerns and, in my opinion, is the underlying cause for all the other issues that need to be addressed such as; the lack of new people, few children and youth, poor discipleship endeavors, and relatively few people becoming new disciples of Jesus Christ on a yearly basis. That major concern is the spiritual behavior of the congregation for more than two decades.

This concern has several specific elements to it. The sin the New Testament speaks of the most are the specific sins that come through the misuse of the tongue. Yet this congregation has been and continues to be known for the gossip and slander, of others including former members, pastors and even the denominational district of which it is a part. Often the words are communicated in a sinful way designed to control the church, to stop change and to recapture past behaviors. Also there has been no congregational discipline by leaders and so like undisciplined children people have been allowed to act out in ungodly ways and nothing has been done.

Secondly there is no expressed interest in Biblically confronting people and the issues related to these sins. No one has talked to us about confession and forgiveness. The solutions suggested are that either individuals leave or be ignored.

As a result of not confronting sin the congregation has a reputation in the community and in the denomination of a church that hurts and discards pastors. It also has the reputation of marginalizing people who want to see the congregation function more to reach lost people than serve the saints. That reputation may be somewhat moderated now since the decibel level has decreased with the coming of the current pastor and his spouse. But the grumbling continues and will eventually re-surface because the root causes have not been dealt with by leaders in the congregation.

Finally, some in this congregation recognize that this body of believers has been disobedient to our Lord’s “Great Commission” to go and make disciples. The congregation exposed its real values, as opposed to its stated ones, when it reduced the 2011 budget line for evangelism, which was meager to begin with, in order to have more money to spend for those ministries that benefit those who are already disciples.

It is amazing that a congregation in a denomination that is supposed to be known for its holy living continues to act so unholy.

The last part of the report involved recommendations (prescriptions) that would help the congregation return to health and wholeness.

PRESCRIPTION
The congregation needs to request the District Board of Administration to reclassify the church to “Developing Status” with the intent to “Re-Launch” the congregation as a new church by the Fall of 2011. In other words the congregation needs to start over again by re-inventing itself, spiritually, missionally, and organizationally. What that re-invention might look like is not entirely clear since there are a number of ways a congregation can do this. However, what is key is that the congregation needs to experience spiritual reformation, a new way of identifying itself in the community and unity in pursuing a common mission and vision.

Assuming the congregation votes to make this request on April 3, 2011 several things will need to occur. The congregation will pay for pastor Dean and Rosalie Brown to attend the GHC Discovery Center (May 10-13) for assessment/training. Once the Discovery Center is completed the pastor and his spouse will draft a re-invention plan to present to the DBA for approval.

Once that plan is approved by the DBA it will be brought to the congregation by the pastor to determine who will join the pastor and his spouse in pursuing a new mission and vision. The congregation will be provided the opportunity to join the pastor and his spouse in concentrated times of prayer to ask for God’s leading and direction in how this re-invention will be developed. The new plan will be initiated by June 1, 2011 and implemented by no later than October 31, 2011.

THOSE WHO ATTEND THE CONGREGATION REGULARLY WILL VOTE TO EITHER ACCEPT OR REJECT THIS REPORT ON SUNDAY APRIL 3, 2011. EACH BALLOT WILL BE SIGNED. NO BALLOTS WILL BE COUNTED IF NOT SIGNED. IF ACCEPTED IMPLEMENTATION WILL BEGIN AND THE PASTOR AND SPOUSE WILL RECEIVE HELP AND COACHING FROM THE DISTRICT FOR THE NEXT YEAR TO ASSIST IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NEW PLAN FOR RE-INVENTION.

Submitted by:

Dr. Paul D. Borden
Rev. W. Paul James
Dr. Mark Gorveatte
Dr. Dan A. Berry

To be continued...

Monday, April 11, 2011