GA worship services focus on Assembly theme of ‘God Will Restore’

 

Worship services are an integral part of the EPC’s General Assembly meeting each year. The 41st GA is no exception, and the worship speakers will speak to the Assembly’s theme, “God Will Restore.” The 41st General Assembly will be held June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., and each of the messages will be available via live stream at www.epc.org/ga2021livestream.

Phil Linton, Director of EPC World Outreach, will speak prior to the opening business session on Wednesday, June 23. His message, “What Comes Before Restoration,” focuses on Philippians 1:1-30. The service begins at 3:15 p.m. (Central).

Jeff Jeremiah, outgoing EPC Stated Clerk, will preach on Wednesday evening, June 23. His message, “God Will Restore,” is based on the Assembly’s theme verse, Joel 2:25-27. An offering will be received for the EPC’s Restore Church Planter Health Fund. Proceeds will fund projects designed to help restore the emotional and spiritual health of EPC church planters in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The service begins at 7:30 p.m. (Central).

George Robertson, Second Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor, will deliver the message at the Morning Worship Service at 9:00 a.m. (Central) on Thursday, June 24. His message, “Encouragement for Ministry in Difficult Places,” is based on Jeremiah 1:13-19. An offering will be received for the EPC’s Restore Pastor Health Fund. As with the Wednesday evening offering, donations will fund projects designed to help restore the emotional and spiritual health of EPC pastors in light of the pandemic. The service begins at 9:00 a.m. (Central).

D.A. Carson will preach in the Global Worker Commissioning Service on Thursday evening, June 24. Carson is Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. His message, “Choosing Your Identity,” is based on Colossians 3:1-17. An offering will be received for the EPC’s Restore Global Worker Health Fund. Proceeds will fund projects designed to help restore the emotional and spiritual health of World Outreach global workers. The service begins at 7:30 p.m. (Central).

Glenn Meyers, Moderator of the 40th General Assembly, will lead the Moderator’s Service of Communion and Prayer at 9:00 a.m. (Central) on Friday, June 25. His message, “Be Aware. Be Transformed. Be Hopeful” focuses on Mark 13:3-13. An offering will be received for the EPC’s Moderator’s Scholarship Fund. Donations provide financial assistance to offset travel costs for ministers and Ruling Elders from smaller EPC churches who otherwise may not be able to attend General Assembly.

Click here for more information about the 41st General Assembly, including daily schedules, business items, and more.

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May 2021 EPC financial report: PMA support continues above budget, above 2019 level

 

Contributions to Per Member Asking (PMA) received by the Office of the General Assembly in fiscal year 2021 (FY21) through May 31 total $2,189,082. The amount is $335,599 (18.1 percent) more than the $1,853,483 FY21 PMA support projection to fund the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

With one month to go in the fiscal year (which runs from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021), PMA contributions are $25,812 above the $2,163,270 contributed over the same period in FY20. In addition, May PMA support of $154,111 brought the 12-month rolling average for monthly PMA contributions to $201,471. The rolling average has now increased for three consecutive months and is 1 percent above the 12-month rolling average as of May 2020.

“When we presented a significantly reduced budget to the 40th General Assembly last September, none of us envisioned being where we are at the end of May,” said Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah. “I am very grateful for how our churches have supported PMA in this most unusual year.”

“Our churches continue to demonstrate amazing generosity to the EPC,” said Dean Weaver, Stated Clerk-elect. “The past three months especially are truly awe-inspiring. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s grace toward us.”

Of the $2,189,082 received, $437,816 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $5,153,361 in designated gifts were received through May 31. This total was $236,059 (4.4 percent) lower than the $5,389,420 in designated gifts received in the same period in FY20. As noted in previous monthly reports, the discrepancy is largely attributed to significant donations to the Emergency Relief Fund following Hurricane Dorian’s devastation in the Bahamas and North Carolina in September 2019, and several large anonymous gifts designated for church planting efforts. Not counting contributions to those two areas, giving to designated funds is $400,267 more than in FY20.

Of the total, $5,031,772 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $121,589 was designated for EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings.

These amounts only reflect gifts received and distributed by the Office of the General Assembly, and do not reflect donations given directly to World Outreach global workers or other projects.

Updated mobile app available for 41st General Assembly

 

The EPC’s GA mobile app, updated with information and content for the 41st General Assembly, is now available for Apple iOS and Android operating systems.

The app includes a wide variety of information, including daily schedules, meeting room locations, all GA-related documents including the Commissioner’s Handbook of action items and other information, permanent and interim committee reports, standing committee assignments and meeting details, and more. Users can donate to the worship service offerings and send prayer requests to the host church prayer team. The app also offers one-touch access to EPConnection (the EPC’s news and information service) and the denomination’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Previous users of the iOS version will need to update the app on their mobile device for the most current content (look for the EPC GA app under the “Updates” tab of the App Store).

New users can click here to download the GA app for iOS; click here to download for Android, or search for “EPC GA” in the iPhone App Store or the Google Play Store app.

The app was developed by the EPC Communications Department and AppsforMinistry.com.

The 41st General Assembly is June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. For more information, see www.epc.org/ga2021.

 

#epc2021ga

Revised Procedure Manual for Ministerial and Candidates Committees now available

 

The revised, second edition of the Procedure Manual for Ministerial and Candidates Committees is now available for download in PDF format. The Manual was developed by the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee as a resource for EPC Presbyteries, churches, and ministerial candidates. The second edition includes amendments and legislative actions approved through the 38th General Assembly.

The manual can be downloaded at no cost from the EPC website at www.epc.org/downloads/#training and from the EPC Resources online store at www.epcresources.org.

“The Procedure Manual puts in one place the constitutional requirements from the Book of Order, practices required by our Acts of Assembly, and other helpful material,” said Jerry Iamurri, Assistant Stated Clerk. “It also contains sections that will have great value to search committees, Sessions, and Candidates Under Care.”

New to the second edition is “From Candidacy to Call: an Overview of the Ordination Process.” The section provides a high-level overview of the process of the pastoral call, including steps and milestones for candidates, search committees, and Presbytery Ministerial and Candidates committees.

Another change from previous editions is that forms, checklists, and other resources designed to be used by Presbyteries and churches are not included in the second edition, but rather provided as links to downloadable forms on the EPC website.

“Many of these forms are updated—sometimes multiple times—between printings of the Manual,” Iamurri explained. “These forms have been available on the EPC website all along. With this edition we included an Appendix that includes a clickable link for each form, which will always be the most current version.”

41st General Assembly final preparations underway

 

In an annual tradition, it’s “all hands on deck” for the staff of the Office of the General Assembly compiling registration packets for the 41st General Assembly. From left, Cathy Flores, Marti Ratcliff, Vanessa Mullendore, Pat Coelho, Zenaida Bermudez, Rachel Joseph, Liz Francescone, Wosene Scott, April Hair, Catherine Rutter, Cassie Shultz, Janet Linton, and Phil Linton ensure that each on-site Commissioner’s lanyard receives the proper credentials, meal tickets, and more.

The 41st General Assembly will be held June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Go to www.epc.org/ga2021 for complete GA information, including schedule, worship speakers, business session documents, and more.

#epc2021ga

Commissioner’s Handbook, committee reports available for 41st General Assembly

 

The 41st General Assembly Commissioner’s Handbook and reports from the EPC’s permanent and interim committees to the Assembly are now available for download in PDF format at www.epc.org/ga2021documents. The Handbook is available in its entirety as well by individual sections.

The Assembly will be held June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

“Every Commissioner should take time between now and the Assembly to familiarize themselves with the 30 Recommendations we will act on,” said Jeff Jeremiah, Stated Clerk.

Other documents available include the 2020 Annual Church Report; Auditor’s reports of the EPC’s Combined Financial Statements and Benefit Resources, Inc, (BRI) Benefits Plan and BRI Retirement Plan financial statements; Churches Received, Dismissed, and Dissolved in 2020-2021; Provisional Minutes of the 40th General Assembly, and more.

In addition, Commissioner assignments for the Standing Committees on Administration, Memorials and Appreciation, Theology, and World Outreach are available. In-person Commissioners will participate in Standing Committees on Thursday, June 24.

In addition to the GA Documents page of the website, all permanent and committee reports for the 2020-2021 ministry year are available at www.epc.org/committees/reports.

#epc2021ga

Phil Linton reflects on seven years as Director of World Outreach

 

Phil Linton

At the end of this month, I will step down after seven years as Director of World Outreach. I want to reflect here on four developments I’ve seen in our work during that time.

Internationalized Church-planting Teams

The EPC World Outreach global workers we send out from North America almost always end up teaming with spiritual brothers and sisters sent out from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. These relationships are rarely orchestrated from denominational or mission agency headquarters, but rather are organic partnerships that grow as disciple-makers from very different cultures discover each other working on the same task directed by the same Spirit.

Second-generation EPC WO Global Workers

By Presbyterian standards EPC World Outreach is relatively young, having sent out its first workers in 1985. But in recent years we have seen adult children (Jackie, Peter, and Josh) from three different EPC WO families return with the EPC into full-cycle church planting among people with least access to the gospel. With these folks we build on the foundation of decades of the very best preparation for cross-cultural ministry.

Repatriated Immigrant Global Workers

The dream of escape to America—the Land of Opportunity—is still very much alive throughout much of the world. Few who have achieved that dream give it up and return to the lands of their birth, but we in EPC World Outreach have several families where at least one spouse fits that description. These families have unusual credibility with neighbors who recognize they are animated by a power greater than material success. Coupling that credibility with a deep understanding of local culture to share the gospel has had a major impact in many cases.

National Church Missional Leaders

As World Outreach Director, I receive several requests each week from Christians around the world, asking for “partnership.” Of course, partnership may have many different meanings, but usually these appeals are for funds to carry out ministry in their communities. As important as these ministries are, I routinely turn down such requests to focus our resources and energies on a different kind of partnership.

World Outreach has developed close relationships with church leaders in Asia and Africa whose eyes are always on the frontiers of their communities. They look beyond where their churches are, to the neighborhoods, villages, and towns where no churches are. They pray for those places; they go to those places; they train and send people to those places; and EPC WO comes alongside to help them. Our efforts here become magnified and multiplied for a hundred-fold effect.

One final note: these developments in World Outreach have been gifts from God through the labors of people other than me. It has been the labors of loving missionary parents which have borne sweet fruit in the lives of our World Outreach MKs. It has been the faithful service of elders in our presbyteries who nurtured relationships with national church missional leaders in places like Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Albania, and Russia. It has been EPC pastors who welcomed and befriended immigrant Christians in their congregations, and then encouraged and guided them to be sent back by EPC World Outreach. And it has been our WO global workers who have recognized “God’s team” in the faces of El Salvadoran, Brazilian, Singaporean, Indonesian, Albanian, etc. brothers and sisters and reached out hands to work together. To all of you, I say thank you for your service to Christ, and for making my work as WO Director a joy.

Grace and peace,

Phil Linton
Director, EPC World Outreach

Church Revitalization Workshop session 7 recording, other resources now available

 

The recording of the final session of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop is now available. “How our identity in Christ, leading change, and overcoming barriers can lead to revitalization” was hosted by Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo. Panelists were:

Recordings of the entire seven-part workshop are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, as well as resources for church and personal revitalization recommended by each of the facilitators. In addition, written summaries of each month’s session are available in Spanish.

Audio podcast versions are available on the EPC’s podcast channel at podcast.epc.org, as well as Spotify and iTunes (search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church”).

General Assembly to consider new Presbyteries, Book of Government amendments, Approved Agency separation

 

Commissioners to the 41st General Assembly will vote on a variety of recommendations from the EPC’s permanent and interim committees and boards. The Assembly is June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. The meeting is the EPC’s first “hybrid” General Assembly, in which Commissioners will participate both in-person and virtually.

“Since our hybrid format requires us to close registration on June 4 and not permit walk-up registrations or day passes at the Assembly, we wanted to announce ahead of time some of the business items that the Assembly will consider,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk.

Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

The Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic is overturing the Assembly to split into three presbyteries, effective January 1, 2022. With 117 churches, the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic is the EPC’s largest. Between 20 and 73 churches comprise each of the EPC’s other 13 presbyteries, and each of the new presbyteries would include a similar number of congregations.

Theology Committee

The Theology Committee is recommending that the Assembly withdraw approval of Bethany Christian Services (BCS) as an Approved Agency of the EPC. A Christian adoption and child services organization, BCS announced in March 2021 that they would change their national policy and begin placing children with same-sex couples.

“This recommendation is not set before the General Assembly lightly,” said Zach Hopkins, Theology Committee Chairman. “Our committee was asked to review the EPC’s relationship to BCS in light of our commitments to Scripture, the Westminster Standards, and our Constitution—especially as it is expressed in our Position Papers. When this matter was first brought to the attention of the General Assembly, the concern was focused on only one specific chapter of Bethany’s organization. However, within two years, Bethany has made the approval of same-sex adoption a matter of national policy. The EPC cannot in good conscience remain in partnership with an agency that does not align with the doctrine and practice of the historic Christian faith.”

Hopkins is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes, and serves as Pastor of Edgington Presbyterian Church in Taylor Ridge, Ill.

The Theology Committee also will present a motion to amend the EPC’s Book of Government regarding ministry to and inclusion of the disabled.

National Leadership Team

The National Leadership Team (NLT) is presenting a motion to name current Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah as Stated Clerk Emeritus upon his retirement at the conclusion of the Assembly.

Case Thorp, NLT Chairman, said the committee’s decision to honor Jeremiah with the title “was unanimous and easy.”

Other motions presented by the National Leadership Team are the EPC’s fiscal year 2022 administration budget and Special Projects, as well as an in-depth description of the role and purpose of the Office of the General Assembly.

Nominating Committee

The Nominating Committee is presenting Brad Strait, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the West, as its nominee for Moderator, and Rosemary Lukens, Ruling Elder in the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest as Moderator-elect. Strait serves as Senior Pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver, Colo. Lukens is a Ruling Elder for Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor, Wash.

“I am thrilled that Rosemary accepted the Nominating Committee’s invitation to be presented as Moderator-elect,” said Dean Weaver, Stated Clerk-elect. “She has served with distinction on the National Leadership Team and will bring a wealth of leadership development experience to the role.”

Chaplains Work and Care Committee

The Chaplains Work and Care Committee (CWCC) will present a motion to amend sections of the Book of Government and Book of Worship that address Chaplains’ administering of the sacraments. The CWCC also will present for vote a revised Policy Statement on Chaplain Ministry to Same-Sex Couples and LGBTQ individuals.

Giving Culture Study Committee

The Giving Culture Study Committee will recommend that a proposed change in the EPC’s funding formula from Per Member Asking (PMA) to Percent of Budget (POB) be sent to all Presbyteries and churches for study. On Thursday afternoon, June 24, committee member Scott McKee will present the rationale behind the formula change. His presentation will be available to virtual participants and those viewing the live stream, and will take place concurrent with the Assembly’s Standing Committee meetings. McKee, a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Midwest, serves as Senior Pastor of Ward Presbyterian Church in suburban Detroit.

In addition to the business items, Weaver will be installed as the EPC’s fourth Stated Clerk, and Gabriel de Guia introduced as the new Executive Director of EPC World Outreach.

The Commissioner’s Handbook includes each of the recommendations to the Assembly. The Handbook will be posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/ga2021documents no later than June 1.

Registration for the 41st General Assembly ends on Friday, June 4, at 5:00 p.m. (Eastern). Online registration is available at www.epc.org/ga2021.

#epc2021ga

General Assembly registration fees double June 1, registration closes June 4

 

If you have not yet registered for the 41st General Assembly, June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., please don’t delay—registration fees double on June 1 and registration closes on June 4 at 5:00 p.m. (Eastern). Click here to register now.

This year’s meeting is the EPC’s first “hybrid” General Assembly, in which Commissioners will participate both in-person and virtually. In addition, the worship services and business sessions will be available via live stream on the EPC website at www.epc.org/ga2021livestream.

“Closing registration on June 4 ensures that we have a final list of virtual Commissioners in enough time to send the login credentials to the Zoom component as well as the orientation meetings,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “It also gives our office time to ensure that all Ruling Elder certification forms have been received for our registered Ruling Elders.”

Two virtual Commissioners Orientation meetings are scheduled. The identical meetings will be held Tuesday, June 15, from 4:00-5:30 p.m., and Thursday, June 17, from 7:00-8:30 p.m.

Jeremiah noted that the orientation meetings are recommended for all participants.

“Like last year’s fully virtual format, we will all be ‘new Commissioners’ at this hybrid General Assembly,” Jeremiah said. “It is important for everyone to understand how we will conduct this meeting, since there will be some differences from past years when we have been able to gather exclusively in person.”

Registered Commissioners will be emailed the link to the orientation meetings no later than Tuesday, June 8.

In other GA-related news, final editing of the Commissioner’s Handbook and Committee Reports is nearing completion. These and other Assembly documents will be posted on the EPC website no later than June 1.

Online registration is available at www.epc.org/ga2021.

#epc2021ga

Church Revitalization Workshop concludes May 26

 

The EPC’s seven-part virtual Church Revitalization Workshop concludes on Wednesday, May 26, with a discussion of how the believer’s identity in Christ, leading change, and overcoming barriers can lead to revitalization in the local church. Previous installments of the monthly series focused on the revitalization of the Session, the revitalization of the pastor, and revitalizing the congregation through evangelism.

Facilitators of the workshop include Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern) and is open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information, recordings of previous sessions, or to register for the final installment, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

Second Presbyterian Church offers localized theological education through Memphis City Seminary

 

Carl Ellis, Provost’s Professor of Theology and Culture at Reformed Theological Seminary, teaches Minority Church History for Memphis City Seminary in February 2021 at Second Presbyterian Church.

Starting a new seminary during a pandemic would not appear to be a wise thing to do. But when the purpose and strategy of Memphis City Seminary (MCS) are taken into consideration, it makes total sense. A ministry of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, MCS launched in February 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the United States.

The organizers weren’t sure of the seminary’s immediate future at the time, recalled Taylor Tollison, MCS Director of Operations, who also serves as Domestic Outreach Coordinator for Second Presbyterian Church. Yet in looking back, he said the school’s flexible, local-oriented model—plus low tuition cost of $100 per credit hour—turned out to be “a great approach” during a time of restrictions on travel and in-person gatherings.

He explained that from the beginning, the seminary was designed to provide not only flexibility in academic preparation for ministry, but also a focus on “place-based” education. That means that MCS, training students for ministry in the urban landscape of Memphis, would ensure its students would gain an understanding of how their biblical and theological studies would be applied in their local context. Specifically, recent U.S. Census data shows that the Memphis metro area of more than 5 million is nearly 48 percent African American and only 43 percent non-Hispanic white.

Taylor Tollison

“MCS offers a distinct curriculum that is designed to prepare pastors for the Memphis context and the surrounding region,” Tollison said. “We want to learn from those voices in theological education that are often underrepresented by offering specific courses and requiring specialized reading.”

Tollison noted that a key value of MCS is that the seminary views its students as more than just “academic thinkers.”

“Our hope is that our students will receive a holistic and comprehensive theological education that equips them in four key areas: knowledge, character, skills and vision,” he said. “Our aim is not merely to transfer information to the mind, but to take part in the full-orbed formation of Christian leaders. We believe the demands of gospel ministry require the whole person to be equipped—not merely the mind.”

George Robertson

George Robertson, Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church and MCS Academic Dean, said the school’s faculty are “pastoral scholars” who integrate education with practical ministry.

“We are making our experience and the best of biblical and theological scholarship available and affordable to Christ-centered leaders in Memphis,” he said.

Brian Lewis, Second Presbyterian Church’s Director of Domestic Outreach, serves as MSC’s Executive Director. He said the seminary is “well on its way” to providing affordable, high-level education for ministers who do not want to leave Memphis to receive their theological education.

Brian Lewis

“We are attracting bivocational workers and many people of color,” Lewis said. “We strive to be very multi-cultural, which mirrors our Memphis culture. We believe we will also steadily attract students regionally and nationally, because Memphis has world-wide appeal.”

Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis and a member of MCS’ Board, said that he often promotes the seminary’s “affordability, accessibility, and action-oriented training for gospel ministry in churches, non-profits, and the marketplace.”

Tollison said MCS is officially “authorized” by the State of Tennessee—which legitimatizes it as a school of higher learning—and is pursing official accreditation through the Association for Biblical Higher Education and the Association of Reformed Theological Seminaries. He hopes MSC will receive full accreditation in three to five years.

The groundwork for MSC started in 2006 when Second Presbyterian Church began to envision what an urban seminary for Memphis might look like, with the ultimate goal to offer an entire Master of Divinity degree locally. From 2006 to 2009, a venue for offering seminary education was through the Memphis Center for Urban Studies initiative. In 2009, Second Presbyterian Church began hosting a Reformed Theological Seminary extension site.

Limitations Lead to Vision

For the next 10 years, Lewis and his wife, Joanne, directed the RTS extension. Students could begin their seminary degree in Memphis, but were only eligible for a Certificate of Biblical Studies (CBS) upon the completion of 29 hours. After 29 hours students could complete an MA degree online, or for other degrees were required to transfer to a degree-granting seminary location to complete their coursework.

To bridge this gap in local seminary education, MCS was launched in November 2019 as a degree-granting seminary for both Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity degrees. Twenty degree-seeking RTS students joined 30 other students to bring the initial enrollment to 50.

Spring 2021 enrollment has grown to 60 students—35 men and 25 women—with 16 of those being minority students. Local churches represented by MCS students include Downtown Church, Fellowship Memphis, First Evangelical Church, Hope Church, Second Presbyterian Church, and The Avenue Community Church.

“One of the things I love most about my job,” said Joanne Lewis, MCS Director of Enrollment, “is to see students in our classroom who have dreamed, prayed, and waited for an opportunity to pursue their theological education but until now were unable to do so.”

Braden Tyler

Braden Tyler, a teacher and soccer coach at a private Christian school in inner-city Memphis, is one of those students.

“I am 31 years old and have wanted to do seminary ever since becoming a believer [while] in college,” Tyler said. “However, college debt, getting married, and having children kept me from pursuing this. All the seminaries that I wanted to attend were too expensive and not located in the city of Memphis. I could do online seminary, but it would be too expensive for me and it would be a lonely road.”

He noted that relocating to an in-resident seminary would require quitting his job, moving to a new city, and having his wife get a job in order for him to be a full-time student.

“Unsatisfactory options like this kept putting seminary on the back burner,” Tyler said. “Then along came MCS—an affordable, flexible, and local seminary that could give me the high quality, biblical education that I wanted. I could keep my job and keep my family in our city. Christians shouldn’t have to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars and have to leave the context of their city in order to get a seminary degree. I have talked to many people and it seems that seminaries like this could be the future for the church.”

He said that after he receives a degree from MSC, his goal is to continue his education by pursuing a PhD to teach in a seminary or become a pastor.

Denny Catalano

Denny Catalano, director of Campus Outreach in Memphis, said MSC is “a great complement” to his work.

“I chose Memphis City Seminary because I wanted to grow in my knowledge of God, in my character, and in my skills to more effectively reach the lost and shepherd my team,” he said. “We serve a very broad ethnic and cultural demographic, so I was looking for something that would give me a broad and thorough understanding of God and how He has worked throughout history among all nations. I count it a great privilege to be able to learn from some of the best scholars out there while being able to collaborate and learn alongside people ministering in a broad array of contexts.”

Bradley Morrow, Second Presbyterian Church’s Recreation Coordinator, said MSC makes a seminary education financially possible for him.

Bradley Morrow

“MCS has allowed me to gain a sound theological education that is affordable and allows me to work a full-time job where I am able to apply what I am learning in class to my ministry in the city,” he said. “MCS is equipping me to read, study, and teach the Scriptures in a way that reveals Jesus and proclaims the gospel as good news to every ZIP code in the city.”

Tyler agreed, adding that is it is a “big advantage” taking seminary classes alongside people from the city where you live.

“This is very unifying for a city and for churches,” Tyler said. “The next spiritual leaders of the community are people who have been trained in the same seminary and are friends with each other. This seminary can provide classes that fit the needs of Memphis and can better train leaders to impact this city.”

For more information on Memphis City Seminary, see www.memphiscityseminary.org

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

General Assembly women’s gatherings feature discipleship, connection opportunities

 

Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., is hosting several gatherings designed for women attending the 41st General Assembly, June 22-25.

TESS Talks Dinner

“Growing as Word-filled Women” is the theme for the annual TESS Talks dinner on Wednesday, June 23. Speakers are Mary Willson Hannah, Leesa Jensen, Kelsie Ellison, and Rong Guo. Willson is Director of Women’s Ministry at Second Presbyterian Church. Jensen and Ellison serve on the women’s Bible study teaching team at Second Presbyterian Church. Guo was trained as a surgeon in China and came to the United States in 1999. She accepted Christ in 2000, was baptized at Second Presbyterian Church in 2001, and has since served as a workplace chaplain, assistant youth group teacher, and a children’s leader with Bible Study Fellowship.

Modeled after the popular “Ted Talks,” TESS (Teaching, Encouragement, and Spiritual Sustenance) Talks offer practical discussions on topics of interest for women across the EPC.

Ministry Wives Luncheon

“The Joys and Challenges of Following Christ as a Ministry Spouse” is the topic of this year’s Ministry Wives Luncheon on Thursday, June 24. The speakers are Lynn Erickson, whose husband, Todd, serves as Pastoral Executive for Second Presbyterian Church; Gina Johnson, whose husband, Tim, serves as pastor of the EPC church plant The Avenue Community Church in Memphis; and Sarah Sadlow, whose husband, Ron, served on the pastoral staff at Second for 32 years.

Female Teaching Elders Networking Lunch

On Friday, Carolyn Poteet will host the annual Networking Lunch for women Teaching Elders (and ordination candidates) to connect, encourage, and pray for one another. Poteet serves as Lead Pastor for Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pa.

For details about these gatherings, see www.epc.org/ga2021womensevents.

For more information about the 41st General Assembly, including registration, daily schedules, and more, see www.epc.org/ga2021.

#epc2021ga

May Jeremiah Journal offers reflections on 15 years as Stated Clerk

 

In the May 2021 (and final) edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah reflects on his 15 years as EPC Stated Clerk, and thanks a number of individuals and groups he has served with. Jeremiah is retiring as Stated Clerk following the 41st General Assembly in June 2021.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. An audio podcast version is available on the EPC’s podcast channel at podcast.epc.org, as well as Spotify and iTunes (search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church”).

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

General Assembly World Outreach gatherings celebrate Phil Linton, commission new global workers, introduce new Executive Director

 

EPC World Outreach is sponsoring a variety of gatherings at the 41st General Assembly, June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

On Tuesday, June 22, longtime World Outreach global worker Mike Kuhn will lead “The Israel of God” as part of this year’s Leadership Institute.

As ongoing tensions have flared into military conflict in recent days between Israel and the Palestinians, the territorial and political dispute is just one of many challenges facing the missional outreach of the church to the Muslim world. Kuhn’s presentation will discuss the identity of Israel in the biblical narrative (apart from contemporary political considerations), examine God’s purposes for His covenant people as revealed in Scripture, and seek wisdom as to how Christ’s church should respond with compassion and justice to both Israelis and Arabs.

Kuhn serves as Missional Theology Specialist for World Outreach’s International Theological Education Network (ITEN). He spent more than 28 years in Morocco, Egypt, and Lebanon, where he served as Professor of Biblical Theology and Discipleship at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut from 2012-2018.

Tuesday evening banquet

Josh Hanson, Senior Pastor of Gateway Church in Findlay, Ohio, is the speaker for this year’s World Outreach banquet. His topic is “Unexpected Kingdom.”

Attendees will have opportunity to celebrate Phil and Janet Linton as part of the evening’s program. He is retiring as Director of World Outreach following the 41st General Assembly. In addition, he is preaching at the Wednesday afternoon worship service prior to the Assembly’s first business session.

Wednesday evening dinner

The Global Worker Presentations Dinner on Wednesday, June 23, from 5:00-6:30 p.m. provides opportunity to hear World Outreach global workers describe how God is using and blessing their work among those people groups of the world that have little to no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Global worker commissioning

On Thursday, June 24, World Outreach will commission its newest global workers during the evening worship service. The speaker for the service is D.A. Carson, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.

Networking Lunches

On Wednesday, June 23, on-site participants can meet the new Executive Director of World Outreach, Gabriel de Guia, and his wife, Rachel. He is the unanimous choice of the nine-member search committee to succeed Linton, and previously served 26 years with Cru in a variety of capacities.

On Thursday, June 24, the 2021 class of global workers will discuss the ministry God has called them to and share their hearts for the Kingdom of God. These workers will be commissioned in the Thursday evening worship service.

All on-site attendees are invited to participate in these World Outreach gatherings, but registration is required for the Tuesday evening banquet as space is limited. The worship services on Wednesday and Thursday will be live-streamed and available to virtual participants of the hybrid Assembly. Other gatherings are limited to on-site Commissioners and guests.

For complete details about World Outreach activities at the 41st General Assembly, see www.epc.org/ga2021worldoutreachevents.

For more information about the 41st General Assembly, including registration, daily schedules, and more, see www.epc.org/ga2021. For details about the World Outreach Banquet, contact Cassie Shultz at cassie.s@epcwo.org or 407-930-4313.

#epc2021ga

April 2021 EPC budget report: PMA support continues strong, now outpacing 2019 level

 

Contributions to Per Member Asking (PMA) received by the Office of the General Assembly in fiscal year 2021 (FY21) through April 30 total $2,034,971. April PMA support was $224,546.

The total is $312,346 (18.1 percent) more than the $1,722,625 FY21 PMA support projection to fund the EPC’s Collaborative Ministries, Connectional Support, and Custodial Operations.

With the strong continued support, PMA contributions through ten months of FY21 (which runs from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021) are $10,357 above the $2,024,614 contributed over the same period in FY20. In addition, April PMA support of $224,546 brought the 12-month rolling average for monthly PMA contributions to $200,186. The rolling average has now increased for two consecutive months, and for the first time since September is at the same level as FY20.

“Two months ago, I expressed concern that the negative trend in our monthly rolling average might indicate an unfavorable longer-term trend,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I praise the Lord for this amazing reversal over the past eight weeks. I am very thankful for the generosity of our churches, and for their commitment to the EPC.”

Of the $2,034,971 received, $406,994 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $4,745,074 in designated gifts were received through April 30. This total was $282,697 (5.6 percent) lower than the $5,027,771 in designated gifts received in the same period in FY20. As noted in previous monthly reports, the discrepancy is largely attributed to significant donations to the Emergency Relief Fund following Hurricane Dorian’s devastation in the Bahamas and North Carolina in September 2019, and several large anonymous gifts designated for church planting efforts.

Of the total, $4,632,323 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $112,751 was designated for EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings.

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.

Gabriel de Guia named Executive Director of EPC World Outreach

 

Gabriel de Guia

Gabriel de Guia has been named as the new Executive Director of EPC World Outreach. A member of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla., he has served in a variety of capacities with Cru since 1995. His most recent role was Senior Aide of Development to the Executive Director for the Jesus Film Project, which he has held since 2012. Cru—formerly Campus Crusade for Christ—is an international ministry founded by Bill and Vonette Bright in 1951 and based in Orlando.

“I’m overwhelmed to be selected to lead EPC World Outreach,” de Guia said. “I feel like I’m coming full circle in ministry, as my grandparents came to faith in Christ through the work of Presbyterian missionaries in the Philippines in the 1920s. And now, I just have a grand sense of God ushering us into this great adventure. It wasn’t something I was planning on or dreaming of, but that makes it all the more confirming that this is something God is calling us to. That brings about a ton of excitement.”

Rob Liddon, Chairman of the Executive Director Search Committee and Moderator of the EPC’s 30th General Assembly, said de Guia was the committee’s unanimous choice among a group of “exceptionally strong” candidates.

“Following much prayer and discussion, the nine-member Search Committee unanimously concluded Gabriel to be best situated to lead World Outreach into the second quarter of this century as its Executive Director,” Liddon said. “We are very pleased to welcome him and his wife, Rachel, to EPC World Outreach.”

Over a 26-year missionary career with Cru, de Guia’s other responsibilities have included Advancement (Major Gifts) Officer for the Jesus Film Project, Writer in the Global Communications Office, and Assistant to the President. He also served as College Campus Minister at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind., from 1996-2002.

He has led or helped lead short-term evangelistic mission teams to Africa, Asia, Central America, and multiple locations in the United States. In addition, he has provided direct missionary member care to more than 30 Cru missionary families in East Asia; equipped numerous teenaged children of missionaries in lifestyle evangelism; coached missionary staff in support raising; and served as lead liaison between Cru’s mission partners, mission field directors, and major donors. This effort helped raise millions of dollars for multiple global outreach initiatives.

Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk-elect and a member of the search committee, said de Guia exhibited leadership that is anchored in a strong faith and prayer.

“We were all greatly encouraged by Gabriel’s personal commitment to prayer and evangelism,” Weaver said. “His passion for the Great Commission flows from his deep personal relationship with Jesus.”

Johnny Long, Ruling Elder for Hope Church in Memphis, Tenn., served as a member of both the search committee and the World Outreach committee of the General Assembly.

“Going through this process allowed our search committee the opportunity to absolutely find the right person for this role for this time in World Outreach and for our denomination as whole,” Long said. “Gabriel brings superb organizational expertise and excellent interpersonal and organizational communication skills. His experience with technology to advance the gospel will be a huge asset as we continue to grow and expand the outreach capabilities of World Outreach to share the gospel to the most unreached peoples around the world.”

A native of Cincinnati, de Guia’s parents emigrated to Minnesota from the Philippines in the 1960s and later moved to Ohio. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from The Ohio State University in Columbus. He also has participated in numerous professional development opportunities, including Cru’s two-year Senior Leadership Initiative, a Master’s level program offered by invitation only.

The de Guias have been married since 2007 and have three children.

“We are honored with the sacred, holy privilege to step into this avenue of ministry for the sake of the global church,” Rachel said. “We have long appreciated the Revelation 7:9 picture of the throne room of God, and we’ve used that verse as a filter to help discern what God has called us to. For the EPC to be pursuing that vision was confirmation of God’s leading us to this.”

Liddon noted that the search committee was united in “seeking the mind of Christ for World Outreach” during the entire process, which began in 2019 with the NLT’s appointment of a World Outreach Evaluation Team. That committee was tasked with reviewing the goals and strategy employed by World Outreach, as well as the results achieved.

“The evaluation team worked with World Outreach leadership, and it commended the sound and enduring work of World Outreach—past and present,” Liddon said. “At the same time, that team’s report to the NLT proposed a number of changes they thought necessary in light of current cultural and economic developments in the areas WO serves.”

Liddon noted that the search was “a measured, considered process, and yielded quite a number of candidates, all of godly character and impressive backgrounds in Kingdom ministry.”

“I think we all felt,” said Iris A, a World Outreach global worker who served on the search committee, “that the Holy Spirit truly led us through this lengthy decision-making process to come to the same mind and decision.”

Search Committee Member Kevin Cauley, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and former chairman of World Outreach Committee, said he was “impressed with Gabriel’s humble, prayerful, and Spirit-led approach.”

“He will bring fresh eyes to help World Outreach to see in new ways how we may continue building upon the great foundation passed down from our former outstanding Directors,” Cauley said.

The nine-member Search Committee began its work in October 2020. It was comprised of a variety of EPC Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders, and missions practitioners. Because of security issues related to their work, not all members of the committee were able to be named.

The Executive Director of World Outreach is selected and called by the National Leadership Team for a three-year term, which is renewable. Phil Linton, who has served as Director of World Outreach since 2014, is retiring at the June 2021 conclusion of his current three-year term.

World Outreach is the missions arm of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, with a principal calling to glorify God by starting church-planting movements among least-reached people groups. World Outreach currently has approximately 75 family units serving across the globe.

Ligon Duncan, Greg Gibbs, Rufus Smith highlight General Assembly Networking Lunches slate

 

Networking Lunches at the EPC 41st General Assembly provide opportunity for on-site GA participants to connect with others with similar ministry interests on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, June 23-25, from 12:00-1:15 p.m. at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis. Due to technical limitations, Networking Lunches are not available for the Assembly’s virtual participants. For more information about each lunch, see www.epc.org/ga2021networkinglunches.

Wednesday, June 23

  • Building Your EPC Retirement Plan Savings and Using Your Housing Allowance Benefit (hosted by Bart Francescone, Executive Director of EPC Benefit Resources, Inc.)
  • Church Planting Update (hosted by Tom Ricks, Leader of the EPC Church Planting Team, and Shane Sunn, Director of the Aspen Grove Church Planting Network)
  • Meet the new Executive Director of EPC World Outreach (hosted by EPC World Outreach)
  • Ministry and the Means of Grace (hosted by the Westminster Society and featuring Ligon Duncan, Mike Glodo, Zach Hopkins, Scott Redd, Bryan Rhodes, and Aaron White)
  • Using the Pandemic to Refocus Your Mission (hosted by Jay Mitchell, Senior Executive Search Consultant for Vanderbloemen)
  • What Does a Healthy Presbytery Look Like? (hosted by Bob Stauffer, Regional Church Development Coordinator for the Presbytery of the Alleghenies)

Thursday, June 24

  • 2021 Commissioned World Outreach Global Workers (hosted by EPC World Outreach)
  • How a Life Team Can Equip Your Church to Champion Life at Every Stage (hosted by Deborah Hollifield, Executive Director of Presbyterians Protecting Life)
  • Leading with Heart in a COVID-19 World (hosted by Brandon Addision, Lead Pastor of Neighborhood Church in Denver, Colo., and Denver City Leader for the Made to Flourish Network)
  • Smaller Church Network Gathering (hosted by Roy Yanke, Executive Director of Pastor-in-Residence Ministries)
  • The Antioch Room (hosted by Marcos Ortega, Pastor of Congregational Care and Outreach at Goodwill Church in Montgomery, N.Y.; and Rufus Smith, Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Memphis, Tenn.)
  • Things We Don’t Talk About in Church Leadership (hosted by Cron Gibson, Founder and Executive Director of Hopewell Counseling and Equipping Ministries)

Friday, June 25

  • Campus Ministry, the Church, and Next Generation Leaders (hosted by Jen Burkholder, Interim Director of Partnerships for the Coalition for Christian Outreach)
  • Creating a Culture of Generosity (hosted by Greg Gibbs, Lead Navigator for Auxano; and Bob Welsh, Field Representative for EPC Generosity Resources)
  • Female Teaching Elders and Candidates (hosted by Carolyn Poteet, Lead Pastor of Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pa.)
  • Ministry in the “Slow” Lane: What the Pandemic Is Teaching Us About Ordinary Ministry Life (hosted by Roy Yanke, Executive Director of Pastor-in-Residence Ministries)
  • Understanding the Transgender Experience with Compassion and Truth (hosted by Scott Kingry, Program Director for Where Grace Abounds)

For more information about the 41st General Assembly, including online registration, see www.epc.org/ga2021.

#epc2021ga

National Day of Prayer: facing an urgent and great need

 

The National Day of Prayer on May 6 comes at a time when the need is both urgent and great for united prayer for our country. Are there any issues in our culture on which there is general agreement or consensus? Rather, what we regularly observe in our culture is brokenness, chaos, conflict, and unrest.

We have endured a “once in a hundred years” pandemic. Masking, social distancing, vaccinations, shutdowns, and re-opening all have been contentious problems that have drained and divided us.

Making “all things political” has only proven that politics cannot fix or heal us—it has only more deeply divided us. Prayer is the way we appeal to Almighty God on behalf of our country, our leaders, and our people. Only His supernatural mercy, grace, and wisdom can restore and heal us.

May 6, 2021, is a day for all of us in the EPC to join with other churches and believers in Jesus Christ to pray specifically for our country.

In addition to participating in the National Day of Prayer, the EPC has convened focused times of prayer in the last year or so. With the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the EPC issued a call to a Good Friday Day of Fasting and Prayer on April 10, 2010. This was in response to COVID-19 and subsequent shutdown of the U.S. This call was endorsed by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), with many denominations joining in prayer that day. A Day of Lament, Fasting, and Prayer on June 8, 2020, followed in response to the violence and social unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

The National Day of Prayer was originally signed into law by President Truman in 1952. It asked that all Americans pray for their nation. In 1988, this law was amended by designating the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. The amended law was pass unanimously by the U.S. House and Senate. Let us act in the same unanimity and join with thousands—yes, millions—of other Christians on Thursday, May 6, in prayer for our country, our leaders, and our fellow citizens.

More information about the National Day of Prayer is available at www.nationaldayofprayer.org.

by Jeff Jeremiah
EPC Stated Clerk

Cameron Shaffer: Bethany Christian Services policy change a compromise with sin

 

Cameron Shaffer

In the 1980s, the EPC endorsed and commended Bethany Christian Services (BCS), a Christian adoption and child services organization, to our congregations as a valuable resource for assisting orphaned children. We did this in the shadow of abortion: if we were to condemn abortion as evil and murder, then we needed to be able to step up and help children who were not wanted. Of course, that is not the only reason to support adoption—caring for orphans and other vulnerable children is what true Christianity looks like. But in the face of abortion, the value of adoption is made clear. Life is better than death; healing is better than harm.

In 2019, the EPC began reevaluating our endorsement of BCS when they changed their policy in Michigan (where they are headquartered) to allow gay couples to adopt. The decision followed a lawsuit brought by the ACLU that jeopardized BCS’ contract with the state’s Department of Human Services. At the time, BCS maintained the national policy that marriage is between one man and woman. Outside of Michigan, BCS would not place children for adoption with gay couples. Fast-forward to March 2021, when BCS announced that they would be changing their national policy and begin placing children with same-sex couples.

As a result of these decisions, the EPC’s Theology Committee will bring a recommendation to the 41st General Assembly in June to rescind the denomination’s endorsement of BCS.

Any honest observer would interpret the approval of that recommendation as the EPC believing it is better for a child to be stuck in the foster system than adopted by a gay couple, or that we think being aborted is better than living in a home parented by two dads.

Why would the EPC dissolve this long-standing relationship? Why not place children with gay couples? Why refuse to support adoption agencies that do so?

The answer is how the Bible defines the terms being used. Specific to the EPC’s endorsement of BCS: what is family, who decides, and into what are children being adopted?

When BCS changed their national policy, they also dropped from their position statement that God’s design for marriage is between one man and one woman. If their previous affirmation—and the historic position of Orthodox Christianity—is correct, then a gay couple is not married, no matter what the law recognizes. We may refer to them as married for the sake of social convention, but conformity to the biblical nature of marriage is necessary for it to be marriage. No matter how loving, caring, and committed a gay couple is, they are not married in any biblical, and therefore real, sense of the word.

Our culture has redefined human identity and institutions in terms of its own preferences and sense of fulfillment. Yet biblical truth declares that families require parents. Husbands and wives are to be the father and mother of their family. Families are fathers and mothers together with their children. Multigenerational families are just that: multiple generations of children with their fathers and mothers.

Of course, some families are broken in different ways: divorce, death, adultery, abuse. Sin of all kinds distorts the blessing of God’s design for marriage and family. In all these cases, children are the victims of sinful disfigurements of God’s design for marriage and family. An internet search on the effects of single parent households on children reveals study after study that reinforce biblical truth: Children need both fathers and mothers.

Adoption is intended to be a means by which parentless, family-less children are joined to a family that can be the father and mother that their biological parents cannot. Adoption is to be a balm of healing to the injuries of sin. Children need parents, and parents are fathers and mothers. Other caregivers can be good and helpful, but the foster system with its inherent lack of stability also lacks the permanent family unit.

Do children need families? Yes. Do children need fathers and mothers? Yes. However, children adopted by a gay couple are not being protected from sinful distortions of marriage and family. Rather, they are placed into a sinful facsimile of them.

The EPC withdrawing its endorsement from BCS is the Church signaling that it cannot condone an agency willing to place children in couples that are not families.

Undoubtedly, many same-sex couples are more caring than some fathers and mothers. Many children adopted by gay couples have better lives with them than they would in the foster system. But those observations mask adoption’s design. Adoption is not for getting kids out of the foster system, or for finding the kindest caretakers. Its purpose is to join children to families.

The church should care for the physical and mental wellbeing of children. But its primary calling is to care for their spiritual wellbeing. The spiritual nurture of children includes raising them to love and obey God as He is revealed in Scripture. A same-sex couple in an inherently sinful, distorted relationship is intrinsically unable to do so.

Is withdrawing endorsement from BCS the Church abandoning children? No. Numerous   Christian adoption agencies still hold to God’s design in where they place children. In 2019, BCS changed their policy in Michigan following court battles, but a federal judge there later sided with Catholic groups that refused to accede to Michigan’s demands. The truth is that BCS abandoned their fellow Christian adoption agencies when they abandoned the Scriptural definition of family.

Individual Christian families are still able to adopt through BCS—which is a good thing. But a family adopting a child is different from a Church endorsing an agency whose desperation to avoid legal consequences leads to a compromise with sin.

God’s design for children is for them to be raised in a family. By the biblical definition of “family,” same-sex couples are not it. That standard should be what the EPC and Christian adoption agencies follow in caring for orphans.

Cameron Shaffer is a member of the EPC’s permanent Theology Committee. He serves as Pastor of Langhorne Presbyterian Church in Langhorne, Pa., in the Presbytery of the East.

Session 6 recording of Church Revitalization Workshop now available

 

The recording of the sixth monthly session of the 2020-2021 Church Revitalization Workshop is now available. “The Revitalization of the Congregation, Part 2: Revitalization Through Worship” was hosted by Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo. Panelists were:

The recording also is posted on the EPC website at www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop, and on the EPC YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Audio podcast versions of each session of the workshop are available on the EPC’s podcast channel at podcast.epc.org, as well as Spotify and iTunes (search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church”).

EPC Benefit Plan participants may be included in Blue Cross Blue Shield antitrust settlement

 

A settlement on behalf of individuals and companies that purchased or received health insurance provided or administered by a Blue Cross Blue Shield company may include participants in the EPC’s medical/prescription drug plan. The settlement is the result of a class action antitrust lawsuit, In re: Blue Cross Blue Shield Antitrust Litigation MDL 2406, which is pending in a U.S. District Court in Alabama.

Bart Francescone, Executive Director of EPC Benefit Resources, Inc. (BRI), said the BRI office has fielded a number of inquiries regarding communication from JND Legal Administration in Seattle, Wash, regarding the settlement.

“Many of our medical benefit plan participants have recently received notice from a third-party entity identified as JND Legal Administration on behalf of Plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the national Blue Cross Blue Shield Association of companies,” Francescone said, noting that the Plaintiffs in this case are affected plan participants, and the Defendants are the Blue Cross Blue Shield companies.

“It is a legitimate notice, and those harmed by BCBS’ alleged violation of antitrust laws may be eligible to receive a payment as a result of the settlement,” he said. “If someone was enrolled in our plan and had medical claims anytime between September 1, 2015, and October 16, 2020, they likely received the notice and may be entitled to a settlement payment.”

Francescone added that BRI and its provider for the EPC medical/prescription drug benefit plan, Highmark BCBS, are not involved in the settlement process.

“BRI has no information about how eligibility is determined, or the settlement amounts,” Francescone said. “In order to be bound by the settlement and potentially receive a payment, you must log into the settlement website, go to the claim form, enter the unique ID that came with your email notice or postcard, and file a claim by no later than the fifth of November.”

The settlement website is www.BCBSsettlement.com, which includes detailed information about the lawsuit, who is involved, and instructions on how to file a claim. For further questions, JND Legal Administration can be contacted at info@BCBSsettlement.com, or 1-888-681-1142.

Anyone who was enrolled in the EPC’s medical/prescription drug plan during the settlement class time period and wants to file a claim may need the following information when completing the claim form:

  • Health plan name: Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield
  • EPC Group No: CQM363
  • Member ID: On the participant’s medical ID card
  • Coverage start/end dates: Provided by the participant’s church or employer

“We hope this guidance is helpful to our participants who may be eligible to file a claim,” Francescone said. “The resources provided in the notice and on the settlement website should be able to answer any questions.”

A South Memphis matriarch’s home burned down. Her community—including the EPC’s Downtown Church—rebuilt it

 

Betty Isom’s Memphis, Tenn., home was severely damaged in a 2018 fire. With help from neighbors and church family at Downtown Church, her home was rebuilt. Photo credits: WMC5 Action News (left); Ariel Cobbert, The Commercial Appeal (right).

Betty Isom was fast asleep when the fire started.

Her grandson woke her up in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2018, alerting her to the blaze, later determined to be an electrical fire. Isom and her family were not able to douse the fire themselves; the pipes in her home had frozen. It had barely gotten to 25 degrees on New Year’s Eve in Memphis, according to weather records.

The moments after Isom and her family left the house were chaotic. Isom, who hadn’t even had time to grab shoes on her way out, tried to run back inside to get her car keys so the family could sit in the car to escape the cold. She eventually went to her neighbor’s home, but her family feared she had gone back into the house and told firefighters she might be inside.

None of the 10 people who were inside when the fire broke out were injured, but the fire made the home on Tate Street uninhabitable. The Memphis Fire Department said at the time there was at least $10,000 worth of damage to the home and $5,000 worth of damage to the contents, according to reports from WMC Action News 5 and WREG-TV.

Betty Isom sits in the new ministry room that was added when her fire-damaged home was rebuilt. Photo credit: Ariel Cobbert, The Commercial Appeal.

Isom said she had no idea what to do—almost everything in the home was destroyed. They went first to Isom’s daughter’s home, then to an apartment on Tate Street. Her pastor and his wife helped them to get some necessary items, and Isom, in an interview this week, thanked God for the help she received from family and friends.

Now, three years later, Isom’s home has been rebuilt by friends and her spiritual family at Downtown Church.

“My children, they were really upset because we lost everything. I said, ‘Don’t be upset, because one thing about it, we didn’t lose a life. Because you can’t get a life back. Material things you can always get that back,’” she said. “The Lord blessed us…whatever I lost, I regained more than I had.”

Money was donated by members of the church and a member who works in construction was able to call in favors to get the project over the finish line, Pastor Richard Rieves said.

For him and the rest of the congregation, it wasn’t even a question if a new home would be constructed for Isom.

“Because of Betty’s ministry here in the neighborhood, because of what she means to South Memphis, especially Tate Street and just this part of South Memphis, we knew that we needed to get this house rebuilt,” he said.

A matriarch of South Memphis

Isom, 68, was born in Ruleville, Miss., but moved with her family to Memphis when she was a kid. The family settled in LeMoyne Gardens, and she has lived in South Memphis ever since. In 1998, she became the first homeowner in her family when she bought a house on Tate with the assistance of a program administered by the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.

“Betty’s home became known as a haven for people in the community who were homeless, hungry, and hopeless or those who were transitioning and needed an overnight stay and a hot meal,” a church member wrote in a letter honoring Isom at the dedication of her new home.

Described as a matriarch both of her church and her neighborhood, Isom has spent her entire adult life working and volunteering for religious and social services organizations, including Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association and Emmanuel Center.

She’s hosted an anti-violence block party each year in June—except 2020, due to the pandemic— or more than 20 years. The event draws hundreds from across South Memphis; Rieves helped cook 50 pounds of catfish for the party a few years ago.

By 2016, Betty Isom had hosted the annual Tate Street anti-violence block party in South Memphis for 18 years. The community event brings hundreds of local residents and police officers together. “The mayor said to keep going and I told him I wasn’t going to ever stop,” Isom said. Photo credit: Brad Vest, The Commercial Appeal.

Isom is something of a celebrity in her neighborhood. People call out to her when she walks down the street. Many refer to her simply as “momma.” When her new home was dedicated, people from the neighborhood brought over food to help her celebrate. Naturally, she invited everyone from the neighborhood over to share.

She’s fed and housed so many people she’s lost track. People text Isom and stop by her home constantly to reminisce and thank her for what she has done for them and their families.

For her, helping others has been a source of blessings. Everyone needs help at some point, Isom said. And every situation, including the pandemic, is an opportunity to help people, to bring people together.

‘Betty just exudes love’

Isom has moved into the new, one-story house on Tate Street where she lives with extended family. The house was constructed to include a ministry room, with a separate entrance, where she’ll host her Wednesday Bible study and other gatherings.

She said she’s also concerned by an uptick of violence she’s seen in her neighborhood in recent years and hopes she can use the space to host peaceful community gatherings.

Isom credits the congregation at Downtown Church with helping her get through the past three years. Church members helped support her and her family physically and financially. She greets them every Sunday with, “Good morning, Downtown family.”

“I love Downtown Church because we’re all different. And when you go there, everyone just loves on you. It’s amazing,” she said.

Richard Rieves, (in blue vest) leads a prayer before the start of Downtown Church’s worship service at the historic Clayborn Temple. The building was home to Second Presbyterian Church from 1893 to 1949. It was sold to the A.M.E. Church and was the staging ground for the Civil Rights movement in Memphis in the 1960s, including the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike. Photo credit: Jim Weber, The Commercial Appeal.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “1:00 a.m. Sunday is our most segregated hour,” referring to the lack of diversity within churches. Rieves, a native Memphian, said he founded the church after returning from Colorado with the aim of changing that, bringing together people of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

He said Isom represents that spirit. She welcomes everybody into her home and the church. She cares for anyone who needs her help. Rieves said Isom constantly put herself last. She used to sleep in a chair so others would have a bed.

In creating a new home for her, the Downtown Church family was able to serve Isom the way she had served so many others.

“Betty just exudes love. Her ministry, which is really just her life, she just pours out to people in this community and she welcomes everybody. She’s the epitome of what I think Jesus calls us to be and do,” Rieves said.

by Corinne S Kennedy
This story first appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal on April 21, 2021.
Reprinted by permission.

Revitalization through worship the topic of April 28 Church Revitalization Workshop

 

The EPC’s 2020-2021 virtual Church Revitalization Workshop continues on Wednesday, April 28, with a discussion of how to utilize worship as an engine for church revitalization. Previous installments of the monthly series focused on the revitalization of the Session, the revitalization of the pastor, and ways to revitalize the congregation through evangelism.

Facilitators of the workshop include John Mabray, Associate Pastor for Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La.; Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas; Doug Resler, Senior Pastor of Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Parker, Colo.; and Mike Wright, Pastor of Littleton Christian Church in Littleton, Colo.

The workshop will be held from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern). There is no cost to register, and the workshops are open to both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. For more information and to register, see www.epc.org/churchrevitalizationworkshop.

2021 Leadership Institute features Ligon Duncan, George Robertson, Rufus Smith, practical training workshops

 

Ligon Duncan, George Robertson, and Rufus Smith are the keynote speakers for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s sixth annual Leadership Institute. The Institute is a strategic component of the EPC’s 41st General Assembly, to be held June 22-25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Each of the plenary speakers will address a topic related to this year’s General Assembly theme, “God Will Restore.” The theme is based on God’s promise in Joel 2:25 that He “will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten … You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you … ”

Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., will address “Combating Biblical Anemia: Scripture, Discipleship, Worship, and Preaching” on Tuesday, June 22. His presentation will be available via live stream on the EPC website.

On Wednesday morning, June 23, Robertson will discuss “Soul Care for Pastors.” He serves as Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, host church for the Assembly.

On Wednesday afternoon, Smith will speak about “Kindness that Leads to Reconciliation.” He serves as Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Memphis. Both Wednesday sessions will be available via live stream and include time for Q-and-A.

Four ministry-specific leadership development gatherings will be available for in-person Assembly attendees.

  • Chaplains Workshop, featuring Mike Berry, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas, and Mark Ingles, EPC Chaplain Endorser. Berry will lead sessions on “Why Religious Freedom Matters and What Our Nation’s Founders Intended” and “Threats to Religious Freedom and What We Can Do to Protect It.”
  • Creating Church Planting Networks and Partnerships, led by Tom Ricks, Lead Pastor of Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo., and Chairman of the EPC Church Planting Team.
  • Transitional Pastor Training, led by Bob Stauffer, Church Development Coordinator for the Presbytery of the Alleghenies.
  • The Israel of God, a discussion of the identity of Israel in the biblical narrative—apart from contemporary political considerations—in which God’s purposes for His covenant people as revealed in Scripture will be examined, as well as thoughts on how Christ’s church should respond with compassion and justice to both Israelis and Arabs. The seminar will be led by Mike Kuhn, Missional Theology Specialist for EPC World Outreach’s International Theological Education Network.

Each of these workshops is open to anyone attending the 41st General Assembly in person.

See www.epc.org/ga2021leadershipinstitute for more information on the Leadership Institute, including full seminar descriptions, times, and speaker bios.

See www.epc.org/ga2021 for more information about the 41st General Assembly, including a full schedule, links to online registration, and more.

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