37th GA summary: Commissioners approve budget, funding Strategic Initiatives, Position Paper on Human Sexuality, new presbyteries


2017GAbannerRegOnlineCommissioners to the EPC’s 37th General Assembly approved a variety of business items, including funding the four strategic initiatives from the EPC operating budget, adopting the Preliminary Position Paper on Human Sexuality as the Position Paper on Human Sexuality, creating two new presbyteries, and more.

The strategic initiatives of church planting, church revitalization, effective biblical leadership, and global movement have been funded through undesignated cash reserves since their inception in 2014. The decision funds the strategic initiatives through the EPC operating budget for the first time.

The total approved July 2017–June 2018 (fiscal year, or FY18) budget for EPC operating expenses is $2,310,583. This amount includes $268,000 in direct funding of the four strategic initiatives, with $135,000 allocated for Church Revitalization; $120,000 for Church Planting; $8,000 for Effective Biblical Leadership; and $5,000 for Global Movement. In addition, 20 percent of Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions to the EPC support Global Movement in the form of funding the overall ministry of World Outreach.

The Assembly also approved a variety of Special Projects for FY18, which are funded outside of per-member-asking (PMA) but would be fully funded if each EPC church contributed an additional $6.83 per member above the PMA target of $23 per member.

The Position Paper on Human Sexuality replaces the Position Paper on Homosexuality and Position Paper on the Sanctity of Marriage. The 35th General Assembly, meeting in Orlando in 2015, approved the formation of an interim committee to edit the homosexuality paper, which had been adopted in 1986 and revised in 1994 and 2014. While the EPC’s position on the issue had not changed, the 2015 Assembly recommended that language in the paper be updated to reflect how that position is expressed in response to changing cultural trends.

The new Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest and Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest will be formed from the existing Presbytery of the Pacific, effective January 1, 2018. The Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest will include Alaska, Oregon, Washington, the portions of Idaho and Montana west of the 114th meridian, and the portion of California north of a line 10 miles south of state highway 299. The Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest includes the entire states of Hawaii and Nevada; the portion of Arizona west of the 114th meridian; and the portion of California south of a line 10 miles south of state highway 299.

Using the most recent reporting numbers for the Presbytery of the Pacific, the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest will have 39 churches and approximately 7,000 members, while the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest will include 30 churches and approximately 10,800 members.

Commissioners also approved two additional presbytery related items: adjusting the boundary between the current presbyteries of the Pacific and West to fall on the 114th meridian, and changing the name of the Presbytery of Florida to the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

Transitional Pastor call approved

In other business, commissioners approved a new ordained call of Transitional Pastor; welcomed 16 new churches to the EPC since last year’s Assembly; and elected Dean Weaver, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies as Moderator and Tom Werner, Ruling Elder from Greentree Community Church in St. Louis, Mo., as Moderator-Elect.

The Transitional Pastor call was a recommendation from the Ministerial Vocation Committee, which believed the term “transitional” not only better defined the task, but also further established the role as a call from the Session of a church. The provisions state that a Transitional Pastor:

  • Is called by the Session to serve a congregation while it is seeking a pastor;
  • Intentionally leads the congregation toward greater health and readiness for their next pastor;
  • Will ordinarily be appointed by the presbytery to moderate the Session during his or her time of service;
  • Would retain membership in his or her home presbytery, if different from that in which the call is located; and
  • Is introduced to the receiving presbytery and enrolled as a corresponding member (voice but no vote) upon approval of the Ministerial Committee.

Commissioners also approved four additional recommendations from the Ministerial Vocation Committee to amend the Book of Government. These actions:

  1. Adjust the wording in two sections related to the term of service for an out-of-bounds call to reflect that such term is renewable for up to three years;
  2. Allow a presbytery to authorize its Ministerial Committee to serve as a judicial or administrative commission, or be appointed as an ongoing administrative commission;
  3. Add the Transitional Pastor as a recognized pastoral relationship for Teaching Elders in a congregational setting; and
  4. Clarify that a Session may call a Teaching Elder as Assistant Pastor or Transitional Pastor, and is authorized to invite a Teaching Elder as Stated Supply Pastor or Occasional Supply Pastor—all of which must be approved by the presbytery since they involve a Teaching Elder.

Pastoral Letter committee reports progress

In addition to business recommendations voted on by commissioners, the EPC’s interim and permanent committees and boards presented reports to the Assembly on their work over the past year.

The Interim Committee on Pastoral Letter was appointed following the 36th General Assembly in response to that Assembly adopting the then-Preliminary Position Paper on Human Sexuality. In his report as committee chair, Sandy Willson said the committee has divided the task into ten preliminary chapters, with each having a three-part format: biblical and theological framework, cultural issues and objections, and pastoral application. The Committee hosted Network Lunches on Thursday and Friday designed to garner input and feedback from commissioners on the topic. Willson, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South, recently retired as Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Every EPC church a “Parent, Partner, or Patron” of church planting

Tom Ricks, Chair of the Church Planting Team, reported more than 37 active church plants in the EPC.

He also noted that since the Church Planting Team trains, nurtures, and equips all EPC church planters, and helps congregations, networks, and presbyteries get the right church planters in the right places, the goal is to provide resources and support above and beyond a church’s regular ministries and operations. Ricks emphasized that this is best accomplished when each EPC congregation becomes a “Parent, Partner, or Patron” of at least one church plant.

Additional activities over the past year reported by the Church Planting Team in its printed report included:

  • Holding an annual church planters’ retreat, with Ricks requesting that presbyteries help defray travel costs for attendees.
  • Adding three new members to the Church Planting Team leadership team: Rufus Smith, Pastor of Hope Church in Memphis, Tenn.; Richard Rieves, Pastor of Downtown Church in Memphis, Tenn.; and John Bueno, EPC Home Missionary.
  • Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tenn., and Cherry Hills Community Church in Denver, Colo., launching church planting initiatives in their communities.
  • The Gulf Coast Church Planting Network launching their first church plant in New Orleans, La.

Ricks, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Mid-America, is Pastor of Greentree Community Church in St. Louis, Mo.

Mentored Apprenticeship Program announced

As part of the Interim Committee on Ministerial Education’s report, Kent Mathews introduced the Mentored Apprenticeship Program. The program was designed to help meet the EPC’s new educational requirements for ordination to the office of Teaching Elder, approved by the 36th General Assembly. These requirements—approved in response to changing trends in theological education nationwide—stipulate 66 credit-hours of required seminary coursework, including 42 hours of Bible, theology, and church history. The remaining 24 hours include the ministry- and skill-based disciplines of discipleship, ethics, leadership, pastoral care/counseling, ministry as mission, apologetics, preaching, and evangelism.

In partnership with Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, eight courses have been developed to address these areas and are available online at half the normal Gordon Conwell tuition cost. Five courses will be available during GCTC’s fall semester, with the remaining three scheduled to be available in 2018.

Mathews emphasized that students at any seminary accredited by the Association for Theological Schools are eligible to take the MAP courses for credit, and a student completing six of the eight courses will earn a Certificate of Completion from Gordon Conwell. He noted that a bachelor’s degree is not required for the Certificate Program, so it is ideal for a non-ordained church or parachurch staff member who want to improve their skills and knowledge.

In addition to the coursework, students complete a hands-on project, supervised by a mentor with whom the student regularly meets.

Click here for more information on the Mentored Apprenticeship Program.

Mathews is Pastor of the EPC’s Grace Community Fellowship in Ottawa, Kan., and serves as Director of the Mentored Apprenticeship Program. In his role with MAP, he is the grading instructor and professor of record at GCTS.

NLT celebrates stewardship, church planting rate

In the National Leadership Team report, chair Mike Moses emphasized that the EPC is a missional denomination that serves the ministry of its member churches and presbyteries, and not a top-down hierarchy “that everything is trying to feed.”

“In everything we do, we are attempting to resist a top-down approach,” Moses said, “but instead be a national leadership that serves and resources and champions what the Holy Spirit of God is doing in our churches and presbyteries.”

As an example, he discussed the relocation of the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) to Orlando, Fla., which was completed in 2016. Specifically, he noted that even while the EPC was growing, OGA operations have been streamlined from 20 full-time-equivalent employees in past years to a current level of 17.

“I think that speaks to the priority of our executive leadership of being good stewards of the funds that are entrusted to them through per-member-asking so that as much of it as possible goes to advance our shared mission and vision.”

As another example of using PMA to resource ministry locally, Moses shared some statistics related to church planting.

“In 2010, when Jeff Jeremiah appointed a Church Planting Team led by Tom Ricks, 2.1 percent of our churches were church plants,” he said. “That is an anemic church planting rate—half of what experts say is a healthy church planting denomination.”

As Ricks had reported earlier, Moses noted that 4.3 percent of EPC churches were church plants in 2016, and since January 2017 the rate has grown from 4.3 percent to 6.2 percent.

“We are now more than a healthy church-planting denomination, we are an exemplary church-planting denomination—and we thank the Lord for that by His grace.”

He emphasized that none of those new congregations were planted by the Office of the General Assembly.

“That came come from culture change of us together saying that this is important—this is a priority—and then our ability to just resource and fan into flame what God is birthing in our churches and presbyteries.”

Moses, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, serves as Pastor of Lake Forest Church in Charlotte, N.C.

Stated Clerk report emphasizes connectionalism

In the Stated Clerk’s report, Jeff Jeremiah emphasizing the relational emphasis of being in the EPC.

“It’s an expression of who we are,” Jeremiah said. “It’s an expression of our connectionalism. We aren’t in connection just because it’s convenient, or a good idea, or tradition. We’re committed to connectionalism because its biblical.”

He emphasized the quality of this connectionalism by referencing some of the “one anothers” of the New Testament. “Welcome one another, accept one another, be kind to one another, instruct one another, be subject to one another, encourage one another, forgive one another, build up one another, encourage one another, hold one another accountable, and of course, love one another.”

Jeremiah also reported that giving to the EPC budget has improved over the past two years, from 61 percent of the PMA goal in 2015 to 68 percent in 2016.

Additional information in the Stated Clerk’s printed report included an explanation of his roles in both promoting and protecting the EPC; a breakdown of how the EPC’s Office of the General Assembly budget is funded and how those funds are used; a discussion of staff transition at the national level of the EPC; and a directory of churches received, dissolved, or dismissed in the period May 28, 2016, through May 22, 2017.

Church revitalization expands through GO Center

In a video report to the Assembly, Ken Priddy described the work of the EPC’s GO Center, which develops materials and conducts training for church revitalization. Priddy, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, is Director of the GO Center. He said the GO Center continues to recruit Vision Team coaches and Presbytery Coordinators for each of the EPC’s 13 presbyteries, noting that 13 Presbytery Coordinators are currently in training and represent 10 presbyteries.

Priddy explained that a congregation’s Vision Team leads the revitalization efforts for the church, and Vision Team Coaches work with them, while Presbytery Coordinators are the link between the presbytery and the GO Center.

He said with the three “layers” of Vision Team, Vision Team Coach, and Presbytery Coordinators, the GO Center is now able to provide “a much broader, much deeper ministry to the churches, the pastors, the leaders, the congregations that we’re endeavoring to serve.”

Priddy reported that since the 2016 General Assembly, the GO Center has presented 40 on-site training events. In addition, 19 pastors and leaders currently are active in online training through “GO Clusters,” 40 pastors and leaders have completed training through the GO Clusters, and 21 pastors have expressed interest in a new “X52” online training vehicle, which Priddy said focuses on developing Great Commission skills among pastors.

He also noted that in the past few years, more than 170 EPC churches have engaged the ministry of the GO Center.

Bart Hess Award for church growth and revitalization

The annual Bart Hess Award for church growth and revitalization was presented to Closer to God Church in Kearny, N.J., for their work in community outreach. In addition to local evangelism, members of the congregation provide professional courses, medical care, legal assistance, and counselling for immigrant families in the community; minister to the poor through a food bank; support presbytery mission projects; and help plant new churches in the Newark, N.J., area. Valdir Reis is the Pastor of the multi-ethnic, Portuguese-speaking church.

World Outreach plans student outreach event

Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach (WO), reported that in the past 12 months the World Outreach Committee focused on the areas of mobilization, the Engage 2025 initiative, the International Theological Education Network (ITEN), and personnel.

“The work of World Outreach Committee has been to position World Outreach to aid our churches so that we aren’t left on the bench and are active participants in God’s rescue mission,” he said.

One effort to aid EPC congregations with outreach training is a youth conference scheduled for June 26-29, 2018, in Detroit, Mich. The event will include an opportunity for ministry to Muslims in the area. Linton noted that space is limited to 100 high school students, and internships are available for college students. As details are finalized, information will be available at www.epcwo.org.

“It’s going to be a life-changing experience for these students,” Linton said, “and it’s part of our efforts to work at a grass-roots level with our congregations and the youth in our congregations so that we become an incubator for missions passion, and passion for the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom.”

He also reported that summer internships for college students are available through several of WO’s partner agencies.

Linton concluded his report by telling commissioners that growth of WO global workers overseas plateaued in 2016, following many years of steady growth. He said that while the three missionaries who were appointed on Thursday evening were cause for celebration, “in the past year we had as many missionaries leave World Outreach as join World Outreach.”

He asked the Assembly to commit to pray for 11 missionaries to be appointed at the 2018 General Assembly.

“We need 11 new appointees commissioned next year just to meet the recruitment needs for our current teams who have established tenuous toeholds in some of crucial areas. We have folks who have made heroic efforts, but we need those reinforcements.”

Ed McCallum honored for 20 years of service

On Friday of the Assembly, Ed McCallum was recognized for his 20 years of service as Assistant Stated Clerk. McCallum began a new role as Associate for Site and Program Development with the International Theological Education Network of EPC’s World Outreach following the Assembly.

New committee and board members elected

In addition to the election of Weaver as Moderator and Werner as Moderator-elect, the Assembly elected the following individuals to fill vacancies on the EPC’s permanent committees and boards as others complete their terms of service:

Benefit Resources, Inc., Board of Directors: RE Robert Draughon, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Kim Ray, Presbytery of the Pacific; TE Ronald Horgan, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Erik Ohman, Presbytery of the Midwest; Randy Shaneyfelt, Presbytery of the Great Plains.

Committee on Chaplains Work and Care: TE David Snyder, Presbytery of the Midwest; TE Karen Bolte*, Presbytery of the Pacific; TE Ted Tromble*, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes.

Committee on Church Planting and Revitalization: TE Jeff Moore*, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes.

EPC Foundation Board: RE Bobby Cobbs, Presbytery of the Pacific; RE Ted Hailes, Presbytery of the Central South.

Committee on Fraternal Relations: RE Gwynn Blair*, Presbytery of Florida; RE Peter Pugliese*, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Committee on Ministerial Vocation: RE Neal McAtee, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Frank Rotella, Presbytery of the East; TE Brad Strait*, Presbytery of the West; RE Phil Stump*, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic.

National Leadership Team: RE Chris Danusiar, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Nancy Duff, Presbytery of the Pacific; RE Leigh Swanson*, Presbytery of Florida; RE Glen Meyers, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Permanent Judicial Commission: RE Yvonne Chapman, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Ken Roberts, Presbytery of the West; RE David Tyra*, Presbytery of the Pacific.

Presbytery Review Committee: TE Helen Franssell*, Presbytery of the East; RE Diane Manon*, Presbytery of the Midwest.

Committee on Theology: TE Zach Hopkins, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; RE Fred Flinn, Presbytery of the Central South.

Women’s Resource Council: TE Sharon Beekman, Presbytery of the West; TE Mary Brown, Presbytery of the Great Plains; Elizabeth Parker, Presbytery of the Gulf South; Kathy Mercy, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Lana Roberts, Presbytery of the Pacific; Jessi Schatzle, Presbytery of the Central South.

World Outreach Committee: RE David Miller, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Kevin Cauley*, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Brad Buescher*, Presbytery of the Great Plains.

(TE denotes Teaching Elder. RE denotes Ruling Elder. * denotes second term.)

Omnibus consent motion items

At each year’s Assembly, a number of recommendations from various Standing Committees are entered into a single Omnibus Consent Motion that commissioners vote on. These recommendations do not need discussion or debate, either because they are routine procedures or already received unanimous consent. Eight recommendations were referred to the 37th General Assembly’s Omnibus Consent motion, which commissioners unanimously approved without discussion. Those items were:

From the Standing Committee on Administration:

  • That Communication 17-02 from the presbytery of the West regarding the change of their boundary with the Presbytery of the Pacific be received as information.
  • That Recommendation #3, “that the Assembly provide the EPC Foundation with ten minutes at each General Assembly meeting where a church can provide a testimonial for the substantial financial value gained by working through the Foundation” be adopted.
  • That Recommendation #6, “That the Assembly ‘highly encourage’ each Presbytery to create time on their meeting agenda at least once (or more) per year for EPC Foundation updates, new ideas, plus Q&A. It would also be a time for the church leaders attending to schedule and or meet on specific issues with members of the EPCF board” be adopted.

From the combined Standing Committee on Christian Education and Communications and Student & College Ministries:

  • That Recommendation #42, “that the Assembly postpone the effective date of the ‘Next Generation Ministry Council’ as a Permanent Committee until July 1, 2018, allowing adequate time for consultation of the joint Student & College Ministries/Christian Education & Communications Committees with the National Leadership Team as required by the action of the 36th GA” be approved.

From the Standing Committee on Fraternal Relations:

  • That Recommendation #7, “that the Assembly approve the EPC entering into a fraternal relationship with the Evangelical and Reformed Presbyterian Church of Peru for the purpose of developing equipping materials (theological and practical) and church revitalization materials for leaders in the Peruvian Church” be adopted.

From the Standing Committee on World Outreach:

  • That Recommendation #4 from the Foundation Board, “that the Assembly explore the feasibility of the Foundation working closely with World Outreach assisting in fund raising for missions and help in general financial issues” be adopted

Other recommendations:

  • That the Assembly receive the written reports of the Standing Committee on World Outreach and the Standing Committee on Church Planting and Revitalization, neither of which had recommendations coming to the floor.
  • That the Minutes of the Permanent Committees on Ministerial Vocation, Chaplains Work and Care, Student and College Ministries / Christian Education and Communications (meeting jointly), Fraternal Relations, Administration (National Leadership), Board of Directors of the EPC Corporation, Women’s Resource Council, and World Outreach be approved with minor corrections.

#epc2017ga

With additional reporting by Michael Herrin, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Gulf South.

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