A father and mentor


I was a few weeks away from turning thirty when I started my new job in Grand Junction, CO. I was about to become one of several full-time ministers on the staff of First Assembly of God, the largest church of any denomination between Denver and Salt Lake, a distance of roughly seven hundred miles. The church was nearing its 75th Anniversary and the future was bright.

The senior pastor, my boss, was Clarence O. Cope, 52, and considered a highly successful pastor in the denomination. When I was interviewed for the position, he made it clear that, if he offered and I accepted, I did not work for the Official Board nor even for the church. I worked for him. If I received praise, he would pass it on. If I received criticism, he would take the blame and bear the brunt. He would be the one to hire me and, if necessary, the one to fire me. I found those terms most acceptable. I would be accountable to one person, not a whole slew of people who thought they owned me (I had been in that situation before).

Oddly, when I did start the job, I had no job title nor a job description. Shortly, I was assigned the title Minister of Outreach. My job description was … well, to reach out. I was also informed that I was on a six-month probationary period, so I felt the pressure to make a difference and to make my mark. Since the only direction I had was to “reach out,” the possibilities seemed limitless. All it required was the approval of Pastor Cope.

While Clarence Cope was a very conservative man, he had a heart for the community and for missions, both foreign and domestic. My work would be on the domestic side, specifically in Grand Junction and Mesa County and the surrounding area. He was encouraging in every way and, although he gave me advice and cautions, he never forbade me from trying something new — or even controversial.

The most controversial ministry was Solid Rock Productions, a concert ministry that brought Christ rock bands (and I do mean “rock” bands) and other artists into the sanctuary of First Assembly on nights other than Sunday. The target audience was the high school and college students who were in our area.

The bands would play, the artists would share their own testimonies, and, at the end, teens and young adults would be invited to come forward and make a commitment to Christ. After the concerts, which saw hundreds in attendance, it was not at all unusual to find alcohol, drugs, drug paraphernalia, and other items left behind at the altar rail by those who came forward to pray.

Big name bands of the day such as Servant, Sweet Comfort Band, Resurrection Band, Don Francisco, and others came, which really shook up some of the older or more conservative folks. Pastor Cope took the blame, and the kids loved him for it.

Less controversial was the church blood bank that was established at a local hospital, the weekly Christian radio program on a secular station, the expansion of one nursing home service to nine services at all the area nursing homes, the establishment, with the cooperation of the other ministries of the church, that created a Sunday worship service for mentally handicapped persons in the community that met in the gym with over a hundred in attendance, a karate team that had over fifty children and adults participating, a ministry called Chi Alpha that started out as a college class but morphed into a group of singles aged 18-35 which grow from a weekly attendance of 12 to an average of 174.

Out of that group came a worship band called “Hundredfold” that led those services and cut a record album. In all, a total of fourteen programs and ministries were part of the “outreach ministry” of the church.

None of it would have happened without the many, many volunteers who stepped up to lead and participate and none of it would have happened without the backing of Pastor Clarence Cope.

Although he was not an official mentor, it was only later that I realized what an enormous impact he had on me personally and the way I saw things after Grand Junction. I adopted several of his policies and attitudes and it is a simple fact that many of the projects, ministries, and ideas in the two churches I have served since then, and that have been implemented in the last 40+ years in Georgia, were influenced by Clarence Cope.

In 1994, two young mothers came to my office at Trinity Fellowship Church and expressed a desire to have a Christian school. I could think of a hundred reasons why we should not even try.

But I had been trained to look for opportunities. I took the matter to the Official Board, some of whom expressed reservations, but, in the end, Trinity Christian School was born with seventeen students in grades K-3 and whose teachers made $8,000 a year — lunch and gas money, really. The seed was planted.

Others would come to water that seed, care for it, nurture it, help it to grow and today Trinity Christian School has 1,900 students on campuses in Sharpsburg and Griffin. Clarence would have approved. He helped start Cornerstone Christian School in Grand Junction while I was there.

He and I shared some things in common. We were both born in Tennessee, and we both even pastored the same small church in Kingsport, Tennessee, though about 40 years apart. A few years ago, I tried to look him up by contacting his son. I was terribly saddened to learn that his wife Irene had died, and that Pastor Cope was exhibiting signs of dementia.

Clarence and Irene were quite the team. Following their pastoral ministry which ended in Grand Junction in 1983, they transitioned into Foreign Missions with the Assemblies of God, mainly serving the country of Sri Lanka. Their missionary work included feeding children in India and Sri Lanka, teaching in the national Bible Schools, and planting one hundred and twenty-two churches in Sri Lanka.

I looked him up again a couple of weeks ago and found that he passed away in Columbus, GA in November of 2022 at the age of ninety-four. In my life, I have had the great privilege of being influenced by key role models, mentors, and father figures. I hope that, in some small way, I have made them all proud.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]


  1. Father Epps – This is a very heartwarming narrative about a truly outstanding mentor. It is difficult for me to envision a leader of any Christian or political organization who is willing to pass on praise to another, but absorb criticism himself. You were, indeed, very fortunate.