Author Archives: EPConnection

About EPConnection

EPConnection is the news and information service of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a denomination of Presbyterian, Reformed, Evangelical, and Missional congregations. To the glory of God, the EPC family aspires to be a global movement of congregations engaged together in God’s mission through transformation, multiplication, and effective biblical leadership, embodying Jesus’ love to our neighbors near and far.

October Jeremiah Journal outlines how the 2018-2019 EPC budget is allocated

 

In the October 2018 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah explains the EPC budget and how support from EPC churches funds Connectional Support, Collaborative Ministries, and Custodial Operations at the national level.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

Pray for Andrew Brunson

 
BillCampbell

Bill Campbell

by William P. (Bill) Campbell

It was July 18, 2018. I sat in the cavernous Aliağa courtroom in Western Turkey, watching Andrew Brunson boldly testify to the gospel of salvation and forgive the Turkish officials for persecuting him without cause. It was a message that needed to be heard by everyone, I thought. I was glad so many were listening in: a group of officials and witnesses at the stand, the armed guards, and the entourage of reporters, Turkish pastors, and varied observers in the aluminum bleachers in back of the courtroom.

How powerful it would be if the world could catch the spirit behind Andrew’s words.

It can! Maybe not come from the flurry of news media that followed the hearing, or from the transcribed court proceedings that will serve as public record in Turkey. I am referring rather to the influence of your life and mine as we pray for Andrew’s release. Every day that Andrew is detained in Turkey and God’s people pray, it is not only the American government that is being influenced to action. The God who reigns over the nations also is being stirred to action—hopefully to free Andrew, impact Turkey, and change each of us. Our prayers are His pen through which He can transcribe truths on our hearts. Realize this:

  1. Andrew and the pastors in that courtroom set a high bar for boldness that should inspire us to be more fearless as we live for the Lord with all of our freedoms. In the courtroom, the pastor who interpreted for me had already offered himself as a witness in Andrew’s case. He knew that in so doing, he put himself under the careful scrutiny of a government that is making it very difficult to be a Christian. Each of the Turkish pastors present with me had already spent time behind bars because of their faith. At any point, one or all might face prison for the rest of their lives. And Andrew, if not released, faces a 35-year prison term. Interceding for such courageous believers can birth courage in our hearts.
  2. Andrew’s predicament can also remind us to pray for Turkey. Several days of conversations I had with Turkish believers revealed a deep-seated concern that Andrew’s case may be evidence of a growing anti-Christian sentiment in the country. According to accounts I heard, Turkish citizens who have offered even a mere suggestion on social media that they are not happy with the current situation in Turkey are often required to begin reporting every few days to a government office confirming that they are fully supportive of the government. One more slip and they may find themselves joining company with more than 150,000 others who have been detained or imprisoned on various charges since the attempted overthrow of the government in July of 2016. Surely as we pray for Andrew, we must pray for Turkey.
  3. When we pray for Turkey, we will quickly find ourselves praying for the world. Turkey is a gateway to both East and West. It was originally from Turkey that Christianity was launched around the globe. It was there also that the first seven councils of the church were held. Oddly, Turkey—the cradle of early Christianity—is now one of the least-Christian countries in the world. There are nearly as many active churches in the small town from which I write, Hendersonville, N.C., as there are in the entire nation of Turkey (about 250). Depending on how “Christian” is defined, Turkey is between 0.2 and 0.4 percent Christian. The stark contrast between what was and what is may seem depressing, but it should actually give us great hope. An old Korean proverb says, “Where water once flowed, it can flow again.” Let us pray for God to bless the beautiful land of Turkey and all of its people. Let us offer petitions to Him for that nation with this realization: what God has done before, God can do again. May Turkey continue as a democracy, may all peoples be welcome there, and may the Church flourish.
  4. Praying for Andrew may cause us to recognize how quickly we may lose our freedoms if we don’t stand strong in our faith. Sadly, the Church in America tends to be influenced by its culture more than it influences culture. We must once again heed the messages found in the letters to the seven churches as recorded in Revelation 2-3. By the way, each of these seven churches was situated in what is now Turkey. Only partially uncovered ruins remain in each location. But the truths in those letters live on. They call us to be genuine Christians—willing to follow Christ even when things are tough and when we face slander, opposition, and difficulty.

Conclusions for Today

It is natural to become discouraged in our prayers for Andrew as we experience delay after delay. It is supernatural, however, to realize that God is at work for good—even on Andrew’s behalf—and that our prayers are being heard. The sovereign God who used Joseph’s imprisonment (Genesis 39) as part of His greater purpose can and will use Andrew’s detention in ways we have not anticipated and may never fully understand. God is at work. And we must never give up.

 

Campbell serves as Pastor of Hendersonville Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville, N.C. He also is the founder and president of Scripture Awakening, a ministry that provides resources to help people read, study, and live the Scriptures. 

Prayer Guides and other resources, including an in-depth, 31-day prayer initiative for Andrew and Turkey, are available at www.epc.org/freepastorandrew.

EPC issues Call for Prayer and Fasting ahead of October 12 Andrew Brunson hearing

 

AndrewBrunsonPrayerGuide201810HorizontalThe trial of Andrew Brunson, EPC Teaching Elder imprisoned in Turkey since October 2016, resumes on Friday, October 12. In an effort to stand with and pray for the Brunson family, the EPC is issuing a Call to Prayer and Fasting for the week of October 8.

“Recent speculation in the media that Andrew could be released on October 12 should cause us to ramp up our prayer efforts,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “We all desperately want that outcome, so I hope that every one of our 600 congregations will participate in this week of prayer and fasting.”

Six specific prayers are suggested for the days leading to the October 12 hearing:

  • Pray for Andrew and Norine’s continued physical safety, as well as perseverance in prayer and protection from discouragement.
  • Pray for God to prepare all of the players in the trial: the prosecution, the defense, every witness, and Andrew himself. Pray for God’s wisdom to prevail over all aspects of the trial.
  • Pray for Andrew to be emboldened to give a clear gospel witness, and that those in attendance (including media, guards, attorneys, and others) would hear and understand the gospel message.
  • Pray for media representatives at the trial to be safe, and for journalists to write reports that will glorify God.
  • Pray that unless the Lord has a purpose in keeping Andrew in Turkey, that he will be released from his current house arrest, allowed the freedom to travel, and acquitted of the charges.
  • Pray that God will use the trial and its outcome to open doors for the gospel in Turkey.

Prosecutors in the case have asked for a 35-year prison sentence on charges that Brunson helped terrorist organizations and worked to convert Turks to Christianity.

A printable bulletin insert in pdf format with these Scripture prayers can be downloaded at www.epc.org/news/freepastorandrew.

Also available is an in-depth, 31-day prayer initiative for Andrew and the nation of Turkey, which was developed by EPC Teaching Elder William P. (Bill) Campbell. Campbell serves as Pastor of Hendersonville (N.C.) Presbyterian Church, and also is the founder of Scripture Awakening, a ministry that offers resources to help people read, study, and live the Scriptures. Campbell attended Andrew’s trial on July 18, 2018, in Aliağa, Turkey.

World Outreach commissions 13 new global workers

 

WOlogo-RGB900EPC World Outreach commissioned 13 new global workers on June 21, 2018, at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn. The commissioning took place during the Thursday evening worship service of the 38th General Assembly.

To financially support one or more of these new workers, visit www.epcwo.org and click the “Give/Support” button. For more information about World Outreach and its ministries or people, email wo@epcwo.org.

Meet these new global workers:

Scott and Colleen
Scott and Colleen have been serving at First Presbyterian Church of Little Rock, Iowa, since 2004, when Scott was called to become their pastor. In recent years, they sensed God leading them to pursue cross-cultural mission outreach. While carrying out pastoral responsibilities in Little Rock, Scott and Colleen completed Serge’s Sonship course and four months of WO-mentored Muslim outreach. They will join a Serge church planting team in a predominantly Muslim, multi-ethnic community in London, England.

Tim and Debbie
Tim and Debbie honed their cross-cultural and language skills over decades of pioneer church planting in East Asia. They’ve taught at local high schools and colleges, started non-profit development organizations, raised cattle, and operated camps for “third-culture kids” (children raised in a culture other than that of their parents’). Their home church is Trinity EPC in Florence, S.C. They will serve under a co-op agreement with Pioneers.

Todd and Pru
Todd and Pru spent the first decade of their marriage on an OM International church planting team in North Africa. They put the lessons learns there to use in designing a program to train a new generation of evangelists and disciple-makers for the Turkic world. Their family now includes two sons, Brennen and Corren, who have visited five continents in their short lives. They are members of First Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Oregon City, Ore. They will join the Presbytery of the Great Plains’ Engage 2025 initiative to plant churches among Albanian Muslims in Macedonia.

Saul and Jesse
Saul and Jesse have lived out the missional calling since their early years. Saul went on his first mission trip when he was 11 years old, and Jesse grew up in Malawi where her parents were missionaries. They are members of Hope Church of Carbondale, Ill., where as newlyweds they helped start Hope’s first mission committee. While researching ministry opportunities for their church family, they attended an Encounter WO event in December 2014. They have served as volunteer WO Mission Assistants since October 2016, and now will join the WO Mobilization Team.

S and A
S and A both grew up in South Asia—S in an extended family of prominent Muslims, and A in a Christian family from a Hindu background. They have been commissioned to plant churches among Muslims of South Asia and metro Detroit. After their marriage, S and A reached out to their primarily Muslim neighbors and work contacts, and were instrumental in starting several household Bible studies in the Detroit area. For more than 10 years, S has been praying for Rohingyas—a Muslim people fleeing violence in their home country of Myanmar. This year, local authorities gave him an open invitation to work in the world’s largest refugee camp, which is home to more than 500,000 Rohingya refugees. S and A are members of Faith EPC in Rochester Hills, Mich.

Portia
After graduating from Nyack College in New York with a major in Intercultural Studies, Portia moved to a majority Muslim city in Europe to join an OM International church planting team. As teammates left one-by-one, Portia persevered, building friendships and reading the Bible with those friends. Goodwill Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, N.Y., sent her out six years ago, and she was commissioned this year as a WO/OM International co-op worker.

Ben and Ellie
A year after their marriage in 2012, Ben and Ellie moved to High Wycombe, England, to join Greg and Sally Livingstone on a church planting team among South Asian Muslims. Three years later, they returned to the U.S. to continue Muslim outreach in Dearborn, Mich., and finish their studies at Moody Theological Seminary. They will serve as co-op workers through Frontiers, and will move to a Muslim city in South Asia next year where Ben has accepted a teaching position. Ben and Ellie are members of Cornerstone EPC in Brighton, Mich.

 

September Jeremiah Journal provides summary of 38th General Assembly

 

In the September 2018 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri provides a summary of the 2018 General Assembly, held June 19-22 at Hope Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

#epc2018ga

Mid-Atlantic church leaders assess damage from Hurricane Florence

 
Florence-MyrtleGroveWilmington

Flooding from Hurricane Florence inundated the parking area of Myrtle Grove EPC in Wilmington, N.C., but by September 19 had not entered the church building.

As flooding from Hurricane Florence continues to affect the Carolinas, pastors of EPC churches in the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic continue to assess storm damage and prepare for further flooding from rain-swollen rivers.

At least 37 deaths in three states have been confirmed as a result of the storm, which dumped as much as three feet of rain in parts of North Carolina. More than 10,000 residents remain displaced.

Stacey Miller, Pastor of Myrtle Grove Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, N.C., reported via email on September 17 that the primary difficulty is that flooding has isolated Wilmington. The city of 120,000 is on the Atlantic coast in southeastern North Carolina, just north of the South Carolina border and was still mostly surrounded by floodwaters on September 19.

“Flood waters are blocking roads and highways in every direction,” Miller wrote. “As the inland creeks recede, the rivers are rising and are expected to crest at record levels. So it may be quite some time before routes are clear for people to be able to drive in and out of the city.”

He said about half of the church members and staff evacuated before the storm and are currently unable to return.

Florence-Interstate40Wilmington

Flood waters covering Interstate 40 outside Wilmington, N.C.

“One of our elderly members is in ICU and her daughters can’t get to Wilmington to be with her,” he wrote. “In the community at-large, we have heard some sobering stories of total destruction of property, and flood damage with no flood insurance. Once all of our members return to Wilmington and assess their property, we may hear of other major losses within our own flock as well.”

Miller noted that he has been able to contact many church members, including some who stayed as well as some who evacuated before the storm hit.

“I know of two members who had trees come through the roof,” he wrote. “Otherwise, most have had trees down in yards, roof leaks, and other relatively minor issues. There have been few reports of major damage for our folks who stayed. As we have heard from members of our congregation, the prevailing theme is that God has been gracious to us.”

He said the church roof lost some shingles, resulting in some minor water damage. “Otherwise, there appears to be very minimal damage to our property,” he said.

Keith Cobb, Pastor of Hollywood Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Greenville, N.C., reported a “significant leak around our steeple, and water under several doors throughout the building. This, of course, is minimal in comparison to what is going on around us.” He noted that since the Tar River flows through Greenville, “we have every reason to suspect that we— like Goldsboro, Kinston, Tarboro, and Rocky Mount—will shortly have many opportunities to help flood victims in our community in the coming days and weeks.”

Florence-Leland

Flooding in Leland, N.C., a western suburb of Wilmington.

Greenville is in eastern North Carolina, approximately 120 miles north of Wilmington. The metro area has a population of approximately 175,000.

Kevin Cauley, Pastor of Darlington (S.C.) Presbyterian Church, said extensive flooding is hampering a full assessment.

“Everyone is waiting for flood waters subside to be able to assess damage and have a plan,” he said via email on September 19. “Unfortunately, there is more flooding expected over the next 24 hours.”

Darlington is in northeastern South Carolina, approximately 130 miles west of Wilmington, N.C.

Matt Walton, Pastor of Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Florence, S.C., said a tree fell through the roof of a church member’s house, and his sister’s home in Wilmington, N.C., suffered significant water damage.

Florence-CeilingDamage

Damage to Matt Walton’s sister’s home in Wilmington, N.C. Walton is Pastor of Trinity EPC in Florence, S.C.

“We will soon see our rivers swollen from water from North Carolina trickling down,” he added,” so pray that that will not cause flooding over the next few days.”

Walton noted that the church property emerged largely unscathed, though a break-in occurred during the storm and some items were stolen.

Florence, S.C., is about 10 miles southeast of Darlington and is home to approximately 40,000 people.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said donations to the EPC’s Hurricane Florence Emergency Relief Fund would be disbursed as quickly as possible.

“As we saw with the hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria last year—and the recent wildfires in California—when there is a need, our churches step up and demonstrate the sacrificial love of Christ. We will get those funds to where they are needed as soon as we can.”

In collaboration with the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, donations to the fund will be sent to EPC churches affected by the storm. Click here to donate online (Choose “Emergency Relief” from the first pulldown menu and “Hurricane Florence Relief (283)” from the second pulldown menu,) or make check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church and designated “Hurricane Florence Relief,” and send to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822

To help publicize the EPC’s Hurricane Florence Emergency Relief Fund, a bulletin insert is available for download in printable, pdf format at www.epc.org/emergencyrelief. The insert is designed to be printed on standard, 8.5×11 paper and cut in half vertically or horizontally.

FlorenceChurchesMap

Red flags mark EPC churches within 150 miles of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., where Hurricane Florence made landfall on September 14. Wrightsville Beach is 6 miles east of Wilmington, N.C.

Emergency fund launched for Hurricane Florence relief

 

HurricaneFlorenceReliefBThe EPC has launched an emergency relief fund in anticipation of Hurricane Florence’s potentially devastating impact on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and beyond. Donations to the fund will be sent to EPC churches in areas affected by the storm.

“I’ve seen some predictions that Florence could do to the Mid-Atlantic region what Harvey did to southeast Texas last year,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “We all pray that history does not repeat itself, but if the worst happens we want to do everything we can to help our churches and their communities recover as quickly as possible. As the storm comes ashore over the next 24-48 hours, we need to pray for those in harm’s way.”

Click here to donate online (Choose “Emergency Relief” from the first pulldown menu and “Hurricane Florence Relief (283)” from the second pulldown menu,) or make check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church and designated “Hurricane Florence Relief,” and send to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822

Thank you for providing help to those in need.

Presbytery Moderators gather in Orlando

 

PresbyteryModerators

Moderators of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries met at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando, August 23-24. Among the topics of discussion were successes and challenges in each presbytery over the past year, initiatives for the coming year, as well as sharing best practices. The group also heard updates from the EPC Church Planting Team, the 2018 Annual Church Report, 2018-2019 EPC Ministry Report, and Benefit Resources, Inc. In addition, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah provided an update on the “State of the EPC.”

The Moderators meet each year in late summer.

Commissioners to 38th General Assembly approve Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality, re-elect Stated Clerk, propose Commissioned Pastor revision

 

GA2018BannerCommissioners to the EPC’s 38th General Assembly approved 26 recommendations, declined two others, and for procedural reasons took no action on an additional five. The Assembly was held June 19-22 at Hope Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn.

TomWerner

Tom Werner, 38th GA Moderator

Recommendations that were approved include a Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality, the re-election of Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah to a new three-year term, proposed changes to the role of Commissioned Pastor, and more. Commissioners also welcomed seven new churches to the EPC since last year’s Assembly; elected Tom Werner, Ruling Elder from Greentree Community Church in St. Louis, Mo., as Moderator; and elected Case Thorp, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean, as Moderator-Elect. Thorp serves as Senior Associate Pastor for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla.

Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality approved

The Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality is a companion document to the Position Paper on Human Sexuality that was approved by the 36th General Assembly in 2016 and ratified by the 37th Assembly in 2017. The 36th General Assembly, meeting at Ward Church in Livonia, Mich., also approved the formation of an interim committee to write the Pastoral Letter. The committee held several listening sessions at the 37th General Assembly in Sacramento. The preliminary draft was released in January 2018 to Teaching Elders and Sessions for comment.

Sandy Willson, Interim Committee Chair, reported that the draft also was sent to “select outsiders who have particular expertise, training, and personal experiences that would qualify them to provide feedback. The men and women consulted included persons with personal and professional experiences with same-sex attraction, physical and sexual abuse, terminal degrees in counseling, and experience in theological education.”

The Letter was approved by unanimous vote of the Assembly.

Commissioned Pastor expansion proposed

The recommendation to expand the role of Commissioned Pastor was presented by the EPC’s Interim Committee on Ministerial Education (ICME), with the affirmation of both the permanent Ministerial Vocation Committee (MVC) and the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC). If ratified by the EPC’s presbyteries, the recommendation will allow a Commissioned Pastor to serve on a church staff that has an ordained Teaching Elder serving as Pastor.

A Commissioned Pastor is a Ruling Elder who has been temporarily authorized by a presbytery and given the authority of a Teaching Elder. The role was previously reserved only for a congregation without a Pastor, mission churches, church plants, or chaplaincy roles in hospitals, hospices, prisons, or other institutions.

Michael Flake, MVC Chair reported approximately 40 Commissioned Pastors currently serve in the EPC.

“Almost all of these serve in their home church,” he said. “These are churches that do not have a Pastor, and one of their Ruling Elders will agree to be examined by the presbytery and become a Commissioned Pastor.”

He said one of the benefits of a Commissioned Pastor is that a church with this type of stable leadership is more likely to not only stabilize but also become healthy and grow to the extent that they can then call a Teaching Elder.

“Unfortunately,” Flake said, “in our current way of doing things when that happens the Commissioned Pastor is out of a job because we have no provision for having a Commissioned Pastor in a church with a Teaching Elder.”

Allowing a church to have both a Teaching Elder and a Commissioned Pastor “would continue to recognize the calling that God has placed in certain Ruling Elders’ lives—acknowledging what God is already doing,” Flake said, adding that it also could help with pastoral burnout by giving a Teaching Elder an opportunity to have a Ruling Elder step in and help with certain pastoral duties. He emphasized that a Commissioned Pastor would still be subject to the approval of the presbytery.

ICME Chair Fred Lian noted that the recommendation allows the presbytery—which can mandate theological continuing education for the Commissioned Pastor—to “invest in our Ruling Elders who have been called to a more fuller role of ministry to their churches and their communities.”

Because the Assembly-approved recommendation proposes changes to the EPC’s Book of Government, it is now Descending Overture 18A. Each of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries will vote on the Overture at their winter 2018 meeting, having discussed it at their fall meeting. Presbyteries may debate its substance, but the Overture may not be amended. To be presented for adoption at the 39th General Assembly, 11 of the 14 presbyteries must approve the Overture.

Stated Clerk re-elected

JeffJeremiah

Jeff Jeremiah

Jeremiah was elected to a fifth term as Stated Clerk. He has served as the EPC’s Chief Executive Officer since 2006.

“I am so very grateful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this ministry that you have just confirmed for three more years,” Jeremiah said following his unanimous re-election. “This will be my last term as the Stated Clerk. In the next three years, I will do all that I can to help prepare for the future of the EPC. I love you, and want God’s very best for you—and for us—when I lay this ministry down.”

He challenged the “Boomers” in attendance—those born between the early 1940s through the mid-1960s—to support, mentor, encourage, and champion the younger men and women in the EPC.

“We must do this if we are going to secure the future of the EPC as a mighty instrument used by God for the expansion of His Kingdom in this place and around the world,” Jeremiah said.

He said his other goal in his last term was to continue to work on behalf on Andrew Brunson. He referenced Luke 18—where Jesus addresses the issue of counting the cost—reflecting on the nearly two years since the EPC Teaching Elder was imprisoned in Turkey.

“How could we have counted the cost then, when we had no idea what was ultimately going to happen and how long this would take?” he asked. “The only answer I have is that there some tasks that our Lord calls us to, and we do them. I will admit that this task has been costly, but I bear that cost knowing that it is what God has called me to.”

Jeremiah described his relationships with numerous U.S. Government officials that he has developed over the 20 months since Brunson’s incarceration.

“I have been amazed by the doors the Lord has opened for us in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “But we know the only open door that matters is the door of the plane through which Andrew and Norine come back to the United States. Until that day comes, we will not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time will reap a harvest if we will not give up. I have spoken for all of us when I have repeatedly assured Andrew and Norine that we will never give up. Never.”

New interim committee to be appointed

Commissioners authorized Moderator Tom Werner to appoint an interim committee “to study how the EPC can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces and serves our neighbors from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9).”

The recommendation came from the National Leadership Team (NLT), which explained the rationale for the committee in its report to the Assembly:

“At its January 2018 meeting, the NLT spent considerable time discussing where God is calling the EPC in the next decade. One of the areas in which the NLT believes we can improve as a denomination is in our efforts to minister to the diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural communities that surround many of our churches and that the Lord calls us to serve.”

Scott Griffin, NLT Chair, said the goal is to “make our denomination look more like the neighborhoods where God has planted us.”

The recommendation was unanimously approved by the Standing Committee on Administration, and added to an omnibus consent motion.

Budget, special projects approved

The total approved Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19—July 2018 through June 2019) budget for EPC operating expenses is $2,669,231. This amount includes $438,199 in direct funding of the four strategic initiatives—$92,690 for Church Revitalization; $182,680 for Church Planting; $121,290 for Effective Biblical Leadership; and $41,539 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. Funding for the strategic initiatives was added to the EPC operating budget in the FY2018 budget; they previously were funded through undesignated cash reserves since their 2014 inception.

The Assembly also approved a variety of Special Projects for FY19, which are supported outside of per-member-asking (PMA) but would be fully funded if each EPC church contributed an additional $5.62 per member above the PMA target of $23 per member.

In other administration-related business, commissioners approved:

  • A recommendation that shifts approval of applications to the EPC Church Loan Fund from the EPC Foundation to the NLT Finance Committee.
  • The EPC Restated Articles of Incorporation and Corporate Bylaws. These documents stem from a liability study undertaken in 2014. That study led to a corporate restructure of the EPC in which World Outreach and Benefit Resources, Inc., were separated as legal entities from the EPC ecclesiastical body, but remained under the oversight of the General Assembly.
  • A recommendation that ordained ministers drawing retirement income from the EPC 403(b)(9) Defined Contribution Retirement Plan be allowed to designate up to 100 percent of their retirement income for housing allowance.

New committee and board members elected

In addition to the election of Werner as Moderator and Thorp 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 (TE denotes Teaching Elder. RE denotes Ruling Elder. * denotes second term.):

Benefit Resources, Inc., Board of Directors: RE Robert Draughon*, Presbytery of the Central South; Michael Moore, Presbytery of the Central South; TE Bill Reisenweaver, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

Committee on Chaplains Work and Care: TE Greg Holman, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Jennifer Prechter, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; TE David Snyder*, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Richard Swedberg*, Presbytery of the West; TE Brad Yorton, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest.

Committee on Church Planting and Revitalization: RE Franklin Carter*, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic. (Carter was not seated due to Assembly approval of Recommendation GA38-14 to disband the Committee on Church Planting and Revitalization.)

EPC Foundation Board: RE Ben Borsay, Presbytery of the Midwest; Mark Eibel, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; RE John Graham, Presbytery of the Southeast.

Committee on Fraternal Relations: RE Carol Culbertson, Presbytery of the West; TE Don Fortson, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic.

Committee on Ministerial Vocation: RE Neal McAtee*, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Caroline Tromble*, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes.

National Leadership Team: RE Phil Fanara*, Presbytery of the East; RE Michael Gibson*, Presbytery of the Great Plains; RE Rob Liddon*, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Rosemary Lukens*, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest.

Next Generation Ministries Council: Greg Aydt, Presbytery of the West; Meg DeHaven, Presbytery of the East; TE Andrew Mills, Presbytery of the Gulf South; RE Becky Shultz, Presbytery of the West; Ryan Suzuki, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest.

Nominating Committee: RE Marion Bradshaw, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Larry Carlson, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; RE Susan Humphreys, Presbytery of Mid-America; RE Joe McCoy, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE David Ricketts, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; TE Wayne Hardy, Presbytery of the Great Plains.

Permanent Judicial Commission: RE Amanda Cowan, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; RE Don Flater*, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Dana Opp*, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Presbytery Review Committee: RE Cecil Matthews*, Presbytery of the West.

Committee on Theology: TE Ron DiNunzio, Presbytery of the East; TE Ryan Mowen, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Women’s Resource Council: TE Sharon Beekman*, Presbytery of the West; TE Mary Brown*, Presbytery of the Great Plains; RE Lynn Burdge, Presbytery of the Central South; Anita Campbell, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

World Outreach Committee: TE Chris Bear, Presbytery of the East; TE Rick Dietzman, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; RE Patrick Tucker*, Presbytery of the Central South.

Other business items

Several other items of business were unanimously approved without discussion. Those items were:

  • Ratifying Descending Overtures 17-A, 17-B, 17-C, and 17-D. Overture 17-A amended the Book of Government sections 9-6A and 10-8B.2a, bringing consistency to the wording of the two sections by specifying the term of service for an out-of-bounds call as a renewable term of up to three years. Overture 17-B amended the Book of Government sections 21-2D.2e and f, expanding areas of ongoing authority that may be given to the Ministerial Committee at the discretion of the presbytery. Overture 17-C amended the Book of Government section 10-7 by creating and defining the called position of Transitional Pastor. Overture 17-D amended the Book of Government section 9-5A.1 for consistency with section 10-7 to clarify that all calls to Teaching Elders must be approved by the presbytery. Each of these overtures were approved by the 38th General Assembly, and subsequently approved by the presbyteries at their winter 2017-18 meetings.
  • Giving the permanent Fraternal Relations Committee the authority to develop a fraternal relationship with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, as well as the authority to appoint EPC representatives to engage with groups where participation of the Stated Clerk is not necessary.
  • Disbanding the permanent Church Planting and Revitalization Committee (CPRC). The CPRC stated in its report to the Assembly that the successful implementation of the Church Planting Team under the leadership of Tom Ricks and the Church Revitalization Task Force (now known as the GO Center led by Ken Priddy) since 2012 and 2013, respectively, made the CPRC “superfluous and no longer necessary.”
  • Re-assigning Benton, Washington, Crawford, and Sebastian counties in northwest Arkansas from the Presbytery of the Central South to the Presbytery of the Great Plains.
  • Approving Operation Mobilization as an approved Cooperative Mission Agency, Timothy Two as an approved Mission Agency, and Equip International as an approved Mission Agency of EPC’s World Outreach.
  • Supplementing the EPC Foundation Board with at least one volunteer representative from each presbytery. These volunteers would help expand awareness of the Foundation’s services as they speak to churches and individuals in their presbyteries.
  • Approving the minutes of the National Leadership Team, Next Generation Ministries Council, Women’s Resource Council, and permanent committees on Church Planting and Revitalization, Fraternal Relations, Ministerial Vocation, and World Outreach.
  • Approving the minutes of the 14 EPC presbyteries (with some minor exceptions requiring response to the permanent Presbytery Review Committee by December 31, 2018).
  • Accepting the invitation from Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo., to host the 39th General Assembly in June 2019.

Bart Hess Award for church growth and revitalization

The annual Bart Hess Award for church growth and revitalization was presented to Restoration Church in Munford, Tenn. for their revitalization efforts. Mike Gibson is the Pastor, and the congregation joined the EPC in 2010.

Limited by a sanctuary built in 1911 and now landlocked with no parking or expansion room, the church was experiencing only incremental, transfer growth and not reaching the unchurched in its community.

“We weren’t expanding the Kingdom, we were just rearranging the sheep,” Gibson said, noting that he and his leadership team undertook a study of its community to address the issue. “We wanted to know what kind of needs they had and what we could do to minister to them, and what were we doing or not doing to attract them or be a total disinterest to them.”

In response to what the study revealed about the church and the community, the congregation changed its name to Restoration Church, adopted a contemporary worship style, and developed a ministry to families.

“A lot of the people around us had been through a divorce but were very family-oriented,” he said. “They were very concerned about not repeating what had happened in their homes that resulted in divorce. And they were very interested in receiving help.”

Jeff Jeremiah affirmed the church’s willingness to not only ask hard questions about its health and ministry to its community, but also its effort to make changes in response to the answers they received.

“Under Mike’s leadership, lives are being redeemed, revived, and restored through the ministry of Restoration Church and I am thrilled that their hard work has been recognized by the entire EPC,” he said.

Church Planting Team highlights growth in plants, networks

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.

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Tom Ricks

Tom Ricks, Chair of the Church Planting Team (CPT), reported 43 active EPC church plants in 16 states. He also reported at least three churches “went from being a church plant to being a localized congregation, which is the ultimate goal—getting them to stand on their own two feet and then multiply themselves by planting other new churches.”

Ricks reported two church planting networks currently, with two more in development. Ricks noted that one of these networks, in St. Louis, Mo., was formed by five EPC churches in the Presbytery of Mid-America. “We have bound together and have committed our resources and energies for the sole purpose of planting churches in the city of St. Louis—not in the county or in the surrounding area but in the urban part of the community.”

He also noted seven active church plants in underserved neighborhoods around the country. Ricks emphasizing that the CPT is looking at not only underserved neighborhoods, but also unreached areas—particularly in the northeast and on the West Coast.

“These are a couple of areas in our country where there is tremendous opportunity in a post-Christian era to plant churches and share the gospel.”

Additional church planting activities described in the Church Planting and Revitalization Committee’s printed report to the Assembly included:

  • A new church plant in an area of Nashville, Tenn., with an 80-percent minority population.
  • An Hispanic church plant in Charlotte, N.C., launched by Lake Forest Church in Hendersonville, N.C., in partnership with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (INPM). The EPC signed a church-planting partnership with the INPM in 2016, and the Charlotte congregation will be led by a church planter from Mexico.
  • Church of the Resurrection in New Orleans, La., launched in 2017 by the Gulf Coast Church Planting Network.
  • The inaugural “church planting cohort” designed to encourage and equip EPC church planters, and led by Bart Garrett, Lead Pastor of Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, Calif.

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

GO Center describes revitalization tools, new funding model

KenPriddy

Ken Priddy

Ken Priddy, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and Director of the EPC GO Center, provided the report for the GO Center, the primary EPC vehicle for church revitalization. He explained that the GO Center is an equipping ministry “that engages and empowers pastors, church leaders, and congregations to move forward into greater health and vitality—to revitalize—through training, consulting, coaching, and assessing.”

He said each of the EPC’s 600-plus churches “is at the epicenter of a domestic mission field,” noting that the people in these missions fields are not simply lost; they are missing from the family of God. “They are waiting for the gospel to get to them,” he said. “The question is, ‘How and when will our churches take the gospel out?’ That is the question that the GO Center seeks to answer.”

Priddy reported that 12 of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries now has a volunteer GO Center Coordinator, who serves as a link between the GO Center and the needs and interests of the presbyteries. Priddy also said that more than 30 volunteers have been trained to serve as GO Center Vision Team Coaches. Coaches work with a local church Vision Team to encourage and assist those teams through implementation of the GO Center training in their local context. He also said new training materials have been created and implemented.

A further area of emphasis over the past year has been the development of relevant metric tools to assess the health of participating churches and their progress through the GO Center’s revitalization process.

Finally, Priddy reported a shift in the ministry’s funding structure for the future. He said the GO Center has been incorporated as its own 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and effective July 1, 2018, will receive funding from three streams. The first is continued, though reduced, support from the EPC administrative budget. The second is a fee structure  attached to the ministry services provided, Third will be donor funding solicited by the GO Center through the EPC Foundation.

World Outreach reports progress, sets goals

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Phil Linton

Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach (WO), noted four major accomplishments since the 2017 Assembly in Sacramento:

  • The WO global worker assessment and approval process was completely revised.
  • A thorough mid-term evaluation of Engage 2025 was completed, and Engage 2025 Team Leaders (and their families) were brought together and given new tools, resources, and training to carry out their task.
  • A manual for International Business as Mission (IBAM) was developed and approved.
  • Multi-year Ministry Plans were developed to deliver specific goods and services to our International Theological Education Network partners.

Linton said IBAM will be a major focus for the coming year.

“This past year has seen the maturation of a process in laying the groundwork, and this is the year we want to see that implemented,” he said. “Our goal is to have six hubs for business professionals across the country to incubate and take advantage of the business acumen, counsel, and energy of business people in the EPC.”

He shared a second goal for IBAM of having two entrepreneurial business professionals joining the World Outreach team in the next year.

Linton also reported that the goal he shared at the 2017 General Assembly in Sacramento—11 new global workers commissioned at this year’s Assembly—was nearly met. Seven families and one single candidate were appointed by World Outreach Committee in the last 12 months.

“We still need to provide reinforcements for our Engage 2025 pioneer church planting teams,” Linton told the 2018 Assembly. He said World Outreach will be praying and working to have six new global workers commissioned next year to join existing Engage 2025 teams serving in the Muslim world.

#epc2018ga

Descending Overture from 2018 General Assembly available

 

DescendingOverture18ACommissioners to the 38th General Assembly approved a proposed amendment to the EPC Book of Government regarding the role of Commissioned Pastor.

As a proposed constitutional amendment, the Overture now goes to the EPC’s presbyteries for discussion and vote. If approved by 11 of the 14 EPC presbyteries (75 percent), the amendment comes to the 39th General Assembly for ratification. The 2019 Assembly will be held at Cherry Hills Community Church in suburban Denver, Colo.

Church sessions should download and distribute the Descending Overture for discussion in their presbytery’s fall meetings, in preparation for voting in each presbytery’s winter meeting.

Click here to download Descending Overture 38-A.

 

Howard Shockley, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic Stated Clerk, dies at 74

 
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Howard and Margaret Shockley

Howard Grady Shockley Jr., Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic since 1999, passed away on August 7, 2018, at Spartanburg (S.C.) Regional Medical Center. He was 74.

The only son of the late Grady and Lucille Shivers Shockley, Shockley felt the call to ministry at a young age and dedicated his life to serving the Lord with a servant’s heart. Supported by his wife, Margaret, he honored his call to the fullest and loved his work of mentoring, counseling, and supporting his fellow pastors and EPC community. In addition to his leadership at the presbytery, he planted the first EPC church in Asheville, N.C, in 1981.

A native of Opelika, Ala., Shockley was a graduate of Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.; Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.; and earned a Ph.D. from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret; son Paul and his children, Emma, Naomi, and Timothy; daughter and son-in-law Rachel and Finn Dahl and their children, Austin, Anelie, and Arissen; and son and daughter-in-law Thad and Amy Shockley.

A memorial service will held on August 10, 2018, at Christ Church EPC in Anderson, S.C. Interment will follow at Greenville Presbyterian Church in Donalds, S.C.

In lieu of flowers, memorials should be made to the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic’s Allman-Fischer Fund, which supports missionaries and pastors in the presbytery. Gifts can be sent to Allman-Fischer Fund, c/o Tim Burns, 2514 Plantation Center Drive, Matthews, N.C. 28105.

Emergency fund launched for Redding, Calif., wildfire relief

 

ReddingWildfireReliefIn response to the Carr wildfire in and around Redding, Calif., the EPC has launched an emergency relief fund to help with recovery efforts. As of August 1, the fire had resulted in six deaths—including two firefighters—and has destroyed more than 1,000 homes and 180 square miles. California fire officials are calling it the sixth-most destructive fire in the state’s history.

“We are all in a bit of shock,” said Jim Howe, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Redding. “Thank you for your prayers—we are still gathering information, and I heard today that our former pastor’s daughter lost her home.”

Click here to donate online (Click the “Click to Donate” button, then choose “Emergency Relief” from the first pulldown menu and “Redding Wildfire Relief (282)” from the second pulldown menu,). Or make check payable to Evangelical Presbyterian Church and designated “Redding Wildfire Relief,” and send to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822

Donations to the fund will be sent to First Presbyterian Church of Redding to be used for identified needs. Donations beyond those needed for local recovery will be held in a general Emergency Relief Fund to be used at the discretion of the EPC National Leadership Team for future emergency relief needs.

Senators, Administration, religious freedom council applaud Turkey court ruling as Brunson leaves prison for house arrest

 

In response to a Turkish court’s ruling July 25 to release Andrew Brunson from prison to house arrest, officials in Washington, D.C., have issued statements supporting the decision.

Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) issued a joint statement in which they called the move a “step in the right direction.”

“Today’s decision by the Turkish Court system to move Pastor Andrew Brunson from prison to house arrest is a step in the right direction and will help alleviate some of the unacceptable hardship and anguish Pastor Brunson and his family have endured over the last 20 months,” the senators said. “The Government of Turkey should now release Pastor Brunson and immediately return him to the United States, an action that would begin to restore the longstanding friendship between our two nations.”

The United States Council on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also welcomed the court’s ruling.

“It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga in the statement. “This is welcome news … but it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted on July 25 that house arrest was a positive development, but Brunson “should have been freed long ago.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said via Twitter on July 25 that the decision was “long overdue.”

Brunson left the prison at approximately 5:30 p.m. local time in Turkey (10:30 a.m. Eastern). Live television footage showed Brunson being put into a vehicle outside prison and driven away guided by a police motorcycle escort. His Turkish lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt , confirmed that Brunson will be required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and is banned from leaving the country.

“These officials in Washington have been our ‘heroes on the Hill’ and have worked hard for Andrew’s release,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “But we need to remember that this is not over. Even though Andrew will be at his home in Izmir, he will be closely monitored and his movements will be restricted. We should continue to pray and advocate for his complete freedom until that time when he steps off the plane onto American soil.”

On July 23, Tillis and Shaheen announced a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress assessing Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. The provision is based in part on legislation the three senators introduced earlier this year in response Brunson’s continued imprisonment and Turkey’s intention to purchase an S-400 missile system from Russia. Last week, they introduced a bill that would prohibit international loans to Turkey until the detention of U.S. citizens ends.

On July 24, Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline Furnari spoke to the U.S. State Department’s inaugural Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, hosted by Pompeo. Furnari’s 12-minute testimony can be watched below.

Click here to watch the full one-hour segment of the day’s proceedings. Furnari begins her talk at 20:30.

Andrew Brunson moved to house arrest

 
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Andrew Brunson

Turkish media is reporting that Andrew Brunson has been moved from prison and put under house arrest. According to the Daily Sabah, the EPC Teaching Elder has been moved to his home in Izmir due to “health issues.”

The Second High Penal Court in Izmir issued the ruling on July 25, which also included an international travel ban meaning Brunson cannot leave the country. The same court ruled on July 18 that Brunson be returned to prison until the hearing in the trial, scheduled for October 12.

“We are very thankful for this court ruling to allow Andrew to be detained at his house instead of behind bars, where he has spent more than 21 months,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “At the same time, this trial is not over. He is still facing serious charges so we press on in praying, fasting, and advocating for Andrew.”

Brunson has lived in Turkey since 1993 and was arrested in October 2016. He was indicted on charges of having links to Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish cleric who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999 and whom Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup attempt, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey calls a terrorist group.

President Trump, others continue to condemn Andrew Brunson detainment

 

A Turkish court’s decision to return Andrew Brunson to prison at the conclusion of the July 18 hearing until the next hearing on October 12 has drawn intense, bipartisan criticism.

Late on July 18, President Donald Trump said on social media that not granting Brunson’s release was a “total disgrace” and added that the EPC Teaching Elder “has been held hostage far too long.”

On July 19, six Senators introduced a bill to direct the top U.S. executive at the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to block future loans to Turkey, except for humanitarian purposes. The bipartisan bill—dubbed the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act—was authored in response to “the unjust detention” of nearly two dozen U.S. citizens, including Brunson.

In a statement, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said, “Until Turkey begins acting like a NATO ally again, we will continue to pursue measures like sanctions and loan restrictions against them. We desire cooperation and strengthening ties between our countries, but the U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of its own people.” Lankford was joined in the proposed legislation by Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a quick resolution to the impasse on July 19.

“We continue to call on the Turkish government to quickly resolve (Brunson’s) case in a timely and transparent and fair manner,” said Heather Nauert.

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Andrew Brunson

On July 18, the four senior members of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (USCSCE, also known as the Helsinki Commission) released statements condemning Brunson’s ongoing imprisonment.

“The cruelty of today’s decision is astonishing,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)., USCSCE  Co-Chair. “By extending Pastor Brunson’s indefinite detention and setting his next trial date for mid-October, the Turkish government has declared its intention to keep this innocent man in jail past the two-year anniversary of his arrest without conviction or any credible evidence against him. There is no room in NATO for hostage-taking. Pastor Brunson should be freed immediately.”

Sen. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), USCSCE Co-Chair, also called for Brunson’s immediate release, “otherwise this cruel abuse of a U.S. citizen should have serious consequences for our country’s relationship with the Turkish government.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said the Turkish court’s decision “represents yet another miscarriage of justice in this case. I remain deeply concerned that Mr. Brunson remains in prison in Turkey. The Turkish government must drop its spurious charges and release Mr. Brunson immediately.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), described Brunson’s trial as “conspiratorial charges, anonymous witnesses, and political agendas, and bears no resemblance to a credible judicial process. Even as the Turkish government prepares to lift its nearly two-year state of emergency, we should not be fooled into thinking that the rule of law is returning to Turkey. Pastor Brunson’s wrongful imprisonment proves that nothing is likely to change.”

The USCSCE echoed the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issued a statement on July 18 declaring “The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.”

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah expressed gratitude for the statements of condemnation.

“I am thankful that so many of our government officials have recognized Andrew’s situation and are speaking out against his continued incarceration,” he said. “We will continue to persevere on Andrew’s behalf, and look forward to the day—hopefully very soon—when he steps off a plane onto American soil.”

Brunson is an EPC Teaching Elder from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey since 1993. He was been held since October 2016, and was indicted in March 2018 on charges of terrorism and espionage. Among the accusations in the indictment are charges that Brunson was a “member and executive” of the Fetullah Gülen organization—which the government of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan blames for a failed July 2016 coup attempt and considers a terrorist group—and supported outlawed Kurdish militants. He faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty.

Senators press for release of Andrew Brunson, threaten further legislative action

 
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Clockwise (from top left): Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Thom Tillis, R-N.C.)

In response to Andrew Brunson’s return to custody following hearings on July 18, U.S. Senators Thom Tillis, Jeanne Shaheen, James Lankford, and Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement calling for his immediate release. The court in Aliaga, Turkey, remanded the EPC Teaching Elder to prison until the trial resumes on October 12.

“Pastor Andrew Brunson has languished in a Turkish prison for the last two years, causing tremendous hardship and heartache for him and his family,” the senators said in the statement. “He is an innocent man and has been unlawfully detained simply because he is an American pastor who assists all those in need, no matter their ethnicity or religious beliefs. Turkey and the United States are longstanding NATO allies and it is imperative to the interests of both nations that Turkey starts behaving like one. We call for the immediate release of Pastor Brunson and other American citizens currently detained in Turkey, including Serkan Golge. We encourage the Administration to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure the release of these innocent people before Congress is forced to press for even stricter legislative measures that will be difficult to unwind.”

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Andrew Brunson

Brunson has been imprisoned in Turkey since October 7, 2016. In April, he was indicted on charges related to terrorism and espionage. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

In April, the four senators led the effort to craft a bipartisan letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling for Brunson’s release. The letter was signed by 71 senators. Tillis has visited Turkey twice, including meeting with Brunson and attending his trial on April 16. Shaheen and Graham visited Brunson in prison in June, and also met with Erdoğan and pressed for Brunson’s release.

In previous legislative actions, Tillis and Shaheen secured a provision that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a plan to Congress to remove Turkey from participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. The provision is based in part on legislation introduced by Lankford, Tillis, and Shaheen. Lankford and Shaheen have worked with Graham to include sanctions in this year’s State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations bill. Those measures target Turkish officials complicit in the unlawful arrest of Americans.

The senators are part of a growing chorus of condemnation in Washington, D.C., against the court’s ongoing decision to keep Brunson imprisoned.

In an article titled “The Brunson farce” published July 17 by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in response to speculation following discussions between Erdoğan and President Trump, Aykan Erdemir wrote that Brunson should be released “not because of a deal, but because there isn’t a shred of evidence against him.” Erdemir is a senior fellow at the FDD and a former member of the Turkish parliament.

On July 18, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a statement declaring that “Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.” The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission.