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PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR. New England -       Moise Vincent shares a story with fellow members of the Manchester Church of Christ in Connecticut. Also pictured, from left, are Jodi Dean, Melissa Miller and Renee Howell.    
MANCHESTER, CONN. - Roughly 750 miles south of here, the Queen City Church of Christ in Charlotte, N.C., started with eight Christians meeting in a house.
On a recent Sunday, 225 people — many learning about Jesus for the first time — attended the church’s worship service at a downtown YMCA.
“We are in the Y to stay,” Queen City minister Kent Massey told attendees at the sixth annual New England Church Growth Conference. “We will never own a church building. … Our mission is to be able to grow so we can already be thinking about where we’re going to plant another church.”
Anybody who has spent any time in a children’s Sunday school class knows that the church is not a building, right?
But too often, Christians focus all their attention on the place of the Sunday assembly, leaders said during the recent conference, hosted by the Manchester Church of Christ, east of the state capital of Hartford.
“The center of the Gospel should not be — cannot be — a geographic location,” Don McLaughlin, pulpit minister for the North Atlanta Church of Christ in Georgia, said in a keynote address. “A lot of our anxiety is wrapped around getting people to a geographic location and keeping them in a geographic location.
“Folks, we’re worried about the wrong thing,” McLaughlin added, suggesting that inspiring disciples to give themselves fully to God takes precedence.
Harold Shank, president of Ohio Valley University in Vienna, W.Va., prayed for a “wave of renewal” in churches in New England and neighboring states. Shank voiced his desire to God that “a new Restoration Movement can break out right here ... and that secular America can become more and more followers of you.”
‘LIGHTHOUSE OF THE NORTHEAST’ “Church Outside the Walls” served as the theme for the conference, which drew about 150 attendees from Churches of Christ throughout the Northeast.
In launching the New England Church Growth Conference five years ago, organizers endeavored to equip Christians to reach more people with the Gospel.
The annual conference grew out of a monthly meeting of preachers in Connecticut — a state with 3.6 million residents but only about 2,500 adherents of Churches of Christ.
“We wanted something that would be of benefit to the churches in New England and the Northeast because we knew a lot of the churches were small and needed some encouragement in evangelism and outreach,” said Arnie Holmes, preacher for the 300-member Manchester congregation, the largest Church of Christ in New England. “We try to bring in some practitioners, some people who are out there really doing evangelism.”
Eight Churches of Christ in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York provide financial support for the church growth event.
In the last decade, the Manchester church opened a spacious, new $3.2 million building that allows it to accommodate the conference, Holmes said.
“We just feel a real calling to be a lighthouse of the Northeast,” he said of the Manchester church. “We feel that God has blessed us, and we should do what we can.”
Last year, attendance topped 200. This year, a snowstorm hurt the crowd size.
The weather failed to deter Peter Horne, the Australian-born minister for the 110-member Lawson Road Church of Christ in Rochester, N.Y.  Horne drove 350 miles each way to attend.
“Up here, there are just so few opportunities to attend the major workshops and hear these guys speak. It can be a little isolating,” Horne said. “So it’s great to have them ‘come to us.’”
Discussing the future of Churches of Christ, speaker Massey said that congregations may need to become smaller so that God’s kingdom can grow larger.
“We’ve got to plant more churches,” he said. “We’ve got to go back to what it was about 100 years ago to where you went to church in your community.”
In an age when many members drive 30 or 40 minutes to get to a church building, serving as the body of Christ in a community can be a challenge, several participants said.
“Everybody’s spread out. We come together on Sunday, and then we scatter,” said Katherine Moore, whose husband, John, preaches for the Patchogue Church of Christ on New York’s Long Island. “I find that very difficult.”
GOOD DEEDS AND GOOD NEWS What does it mean to take the church outside the walls?
For years, the North Atlanta church has structured its ministries around the importance of missions. So imagine the youth minister’s dilemma when a student planned an outreach to the homeless — on a Sunday morning.
“The youth minister had to make a decision,” McLaughlin said. “Would he say, ‘No, you need to come to church and hear me tell you one more time that we should feed the homeless.’ Or maybe, ‘We’ll go ahead and fire up the buses and head downtown,’ which is  what they did.”
Christians sometimes create a wall around themselves that “stands as a barrier to people coming to Christ,” said Leo Woodman, minister for the 35-member Kittery Church of Christ in Maine.
Woodman, who made a five-hour round trip to the conference, said he’s trying to connect more with his community. For example, he’s joined the Lions Club.
Also, for the second time, the Kittery church plans to reach out during a big city block party this summer, he said.
Churches of Christ tend to “teach and preach to people within their building,” said Dave McKenzie, a member of the 100-member Milton Church of Christ in Massachusetts.
“Evangelism is not really big. They say it’s big, but it’s not really big,” McKenzie said. “There are so many different ways you can evangelize in this modern age.”
McKenzie said he sees a huge potential to reach young seekers online through means such as podcasts and social media.
Daniel Rodriguez, a professor of religion and Hispanic studies at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., spoke on the opportunities and challenges of multiethnic, multiracial and multigenerational ministry.
Ethnic diversity in the Northeast provides an exceptional opportunity to reach the “unchurched,” said Joseph Priester, a member of the Southwest Church of Christ in Hartford.
The Southwest church is discussing ways to improve outreach to Spanish speakers, Priester said.
“Our ability to bridge cultural and language barriers will be very important as we move to spread the Gospel,” he said.
In the case of the Queen City church, members focus on “becoming Christ in the community,” Massey said.
Many young people desire a cause and will join a service project — such as the church’s volunteer work with a drug-addict recovery center — before they’ll step foot in an assembly, he said.
“It is our good deeds that create the goodwill that allow us to share the Good News,” Massey said.

WillieHubbard-VisionWillie Hubbard Jr., preacher for the District Heights Church of Christ in Maryland, appeared on “The Vision” recently.

The above video shows Hubbard’s interview with Alvedia King, niece of the late Martin Luther King Jr., and Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-Life Union.

Read Hubbard’s 2008 Christian Chronicle op-ed titled “Racism — on both sides — hurts church’s mission.”

156-YEAR-OLD CONGREGATION epitomizes the challenges faced by many small, rural Churches of Christ.

West Liberty Church
Rural Renewal -       Tom Collier walks to his car after a fellowship meal at the West Liberty Church of Christ, seven miles west of Montezuma, Iowa.

 MONTEZUMA, Iowa — Snow coats the ground as Pauline Ell arrives for Sunday worship on her 89th birthday.A bitter wind brushes Ell’s curly hair as she steps out of her daughter’s car and into the little white church building where she has worshiped her entire life.
Corn and soybean fields and a cemetery where generations of deceased members rest in peace surround the West Liberty Church of Christ.
The 156-year-old farm church traces its roots to 1857 when settlers began meeting in a log house. Later, the congregation assembled in a renovated barn. In 1867, the church building that still stands was erected. The cost: $1,200.
For Ell, this Lord’s house where she grew up warming her hands by a wood-burning stove holds a lifetime of memories.
As a young girl, she often rode to services in a horse-drawn sleigh.
“My dad would put straw in there, and we’d get down in the straw and cover up with a quilt,” she said. “Sometimes, the drifts would be so bad the horses couldn’t even get through. So my dad would put two, three, four shovels in the sled, and we’d all get out and shovel snow ahead of the horses so they could go.”
In 1880, West Liberty’s membership roll listed 229 names. In 1933, a gospel meeting yielded 30 baptisms and 10 restorations. In the 1960s, annual Vacation Bible Schools drew truckloads of children from miles and miles away.
But in more recent times, the Iowa congregation — like many small, rural Churches of Christ across the nation — has struggled to survive.
A year ago, down to six members, the church seven miles west of the town of Montezuma nearly closed.
“The finances were dwindling quite rapidly,” said treasurer Rodney Playle, 66, a longtime member whose family started attending the church when he was 8.


Long stretches of highway separate Iowa’s 64 Churches of Christ, which boast fewer than 2,900 total members, according to the 2012 edition of Churches of Christ in the United States. Fifty-eight of Iowa’s 99 counties have no Church of Christ, according to the national directory published by 21st Century Christian.
About 27 percent of the Hawkeye State’s 3.1 million residents live in a county with no Church of Christ. Only Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota have higher percentages of such residents.
For the past 14 years, Central Iowa Missions — a ministry overseen by the 150-member Grandview Church of Christ in Des Moines — has worked to bolster Iowa churches.
“Something had to be done,” said Art Wallis, the full-time missions evangelist who directs Central Iowa Missions. “Churches were closing their doors.”
Through a 13-week Sunday morning course, Wallis teaches basic preaching skills to men of the Grandview church.
Those who complete the course join a roster of trained preachers available to fill pulpits — usually on a temporary basis — within a two-hour drive of the state capital.
“We try to go out and help,” Wallis said. “It’s easier to keep churches going than it is to let them die and then try to go back later and start from nothing.”


The West Liberty church’s native timber roof needed replacing. The upstairs rest room lacked hot water. The basement flooded when it rained.
Besides maintenance issues, the dwindling congregation had no regular preacher.
Still, the church refused to give up, members said.
“We’re too stubborn to do anything else,” Playle said. “We’re bullheaded.”
But without a minister, the mostly older members saw little way to keep going, they said.
In a last-ditch effort to keep the church alive, Playle placed an advertisement last year seeking a self-supporting minister.
Wallis saw the ad, which detailed West Liberty’s situation, and told Grandview member Tom Collier about it.
Collier — one of Central Iowa Missions’ regular fill-in preachers — had spoken at West Liberty a few times.
The possibility that a church with such a rich history might close shocked Collier.
“It just kind of stirred me,” he said. “I thought, ‘Are we, as Churches of Christ in Iowa, just going to let our weaker congregations fold?’”
In March 2012, Collier — who works full time as a Wells Fargo analyst — accepted the challenge of becoming West Liberty’s part-time preacher.
He and his wife, Dianne, make the two-hour round trip from their Des Moines home each Sunday. In addition, they lead a Wednesday night Bible study and attend other church events, such as West Liberty’s monthly Friday night singing.
“Tom decided he wasn’t going to let it close on his watch,” said Matt Glawe, minister for the Ogden Church of Christ, a 50-member Iowa congregation planted in 2001.
The Odgen church committed $300 a month to help with Collier’s ministry.
“If that one is gone, it’s a pretty great distance to the next Church of Christ,” said Glawe, a vocational minister whose family operates an auto body shop and a farm services business. “Just too many have closed, and anything we can do to keep them open, we’re willing to do.”


On this frosty Sunday, 15 souls occupy the seven rows of pews in West Liberty’s wood-paneled auditorium — more than double the typical attendance a year ago.
Butch and Anita Gilbert, Ell’s son-in-law and daughter, join her on the second row. The Gilberts hold worn maroon hymnals as the congregation sings “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and “Faith is the Victory.”
Anita Gilbert, 53, grew up at West Liberty but — like many of her generation — moved away.
“I didn’t want to work in a factory. I didn’t want to work for less than minimum wage in a small store. I didn’t want to farm,” said Gilbert, who was visiting her mother. “That’s really all there is.”
But the West Liberty church maintains a special place in her heart, Anita Gilbert said.
She and her husband, who attend the Center Point Road Church of Christ in Marion, Iowa, northeast of Cedar Rapids, donated $20,000 to help with the needed repairs.
Other concerned Christians contributed roughly $10,000.
Even a few area residents who do not attend the church but see it as an important community landmark gave funds.
“It’s not just the bodies in the pews right now,” Anita Gilbert said of West Liberty’s legacy. “It’s the people that have passed through here … and are continuing to do work for the church around the world.”


When Collier arrived, he found a congregation of dedicated Christians who had settled into a not-so-exciting routine, he said.
“This was how they were going to finish their days, six or seven of them, trying to sing their songs, maybe closing their doors,” he said. “But what I wanted … was to breathe some new life and get a heartbeat again.”
Building renovations, development of West Liberty’s first-ever website and intentional efforts to connect with the community have helped rejuvenate the church, Collier said.
Knocking doors in nearby towns, Tom and Dianne Collier have discovered that nearly everybody is familiar with the little white church.
“They say, ‘My dad got married there’ or ‘My grandfather’s buried there,’” Tom Collier said.
Other residents remember attending VBS at the church.
“There’s a plethora of people that were taught by these folks when they were kids,” Dianne Collier said. “So what I’m hoping is that those seeds that were planted will eventually come back to fruition.”


About 30 West Liberty members have died in the last 20 years.
Just one person in the pews on this Sunday is younger than 50. Thirteen-year-old Krista Fatzinger is the granddaughter of longtime member Norma Jean Farrington, 81.
A recent baptism and the addition of a few new members who had been driving elsewhere give old-timers reason for hope.
“We won’t give up,” said Bruce Guyer, 65, who grew up at West Liberty.
“Nope,” agreed Ell, who has lived on the same 99-acre farm for 62 years.
“We want to teach the Gospel,” added Playle.
Still, the congregation’s long-term survival remains far from certain.
“It’s going to be up to God,” Tom Collier said. “He’s going to have to give the increase.”

A tornado that ripped through the north Georgia town of Adairsville Jan. 30 destroyed the east wing of the Adairsville Church of Christ’s building. (See our earlier post for additional photos.)

The congregation lost three of its classrooms, a supply room and a food pantry used to serve the needy in its community.

But church members didn’t let the loss keep them from helping neighbors in their storm-ravaged community, minister Steve McCaslin said.

The congregation filled its annex — across the street from the building, undamaged by the storm — with relief supplies. Nashville, Tenn.-based Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort packed and shipped a truckload of food boxes and cleaning supplies, which the church’s members distributed this past weekend. Deacons plan to deliver whatever supplies are left to those in need, McCaslin told The Christian Chronicle.


The Adairsville Church of Christ's building before the storm. (Photo via

“We feel blessed. It could have been a lot worse,” said McCaslin, who has served as the church’s minister for about 19 years and also is one of its four elders. None of the congregation’s 120 members were injured, though one member lost his home in the storm. The member’s daughter, who lives in the house behind him, also lost her home as the family waited out the storm in their tornado shelter.

The church’s main auditorium sustained some damage, but a building inspector allowed the congregation to meet there for worship Sunday, Feb. 3. The building had power but no heat, so the church delayed the service until 2 p.m. Members distributed relief supplies Sunday morning.

The storm broke a window in McCaslin’s office and water leaked through the roof. Church members helped the minister, who had just retired from the pulpit, clear his books and belongings from the office.

“I was planning to move anyway,” he said, “but this was not the way I planned to empty my office.”

McCaslin was interviewing for the preaching job in 1994, staying at a hotel in nearby Calhoun, Ga., when a similar wave of storms struck north Georgia. The morning after the storms, a waitress told him that a tornado touched down in Adairsville.

“Does that happen often?” he asked.

“No, not really,” the waitress replied.

The church has insurance, but must pay a $5,000 deductible and various clean-up costs. Anyone wishing to help defray the expenses may send donations to:

Adairsville Church of Christ
P.O. Box 346
Adairsville, GA 30103

Phone: (770) 773-3362

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort also sent supplies to congregations near other parts of the Southeast affected by the Jan. 30 storms, including the Calhoun Church of Christ in Georgia and the Coble Church of Christ in Centerville, Tenn.


from the Christian Chronicle Blog


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Halie Hilburn and Oscar audition for "American Idol." (Photo via

The good news: Halie Hilburn earned a coveted “golden ticket” to Hollywood on the Jan. 31 episode of “American Idol.”

The bad news: Her puppet, Oscar, didn’t.

Hilburn, a 2008 graduate of Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City and a ventriloquist since age 9, raised the eyebrows of the show’s judges — Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban — during the show’s Oklahoma City auditions. She performed a song alongside her hand-puppet dog Oscar.

But Hilburn earned her invitation to Hollywood when she set aside Oscar and sang a few lines from Gavin DeGraw’s “More Than Anyone.”

Here’s more information from Oklahoma Christian:



Halie Hilburn (Photo provided by Oklahoma Christian University)


Hilburn, who hails from Vernon, Texas, graduated with honors from Oklahoma Christian in 2008 with a degree in liberal studies.

She was a member of OC’s touring cover band, Summer Singers, and performed in Spring Sing, OC’s annual student-produced variety show. Like her older sister Corlie (Swan) Agnew, she was voted Homecoming Queen at Oklahoma Christian.

All three of the Swan siblings graduated from Oklahoma Christian. Corlie earned a degree in marketing and management in 2006, and followed that up with an MBA degree in leadership and organizational management in 2007. The youngest of the sisters, Whitnie (Swan) Huser graduated from OC in 2010 with a degree in public relations.

See the full news release.


from the Christian Chronicle Blog


The meeting place of the Adairsville Church of Christ was damaged heavily by a Jan. 30 tornado. (Photo provided)

The meeting place of a Church of Christ in north Georgia was destroyed during a round of deadly tornadoes that swept through the Southeast Jan. 30.

The Adairsville Church of Christ sustained heavy damage in the storm. Church member Jeremy Barton sent photos of the devastation.

We will post additional information as we get it.

Here’s more on the storm from the Associated Press:

WSB-TV in Atlanta aired footage of an enormous funnel cloud bearing down on Adairsville. Winds flattened homes and wiped out parts of a big manufacturing plant in the city about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta. Pieces of insulation dangled from trees and power poles. A bank lost a big chunk of its roof.

Anthony Raines, 51, was killed when a tree crashed down on his mobile home, crushing him on his bed, Bartow County Coroner Joel Guyton said. Nine other people were hospitalized for minor injuries, authorities said.

Read the full story.

Another view of the storm damage to the Adairsville Church of Christ building. (Photo provided)

Youths hold the sign of the Adairsville Church of Christ, blown from its housing by a Jan. 30 tornado. (Photo provided)


from the Christian Chronicle Blog

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Firefighters respond to the Saturday night fire at the College Church of Christ across the street from Harding University in Searcy, Ark. (Photo by Noel Whitlock)

The 1,600-member College Church of Christ in Searcy, Ark., won’t be able to meet in its auditorium for up to three months after a weekend fire blamed on an electrical short, pulpit minister Noel Whitlock said.

The electrical short occurred in a baptistery heater shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, in the original part of the 62-year-old building, Whitlock said. He noted that the heater had been replaced in recent years.

“We’re either going to have to replace our baptistery or change our doctrine,” the minister joked.

Flames were contained mostly to a small area with a lot of plaster and concrete, Whitlock said. However, the entire building — including classrooms — sustained extensive smoke damage.

Several hundred gallons of water spilled out of the baptistery, which probably helped cool the blaze, he said.



A view inside the burned church. (Photo by Ruth Simpson)

Fifteen to 20 firefighters responded and spent hours at the scene. Students who noticed smoke coming from the building notified the fire department about the same time as the church’s automatic smoke alarm alerted authorities.

The church may be able to resume using its Sunday school classrooms within a few weeks, but the congregation will worship in Benson Auditorium — on the Harding University campus across the street — for 2 1/2 to 3 months, Whitlock said.

“We’re blessed that we have Harding University and the big Benson Auditorium nearby,” Whitlock said.

Damages are insured, but the church does not have an estimate yet on what it will cost to make repairs.


from the Christian Chronicle Blog

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Meagan Cremeens shows off one of the thousands of stuffed animals collected as part of Project Teddy Bear Love.
Meagan Cremeens, a member of the Southwest Church of Christin Jonesboro, Ark., was a Westside Elementary School student when a massacre at nearby Westside Middle School claimed five lives in 1998.
After that tragedy, Cremeens remembers that students and teachers received cards, letters and gifts of support from around the world.
In the aftermath of the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Cremeens said she felt an urgent need to "do something to give back."
She contacted Southwest preacher Jimmy Adcox and told him, "I want to have a teddy bear drive."
Little did she know that fellow Southwest member Pam Herring, whose daughter Paige, 12, died in the 1998 massacre, also had contacted Adcox, saying she wanted to do something but didn't know what.
Cremeens takes the story from there:
Pam and I joined forces with some willing volunteers, posted something on Facebook Friday night, and by Saturday, the entire community was ready and willing to get on board.
The Lord had this prepared for us every step of the way. He provided for us in a way that only he could. Everything was taken care of before we took every next step, from our contact person, to volunteers, to shipping and everything in between. We were meant to do this.
Pam Herring and Meagan Cremeens load the last bag of teddy bears on to the truck headed for Connecticut.
With the Lord's hand upon this project, word got out to people not only across the state of Arkansas but surrounding states as well. And before we new it, we had ourselves a teddy bear drive.
We called it "Project Teddy Bear Love." On Wednesday, we sent a truck to Connecticut carrying on it 6,150 bears. Most of them were tied with a card or note of some sort, and every single one had been hugged on and loved on and sent ready to bring healing and comfort to those in Newtown.
People asked us, "Why teddy bears?" and the answer is simple. We remembered what teddy bears meant to us when our community went through this — it was a sign of healing, comfort, stability and love. When nothing else in the world made sense, a teddy bear did. And it makes sense now.
We sent our driver off covered in protective prayers, goodies and the biggest hugs imaginable for being an angel bringing hope and good news to a community in need. What a perfect Christmas blessing. We pray that this project will bless those in Newtown and bring some healing to them like it has to the community members here.

Recently we shared a video of children in Haiti receiving “Joy Boxes” from church members in the U.S. through Hope for Haiti’s Children, a church-supported ministry.

dominican republic1

The Dominican Republic (Map via

Members of the Fairfax Church of Christ in Virginia, just outside Washington, share their experiences on a recent trip to the Spanish-speaking nation, where they distributed Magi Boxes (similar to the Joy Boxes in Haiti).

The congregation works with Manna Global Ministries, a church-supported nonprofit that works in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Africa.

The Fairfax church has a history of commitment to the people of the Dominican Republic — and Haiti. In 2010, I rode along with two of the church’s members, Mark Gibson and Tim Bynum, as they gathered relief supplies in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, and drove them across the border into Haiti to aid victims of the earthquake that leveled much of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.



from the Christian Chronicle Blog



Sunday worship with the Gateway Church of Christ. (Photo by Jerry McCrea, Star-Ledger, via

Mark Di Ionno, columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger in New Jersey, praises the “unsung heroes” — churches and church-supported relief agencies — that are helping the people of the Northeast recover after Hurricane Sandy.

The columnist attended Sunday worship with the The Gateway Church of Christ in Holmdel, N.J., and writes about their efforts in Sandy relief. (See our roundup of churches in New York and New Jersey assisting in relief, including Gateway, and our list of churches and ministries collecting funds and coordinating relief efforts.)

Di Ionno writes:

HOLMDEL — The Gateway Church of Christ holds its services in the Holmdel Senior Center, giving truth to the old adage that a church is its people, not a building.

On Sunday, the people of Gateway were hosting a Christmas service for their Bayshore neighbors left homeless or displaced by Hurricane Sandy, and the young families of the church came early to set up the empty room.

Homemade cookies and other treats were carried in, coffee was started and wrapped gifts for children were stacked in a corner. A visit from Santa would come later; now it was time to set up the altar (a plastic banquet table), the pulpit (a lectern on wheels) and the pews (about 100 cushioned folding chairs). But the storage closet was locked.

Carl Williamson wasn’t worried.

"We’ll figure it out," said the 32-year-old pastor whose energy and ever-present smile has not waned since Sandy struck. "We’ve solved a lot of problems in the last seven weeks. We’ll solve this one."

Within minutes, deacon Cliff Gray, with the confidence and deft of a professional burglar, matter-of-factly popped the lock with a coat hanger and the service furniture was rolled out.

This little parable is about faith and purpose defeating circumstance. God didn’t pop the lock. Cliff Gray did that. But his purpose came from God, and there is no better way to explain why religious organizations responded to Hurricane Sandy with such love and fervor and in such numbers. They are the unsung heroes of the storm.

Read the full story, and see an online gallery of photos from the Gateway church.

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