PRESBYTERY OF THE ALLEGHENIES
PROCESS FOR RECEIVING CHURCHES
The Presbytery of the Alleghenies (“POA”) was created in September 2011 from churches in the East and Midwest Presbyteries of the EPC. Since our inception, we have grown from 15 churches to 74 churches, and we anticipate the growth to continue. Most of this growth has come from churches leaving other denominations. As such, we are quite aware that leaving a denomination is difficult logistically, emotionally and financially. We will pray that God provides comfort and clarity and unity in your discernment process.
Accommodating our significant growth has been challenging and we have made many adjustments in how we process interested churches more efficiently, while remaining thorough and true to becoming the kind of presbytery we envisioned 5 years ago – missionally-minded, vital and networked in ministry, and intentional in church planting. At the same time, we want to be an encouragement and support for churches desiring to enter the POA.
We have carefully evaluated our practices and procedures and have developed an 8-step process that we believe provides the best approach for everyone. Below is an outline of the process of joining the EPC and the philosophy behind that process.
STEP 1: A congregation enters into a time of discernment and through prayer, discussion and study, a church decides if entry into the EPC is desired. This often begins at the level of a Governing Body (e.g. Session) and then expands to the Congregation. Early in this process you must contact either the Chairperson of the Church Development Committee, or the Presbytery Church Development Coordinator – currently Rev. Bob Stauffer (email@example.com or 330 559-7955), or the Stated Clerk – currently Mr. Dana Opp, (firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-368-8050). Should you need a representative of the POA to come to your church to answer questions and share insight into the EPC (either at the Governing Body level or the Congregational level) we will gladly arrange for someone to meet with you. This can be done at any time during the process. Also, you can gain information from the POA website www.epcalleghenies.org or the EPC website www.epc.org. We also invite your church leadership to join us at Presbytery Meetings to observe our fellowship. Ministers and churches seeking to be received by the POA should allow for up to 12 months for the receiving process. Please know that it is not EPC policy to initiate conversations with non-EPC churches that are considering changing denominations. We only respond to official invitations from Governing Bodies (e.g. Sessions) seeking a conversation.
The POA needs ample time to process and invest in ministers and churches adequately (including looking at missional mindset and church vitality). At the same time, the process for churches seeking dismissal from other reformed bodies can vary significantly. In addition, churches seeking dismissal approach the process in a variety of ways. In many cases, the decision of where the church wants to seek to go is not clear to the church leaders until they are well along in the dismissal process. This process can often take up to 9 months and is often done in an amicable manner between the church and the dismissing body, but in some cases, the dismissal process creates strife in the relationship between the church and the dismissing body.
STEP 2: At some point in the discernment process, churches must call a congregational meeting to vote to seek admission into the EPC. It cannot be just a Governing Body vote. If the vote carries, the church must complete the Petition to be Received (obtained from the POA Stated Clerk) and submit the completed application to the Stated Clerk. This is the official beginning of the reception process. In special circumstances (to be determined by the POA Executive Council), transitional membership may be helpful. The process for transitional membership will be discussed on an as-needed basis.
STEP 3: The church Session begins a course of study preparing for the Elder Exam. A curriculum is given to the Church Leaders to guide this study which is usually led by your Pastor. Normally a twelve session study, the “POA Elder Exam Handbook” can be found under the “Resource” page of the POA website – www.epcalleghenies.org.
The EPC is Presbyterian/Reformed and Confessional. We truly mean this in the EPC. These are not just words. The historical means of achieving these distinctives is the Westminster Confession of Faith. Scripture provides the primary basis of our denomination. The Westminster Confession guides us in our understanding of Scripture. The EPC has identified Essentials of our Faith, which every pastor and church must embrace without exception. It will not be compromised. The course of study allows Elders to understand our beliefs and it prepares Elders to take the Ordination Vows of the EPC. Almost every church that has completed these times of study has told us that this has been one of the richest times of Christian growth they have ever experienced.
STEP 4: A congregation must send leaders of the church to a Church Revitalization Seminar. This is a one day seminar that allows a church to examine itself, reset its goals and develop a plan of obedience to the Great Commission of the Lord. The POA will conduct these Seminars two or three times a year. A church must have at least 50% of Session attend this important seminar.
The other fundamental of the EPC is that we are a Missional Church. This simply means we seek to share our faith with our
communities and our world. This means that we are “outward focused” churches and not “inward focused.” In other words, we want to help churches be healthy and Christ centered. We have discovered that the process of departing from other denominations can be very painful and requires a church to be very inner focused for a length of time. Our goal is to help churches heal from this process and once again focus on the future. This seminar is the first step to refocus the congregation. Churches have discovered that this can bring great renewal to their congregation.
STEP 5: A face to face meeting will be held between the church leadership (Pastor(s) and Elders) and representatives of the POA. The purpose of this meeting is to allow the POA to have a more personal contact with your church and have a mutual time of interaction and encouragement. Many churches coming from their former denominations have developed habits of having minimal involvement with their Presbytery. This behavior is unacceptable in the POA. We want to provide active fellowship and support for our churches and their staff. This meeting is part of this process and allows us to review the Elder Training Process and Church Revitalization Seminar. Again, our goal is to help churches transition into the EPC as healthy, growing congregations. The Pastor calls the Chairperson of the CDC to arrange this meeting when the Elder Training is completed or near completion and the Revitalization Seminar has been attended.
STEP 6: Active Elders will be examined by a team from the CDC. This is a three to four hour examination and will be scheduled after the time of study. We usually have Examination Days about two weeks before every Presbytery meeting. A minimum of 75% of the Active Elders must participate in this examination.
STEP 7: At the successful completion of the reception process, a church is received at a Presbytery Meeting as a Full Member Church. This is a time of great joy and praise! We encourage the church to bring its elders and key leaders to this Presbytery Meeting to share the experience and celebrate this time.
STEP 8: The church plans a time for celebration of reception into the EPC and for renewal of the ordination of all the Elders. At the church’s request, the POA will send representatives to participate in this celebration and to welcome the congregation into the EPC. Regarding the pastor, a POA Administrative Commission will be assigned to lead an installation service.
To become part of the EPC is a step a church will take only once and it will take time and diligence but we believe that you will find it a most rewarding, an uplifting journey of faith and a blessing to your congregation.
Ministers will be examined separately, but often concurrently with the church. Ministers will need to contact the Chairperson of the Ministerial Committee – currently Mr. Eric Toohey, (email@example.com or 724-225-3612) for additional information.
For additonal information download the "Joining the POA" packet.