Category Archives: PC(USA)

Board of Pensions issues statement on housing allowance ruling

Spencer says, ‘We will keep working diligently to protect our ministers’

by Susan Reimann | Board of Pensions

Read the original article here.

PHILADELPHIA — On Oct. 6, Judge Barbara Crabb, a federal district court judge in the Western District of Wisconsin, found Section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code (the subsection dealing with housing allowances) to be unconstitutional based on the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Section 107(1), relating to the exclusion of the value of manse housing, was not the subject of the lawsuit and remains unaffected.

The Board of Pensions is deeply concerned by this ruling. If upheld on appeal, it would substantially impact the congregations and ministers of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Board believes that it is inconsistent to exclude manse housing from income and not treat a comparable cash allowance in the same manner.

“Our concern is that ministers could face a substantial and unfair tax burden should the housing allowance in lieu of manse housing be deemed income,” said the Rev. Frank C. Spencer, President of the Board of Pensions. “Our defined benefit pension plan likewise depends on the same treatment to provide adequate income replacement to retired ministers.”

Through the Church Alliance, the Board has been monitoring this lawsuit, brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation against the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The Church Alliance had previously filed briefs with the court in this matter and expects to file an amicus brief upon appeal.

The Church Alliance is a coalition of the CEOs of 38 denominational church plans who work to preserve the legal rights of churches and their employees and clergy in the realm of benefits and compensation. Spencer represents the PC(USA) on the steering committee of the Church Alliance and Board Counsel Jean Hemphill serves as a member of the Church Alliance Core Lawyer Working Group.

The Church Alliance follows issues in the legislative, regulatory, and judicial branches of government. It has engaged the firm of K&L Gates as its Washington, D.C., counsel. Members of the Church Alliance routinely engage with members of Congress and the staff of federal agencies. The Core Lawyer Working Group often develops and files amici briefs in important judicial cases.

Judge Crabb has given the parties until Oct. 30, 2017, to submit briefs concerning possible remedies, after which she will make a final ruling. Judge Crabb heard an earlier case brought by the same parties in 2013 and made the same ruling but stayed any action pending appeal. The 2013 ruling was overturned by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the Freedom From Religion Foundation plaintiffs lacked standing to bring action. This suit seems to have corrected the issue of standing and, if appealed as expected, the Court of Appeals would presumably consider the constitutional issue itself.

“We will keep working diligently to protect our ministers,” said Spencer, “and we expect this to be a short-term setback and not the end of the story.”


About the Board of Pensions
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a connectional church. The Board of Pensions, one of six agencies of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), fulfills a unique role in the community by upholding the commitment made by congregations to care for installed pastors and by providing ways for churches and other Presbyterian-affiliated employers to care for other teaching elders and other employees. The board administers the benefits of approximately 20,600 pensioners and survivors, 12,900 active members, 18,300 dependents, and 8,700 inactive members (those with vested pension credits who are not actively participating in the benefits plan). 

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

PC(USA) Disaster Response

California churches and presbyteries work to help those affected by wildfires

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Northern California’s wine country has received the brunt of the massive wildfires that continue to burn out of control. More than 20 people are known to have died in the fires, while at least 285 remain missing. Authorities report 3,500 structures have been destroyed and over 170,000 acres burned.

Presbyterian Church leaders react to mass shooting in Las Vegas

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

While authorities try to determine what led 64-year-old Stephen Paddock to open fire on a crowd of people in Las Vegas Sunday night, Presbyterian Church leaders and pastors are reaching out to congregations and those impacted by the tragedy.

Presbytery leader in Puerto Rico reports on damage from Hurricane Maria

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Edwin González-Castillo, Stated Clerk of the San Juan Presbytery in Puerto Rico, says the biggest challenge he is facing in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is communications. Attempting to reach and coordinate relief efforts across the island has been hampered by downed communication lines outside of San Juan, infrastructure damage due to flooding and ongoing concerns about fuel shortages.

Presbyterian ministries issue statement on 2018 refugee admissions

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) today, in conjunction with the Office of the Stated Clerk, issued a statement regarding reports the Trump Administration is considering reducing refugee admissions to 50,000 in 2018, the lowest level since passage of the Refugee Act of 1980.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to help with earthquake recovery efforts in Mexico

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

As rescue crews continue to dig for survivors in the latest earthquake in Mexico, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is connecting with ecumenical partners to support recovery efforts and assist in developing long-term response plans. Tuesday’s quake, which registered 7.1 on the Richter Scale, was the second to strike the region in less than two weeks, causing buildings and houses to collapse, killing or trapping hundreds.


Interfaith leaders hold 23-hour vigil on Capitol Hill

Group voices concerns over senate/house versions of health care act

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Original article posted on the PC(USA) Presbyterian Mission website.

Interfaith leaders and supporters spent 23 hours in front of the Capitol speaking out against the latest health care proposal currently under consideration. Photo by Ray Chen.

LOUISVILLE – For 23 hours, a group of interfaith leaders from a variety of denominations gathered on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol building on Thursday to pray, sing and speak out against the Senate and House versions of a new health care bill. The group described the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) as “a greatly flawed bill” that was being rushed to approval before there is a thorough examination of its contents.

The group included Muslim and Jewish leaders as well as Christian faith leaders such as the Rev. William Barber, president and senior lecturer from Repairers of the Breach, the Rev. Jennifer Butler with Faith in Public Life and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness.

The group urged people to advocate and take action to protect Americans who depend on Medicaid coverage for their health care.

“The BCRA does not achieve the goal of universal health care for all Americans. Physicians take a vow to ‘do no harm,’” Hawkins said. “This bill does far more harm than good. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that over 22 million people will lose coverage.”

Hawkins says the bill would create enormous tax breaks for the wealthy, roll back Medicaid expansion in 31 states, block Planned Parenthood funding for one year and end the coverage mandate for both individuals and employers.

Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Office of Public Witness, speaks to the crowd in the final hour of the 23-hour vigil on Capitol Hill. Photo by Ray Chen.

“This must be a right of citizenship in this country, that if your child gets sick, you don’t have to hesitate in taking him or her to the doctor because you don’t have the ability to pay. Our Christian faith compels us to have a heart for the sick,” Hawkins said. “The Parable of the Good Samaritan gives an example of proper health care and going out of our way to help someone with serious health issues.”

The Office of Public Witness helped plan the vigil, which began Wednesday at 4 p.m. and continued through the night. The gathering closed Thursday afternoon with comments from Hawkins and others.

“How can Paul Ryan stand before the American people and say this is an act of mercy? This is not merciful. We as people of faith serve a God of justice, passion and love,” Hawkins said. “We have to keep coming back and let the lawmakers know that we will not go away. We will be here to the end.”

Several public opinion polls show only 1 in 5 Americans favoring the latest health care proposal.

News from the PC(USA)

LPTS president Michael Jinkins announces retirement
Chris Wooten | Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Final day of service set for September 2, 2018

‘Living, Dying, Rising’ conference leadership spotlight: Jeya and Daniel So
Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
Innovative church planters to speak on the theme of ‘Dying’ at 2017 national gathering

PC(USA) All-Agency Review Committee meets in Denver
Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service
First day deliberations include agency review reports, articulation of mission

PC(USA) journalists reap 24 Associated Church Press Awards
Jerry Van Marter | Special at Presbyterian News Service
Honors include seven prestigious “Best in Class”

National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches elects new leadership
Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service
New leaders look forward to developing a closer partnership with PC(USA)

D.C. church changes worship from passive to participatory
Edie Gross | Faith & Leadership
At Church of the Pilgrims, vulnerability is a virtue and worship is an innovative and deeply collaborative experience between clergy and congregants.

Montreat College breaks ties with Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities
Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
President says relationship no longer compatible with the college’s mission

Faith leaders protest federal budget proposal in Washington, D.C.
Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
Seven arrested in act of civil disobedience

National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches celebrates 46th annual meeting
Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service
Korean Caucus celebrates in its homeland

News from PC(USA) – 3/1/17

Presbyterian Ministry at the UN prepares for Commission on the Status of Women
Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
Sixty-first annual gathering opens March 13

WJK launches first book in its new children’s program
Presbyterian Publishing Corporation release
‘Who Counts?’ pairs two Jewish writers for a unique retelling of Jesus parables

Ash Wednesday Facebook Live event introduces the season of Lent
Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
Charles Wiley to reflect on Lenten spiritual practices

Martha H. Reisner Named Church Consultant in Mid-Atlantic Region
Susan Reimann | PC(USA) Board of Pensions
She is among 10 Church Consultants on the Church Relations team

‘Hidden Figures’ heroine, Katherine Johnson, honored at Oscars
Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service
Longtime Presbyterian’s real life story continues to inspire

Enriching the life of the church through global music and theological education
Pat Cole | Mission Crossroads Magazine
Melva Costen exudes a faith that crosses borders through the sharing of songs and the shaping of pastors

Service remembers Wyatt Outlaw, victim of 1870 lynching in N.C.
Nancy McLaughlin | Reprinted with permission from the Greensboro News & Record
Salem Presbytery leads community commemoration

Self-Development of People National Committee member seeks to educate a new generation
Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
John Etheredge, SDOP Trailblazer

Six Agency Review Committee concludes its first meeting
Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service
Group looks for clarification from Stated Clerk as it moves ahead

Presbyterians for Earth Care issues call to action on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
Group calls for boycott of companies connected with DAPL

Finding spiritual values in Oscar’s ‘Best Pictures’
Edward McNulty | Special to Presbyterian News Service
Nine nominees portray a range of beliefs and principles

Ryan Smith takes leadership role with Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations’
Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
Background in diplomacy and international relations serves church well in U.N. community

Our ‘Hidden Figures’
Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Women paved the way to establish the modern day Presbyterian World Mission

Running the race on a ‘stony road’
Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service
A Presbyterian Center celebration of Black History Month

Fellowship Community National Gathering opens with charge to ‘live on mission’
Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
Speaker asserts discipleship cannot be sustained abstractly, but ‘where God places us’

Innovative pastoral preparation in Zambia
Patrick Cole | Presbyterian News Service
Mission co-worker teaches sustainable agricultural at Chasefu seminary

The give-and-take of Lent

Preparing our hearts for resurrection

Editors | Presbyterians Today

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Presbyterians Today.

A Q & A with Michelle Bartel – Coordinator of Theological Education and Seminary Relations for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

We use the season of Lent to prepare our hearts and minds for the mystery of the resurrection. But we all do that differently. Some churches place ashes on the foreheads of worshipers on Ash Wednesday; others don’t. Some “lock up” their “Alleluias” until Easter morning, others host a weekly fish fry, and still others hold special midweek justice or outreach programs. We decided to ask one of our theologians about the meaning and practices of Lent.

Kristin Schmor Rice imposes ashes upon Morgan Harbst at First Presbyterian Church of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Presbyterians celebrate Lent in a variety of ways, sometimes borrowing traditions from other denominations as part of their rituals. (Photo courtesy First Presbyterian Church of La Crosse)

PT: What is Lent?
MB: Lent is a Christian season of practice, celebrated by some Christians though not all. It’s not a prescription for holiness, but an invitation to relationship. Lent has its roots in the very early church, with some of those roots in preparation for baptism. During Lent the Scriptures remind us of God’s expectations for Israel, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and his journey to the cross.

Lent is still a mystery to me. I wasn’t raised Presbyterian, and didn’t become one until I was 16. Plus, I grew up as a nondenominational evangelical Christian and lived in a rural area with a large Catholic population. This meant the most popular Lenten practice was the local fish fry.

Since many Catholics traditionally give up meat on Fridays during Lent, they eat fish—and invite the community to join them. The practice has spread to Protestant churches as well. For some areas, Google even has a fish fry map that features local gatherings.

But the fish fry isn’t just about giving up meat. It’s also about taking on the practice of being in community as people gather over a meal.

PT: Why do we celebrate/observe Lent?
MB: Lent is a time for us to focus on Jesus and our Christian discipleship. What does it mean to follow the One who lived, died and rose from the dead for our salvation?

Lent is a chance for us to practice, every year, focusing on God in Christ. We remember God as immersed in earthly life with our earthly practices.

One of the most common Lenten practices is fasting. This can mean giving up certain foods or habits like expensive coffee or cigarettes and donating the money to helping others. One of the questions we must ask is: Are we practicing the fast God calls for? Is it a fast that reminds us to love God and love neighbors as ourselves? Are we focused on God’s work and Jesus’ ministry to the poor, vulnerable, oppressed, sick and lonely? Are we practicing love, kindness, justice and mercy?

By fasting, we practice denying the self not just for the heck of it or to drop 10 pounds, but for the purpose of shifting our attention to Jesus. It’s a question of vision, of focus. Are our hearts curved in upon themselves, or are our hearts open to God?

But Lent is not just about fasting, or giving up something. It can be about taking or adding something. For some, Lent can be a time of adopting a new practice. This can mean engaging in walking prayer, Bible study or some other active habit that trains us in a certain direction and focuses us on Christ.

PT: How many days is it, anyway?
MB: Lent is 40 days long, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday. But if you count the days on the calendar, that’s more than 40. That’s because Sundays are excluded. They’re considered “mini-Easters,” since they’re the day of resurrection. So, no fasting on Sundays!

PT: Is Lent biblical?
MB: As with many Christian practices, the fruitful question to ask is: Is it biblically based? Is “Lent” in Scripture as a word or as a church practice? No. But it is biblically based. Our call to justice and mercy runs throughout the Old and New Testaments, as does the practice of fasting. Jesus teaches what he learned, that to love God is to love neighbor.

The give-and-take of Lent:
Lenten practices can be about giving things up or taking things on. In either case, the point is to draw closer to God as Jesus draws nearer to the cross.
Giving up
-Certain foods
-Social media
Taking on
-Community building
-Daily Bible reading
-Serving others
-Delighting in God’s gifts
-Appreciating creation

PT: Should everyone observe Lent in the same way?
MB: Actually, I don’t think “should” is the right word. We are called to do what we do together as a people, a community, a congregation, so we practice Lent together. But even though we practice it together, we do so as individuals. Each person in the group may not be called to do the exact same thing.

For example, someone like a busy mom, who is always giving of themselves for others, might be called to revel in the gifts God has given them, rather than give up even more. Another person who depends on the service of others may be called to reverse that role through the Lenten season.

PT: Some people give up chocolate or other things. Why?
MB: To be a disciple requires discipline. Discipline is intended to help us practice how to follow a teacher or a teaching. How do we change our habits? By practice. The practice is not learning how to give up chocolate. Instead, giving up chocolate can help us practice channeling our energy and actions toward and for God.

I am known for my chocolate habit. So, for me, it might be a good practice to give up chocolate for myself, but to keep it with me for others. That way, I would practice loving my neighbors, as Jesus taught me to do.

That may seem trivial. But if one is really committed to it—thinks about it daily, prays about it daily—is it trivial? Or does it help us to open our hearts to God by opening them to others? Some of the most spiritually significant moments in our lives are mundane.

What if, for Lent, you took up the practice of five minutes of looking at the sunrise in the morning, and sunset in the evening? Considered the way in which God takes you from morning to evening and morning again? It can be easier to remember God’s presence with us in the golden-pink colors of sunrise and sunset. That’s a gift. It’s also a gift from God that the sun is rising and setting even when we can’t see it because it is blocked by clouds, snow or fog.

We give things up or take on practices because we need to learn again and again that we live and move and breathe and have our being in God.

PT: One account told about people who drink nothing but beer during Lent. Why?
MB: There are records of monks fasting during Lent, giving up all food. To sustain them—in the times of unhealthy water—they would drink beer, or liquid bread. Beer had nutrients, including carbohydrates, needed for survival. Honestly, this is not a fast I would attempt these days without supervision from a health professional.

Of course, if you are going to seriously fast from food or water for 40 days of Lent, I strongly encourage you to share that plan with a health professional you trust.

PT: Should we eat less chocolate or drink more beer? What’s a good Presbyterian to do?
MB: The fruitful question to ask is: What am I called to do during Lent, as a faithful Christian? Being a “good Presbyterian” will tend to focus our energies on fitting a measure that doesn’t keep us focused on God. That’s a temptation for us: Who decides what a good Presbyterian is?

But as Presbyterians we are called to dwell in Scripture, to be immersed in it. To let the words, poetry, images, commands, stories and hymns seep into our hearts and imaginations. During Lent, Presbyterians can deepen their Presbyterian spirituality and Christian discipleship by sitting with Scripture so that we intensify our efforts to focus on the living God in Christ, to whom Christians bear witness.

My suggestion for a Lenten practice is to sit with Scripture every day. Open your minds and hearts to God, so that Jesus himself can teach you what it means to be his disciple. It may be that giving something up or taking up a new practice would help that focus.

And, in any case, keep one another in prayer. The season of Lent draws us to focus on Jesus Christ. who was born, lived and was crucified—and then raised from the dead—for us and for our salvation.

Link to the original article on the Presbyterian Mission Agency website, here.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.