Category Archives: Denominational News

Monthly EPC budget report: FY20 PMA contributions rebound from April dip, end year only 3.4 percent behind projected budget

 

At the June 30 close of the EPC’s fiscal year, Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions to the EPC totaled $2,391,871. The amount is $84,629 (3.4 percent) below the projected operating budget of $2,476,500 for supporting the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

Despite the deficit to the budget, PMA support in fiscal year 2020 (FY20) ended $5,042 higher than the previous fiscal year’s total of $2,386,829. The EPC’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

“It’s hard to describe how grateful I am for God’s amazing goodness and our churches’ faithfulness as we close the fiscal year,” said Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah. “When April contributions were 26 percent less than we anticipated, we hoped then that we would get to this point, look back, and call it a one-month blip. Praise the Lord that turned out to be the case. We praise Him for the great recovery we’ve enjoyed in the past two months—not just for EPC budget, but because it means that people remained faithful in their giving to the local church, who in turn did not have to sacrifice PMA support in their own budgets.”

Of the $2,391,871 received, $478,392 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, the Office of the General Assembly received $5,949,369 in designated gifts in FY20. This total was $731,977 (14 percent) higher than the $5,217,392 in designated gifts received in FY19. Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s holiday offerings.

Of the total, $5,198,551 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $750,818 was designated for EPC projects. These amounts only reflect gifts received and distributed by the Office of the General Assembly, and do not reflect donations given directly to WO global workers or other projects.

“In spite of all the challenges we’ve faced this year, total giving to our global workers is up between January and June in 2020 over the same period in 2019,” Jeremiah said. “In fact, giving to these precious workers on the front line for the gospel increased by 17.6 percent over the first six months of 2019. I am so thankful for how God has blessed people financially to support these workers.”

July Jeremiah Journal reports on close of EPC fiscal year 2020

 

In the July 2020 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah presents a report on the close of the EPC’s fiscal year, including contributions to Per Member Asking, support of World Outreach global workers, premium payments to the EPC medical plan, and contributions to the EPC’s 403(b)(9) retirement plan. The EPC’s fiscal year 2020 ended on June 30.

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.

Getting to know you: Dean Weaver, nominee for EPC Stated Clerk

 

Part 1 of 2

Dean Weaver, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, is the Stated Clerk Search Committee’s nominee to succeed Jeff Jeremiah as EPC Stated Clerk. He serves as Lead Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, Pa., and was Moderator of the EPC’s 37th General Assembly.

Weaver will be presented at the EPC’s 40th General Assembly for confirmation. In this wide-ranging interview, he talks about his walk with Christ and some of the challenges and victories from a life in ministry.

EPConnection: How did you come to the Lord?

DeanWeaverZoom1Dean: Although I grew up in the church, Christ brought me to Himself when I was 14 years old at summer camp. The guy who led me to Christ was a Young Life volunteer.

EPConnection: When did you realize you were called to ministry, and why as a pastor or leader?

Dean: I was called to the ministry my freshman year in college. I started college studying electrical engineering. One Sunday at church, the pastor preached a sermon that God used to call me into the ministry. It’s a long—but very cool—story.

EPConnection: Tell me about it.

Dean: Before I left home for Grove City College, the seminary intern from my home church literally grabbed me by both arms and said, “Dean, God often speaks through the voices of other people, and I am telling you He is speaking through me. You are called to the ministry! And you will be unhappy and miserable and find no peace until you submit to His call.”

So I went off to college with this echoing in my mind and soul, which was very disturbing. It wasn’t too long before I realized how much I hated physics, chemistry, and calculus—and was doing very poorly in my studies. I realized I was only studying electrical engineering because my guidance counselor had said that was where the good paying jobs were.

After about two and a half months of being miserable, I visited a friend one weekend at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which is about 70 miles from Grove City. We went to Graystone Presbyterian Church (which is now EPC) for worship. The pastor began his sermon by saying, “I have never done this before, and I can’t believe I am doing this today, but I believe God spoke to me this morning and told me that someone would be here today, they would come from some distance, and they have been running away from God’s call in their life. They are unhappy, miserable, and will find no peace until they submit to God’s call. Whoever you are, this sermon is for you.”

After worship, I went up to the pastor to see if anyone had approached him to own up as the person he mentioned at the beginning of his message. When he said nobody had, I looked around the sanctuary and my friend and I were the only people left. I knew it was me. I told him that I was that person. He put his hands on my shoulder and said, “Young man, I don’t know who you are, but God has something very special in store for your life.” I went back to Grove City and on Monday morning changed my major to History/Religion (which is now called Biblical Studies) and began the long road of preparation for full-time pastoral ministry.

I have since come to refer to this as the “Dear Dean, … Love, God” sermon.

EPConnection: So how do you define “ministry”?

DeanWeaverZoom2Dean: In the pursuit of Jesus, ministry happens. Ministry is what happens when a disciple of Jesus follows the Savior in every aspect and area of his or her life.

EPConnection: How do you define “leadership”?

Dean: Considering the needs of others more important than your own. Leadership is helping other people and organizations faithfully follow the Savior by using the gifts God has bestowed upon them with a full reliance of the Holy Spirt who dwells within them.

EPConnection: What Christian leaders/pastors do you read, listen to, or follow?

Dean: I read and follow all things Tim Keller (I am reading Uncommon Ground at the moment) and pay close attention to things that come out of The Gospel Coalition. I am also working through Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise and appreciate anything from Max DePree or John Kotter when it comes to leadership. I also love the podcast “This Cultural Moment” with Mark Sayers and John Mark Comer.

EPConnection: Who is your favorite theologian?

DeanWeaverZoom3Dean: It might sound obvious, but Calvin is my favorite theologian from church history. Right now, I am reading and working to understand the differences between Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. I am currently reading Bavinck’s The Sacrifice of Praise.

EPConnection: When did you realize the EPC was the best fit for you and your church?

Dean: I worked for renewal in the PC(USA) for years at every level of the denomination, which ultimately led me to help found and lead the New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC). I helped lead 180 congregations of the NWAC into the EPC, starting with my own congregation—Memorial Park—in 2006 through 2008. It was at my first EPC General Assembly that I realized that I was “home.” The sweet and generous spirit of biblical hospitality and family that characterized the EPC was what we had longed to be a part of for years.

EPConnection: How would you describe your God-given “hard wiring” and how it contributes to your strengths and weaknesses?

Dean: I am “hard-wired” to do the right thing. I can see what is needed or required to lead in all types of circumstances and will bring all my gifts, energy, and abilities to the situation with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. As a visionary leader, I can help others pursue the future God is calling us to, but I can also be impatient about getting there.

EPConnection: How would you describe your personal devotional time?

DeanWeaverZoom4Dean: My conversation with the Lord is woven throughout the day. Typically, most days involve time in the Psalms, reading the chapter of Proverbs for that day of the month and spending the majority of my “devotional time” reflecting and praying over the preaching text for that week. Most days I also read Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest and sometimes John Baillie’s A Dairy of Private Prayer.

EPConnection: How do you balance the needs of your family (and yourself) in your ministry?

Dean: My kids range in age from 31 to 21 (I have seven kids and three grandkids). Three of our adult children are still living at home, and there is balance of time spent together with them and our other adult kids living nearby on a regular rhythm—especially gathering for family birthdays, holidays, and Steelers games! Beth and I spend good time together, both at home and with family and traveling. I don’t really think of it as a matter of “balance” but whole-life and healthy integration. We work, rest, and play. The key for us over the years, in terms of being healthy, is faithful practice of the Sabbath weekly and taking our vacation and study leave—and living into our love language of “quality time.”

EPConnection: What in ministry are you most passionate about?

DeanWeaverZoom5Dean: I’m passionate about helping churches exegete the culture and reach out with the gospel in their Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, and the ends of the Earth—with a focus on reaching the fullness of all the ta ethne; that is, ethnicities within their spheres of influence.

EPConnection: Can you recall a tragic situation that has directly (or perhaps indirectly) affected how you fulfill your calling?

Dean: Early in my ministry, an African-American pastor friend’s lovely wife was pulled over by the police on her way home from a fitness center with her girlfriends. She was cited for having “a taillight out.” She was taken into custody, and her car impounded—leaving her friends on the curb. And this was during the winter.

My friend called me in deep frustration, and I called an attorney from my congregation who intervened. In the pursuit of justice, I learned that this local municipality had a long history of targeting blacks who passed through their community with overly aggressive and hostile policing behavior. Seeing such injustice up close as experienced by a good and godly friend would influence my family, relationships, ministry, and my work toward biblical justice for people who are victimized because of the color of their skin and ethnicity.

EPConnection: When you have felt pushed beyond your capabilities as a leader, and how did you manage it?

DeanWeaverZoom6Dean: I can think of a number of times that has been the case. But the COVID-19 quarantine combination of closing church and migrating to digital ministry, as well as the tensions in our community, nation, and world around racial injustice—all happening as I transition out of 14-plus years as the Lead Pastor for Memorial Park, conclude my season as Interim Chaplain at Grove City College, and begin preparing to take on the new role within the EPC—has tested me as a leader like I have never been tested before.

To endure and preserve in such times I have leaned into the Lord like never before, praying and in the Word. I’ve also been depending on friends and family for counsel, support, and encouragement—and being intentional about healthy habits like rest, eating well, and taking breaks from endless Zoom meetings. Knowing my limits, and knowing when to throttle back and step away, has been key!

EPConnection: What is your approach to reflecting Christ’s love to people who do not (and have said they will not) attend church?

DeanWeaverZoom9Dean: I find that I am more patient with people who have never been “church people” than those who were in the church and have fallen away. I have a very high ecclesiology. After all, the church is the Bride of Christ. Being a member of His body, joined with Him as one as John 17 describes, I can’t fathom being a follower of Jesus and not being joined to His body, the Church.

With those who did not grow up in the church, I listen, hear their concerns, and invite them to become a part of something much bigger and greater than themselves. I find that people have a strong need for community “hard-wired” into them, and the invitation to become part of the Body of Christ is an invitation to Christ Himself.

For those who have fallen away from the Church, I am patient and empathetic with those who have suffered trauma or abuse, but I can be impatient with those for whom “hypocrisy” has become a convenient excuse. Pastors need to be patient and comforting, but we also need to be persistent and prophetic. The word I have been reflecting on related to this tension is “contending.” As a pastor, I contend with people for the gospel and the fullness of its implications on all of their lives.

EPConnection: Do you have a go-to “God story” that you tell in order to encourage others?

Dean: How much time do you have?

EPConnection: As much as you need!

DeanWeaverZoom8Dean: In 2002, I visited the West African nation of Sierra Leone for the first time. This was about three months after the official end of the 11-year civil war that had ravaged the country. “Blood diamonds” were involved and as many as 300,000 people were killed. Millions were displaced. It was horrendous. I went to help secure land and build an orphanage. To make a long story short, my wife, Beth, and I ended up adopting a brother and sister from that orphanage. We later helped start a ministry called EduNations that builds and operates what is now 16 schools, as well as planting six congregations of what has become the EPC-Sierra Leone.

On my first trip “up-country” into the rural northern providences 16 years ago, I visited a graveyard of some of the first missionaries to Sierra Leone. Each time I return to Sierra Leone—especially with a team—we visit that graveyard. I tell my friends about the history of missions in that nation and that particular community where we have since built three schools and planted a church.

Last summer, Beth and I took our two Sierra Leonean children (now ages 21 and 25) back to their home village. We stopped at this missionary graveyard (as I always do) to tell them the history of the gospel work in Sierra Leone before going on to visit our schools in that community. It was then, after 16 years of visiting this graveyard, that I noticed the grave of Anna-Marie Stephens, a Wesleyan missionary who had died there in 1904. My heart raced with the possibilities because of the familiarity of that name. When I returned home, I dug deeply into my mother’s family history to confirm that Anna-Marie was my great grandfather’s first cousin!

Here’s the bottom line of this “God-story:” 115 years before I would ever set foot in the village of Maipinda or adopt our children, my cousin had given her life for the gospel and was buried in the very same village in Sierra Leone where I would later return to build Christian schools and plant churches among the Muslim peoples there. Long before I had children from Sierra Leone, my very blood was in the soil of Sierra Leone. If that is not the providence of God, I don’t know what is.

EPConnection: Thank you, Dean, for taking this time. In part 2 of this series, we will get to know Dean’s wife, Beth, and their family.

EPC Benefit Resources, Inc., and Fidelity present online financial planning workshop for EPC church employees

 

2020FidelityManageUnexpectedEventsWebinarFlierEPC Benefit Resources, Inc., (BRI) has partnered with Fidelity Investments to provide free quarterly interactive financial planning webinars. The next web workshop, titled “Manage Unexpected Events and Expenses” is Tuesday, June 30, at 10:00 a.m. (Eastern). The webinar will cover topics including:

  • How to assess your spending and take control of your budget.
  • Considerations for taking money from your workplace retirement plan.
  • Ways Fidelity can support you.

“With so much change around us this year and its impact on our economic climate, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wonder if you should take any action with your retirement savings,” said Bart Francescone, BRI Executive Director. “This webinar is designed to provide answers to important financial questions when the unexpected occurs.”

Francescone added that the webinar will offer opportunity for interactive Q-and-A on retirement planning topics. Although designed for participants in the EPC’s 403(b)(9) Retirement Plan, anyone interested is welcome to register.

To more information and to register, see www.epc.org/2020fidelitymanageunexpectedeventswebinar.

To learn more about the EPC’s 403(b)(9) Retirement Plan, see www.epc.org/benefits/retirement.

More than $73,000 donated to EPC churches through online giving provided by Office of the General Assembly

 

As churches began to suspend in-person worship services this spring as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, 32 EPC churches inaugurated an online giving option provided by the Office of the General Assembly. As of June 24, parishioners have made 381 donations through the EPC’s platform totaling $73,080.59.

OnlineGiving-JeffersonEllis

Jefferson Ellis

Jefferson Ellis, Pastor of Hanover Presbyterian Church in Clinton, Pa., said the church has received online contributions “almost every week since we put it on our website. We even have some folks giving from other parts of the country who had roots or family in our church. It has been a positive thing for our small congregation.”

Oak Island Presbyterian Church in Oak Island, N.C., reopened for in-person worship services on June 14. David Paxton, Ruling Elder and Finance Committee Chairman, said providing online giving in the months that they were not able to meet was very helpful.

“Many of our congregants are retired,” Paxton said. “During this difficult period, we have been blessed by contributions exceeding our expenses. Thank you for providing this service to us.”

OnlineGiving-GradyDavidson

Grady Davidson

Lookout Valley Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., has been holding drive-in services for several weeks, and the opportunity for people to give online has been “a great success.”

“Each Sunday there are a few people who make an offering which probably would not have been given without it,” said Pastor Grady Davidson. “Thank you so much.”

For many of these churches, the EPC’s platform—provided at no cost to churches—was their first time they offered online giving to their congregation.

“We have considered this in the past, but we were not motivated—primarily due to the size of our congregation,” said Bryan Little, Treasurer and Elder for Evangelical Presbyterian Stone Church in Caledonia, N.Y. “Online giving has allowed us to accept donations that would probably not be received otherwise. Members are pleased to have this option and have said the process is very easy.”

OnlineGiving-BrynMacPhail

Bryn MacPhail

Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas, noted that “the mechanisms for online giving are not as user-friendly” in the Bahamas.

“This extended period of not gathering in person has challenged us in a number of ways,” he said. “Even more challenging is trying to receive contributions in a foreign currency. Once again, the EPC has come through for us with a helpful remedy. We are so grateful for this practical help and the ongoing support we receive from our denominational office.”

Some of the 32 churches had offered online giving previously, but with mixed results.

OnlineGiving-Guinston“Guinston had previously offered online giving through a company specializing in this type of service,” said Arlina Yates, Treasurer for Guinston Presbyterian Church in Airville, Pa. “Setting it up was laborious and communication after setup was difficult, so we decided to discontinue our contract. Because of that experience, I was hesitant to take up the offer of the EPC online giving tool, but I have found working with the EPC to be a delightful experience. The setup was so easy that I thought I must have missed some steps. Since day one, communication has been prompt, helpful, and kind. You’ve made a difference. Give yourselves a pat on the back, you deserve it and much more!”

Pat Coelho, EPC Chief Financial Officer, said the program will continue as long as it is needed.

“I know a big obstacle for many churches is trying to figure out how to choose an online giving solution and deploy it well,” Coelho said. “It feels good to be able to help like this.”

He noted that all donations are forwarded directly to the church each week.

“The Office of the General Assembly has not kept any of these funds,” Coelho added.

Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah noted that many churches faced unprecedented financial pressures as shelter-in-place orders became commonplace.

“When the shutdown started in March, none of us knew how long we would be unable to hold public worship services,” he said. “I recall many thinking we would be back by Easter, but of course that did not happen. I am thankful that we have been able to provide this financial lifeline for our churches, many of which are among our smallest congregations.”

Churches that requested the service received a page on the EPC website that included the form to make a secure donation, said Brian Smith, EPC Director of Communications.

“They can add a ‘Donate’ button to their website that links to this page,” he said. “For churches that do not have a website, they can share the address of the page on the EPC site with their congregants in all the usual ways they keep their attendees informed.”

EPC churches interested in more information about using the denomination’s online giving platform are encouraged to contact Smith at brian.smith@epc.org.

June Jeremiah Journal discusses U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

 

In the June 2020 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah discusses the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling on June 15 that the language of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act applies to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

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.

Memphis EPC churches gather for service of lament, prayer walk

 
MemphisPrayerWalk

Members of The Avenue Community Church and Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis participated in a prayer walk on June 10 in the neighborhood near The Collegiate School of Memphis, where The Avenue meets for Sunday morning worship.

In response to the EPC’s call to observe June 8 as a Day of Lament, Fasting, and Prayer, several EPC churches in Memphis, Tenn., gathered for a public service of lament followed by a prayer walk through the adjoining area on June 10.

MemphisLamentService-Johnson

Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson, Lead Pastor of The Avenue Community Church facilitated the service. Also participating were Lee Adams, a volunteer leader at The Avenue; Barton Kimbro, Assistant Pastor of Young Adults at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis; and Denny Catalano, Regional Director of Campus Outreach Memphis.

“Lord, we acknowledge that we are fallen and that we are led astray by our own desires,” Adams prayed. “Even our pursuit for justice can be shortsighted, but Lord, give us your eyes to help us to stay fixed on you. And Lord, give us your heart, so as we cry, ‘How long,’ that we are not forsaken.”

In addition to his prayer, Adams read passages from Habakkuk 1, Psalm 113 and Psalm 143.

Catalano prayed that God would heal broken hearts and bind up their wounds, provide comfort to the families of those who have died in recent weeks, and “bring conviction and courage to our non-African-American brothers and sisters to enter into the fight and speak truth in love and to promote unity in the family of God.”

Kimbro reminded those gathered that “only the Lord is big enough, good enough, wise enough and powerful enough to do anything about what ails people in this world.”

“Oh Lord, we long for the day to come for the new heavens and the new earth,” Kimbro prayed. “We pray for your deliverance from evil around us, particularly racism, bigotry, and systematic injustice.”

At the close of the service, Johnson asked the congregation to stand, raise their hands, and clap.

“He’s worthy of our praise!” Johnson exclaimed. “He is to be trusted. He is the solid Rock on which we stand. All other ground is sinking sand. And I’m not worshipping the God of woke-ism, I’m not worshipping the God of patriotism—I’m worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who’s coming to get me!”

The prayer walk was originally scheduled for immediately after the service but was delayed two days by rainy weather. It was designed to demonstrate love and understanding for the community amid the racial unrest of the past several weeks.

“The indictment against the Church is that they don’t care, that their love does not have feet, and that whatever they talk about—whatever they do—has no tangible impact on the world around us,” Johnson said. “The indictment is so bad, especially for me being an African-American pastor and a person of color.”

He described the part of Memphis in which The Avenue meets as an “edge” neighborhood. The area is located between Highland Terrace—which has some of most expensive real estate in the city—and a district dubbed “The Nations,” which includes the highest concentration of Hispanics, refugees, and low-income black and white families in Memphis.

“The nations are there,” Johnson said. “Our church sits in the middle of that, so we aren’t necessarily out to be a niche church for multi-ethnicity. Rather, we believe that if we preach the gospel indiscriminately up and down the street without skipping over people, that we will be diverse.”

He said the prayer walk in the neighborhood represented that belief.

“For me, the Church has got to step up and demonstrate—even if they don’t understand—that it does care about the anguish and the grief of society.”

Rob Liddon, a Ruling Elder for Second Presbyterian Church and member of the EPC National Leadership Team, said the service of lament helped meet an important need.

“For some time I have felt we need to learn to lament all that is happening, and especially so after these killings,” he said. “Our worship services are ordinarily joyful—rightfully so—but we need to do a better job of weeping with those who weep.”

During the week following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Johnson said he had reminded the church of its core values, where the church sits in the Memphis community, and how the people who make up The Avenue could be the catalyst to bring together divided communities.

“Jesus prays for us to be one as He and the Father is one,” Johnson said during the prayer service. “We need to pursue that like never before. It’s the biggest apologetic to the world. We have to get to know people, allow ourselves to be known, and pull together and not fracture into several different groups.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Monthly EPC budget report: May fiscal-year-to-date PMA contributions remain ahead of 2018, reduce gap to 2019 projected budget

 

As churches begin to reopen following shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions to the EPC are rebounding. As of May 31, the Office of the General Assembly has received $2,163,300 since the July 1, 2019, start of the EPC’s fiscal year. PMA in May was less then 6 percent less than the EPC’s monthly operating budget, and year-to-date contributions are only 3.4 percent ($76,749) below the $2,240,049 budgeted projection to support the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

PMA support continues to be higher than last year despite the economic effects of shelter-in-place orders throughout the country. The amount received in the first eleven months of the EPC’s fiscal year is $9,336 more than the $2,153,964 received from July 1 through May 31, 2019.

“I am extremely grateful for the continued commitment to Per Member Asking of our churches,” said Jeff Jeremiah, Stated Clerk. “We all hope and pray that conditions continue to improve, and our churches don’t suffer any long-term economic effects. We have continued to restrict our spending at the Office of the General Assembly as much as possible, so our expenditures year-to-date are about 12 percent below budget.”

Of the $2,163,300 received, $432,660 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $5,546,483 in designated gifts have been received since July 1, 2019. This total was $630,355 (12.8 percent) higher than the $4,916,128 in designated gifts received in the same period in the previous fiscal year. Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s holiday offerings.

Of the total, $4,800,143 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $746,340 was designated for EPC projects. These amounts only reflect gifts received and distributed by the Office of the General Assembly, and do not reflect donations given directly to WO global workers or other projects.

‘Leading EPC Sessions and Congregations in Issues of Race and Justice’ webinar recording available

 

On June 10, a diverse panel of EPC Teaching Elders and other leaders presented a 60-minute webinar, “Leading EPC Sessions and Congregations in Issues of Race and Justice: An Online Seminar on These Times and a Biblical Response.” The recording of the presentation is available below.

The webinar was hosted by Case Thorp, Moderator of the 39th General Assembly and Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. Panelists were:

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/june10webinar and on the EPC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80.

Church Pivot: The coronavirus crisis and opportunity for the church

 

CaseThorpChurchPivotby Case Thorp
Moderator of the 39th General Assembly

Last month, pastors of Romanian heritage in Illinois declared they will begin gathering for corporate worship despite the governor’s orders. Meanwhile, they filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the orders in defense of religious liberty. Some Presbyterian pastors in my own denomination share similar convictions, while others have said they will delay reconstituting on Sundays for worship. Motives range from fear of the coronavirus’ advance to being blamed for its spread. One mother in my own congregation shared another valid take concerning coming back to corporate worship: “We do not want our four-year-old son to have to wear a mask or see his little friends or their parents hidden behind masks for the sobering image it would see her into his memory.”

Whatever practice a church embraces for restarting Sunday morning worship, this global pandemic will be a turning point for the future of Christianity.

Pastor Chad Scruggs at Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Nashville recently reminded his congregation that when it comes to opening up for Sunday worship they have a “fixed theology, but flexible methodology.” Pastor Scruggs recognizes disruptive events like this one challenge methodologies, but do not change the core beliefs and convictions of Christians. As seen in history, individual churches either died out or shifted and thrived through such calamities as the black plague, enemy invasions, or governmental oppression.

Yet, the methodology of most American churches is an epidemic of its own. For the last generation, scholars and a minority of practitioners have questioned the amount of energy and resources that go into Sunday morning worship. Too many churches operate, so they think, as an attraction among many in a community. Rather than the beach, a theme park, your backyard, or little league baseball game, if church is an entertaining enough experience, you’ll come.

Certainly, gathered worship on the day of Christ’s resurrection is central to the Christian experience since the first century, and will be theologically important into the future. Yet, in many churches who thought they were evolving well with the times, Sunday morning corporate worship has become an overproduced performance mimicking the cultural attention we place on lights, cameras, and action. The Sunday event has become an expensive, less-than-average vehicle for discipleship, and a lightning rod for criticism as pastors are seen in slick, overproduced settings following more the ways of the famous than Jesus. Take this away, and many pastors feel naked and out of the driver’s seat. It reveals a reality many church leaders have forgotten: there is more to the church than going to church.

The scale at which the Sunday morning worship service dominates a church’s methodology is being radically disrupted with stay-at-home orders. Pastors are flummoxed with next steps in reopening, thinking that it’s the only move they have. But is it? Is returning to the event-driven, performance-esque Sunday morning corporate worship service the best way to be the body of Christ in this pandemic—and in the 21st century?

Allen Hirsh, an Australian theologian and leading missiologist, recently compared this moment for churches to the game of chess. He provides what he calls a working parable in which the sermon, the very center of the Sunday event, to the queen on a chessboard. We think she is an all-powerful gamepiece and the best reason the game is won. Hirsch says too many churches have over-relied for too long on their queen, and due to lockdown, “now the queen is taken out. They don’t know what the other pieces can do.”

Here he brings the parable full circle with both a vision and a challenge for how churches use this global disruption to reconstitute themselves in a much more effective way. Chess masters will coach new students to play chess without the queen so that they learn the power and potential of all the other chess pieces. Hirsch suggests taking away our queen as Christians is the best thing that could have happened to the church because it will force the issue of effective discipleship, transformative mission, and intimate, authentic outreach. He concludes, “What you were going to do is you’re going to learn what all the other elements of the chess table can do on the chessboard, and then you put the queen back in. At that point you’ve actually learned to become a champion without over-relying on a singular function.”

The opportunity before the leaders of the church offered by coronavirus is to learn to play the game relying on the other moves on the board: effective conveyance of the faith from one person to another, truly teaching biblical literacy rather than ethical vignettes, sound and clear theology, spiritual habits that shape the rhythm of a flourishing life, transformative works of benevolence in a community that last and they are witness to God’s common grace, and a worship expression build not on performance and production, but on intimacy and confession. May church leaders not waste the opportunity of this crisis, and perhaps usher in yet another great reformation of the church.

Case Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

Lamentos y oraciones sugeridas para el 8 de junio Día de Lamento, Ayuno y Oración disponible en español

 

June10LamentosOracionesUna lista propuesta de Lamentos y Oraciones para el Día del Lamento, el Ayuno y la Oración del EPC el 8 de junio está disponible en español en www.epc.org/june8lamentprayerfasting. La traducción es gentilmente proporcionada por nuestras congregaciones EPC en Puerto Rico.

 

Suggested Laments and Prayers for June 8 Day of Lament, Fasting, and Prayer available in Spanish

A proposed list of Laments and Prayers for the EPC’s Day of Lament, Fasting, and Prayer on June 8 is available in Spanish at www.epc.org/june8lamentprayerfasting. The translation is graciously provided by our EPC congregations in Puerto Rico.

June 10 webinar to explore biblical, congregational response to racial injustice

 

June10WebinarPanelistsOn Wednesday, June 10, at 4:00 p.m. EDT, a racially diverse panel of EPC Teaching Elders and other leaders will present a 60-minute webinar, “Leading EPC Sessions and Congregations in Issues of Race and Justice: An Online Seminar on These Times and a Biblical Response.”

The webinar will be hosted by Case Thorp, Moderator of the EPC 39th General Assembly and Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

“Several EPC Teaching Elders of color and the Co-Chairmen of the EPC’s Revelation 7:9 Task Force will discuss racial injustices, congregational leadership, and a Reformed and biblical response,” Thorp said. “Our panelists will discuss these timely topics, and there will opportunity for question-and-answer.”

Panelists include:

For more information and to register, go to www.epc.org/june10webinar.

Resources available on EPC website for June 8 Day of Lament, Fasting, and Prayer

 

June8DayOfLamentFastingPrayerA message from Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly, calling for June 8, 2020, as a Day of Lament, Fasting, and Prayer:

Recent events surrounding the wrongful deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minnesota demonstrate the persistence of severe racial injustices in the United States. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church laments the turmoil our nation is suffering as a result of these and other injustices, and the hurt—property loss, injury, and death—that is visited on those who are responsible by their actions and those who are not responsible but who are hurt as a consequence of sin. In times of national crisis and tragedy, the EPC turns to God and His Word for direction and encouragement.

Genesis 1:27 declares God created man in His own image. As bearers of God’s image, all people share in divine dignity and are equal before Him. Racism is an abomination to God. It distorts, diminishes, defames, and destroys those whom God in His goodness created in His image.

The idea or ideology that one race is superior to another is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. God’s love in Jesus Christ casts out the fear that generates hatred (1 John 4:18). Christ’s work on the cross has torn down the dividing wall of hostility and hatred so that we are no longer enemies of God and no longer enemies of one another (Ephesians 2:14-18). A key calling of the church of Jesus Christ is the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-20). The church looks forward to the day when believers “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” will join as one and celebrate the redeeming work of Jesus Christ together (Revelation 7:9-10).

Because of the clear testimony of God’s Word, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church unambiguously declares that racism in any form is an abomination to the God who created all races and is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church condemns racism and calls to repentance all individuals, groups, and structures that advocate it.

In response, the National Leadership Team has called all members of our churches to a Day of Lament, Fasting, and Prayer on Monday, June 8, 2020.

A proposed list of Laments and Prayers to lift to the Lord on June 8 is available at www.epc.org/june8lamentfastingprayer.

EPC issues Call to Lament, Prayer, and Fasting for Monday, June 8, in response to killings, racial unrest

 

In response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and subsequent protests nationwide against police brutality, the EPC has issued a Call to Lament, Prayer, and Fasting for Monday, June 8.

“I am profoundly grieved by the tragic events unfolding in our country in recent days,” said Jeff Jeremiah, Stated Clerk. “The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd—and countless others over the years—followed by protests, riots, and destruction have again exposed the vein of unequal justice that has existed for far too long in our society.”

The Call: All members of EPC churches set aside Monday, June 8 as a day of lament, fasting, and prayer to cry out to God for His help in the midst of this crisis in the United States.

Jeremiah noted that a key difference between the June 8 emphasis and previous EPC calls to prayer and fasting is the addition of “Lament.”

“I read two short articles on lament recently, which I believe are especially relevant to this time in our history,” he said. Those resources are:

“As social unrest escalates, it is appropriate for the church to lament this crisis to the Lord, to fast, and to pray about how we as believers in Jesus Christ can be part of the solution to the racism, inequality, and injustice that violate the ideals enshrined in our Constitution and laws,” Jeremiah said. “I hope that all of our pastors let their congregations know about this call to humble themselves and pray to almighty God for His grace, mercy, and love to heal the divisions in our country—and especially for God’s people to repent of the sin of racism.”

Specific prayers and other resources will be available on the EPC website soon.

In related actions, the EPC National Leadership approved two motions in a special called meeting on June 1 to encourage EPC Teaching Elders during the crisis.

The first recommendation is for Teaching Elders “to address this week with the congregations they serve the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd and the extreme indifference to his life demonstrated by the police officers who have been disciplined and/or charged with his murder. Mr. Floyd’s death is emblematic of a pervasive historical pattern of disproportionately aggressive policing in far too many communities of color.”

Jeremiah noted that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words “are just as applicable in our time as they were in his: ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’”

The second recommendation is for EPC Teaching Elders and congregations “to consider acting, as the Lord Jesus Christ leads, to speak out for justice and equality; to speak against racism, injustice, and inequality; and to work to arrest the origins of civil unrest—namely, poverty, racial separation, immorality, and a lack of radical love.”

Teaching Elder and NLT Member Case Thorp, Moderator of the 39th General Assembly, noted that protests in response to Lloyd’s death “carry with them a sincere understanding by the greater public like I have never seen before.”

“We get it,” Thorp said. “The anger and rage of so many are not without cause. Likewise, I am grateful for the vast majority of our men and women in law enforcement who get up every day to serve the citizenry in faithful ways. This is not an ‘either/or’ moment, but a ‘both/and’ opportunity in America’s journey. My hope is we have peaceful assemblies crying out for justice, and those causing violence find their energies best expressed in a peaceful political process.”

An additional NLT action on June was for a Zoom meeting designed for EPC Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders to be scheduled for after the June 8 Day of Lament, Fasting, and Prayer.

“This event will include leaders of color in the EPC who will address the appropriate ongoing response to this crisis,” Jeremiah said. “The goal is to help provide insight to the questions many of us may have.”

Additional details will be announced soon.

“What is going on has demanded a response from us as a denomination,” Jeremiah said. “May we be the voice of peace, love, and reconciliation that our communities, country, and world so desperately needs today. Now is not the time to be silent, but to speak out for justice and equality, and against racism, injustice, and inequality.”

May Jeremiah Journal offers encouragement during pandemic

 

In the May 2020 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah offers encouragement during the coronavirus pandemic. He also describes some ways the Office of the General Assembly is serving and resourcing EPC churches and pastors during the COVID-19 lockdown.

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.

April 2020 EPC budget report: COVID-19 impact on churches felt in PMA giving drop

 

The economic effects of shelter-in-place orders around the country due to the coronavirus pandemic has impacted Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions to the EPC. As of April 30, PMA received by the Office of the General Assembly during fiscal year 2020 (FY20) total $2,024,614. April PMA receipts were $162,333—26 percent below the April budget projection of $219,369.

Despite the downturn, the amount received in the first eight months of the EPC’s fiscal year is $12,509 more than the $2,012,105 received during the same period in fiscal year 2019. The fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.

“With the ongoing economic uncertainty and job losses of the past two months, plus the fact that most—if not all—of our 630 churches had to stop holding public worship services, we all expected a drop in giving in our churches and to the EPC,” said Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah. “I am very grateful for our churches’ continued support of PMA in such uncertain times, and that the April decrease in PMA support was not as great as we had anticipated. On the expense side, in late March we began to restrict expenditures as much as reasonably possible. As a result, as of April 30 our operating expenses for the year are 9.7 percent below budget.”

Of the $2,024,614 received, $404,923 (20 percent) was allocated to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, the Office of the General Assembly received $530,038 in designated gifts in April, bring the fiscal YTD total to $5,167,450. The amount is $568,973 (12.4 percent) higher than the $4,598,476 in designated gifts received in the same period in fiscal year 2019. Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s holiday offerings.

Among the designated gifts was a $100,000 donation to a World Outreach project from a foundation grant.

“These gifts to specific ministries are a very clear illustration of how generous the members of EPC churches are,” Jeremiah noted. “While PMA support comes largely from our churches, these designated gifts mostly come from individuals.”

Of the YTD total, $4,424,295 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $743,155 was designated for EPC projects. These amounts only reflect gifts received and distributed by the Office of the General Assembly, and do not reflect donations given directly to WO global workers or other projects.