Category Archives: General Assembly Meeting

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

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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.

TomRicks

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

PhilLinton

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.

 

Bart Hess Award presented to Restoration Church (Munford, Tenn.)

 
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Mike Gibson (right), Pastor of Restoration Church, receives the Bart Hess Award from Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly, on June 22 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Restoration Church in Munford, Tenn., is the recipient of the 2018 Bartlett L. Hess Award for church revitalization. The award was announced on June 22 at the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

“Receiving this award came as a shock,” Pastor Mike Gibson told the Assembly. “When I found we would be receiving this, I asked God, ‘What I am supposed to do with this award when I am supposed to be cultivating humility?’ because I can have some trouble in that area. I believe He told me ‘This is to encourage and inspire churches who have been where you’ve been, to know that I am in this and you can go forward.’ There were so many times I was ready to give up, thinking the ministry was never going to take off and have an impact in our community. But I know something like this—or bigger—can happen in any church.”

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said Restoration Church received the 2018 award because its leadership was not only willing to ask hard questions about its health and ministry to its community, but also was willing to make changes in response to the answers they received.

“Launched in 1911 as Munford Presbyterian Church, they have a rich history and beautiful sanctuary,” Jeremiah said. “However, they were in decline. But under Mike’s leadership, that decline was reversed. To reach the unchurched in their community they changed their name and their image, and the Lord brought them scores of new people. 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.”

Jeremiah will present the award to the congregation on Sunday, August 19.

The Hess Award is given annually to the EPC church that has demonstrated the most innovative approach to church growth or revitalization. Church growth—in both its spiritual and numerical aspects—is an essential part of the mission of the church. The award provides a vehicle by which positive, reproducible innovation is encouraged and shared with others in the EPC. It is named for Bart Hess, founding pastor of Ward Church in suburban Detroit, who was instrumental in the establishment of the EPC in 1981.

#epc2018ga

‘Pray for Andrew Brunson’ wristbands available at epcresources.org

 

Wristband-PrayForAndrewBrunsonE600In response to high demand following the 38th General Assembly, “Pray for Andrew Brunson” wristbands are now available at www.epcresources.org. The blue flexible wristbands were provided for GA Commissioners and guests as part of their registration materials.

“I was blessed by the positive response to the wristbands from GA attendees,” said EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah. “Many people told me they wanted to take some home to their churches to show their support for Andrew, but we just didn’t have enough. We are very pleased to be able to make them available again, especially with Andrew’s trial resuming on July 18.”

Cost per band is 25 cents, plus shipping. Click here to order.

AndrewBrunsonWristband

38th GA sings Andrew Brunson’s ‘Worthy of My All;’ hears daughter read letters from prison, describe family’s ordeal

 

Addressing the 38th General Assembly on June 21, Jacqueline Furnari—Andrew Brunson’s daughter—described her family’s ordeal over the 20 months since her father’s imprisonment in Turkey.

“October 7, 2016—more than a year and a half ago—is the day my parents were called into the police station,” Furnari said. “This was my oldest brother’s 21st birthday, and he never got his birthday (telephone) call.”

She said that her parents had been working to secure permanent resident status so they could stay in Turkey long-term, and thought they were being summoned for questions related to their application.

“What they were not expecting was to be told that they had been deemed a threat to national security and that they were going to be deported,” she told the Assembly. “This all happened so quickly that they were barely able to tell a few family members what was going on before their phones were taken away and they were taken into custody.”

The Brunsons’ daughter added that she did not find out until several days later.

“My aunt called me and asked if I had an update,” she said, adding that the next two weeks were “absolutely terrifying” for her and her two brothers.

“We didn’t know why they were taken,” she said. “We didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know how they were being treated; how they were being kept. We had absolutely no information and no way to get that information. All we knew was that something was very, very wrong.”

Andrew’s wife, Norine, was released after nearly three weeks of detention. “It was a relief to get some news and understand what was starting to happen,” Furnari said. “But at the same time that conversation I had with her was heartbreaking because she had just said goodbye to my dad and didn’t know when she would see him again.”

She read portions of several letters her father had written to her from prison.

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Andrew Brunson

“’I am attempting to follow His example,’” she read. “‘I declare with my will that I will submit to Him. I am kept here by force, but I can choose to submit with my will even though my emotions are severely distressed and not at all wanting to submit. I am trying to be faithful even when overwhelmed with fear—faithful to declare God’s character even when I don’t understand. I ask you to pray for me in this, to be faithful to the end.’”

The letter also contained the words of a prayer Andrew told her that he prays each night:

“’Father God, I ask that you pour out on me the courage and strength, the endurance, perseverance, and steadfastness of Jesus,’” she read, adding that he also wrote, “I declare God’s character, and pray that He uses this time to work deeply in my life.”

Furnari concluded by reading a message Brunson penned to the EPC:

“’My brothers and sisters of the EPC, I am so grateful to you for standing with us during this difficult time—for praying for us. I know a number of people have fasted, and I thank you for doing this. It’s a great blessing to us to be part of the EPC family. I pray every day to be faithful to the end, and it is my desire to show the great worth of Jesus Christ by being willing to suffer for Him. I ask that you pray for me in this, that I will be faithful to the end. I hope that next year I will be able to thank all of you in person rather than through my beautiful daughter, but again, thank you for standing with us. Your brother, Andrew.’”

Furnari also testified that she and her family have seen God at work in the midst of the situation. In an interview with EPConnection, she said when her father wrote his song, “Worthy of My All,” that she knew he was “going down a better path.”

“When he was arrested he went through a really dark time,” she said. “At some point, he was allowed to have his guitar but he couldn’t bring himself to play it, or even touch it. But the moment I heard he written a song I knew that he was doing a lot better. He had it in him to pick up that guitar and not just sing the usual worship songs, but write one for God to express his aguish, but also his desire to honor God in his situation.”

Click here or on the image above to watch Furnari’s entire presentation, followed by Assembly attendees singing Andrew’s modern hymn, “Worthy of My All.”

Click here for more information about Andrew Brunson, including a timeline of events, sheet music for “Worthy of My All,” and more.

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38th General Assembly makes history with landmark ‘firsts’

 
GA2018LI-Selfie

GA SELFIE—From left, Evelio Vilches, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah, Eddie Spencer, Moderator Tom Werner

The EPC’s 38th General Assembly, held June 19-22 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn., made history as the first Assembly to include a “selfie” from the platform. At the beginning of the Thursday afternoon business session, Evelio Vilches, Pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and Eddie Spencer, Pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Fla., took the historic photo prior to their report on how contributions to the EPC’s Hurricane Irma Emergency Relief Fund was used to help their congregations and communities in the aftermath of the September 2017 storm.

“As Stated Clerk,” said Jeff Jeremiah, “it is my ruling that indeed this is the first ever GA selfie.”

In another first, six commissioners started what may become a tradition at the GA Thursday evening worship service—“kilt night.” Donning the traditional Scottish attire were Edward Cummings, Pastor of Terrace Heights EPC in Yakima, Wash.; Alan Trafford, Pastor of Covenant EPC in Lake Jackson, Texas; Suzanne Brown Zampella, Pastor of Connellsville Presbyterian Church in Connellsville, Pa.; Matthew Everhard, Pastor of Faith EPC in Brooksville, Fla.; Case Thorp, Senior Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla.; and Jeremy McNeill, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bucyrus, Ohio.

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KILT NIGHT—From left, Edward Cummings, Alan Trafford, Suzanne Brown Zampella, Matthew Everhard, Case Thorp, Jeremy McNeill.

EPC adds seven churches in 2017–2018

 

Seven churches joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the reporting period of May 23, 2017, through June 1, 2018. The new EPC churches were announced on June 22 at the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Ken Roberts, Moderator of the 32nd EPC General Assembly, prayed for the new churches.

“You already know every person who will be attending all these churches,” Roberts said in his prayer. “You know their needs, joys, hurts, and hearts. We pray for each staff member who will be ministering to each person in these congregations. As we commit these churches to you, may You be gloried in the worship and business of each church, and in each heart.”

These newest members of the EPC family of churches are:

Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (Leawood, Kan.)
Sheldon MacGillivray, Pastor
www.cornerstoneks.org
Presbytery of the Great Plains

First Presbyterian Church (Malden, Mo.)
Derek Evans, Commissioned Pastor
www.facebook.com/Malden-Presbyterian-Church-144604838944152/
Presbytery of the Central South

Hendersonville Presbyterian Church (Hendersonville, N.C.)
Bill Campbell, Pastor
www.hendersonvillepc.org
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

New Life Gathering (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Scott Jackson, Pastor
www.newlifeknoxville.org
Presbytery of the Southeast

Walkersville Presbyterian Church (Waxhaw, N.C.)
Eric Bartel, Pastor
www.facebook.com/pages/Walkersville-Presbyterian-Church/117441554948378
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Wayside Presbyterian Church (Sanford, N.C.)
Robert Johnson, Pastor
www.facebook.com/pages/Wayside-Presbyterian-Church/464287536951632
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Wylliesburg Evangelical Presbyterian Church (Wylliesburg, Va.)
David Wood, Stated Supply Pastor
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Each of the new churches was a previous congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

#epc2018ga

Memphis church planter closes Friday morning with brief report

 

GA2018LI-TimJohnsonTheAvenueTim Johnson, Commissioned Pastor for The Avenue, an EPC church plant in the Summer Avenue area of Memphis, brought a brief report at the close of the Friday morning business session of the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

He noted that the church plant, which hopes to launch later in 2018, is “not trying to do anything unique or special, but is seeking to plant the flag of Jesus” in an under-resourced part of Memphis.

“What we want to see is that in 20 years, people would come to Summer Avenue and ask ‘what happened here?'” Johnson said. “And we want to hear someone else answer, ’20 years ago, some people who loved Jesus came here.’”

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38th General Assembly celebrates EPC chaplains

 

GA2018LI-ChaplainLineupMark Ingles, EPC Chaplain Endorser and Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the West, introduced 25 of the denomination’s chaplains to attendees of the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn., on June 21. He reported that the number of EPC chaplains has increased from 36 in 2012 to 65 in 2018.

“These dedicated men and women are called by God to serve outside the local church,” Ingles said, noting that chaplains can many times feel isolated in their ministries.

“They often work for a secular institution that doesn’t always appreciate the work that they are doing. So we need to pray for them, care for them, love them, and support them.”

Chaplains in attendance at the 38th Assembly were (left to right):

Jason Riggs
Clinical Chaplain, W.G. (Bill) Hefner Veterans Administration Medical Center
Salisbury, N.C.

Lt. Cmdr. Tim Foster, USNR
Command Chaplain, USS Fitzgerald
Pascagoula, Miss.
(Also serves as Senior Pastor of Highland Heights EPC in Memphis, Tenn.)

Ron Pierce
Chaplain, Mobile County Sheriff’s Office and FBI Mobile Field Office
Mobile, Ala.

Jennifer Prechter
Chaplain, Pediatric Palliative Care Team, Arnold Palmer Medical Center
Orlando, Florida

Bob Claus
Acute Care Chaplain, Dignity Health Care
Phoenix, Ariz.

Lt. Col. John Torres
Deputy Wing Chaplain, 105th Airlift Wing, Stewart Air National Guard Base
Newburgh, N.Y.
Also serves as Pastor of Goodwill Church, Montgomery, N.Y.

Lt. Col. Marty Fields
Wing Chaplain, 172nd Airlift Wing
Jackson, Miss.
(Also serves as Senior Pastor of Grace Chapel Madison in Madison, Miss.)

Scott Rash
Chaplain, Liberty Hospital Hospice
Liberty, Mo.

Kate Huddelson
Chaplain, University of Kansas Medical Center
Kansas City, Kan.

Lt. Josh Schatzle
Chaplain, U.S. Navy Reserve
St. Louis, Mo.
(Also serves as Pastor of Hope Church, Carbondale, Ill.)

 Maj. David Horton
Branch Chief, 86th Air Wing Chaplain, Ramstein Air Force Base
Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany

Capt. B.J. Newman
Chaplain, Ohio Air National Guard
Dayton, Ohio
(Also serves as Adult Discipleship and Care Pastor for Kirkmont Presbyterian Church in Beavercreek, Ohio)

Sam Adamson
Chief Chaplain, Veterans Administration Greater Los Angeles Health Care System
Los Angeles, Calif.

Capt. Bryan Knedgen
Battalion Chaplain, 406th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, U.S. Army Reserves
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Jack Foley
Chaplain and Director of Pastoral and Spiritual Services, Floyd Medical Center
Rome, Ga.

Capt. Patrick Cobb
Medical Professional Brigade Chaplain, Army Medical Defense Department Center and School, Joint Base San Antonio
Ft. Sam Houston, Texas

James Harris
Chaplain Candidate, USAF Reserves
(Also serves as Director of Community Groups and College Ministries for Reynolda EPC Village Campus, Winston-Salem, N.C.)

Ted Tromble
Staff Chaplain, Aurora BayCare Medical Center
Green Bay, Wisc.

Lt. Col. John Rhodes
Chaplain, Mississippi Wing Civil Air Patrol, DeSoto Composite Squadron
Olive Branch, Miss.

Maj. John Richards
Chaplain, U.S. Army Reserve
Belle Chase, La.

Maj. Jason Kim
Deputy Wing Chaplain, Nellis Air Force Base
Las Vegas, Nev.

Capt. Graham Baily
USAF Chaplain, Whiteman Air Force Base
Knob Noster, Mo.

Helen Franssell
Chaplain, Capital Caring Hospice, Northern Virginia Region
Falls Church, Va.

Nick Tyler
Battalion Chaplain, 1030th Transportation Battalion, Virginia National Guard
Gate City, Va.

Ross O’Dell
Chaplain, Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources, Northeast Indiana Region
Columbia City, Ind.
(Also serves as Pastor of Trinity EPC in Columbia City, Ind.)

#epc2018ga

‘How does Jesus see your city?’ asks 38th GA host pastor Rufus Smith

 
GA2018LI-RufusSmith

Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

In the Thursday morning worship service of the 38th General Assembly, host pastor Rufus Smith of Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn., asked the attendees of the 38th General Assembly, “How does Jesus see your city?”

Speaking on Matthew 9:35-38, Smith related his personal story of coming to faith in Christ as a teenager by describing five actions of Jesus described in the passage.

First, the Hope Church Senior Pastor noted that Jesus “went.”

“He was out among the people,” Smith said. “Before we ever get to this text, Jesus had already had seven encounters with people. I’m in the kingdom today because someone did that in my city.”

Second, Smith said that Jesus “saw” as He went among the people.

“He saw their physical needs, and he saw their spiritual needs,” he said. “You can’t know if you don’t go.”

Third, Smith emphasized that Jesus “acted.”

“Jesus had compassion for those He saw,” Smith said. “An equation for this is sympathy plus action equals compassion. On the other hand, sympathy plus inaction equals ‘nice’—which is a kind way to do nothing.”

Fourth, he noted that Jesus “said.”

“He said to His disciples, ‘the harvest is plenteous.’ What do you say about people?” Smith asked. “Do you say they are hellions or are they a harvest? Are you cursing the dark or lighting a candle? How does Jesus see your city? How do you see your city?”

He reminded the GA attendees, “Someone in your city is waiting for the harvester to come.”

Finally Smith said Jesus “sent.”

“He is the Lord of the harvest,” Smith said, “and He has been harvesting a long time. He says to me and you to go and be a harvester.”

#epc2018ga

Tom Werner elected Moderator of 38th GA

 
GA2018LI-TomWernerPrayer

Tom Ricks (right), Pastor of Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo., leads the prayer for Tom Werner as former General Assembly Moderators in attendance lay hands on the newly elected Moderator of the 38th General Assembly.

GA2018LI-TomWerner

Tom Werner

Tom Werner, Ruling Elder from Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo., was elected Moderator of the EPC’s 38th General Assembly on June 20 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn. The vote was unanimous.

“You have granted me a great honor,” Werner said. “I look forward to serving the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with great pleasure.”

Until his retirement in 2015, Werner worked as an attorney for a St. Louis-based technology company, where he was General Counsel and served in various business capacities. He previously practiced law for several firms in St. Louis.

He has served on the EPC’s Theology Committee, including one year as Chair, and contributed to the EPC Leadership Training Guide. He also has served as Moderator of the Presbytery of Mid-America, and on the presbytery’s Ministerial Committee. He has participated on missions teams to Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Honduras, and Albania.

Werner has degrees from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.; St. Louis University Law School; a Masters in Taxation from Washington University Law School; and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

He and his wife, Susan, have been married for 40 years and have two adult children and three grandchildren. They have attended Greentree Community Church for nearly 20 years, and previously attended Central Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.

Eli Morris challenges 38th General Assembly to live Philippians 2

 

GA2018LI-EliMorrisMessageEli Morris, Senior Associate Pastor of Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn., challenged the EPC’s 38th General Assembly immediately prior to the opening business session at Hope Church on Wednesday, June 20.

“How can we as churches live Philippians 2?” Morris asked the attendees. “Not that we have the strength, or the numbers, or the theology. Do we have the humility to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities?”

#epc2018ga

Live webcast available for 38th General Assembly worship, business sessions

 

GA2018BannerThe 38th General Assembly worship services, business sessions, and Leadership Institute plenary sessions are available via live stream online at www.epc.org/ga2018livestream and in the GA mobile app beginning on Wednesday, June 20.

The Assembly is at Hope Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn.

“I know many people are not able to attend the Assembly in person, but want to follow the proceedings and hear our worship speakers,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I am thankful that so many people are able to stay connected through our webcast.”

Note that due to copyright restrictions, Immaculée Ilibagiza’s Leadership Institute session on Wednesday morning and comedian Michael Jr.’s concert on Wednesday evening cannot be streamed. In addition, the global worker commissioning portion of the Thursday evening worship service will not be broadcast due to security concerns.

For more information about the 38th General Assembly, including full schedule, speaker bios, and more, see www.epc.org/ga2018.

#epc2018ga

2018 Leadership Institute: Being a Public, Media-Friendly Evangelical in the Trump Era

 

GA2018LI-MediaFriendlyEvangelicalIn the 2018 Leadership Institute seminar Being a Public, Media-Friendly Evangelical in the Trump Era, Carmen LaBerge described how she got involved with national media as a resource they could call on to provide Christian perspective.

“I went to the meetings of the press associations and introduced myself as someone they could contact if they ever needed background information on topics of faith,” she said. “How else was I going to cultivate a relationship with the writers of the NY Times and the Washington Post? The notion that the Bible might say something about government was totally foreign to them.”

She encouraged the attendees to build relationships with members of the media in their locales.

“Many times, they are the Ethiopian eunuch on the road and we need to be the Phillip,” she said.

LaBerge is a writer, speaker, and Christian talk radio host. She has hosted the daily Christian radio talk show The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge since 2016.

#epc2018ga

2018 Leadership Institute: Discipleship in Student Ministry

 

GA2018LI-StudentMinistryIn the 2018 Leadership Institute seminar Discipleship in Student Ministry, Meg DeHaven discussed ways to invest in student ministry volunteer leaders.

“Be creative in how you invest in your leaders. It’s not always spiritual discipleship, but it can be as simple as giving them a week off from leading youth activities each season, or a Smoothie King gift certificate so they don’t have to eat pizza all the time.”

DeHaven serves as Director of Children and Youth for Bethany EPC in Havertown, Pa.

#epc2018ga

 

 

2018 Leadership Institute: Discerning the Spirits

 

GA2018LI-DiscerningSpiritsIn the 2018 Leadership Institute seminar Discerning the Spirits, Sharon Beekmann described several methods that Satan employs.

“One of the ways Satan works is as a tempter,” she said. “Satan does not always tempt us to do things that are inherently evil, but he does try to get us to do things that are outside the will of God.”

Beekmann is author of Rescued and Redeemed: How to Discern Demons from the Divine and Silencing Satan: Handbook of Biblical Demonology. She serves as Associate Professor at Denver Theological Seminary.

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