July Reverend Reflections

Hello First Presbyterian Church,

From June 21-24, the 42nd meeting of the General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) met at Ward Church located outside of Detroit, MI. The General Assembly is our national denominational meeting held every year. Churches across the country send elders to this meeting to provide updates on the health of our denomination and to determine the future direction of it. This year, after two years of attending virtually, I was privileged to be in attendance, and I am happy to report to you that the EPC is in a healthy place. We are experiencing the same challenges that every denomination in the United States is also experiencing—declining numbers of young pastors to replace the broad retirement of Boomer generation pastors, political polarization, and burnout after the COVID-19 pandemic—but despite those common challenges, the denomination is in a healthy position as we head into the next year. 

Most of the business sessions, worship, and breakout sessions were recorded and will be posted to the EPC’s website for your viewing in the near future. I would like to use this space, though, to relay to you three things that were encouraging to me.

The first is that we elected our first woman to serve as the Moderator of the EPC’s General Assembly. Rosemary Lukens, a Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest, moderated this year’s General Assembly and will serve in this role for one year followed by a one year term as the chair of the National Leadership Team. This is a vital role in the life of our denomination, and it was encouraging to me to see a denomination that supports women in ordained positions to “walk the walk” at one of the highest positions in our denomination by electing Rosemary Lukens to serve as the Moderator of our General Assembly.

The second encouraging thing I experienced is the EPC’s emphasis on church planting and revitalization. We have increased our efforts in these areas so that in recent years we have experienced an increased number of new EPC churches being planted or re-planted in cities across the country. 

One moving story was told about a church called 5point7 Community Church. It’s unique name comes from the 5.7 mile block that this church has identified as its primary target. This is an area in Detroit that is in desperate need of the restoration that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring. It is a rough area, and yet the pastor of the church, Brian Evans, grew up within that 5.7 mile block. He loves that neighborhood like only someone who grew up there could love it, and he desires to see it changed by the gospel like he himself was. 

As a young person, Brian lived a self-destructive lifestyle and was caught in the self-perpetuating system of dysfunction that pervades his neighborhood, before he heard of Jesus and began to faithfully follow him. Having been fundamentally altered by the gospel, Brian did not abandon his neighbors, but is now seeking to work towards their restoration. He wants to see this rough 5.7 mile patch of Detroit turned into an outpost of Christ’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The work is hard and slow, but Brian reports that he has seen flashes of the restorative work of the Holy Spirit in his neighborhood. It is beautiful and moving to hear him speak of his love for Detroit, and I hope that you would join him in his work through prayer. 

Finally, the third encouraging thing I want to relay to you is that the 42nd General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of creating a pastoral letter entitled “Racial Lament and Hope.” It will take a year or two to create this letter, but it is the EPC’s desire to officially lament the racial strife that continues in our country and to offer a Biblical vision for how we might seek racial reconciliation and hope in the gospel. This is a desire that First Presbyterian Church shares, and so it is encouraging to see this value reflected at the national level of our denomination.

There is much more I could share, but I would encourage you to look for the recordings on the EPC’s website in the coming weeks. Thank you for providing the means for me to attend this important and encouraging meeting. I hope that even this brief report is an encouragement to you as we continue to participate in the work of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Grace and peace,
Jonathan +