Commissioners to the EPC’s 43rd General Assembly approved the formation of a permanent Disaster Relief Committee 48 hours before a tornado tore through the area, disrupting the Assembly, uprooting trees and inflicting other damage, but causing no injuries. As tornado warning alarms went off throughout the Sanctuary of Assembly host Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo., Stated Clerk Dean Weaver called the Thursday afternoon business session meeting into recess. Within a few minutes, attendees were sheltering and singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and other favorite hymns in the church basement, inner hallways, and restrooms.
Following a pause of nearly an hour, Commissioners reconvened and proceeded with Assembly business.
While many present began dubbing the 43rd General Assembly / Gospel Priorities Summit as “the tornado Assembly,” much more transpired over the three-day gathering.
Numerous equipping sessions each day focused on the EPC’s four Gospel Priorities of Church Health (led by Bob Stauffer, EPC National Director of Church Health); Church Planting (led by Tom Ricks, National Director of Church Planting); Effective Biblical Leadership (led by Michael Davis, Assistant Stated Clerk); and Global Movement (led by Gabriel de Guia, Executive Director of EPC World Outreach).
In denominational business, Commissioners voted to approve more than 20 recommendations from the EPC’s permanent committees and boards.
Commissioners also elected Joe Kim as Moderator and Victor Jones as Moderator-Elect. Kim serves as Pastor of Hope Philly, an EPC church plant in Philadelphia, Pa., in the Presbytery of the East. Jones is a Ruling Elder for Westminster Presbyterian Church in Laurel, Miss., in the Presbytery of the Gulf South.
Joe Kim continued the tradition of “singing Moderators” by leading the Assembly in his original children’s song, “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (photo credit: Scott Wiest)
Nearly 750 individuals registered for the Assembly, including 417 Teaching Elders and 330 Ruling Elders who submitted voting credentials.
Book of Government
In matters related to the EPC Book of Government, Commissioners approved a recommendation to delete section 17-5 (Treasurer as an Officer of the Board of Deacons) and correspondingly amend sections 6-8D and 18-3H.
Bob Garment, EPC Chief Parliamentarian, told the Assembly that 17-5 “suggests in that section on Deacons that there is a required annual audit for every church in the EPC.”
He emphasized that the EPC is an accredited member of the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability, and as such “we want to be transparent and good stewards and make sure our finances are in order. But in fact, we’ve never required an audit. And it strengthens the statement on the responsibility of the Session for all the financial planning and oversight in the local church.”
Commissioners also approved an amendment to the Book of Discipline, adding to the definition of church discipline in section 1-1 the statement, “Church discipline does not supersede or negate the legal responsibility to report cases of suspected abuse to civil authorities according to local and state requirements.”
Bob Garment, EPC Chief Parliamentarian, explains the rationale behind amending the Book of Government, section 17-5. (photo credit: Scott Wiest)
Annie Rose, Stated Clerk of the Rivers and Lakes, said the amendment is an effort to codify existing practice in the EPC “and to say that as we go through our discipline process as a Church, we also comply with our obligations to report to civil authorities.”
Committees and Study Groups
In addition to the formation of the Disaster Relief Committee, study groups were approved to review the EPC’s Position Paper on Domestic Abuse, Book of Discipline, and ordination process.
Brad Strait, Chairman of the National Leadership Team, said the review of the Position Paper on Domestic Abuse was to ensure the language was up to date.
“Some of the things that seemed to be very cutting edge when we wrote them 15 years ago could always stand to be reevaluated,” he said.
Regarding the Book of Discipline, creation of a Moderator-appointed task force was approved to “complete a thorough review of our Book of Discipline and associated Forms and consult with experts inside and outside of the EPC as needed and present recommendations to the 44th General Assembly.”
“Hopefully any other exposure we might have as a denomination will be addressed in that full review process,” said Mark Eshoff, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest.
Jerry Iamurri, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Ministerial Vocation, said the creation of an interim committee to review the EPC’s ordination standards and process occurs approximately every 10 years.
“It’s just making sure that our ordination requirements are consistent with the ethos of the EPC and consistent with what the seminaries are doing today,” Iamurri said. “We are going to make sure those things are in alignment by revisiting them as we normally do every decade or so.”
Commissioners voted to enter into a fraternal relationship with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
Alan Trafford, Chairman of the permanent Fraternal Relations Committee, said the recommendation is in response to the 37th General Assembly asking the committee to explore the possibility.
“This means that we recognize our colleagues in ECO as co-laborers in the Reformed corner of the vineyard,” he noted, “But it also means that we recognize the value of some of the cooperative efforts that have already begun, for example in the training of Transitional Pastors, Church Planting assessments, evangelism training, and providing resources for smaller congregations.”
As part of the Fraternal Relations Committee report to the Assembly, attendees prayed for fraternal guests (from left) Guillermo Mac Kenzie from the St. Andrews Presbytery of Argentina and Samuel Sesay from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Sierra Leone. (photo credit: Scott Wiest)
Trafford added that the opportunities for collaborative ministry and Great Commission mission “are endless in such a relationship.”
Commissioners also approved the EPC’s withdrawal from the World Communion of Reformed Churches. The motion was in response to the 42nd General Assembly’s approval for the permanent Theology Committee to study the EPC’s membership in the ecumenical organization.
Weaver said discussion of leaving the WCRC has been going “for a very long time … it goes back to the 90s. Its theological beliefs, its political beliefs—almost every belief—are not in alignment with the beliefs of the EPC.”
Weaver explained that membership in the WCRC provided an ecumenical bridge for congregations joining the EPC from the mainline denomination that had reversion clauses in their departure agreements.
“As those reversion clauses have since expired, there is no compelling reason for us to stay in the WCRC,” he said.
Weaver added that the EPC enjoys “a very deep level of involvement in the World Reformed Fellowship. It is a very good, biblical, Reformed, global body that we are contributing to and gaining from.”
Budget and Special Projects
Commissioners approved a Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24—July 2023 through June 2024) budget for EPC operating expenses of $3,507,727. This represents a 5.5 percent increase in projected spending over the FY23 budget.
Mike Moses, Lead Pastor of the Lake Forest family of churches in suburban Charlotte, N.C., co-led the Gospel Priorities Summit plenary session on Church Planting. (photo credit: Scott Wiest)
The FY24 budget includes $366,722 in direct funding of the four Gospel Priorities—$112,823 for Church Planting; $74,000 for Church Health; $35,349 for Global Movement; and $144,550 for Effective Biblical Leadership. In addition, 20 percent of contribution to the Office of the General Assembly though Percentage of Income (POI) support Global Movement in the form of funding the overall ministry of World Outreach. This is projected to be $496,890 through June 30, 2024.
The Assembly also approved a variety of Special Projects for FY24, which are ministry initiatives not supported by POI but to which soliciting contributions is approved.
In other administration-related business, Commissioners approved 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.
Bart Francescone, Executive Director of EPC Benefit Resources, Inc., said the annual action provides retired ministers with a readily available reference if asked by tax authorities.
Committee and Board Members
In addition to electing Kim as Moderator and Jones 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 Michael Busch, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; RE Bill Overcast, Presbytery of the Central South; Cathy Scott, Presbytery of the East. Busch was elected as Chairman.
Chaplains Work and Care Committee: RE Bruce Alexander, Presbytery of the New River; RE Kendra Bowers, Presbytery of the Central South; TE Marty Carpenter*, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; TE Scott Kennaugh, Presbytery of the Midwest; TE David Snyder, Presbytery of the Midwest.
Disaster Relief Committee: TE Whitney Alexander, Presbytery of the Gulf South; TE Bill Crawford, Presbytery of the Gulf South; Paul Gorny, At-Large; Toni Harris, At-Large; TE Cliff Mansley, Presbytery of the West; RE Hans Othmer, Presbytery of the Gulf South; Nancy Prott, At-Large; RE Dave Shanklin, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Jim Winter, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.
Fraternal Relations Committee: TE David Galbraith*, Presbytery of the Midwest; RE Holly Lazzero, Presbytery of the East; Roger Rumer, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; RE Josh Shelley; Presbytery of the Central South; TE Stan Van Den Berg*, Presbytery of the Great Plains.
Ministerial Vocation Committee: RE Richard Gash*, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; TE Doug Resler*, Presbytery of the West; TE Scott Sealy, Presbytery of the Central South.
National Leadership Team: TE Greg Aydt, Presbytery of the West; RE Chris Danusiar, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Julie Hawkins, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; RE Joi Williams, Presbytery of the Coastal Mid-Atlantic.
Next Generation Ministries Council: Geraud Bumfield, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; TE Dan Kish, Presbytery of the Central South; Faith Reid*, Presbytery of the Central South; TE Joseph Stroup*, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; TE SirGregory Thornton, Presbytery of the Central South.
Nominating Committee: RE Mike Goolsby, Presbytery of the Great Plains; RE Kelli Marks, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Juan Rivera*, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; TE Bob Vincent*, Presbytery of the Gulf South; TE S.J. Winter, Presbytery of the Midwest.
Permanent Judicial Commission: RE Jeff Hollingsworth*, Presbytery of the Southeast; TE Zach Hopkins, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Barton Kimbro, Presbytery of the Central South; TE Ed McCallum, Presbytery of the West; RE Tom Werner, Presbytery of Mid-America.
Presbytery Review Committee: RE Ron Bengelink*, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; Jim Connors*, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; TE Jason Steele*, Presbytery of the Midwest.
Theology Committee: RE David Buschart, Presbytery of the West; TE Luke Johnston, Presbytery of the Great Plains.
World Outreach Committee: TE Whitney Alexander*, Presbytery of the Gulf South; TE Waring Porter*, Presbytery of the Central South.
Other Business Items
A T-shirt commemorating the “Tornado Assembly” is available in a variety of colors in the EPC Merchandise Store, www.epc.org/merchandise.
Commissioners also approved a variety of other business items:
- Adopting the Minutes of the 42nd General Assembly.
- Approving exceptions requiring a response as found in the 2022 Minutes of 14 of the 16 Presbyteries (Presbytery of the New River and Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes had no exceptions requiring response).
- Approving the responses from the Presbyteries to exceptions issued by the 42nd General Assembly.
- Accepting the invitation from Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn., to host the 44th General Assembly in June 2024.
In closing the Assembly, Weaver quipped to Commissioners that they “would be pleased to know that the work of this General Assembly is already at play—you approved earlier a permanent committee on Disaster Relief.”
“This has been a General Assembly I will never forget,” Weaver said. “But what I’ll never forget about it is the amazing way the Cherry Hills staff and volunteers served us. The way you went into the basement and started singing ‘Holy, holy, holy.’ That you were passing out water bottles to each other, the way you were loving one another. Because that’s what family does. And in my view, the EPC is not a denomination; the EPC is a family. And you have demonstrated that.”
The Cherry Hills Community Church staff and volunteers earned a well-deserved ovation at the conclusion of the Assembly. (photo credit: Scott Wiest)