Federal court rules minister’s housing allowance constitutional

 

HousingAllowanceRulingA three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled unanimously on March 15 that the housing allowance tax exemption for ministers is constitutional. The decision reversed a 2017 opinion by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb. Crabb ruled that the exemption provides an unconstitutional benefit to religious individuals, thereby violating the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit that led to the 2017 decision was brought by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The group was challenging a federal law passed in 1954, under which a “minister of the gospel” is exempt from income tax on compensation that is designated part of a housing allowance. The FFRF—which has fought against the housing allowance provision for more than 10 years—argued that the law discriminates against secular employees.

“I am thankful that with the Seventh Circuit’s decision, this matter is settled—at least for now,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I am confident that the FFRF and other atheist groups are not going to give up their fight easily, so we will continue to monitor the situation and keep our churches and ministers informed.”

Crabb also had ruled in 2013 that the housing allowance was unconstitutional—a decision that was overturned by the Seventh Circuit in November 2014. At the time, the appeals court stated that they did not rule on the “issue of the constitutionality of the parsonage exemption,” leading to the case being refiled under a different legal tactic.

In their most recent ruling, the judges declared that the 1954 law “falls into the play between the joints of the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause: neither commanded by the former, nor proscribed by the latter” and therefore neither endorses nor inhibits religion, and does not cause excessive government entanglement. The judges also noted that Congress has been providing federal tax exemptions for religious organizations as far back as 1802.

Writing for the panel, Judge Michael Brennan said that the primary effect of the housing allowance “is not to advance religion on behalf of the government, but to allow churches to advance religion, which is their very purpose. Providing a tax exemption does not connote sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement” of the government in religious activity.

Nominating Committee reviews nominees for permanent committee vacancies

 

NominatingCommittee201903Members of the Nominating Committee met March 15, 2019, at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando to approve nominees for vacancies on the EPC permanent boards, commissions, and committees. Their work will be presented for action at the 39th General Assembly at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Denver in June.

Members of the Nominating Committee are Janet Bole (Chair), Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the West; John Adamson, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; Brian Altmyer, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies; George Blackburn, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Gulf South; Marion Bradshaw, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; Larry Carlson, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; Alan Conrow, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Midwest;  Wayne Hardy, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Great Plains; Susan Humphreys, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of Mid-America; Woody Johnson, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; Joe McCoy, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; David Ricketts, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; and Alan Smith, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the East.

Ministerial Vocation Committee, presbytery Ministerial/Candidate Committee chairs meet in Orlando

 
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Brad Strait (right), Chair of the Ministerial Vocation Committee, leads discussion during the annual meeting of the MVC and presbytery Ministerial Committee and Candidate Committee Chairs on March 12 in Orlando.

Members of the Ministerial Vocation Committee (MVC) and Presbytery Ministerial and Candidates Committee Chairs met March 12-13 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando. The MVC addresses ministerial issues at the national level of the EPC, and the Presbytery Chairs lead at the presbytery level.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of the work tackled by the MVC and these presbytery committees,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “I have said for a long time that the most important committee in our presbyteries is the Ministerial Committee, because when it does its work well it frees the presbytery to focus on mission and outreach. The networking, sharing best practices, and addressing common issues that took place between MVC and these chairs this week will have high value for the ongoing health of the EPC given the overlap in their ministries.”

Among the topics discussed by the group were the EPC ordination process, the Candidates Educational Equivalency Program (CEEP), and strategies to address the ongoing physical, mental, and emotional health of EPC pastors and ministerial candidates.

Members of the Ministerial Vocation Committee are Brad Strait (Chair), Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the West; Michael Flake, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; Neal McAtee, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; Frank Rotella, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Phil Stump, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; and Caroline Tromble, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes.

Ministerial Committee and Candidate Committee Chairs who attended the meeting were Bruce Tenenbaum and Eric Toohey (Presbytery of the Alleghenies); Scott Sealy (Presbytery of the Central South); Jamie Cupschalk and Jay Lee (Presbytery of the East); Rick Gernhardt (Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean); Tom Pitman (Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic); Joshua Hansen and Charles Youther (Presbytery of the Midwest); Ed Cummings and Scott Koenigsaecker (Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest); David Abdo and Jay Hull (Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest); David Hoffelmeyer and Zach Hopkins (Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes); and Greg Daniels (Presbytery of the West).

EPC church members safe following Alabama tornado outbreak

 
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Debris litters a yard the day after a deadly tornado damaged a home in Beauregard, Ala., Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

First Presbyterian Church of Opelika, Ala., escaped damage during the March 3 tornado outbreak that devastated portions of southern Alabama. As of March 5, 23 people had lost their lives in Beauregard, a rural community about 10 miles south of Opelika.

“No one in our congregation had major damage or injury,” said Josh Yates, Assistant Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, “though some of our long-time members knew some of the victims.”

Yates reported that numerous aid organizations were in the area, but the authorities are asking people to stay out of the affected area until all residents are accounted for. News outlets are reporting as many as several dozen people are still considered missing.

“We are in a holding pattern right now as far as relief goes,” Yates said. “Since things are still in a search-and-rescue mode, cleanup efforts would probably not occur until next week. Plus, area residents have donated so much in the way of dry goods and supplies that right now we have more than we need.”

Yates noted that the church expects numerous opportunities to minister as the recovery continues.

“We are very thankful that all of our church members were spared,” he said, “but pray for us that we would share the gospel during all of this, and for wisdom to provide the right kind of help when and where it’s needed.”

EPC BRI Board reviews financial position, plans for 2020 and beyond

 
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The EPC Benefit Resources, Inc., Board of Directors met at the Office of the General Assembly on February 27. Members of the Board are (from left) Erik Ohman, Michael Moore, Robert Draughon, Bill Reisenweaver, Kim Ray, Bart Francescone (BRI Executive Director), Randy Shaneyfelt, and William Barnes. Also attending but not pictured were Michael Busch and Ron Horgan (Board Chair).

Meeting in Orlando February 27, the EPC Benefit Resources, Inc. (BRI) Board of Directors addressed a variety of topics related to its oversight of the EPC’s retirement plans, group medical plans, and other benefits offerings.

Among other items on its agenda, the Board reviewed BRI’s 2018 and 2019 financial status, discussed current and possible future ways to improve participants’ physical and financial health, and began deliberating on 2020 benefit plan offerings.

The board also heard presentations from representatives from Merrill Lynch, and the Orlando-based CPA firm, Batts Morrison Wales & Lee.

Members of the BRI Board of Directors are Ron Horgan (Chair), TE from the Presbytery of the Midwest; Will Barnes, RE from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; Mike Busch, RE from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies; Robert Draughon, RE from the Presbytery of the Central South; Michael Moore from the Presbytery of the Central South; Erik Ohman, TE from the Presbytery of the Midwest; Kim Ray, RE from the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Bill Reisenweaver, TE from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; and Randy Shaneyfelt from the Presbytery of the Great Plains.

BRI is staffed by Bart Francescone, Executive Director; Rebeca Santana, Benefits Administrator; and Caroline Swanson, Benefits Assistant. For more information on BRI, see www.epc.org/benefits.

EPC Home Missionary John Bueno releases Spring 2019 newsletter 

 

LatinsUnitedNewsletter201902John Bueno, EPC Home Missionary serving with Latins United Christian Ministries (LUCM), invites you to read his Spring 2019 newsletter, in which he discusses Latin cross-cultural ministries in the EPC. Among the highlights are Hispanic EPC church plants in Memphis, Charlotte, and Bellevue, Nebr., as well as Bueno’s ongoing ministry in Colombia and the EPC’s partnership with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico.

Click here to download the Spring 2019 edition in PDF format.

For more information about LUCM, contact Bueno at johnbknox@yahoo.com or 402-350-3815.

EPC pastor pens book on financial obedience

 

DavidSwansonEconomyOfGodDavid Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, has published his fifth book, The Economy of God: Discovering the Joy of Financial Obedience. The book is a compilation of a 12-week sermon series on money and generosity.

As Swanson states in the book’s introduction, “in Scripture, God has an entire economy that He wants us to observe—a way of working and producing—a way of earning, spending, saving, and giving.”

He also notes that in his 27 years as a pastor, “I have seen time and again how money can be the source of pain, strife, discontent, and division … but it does not have to. Money, when rightly and biblically understood, can be an absolute source of joy and delight.”

The book is available in paperback and Amazon Kindle formats at https://smile.amazon.com/Economy-God-Discovering-Financial-Obedience/dp/1793135614/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1550520951&sr=1-1

You can support the ministries of the EPC by purchasing Swanson’s book (and other items) through the “smile.amazon” program at Amazon.com. When you login to your Amazon account (or set up a new account), use smile.amazon.com and select “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” as your preferred charitable organization. The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of purchase price to the EPC.

EPC issues statement on abortion legislation

 

StatementOnAbortionLawsThe Evangelical Presbyterian Church has issued a formal statement in response to recent legislative action at the state level regarding abortion. The statement begins with the words, “In light of recent legislation at the state level regarding abortion, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church continues to strongly and unequivocally affirm the dignity and value of every human life—born and unborn.”

“I am very pleased to affirm Scripture’s very clear message that abortion is nothing other than the taking of an innocent life,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “At the same time, as Christians we are called to love and support those who have experienced the physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds that result from a terminated pregnancy—whatever the reason.”

The full statement is as follows:

In light of recent legislation at the state level regarding abortion, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church continues to strongly and unequivocally affirm the dignity and value of every human life—born and unborn.

The EPC’s Position Paper on Abortion states that the Bible does not distinguish between prenatal and postnatal life. It attributes human personhood to the unborn child. This extends to the unborn child ex utero as no less a human being than the child in the mother’s womb.

Since abortion was legalized in the United States in 1973, more than 61 million Americans have been denied the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This concept is such a fundamental principle that it appears in the very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, written almost 250 years ago.

Yet even more fundamental is the truth of Scripture, which was written more than 2,000 years ago and very clearly teaches that life begins at conception. To wit:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV).

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15 NIV).

“Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name” (Isaiah 49:1 NIV).

“for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born” (Luke 1:15 NIV).

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41 NIV).

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church grieves over the murder of more than 61 million unborn children who were made in the image of God. We also stand in strong opposition to the legal and political decisions that have led to this tragedy. At the same time, we will continue to offer a loving and supportive community to those who have experienced physical, emotional, or spiritual wounds as a result of undergoing an abortion (or placing a child for adoption), and support those groups, parachurch ministries, and sponsoring agencies that offer viable alternatives to abortion.

Click here to download the statement in printable, PDF format.

 

39th General Assembly theme, speakers introduced in February Jeremiah Journal

 

In the February 2019 edition, Jeff introduces the theme and featured speakers for the 39th EPC General Assembly, June 18-21, 2019, at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Denver.

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

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

Summer Mission Jam a unique outreach opportunity for high school students

 
SummerMissionJamHamtramck

Hamtramck, Mich., is one of two Detroit-area sites of EPC World Outreach’s 2019 Summer Mission Jam.

What are you doing this summer? Summer Mission Jam is a new, entry-level missions and outreach equipping conference for high school students. Participants will serve among Lebanese, Bangladeshi, Yemeni, Iraqi, and Pakistani peoples in the Detroit, Mich., suburbs of Dearborn and Hamtramck from July 8-13, 2019.

“Summer Mission Jam is an amazing opportunity for churches, big and small, to invest in their students as they learn more about Muslims and how to interact in a way that is loving and beneficial for the Kingdom,” said Shawn Stewart, EPC World Outreach Mobilization Coordinator. “In the mornings and afternoons, students will learn how to ‘bridge the gap’ with Muslims and be the fragrance of Jesus through instructive teaching and service opportunities. In the evenings, we’ll worship together around God’s Word.”

The event begins on Monday evening, July 8, and concludes on Saturday, July 13. Registration is $450 per student and includes meals and accommodations.

“Step out and be a part of something new in the EPC,” said Phil Linton, Director of EPC World Outreach. “We are positive it will impact your world and give you new ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus in your own communities.”

Click here for more information and to register, or see www.epcwo.org/summermissionjam.

39th General Assembly planning continues, speakers include Andrew and Norine Brunson

 
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Members of the EPC’s GA Core Team from the Office of the General Assembly met with staff and leaders of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver, Colo., on January 29. Cherry Creek is hosting the 39th General Assembly, June 18-21.

The 39th General Assembly will be held at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colo., June 18-21, 2019. The theme of this year’s Assembly is “Unstoppable” based on Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 7:7 to “keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said the theme has multiple applications to the EPC in 2019.

“‘Unstoppable’ reflects the unstoppable gospel and our unstoppable Lord,” he said. “In addition, through Andrew Brunson’s ordeal in Turkey we experienced ‘unstoppable’ in a tangible way for two years as we lived in a season of unstoppable prayer for Andrew’s release.”

Jeremiah noted that when discussions began for a theme for the 39th Assembly, Brunson was still being held in Turkey.

“We prayed fervently that Andrew would be out of prison before the 2019 Assembly, but if the Lord had other plans we wanted to ensure that we were reiterating an ‘unstoppable’ force of prayer for him and Norine.”

The Brunsons are among the speakers at this year’s Assembly. Andrew will be the Leadership Institute plenary speaker on Wednesday morning, June 19, and preach on Thursday evening, June 20, during the World Outreach Global Worker Commissioning worship service. Norine will speak at the Ministry Wives’ Lunch on Thursday, June 20.

Other worship service speakers include Brad Strait, Pastor of Cherry Creek; Chris Piehl, Pastor of Students and Families for Cherry Creek; and Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly. Additional speakers, including Leadership Institute breakout session leaders, will be announced in the coming weeks.

Registration for the 39th General Assembly opens April 1. For more information, see www.epc.org/ga2019.

2018-19 Book of Order now available

 

BookOfOrderFacebookOverrideThe spiral-bound, printed edition of the 2018-19 Book of Order is now available for purchase through EPC Resources.

The cost per book is $7.91 plus shipping.

“I am excited about this new Book of Order,” said Jerry Iamurri, Assistant Stated Clerk. It provides clarity on several key issues that we’ve been working on over the last several years.”

This 254-page document is Volume 1 of the EPC Constitution and includes amendments to the Book of Order and Rules for Assembly ratified by the 38th General Assembly (2018), as well as Acts of the 38th General Assembly. The Book of Order is comprised of the Book of Government, Book of Discipline, Book of Worship, Rules for Assembly, Acts of Assembly, and Forms for Discipline.

“We highly recommended that each Pastor and Clerk of Session obtain a copy of this latest version,” Iamurri added.

The Constitution of the EPC consists of the Book of Order, the Westminster Confession of Faith (including the Larger and Shorter Catechisms), and the document “Essentials of Our Faith.” All these are subordinate to Scripture, which is “the supreme and final authority on all matters on which it speaks.”

 

Revelation 7:9 Task Force continues “listening tour”

 

Revelation79JanuaryMeetingMembers of the EPC’s Revelation 7:9 Task Force continue to study how the EPC can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces and serves its neighbors from every nation, tribe, people, and language as described Revelation 7:9. The group met at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando, February 5-6.

Continuing its focus on “input” during its first year, the group spent a significant portion of its meeting in discussions with individuals outside the EPC. These include Léonce Crump, Pastor of the multicultural Renovation Church in Atlanta, Ga.; Michael Chen, National Director of Training and Cross-Cultural Ministry for the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO); and Michael Thornhill, CCO Associate Director of Cross-Cultural Ministry and Recruiting. The CCO is a strategic partner of the EPC.

“The hard and heavy work of listening—and listening well—is helped considerably by the support of friends and partners like Pastor Léonce and the CCO,” said Dean Weaver, Pastor of Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in suburban Pittsburgh, Pa. “I know I speak on behalf of the entire Revelation 7:9 team when I ask everyone in the EPC to please keep us in your prayers as we continue this important work.”

The Task Force is co-chaired by Weaver and TE Rufus Smith, Presbytery of the West. Members are TE Tom Clymer, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Marc de Jeu, Presbytery of the Alleghenies; TE David Dwight, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Enid Flores, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; Phyllis Le Peau, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Soon Pak, Presbytery of the Midwest; Beth Paz, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Brandon Queen, Presbytery of the Gulf South; TE Tim Russell, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Tom Werner, Presbytery of Mid-America; and Ted Winters, Presbytery of Mid-America.

 

 

Andrew and Norine Brunson to attend State of the Union address

 
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Andrew and Norine Brunson, pictured preparing to leave Turkey in October 2018.

EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, will attend the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., on February 5. The North Carolina natives will be guests of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Tillis worked to help secure the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was held in Turkey for two years on charges of terrorism and espionage. Though innocent of the charges, he was convicted on October 12, 2018. He was released on the equivalent of time served and returned to the United States, where he met with President Donald Trump at the White House on October 13.

“The Brunsons demonstrated tremendous grace and unshakable faith during Andrew’s nearly two-year imprisonment and house arrest,” Tillis said in a statement released February 4. “His plight caused Americans from every corner to pray for his release and for leaders in both political parties to work together to apply pressure on the Turkish government to secure his return to American soil. It’s an incredible feeling that nearly one year after I first met Pastor Andrew Brunson in a Turkish prison, where he faced an effective life sentence, I now have the honor of welcoming him and his wife, Norine, as my special guests to the State of the Union.”

Trump will deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building. The address is scheduled to begin at 9:00 p.m. EST.

Effective Biblical Leadership the topic of January Jeremiah Journal

 

In the January 2019 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah discusses why Effective Biblical Leadership is a strategic priority for the EPC.

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

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

National Leadership Team’s January meeting focuses on strategic planning

 
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The EPC National Leadership Team prayed for Tom Ricks (second from left, standing), Chair of the EPC Church Planting Team, as well as for each EPC church planter by name. Standing with Ricks are (left to right) Moderator-elect Case Thorp, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah, and Moderator Tom Werner.

At its January 2019 meeting, the EPC National Leadership Team (NLT) addressed a variety of topics related to its scope of overseeing the continuing work of the General Assembly between stated meetings. The winter meeting—held January 22-23 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando—is one of four in-person gatherings each year and largely focuses on strategic planning.

Central to the meeting agenda was a review of the EPC mission and vision statements,  and the four strategic initiatives of global movement, transformation, multiplication, and effective biblical leadership. Robust discussion of the EPC’s commitment to each of the four emphases resulted in a minor change in terminology from “strategic initiatives” to “strategic priorities.”

“The word ‘initiative’ can be thought of as ‘something we do for a season,’ but ‘priority’ better conveys how we approach these four areas,” said Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah. “The NLT wanted to make it clear that the EPC remains committed to transformation, multiplication, and the others—however they may be implemented—and they are not going away any time soon.”

As part of the review and discussion of the multiplication priority, Tom Ricks reported on denominational church planting efforts. Ricks is Chair of the EPC Church Planting Team. He described several new churches that are in the pipeline, as well as efforts to foster community and share best practices among church planters at the annual Church Planters Retreat held in Colorado Springs each October.

For more information on EPC church planting, see www.epc.org/churchplanting.

The next meeting of the National Leadership Team is scheduled for April 9-10.