A Summary of Actions Taken by the 41st General Assembly of the EPC
Last week my denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, held its 41st stated General Assembly in Memphis, Tennessee. This is the annual meeting and council (synod) of my church, and every pastor has a right to attend and every congregation may send elder representatives. Though there was plenty else going on at the GA meeting, below is a summary of the official actions taken by the assembly.
To amend the EPC’s constitution requires a majority vote of one assembly, a majority vote of three-fourths of the presbyteries over the next year, and then a majority vote of the subsequent assembly.
We finalized an amendment to the vows and acts of ordination to clarify some differences between phrasing if the ordinand is a teaching elder (pastor), ruling elder, or deacon. We also amended the rules that govern our GA meetings to allow for virtual participation in case of a state of emergency. This change in rules was prompted by our experience with COVID, and not wanting to get caught flat footed again.
The GA approved four amendments to our constitution that will be sent to the presbyteries. Three were prompted by an assignment given in 2019 by the GA to our Theology Committee, to examine ways we could better articulate inclusion of the disabled in the life of our church. These three amendments shift the obligation from local churches, presbyteries, and the GA from creating agencies or institutions (e.g. schools, orphanages, hospitals, prisons, retirement homes, etc) to identifying them, and adding agencies that focus on the disabled to the list. Churches may create such things, but would not be duty-bound to do so with these changes. The other amendment related to our denominational Chaplains. Chaplains are teaching elders, meaning that by virtue of their ordination they are authorized to administer the sacraments. There is a line in the constitution that says that presbyteries may permit Chaplains to administer the sacraments in their calling, and that line was seen as inconsistent with the fact that Chaplains already have that authority and so is being deleted.
The EPC began studying our denomination’s culture of giving several years ago, and that study concluded this year with the recommendation that we shift our denominational funding model. Currently, congregations are asked to voluntarily give $23 per member to the denomination. We are now being asked to voluntarily give 1% of our operating budget. The logic had to do with the variety of ways different congregations treat membership and the economic flexibility a percentage of budget provides. This recommendation was received by the GA and will be sent to every EPC congregation to study.
Organizationally, the GA made several big decisions. First, the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic (most of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and southern West Virginia) is being split into three new presbyteries, raising the total number of EPC presbyteries to 16. Second, Jeff Jeremiah retired as the EPC’s Stated Clerk (director of the denominational office and our public face) after 15 years, with Dean Weaver installed as the new Stated Clerk. And finally, ruling elder Rosemary Lukens was elected as our Moderator-Elect (de facto moderator of next year’s GA). She will be the EPC’s first female moderator.
The GA took several other actions, including withdrawing the EPC’s endorsement of Bethany Christian Services following their decision to place children in same-sex households (more information here). It also received a report of the Theology Committee outlining our understanding of “connectional” and connectionalism”. The Chaplains Committee of the EPC has guidelines on how chaplains are to minister to LGBT people, and that committee wanted to refine it. However, at the GA committee tasked with reviewing the refinement there was quite a bit of debate (including a 21-21 tie vote!), and so the refined guidelines were withdrawn from consideration to be worked on more. Finally, the GA assigned the Theology Committee the task of studying the topic of virtual communion over the next year, and to provide a report on the comparability of the practice with our confessional standards and constitution.