published Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Faith Focus: Dudley home in EPC

A Signal Mountain pastor recently became the leader of his denomination for the next year.

The Rev. Bill Dudley, senior pastor of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church, was installed as moderator of the 135,000-member Evangelical Presbyterian Church in a late June service in Denver.

“This is not a statement about myself,” he says, “but about this denomination that has been so very willing to receive those of us who have entered from the PC(U.S.A.) (Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.) and its inclusivity in membership and leadership. It’s a real affirmation for the Christ-like atmosphere that exists within the Evangelical Church.”

In 2007, Signal Mountain Presbyterian left the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). Since 2008, according to Dudley, the EPC has doubled in membership and, according to its website, now has 400 churches.

That expansion, much of which comes from people who have left PC(U.S.A.) churches and some from Presbyterian Church in America congregations, will be one of the issues he deals with during his tenure.

“[That] influx … is creating the need for restructure of presbyteries and presbytery boundaries,” he says.

Also on his plate in the next 12 months are the denomination’s missional relationship in the community and world, and the tightening of its ordination standards in the areas of educational requirements, credentials and preparedness for ministry.

What won’t be on Dudley’s front burner are issues such as abortion, gay marriage and homosexual ordination, issues some mainline churches are said to be evolving on in recent years.

The recent EPC General Assembly, where he was installed as moderator, “very respectfully agreed” on a restatement of the denomination’s pro-life position, he says. And the denomination’s position papers say “marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman and between the participants and God” and that “unrepentant homosexual behavior is incompatible with the ordination vows for the offices of deacon, ruling elder and teaching elder.”

The denomination, in contrast to other Presbyterian denominations, has few position papers, Dudley says.

“There is a strong basic premise on the inspiration and view of Scripture,” he says. “When Scripture is speaking, our stance is the word of God, [and] interpretation is not restated.”

Even if he were of a mind to lead the denomination in a different direction, Dudley says, his office doesn’t allow it.

“The moderator in our denomination does not equate to the PC(U.S.A.),” he says. “The [EPC] moderator does not have the authority to take stands or issues within the denomination.”

Only the gathered annual General Assembly has the power to make statements, interpretations or announcements, the denomination’s new moderator says.

Dudley, who has served as pastor of Signal Mountain Presbyterian since 1989, had planned to retire 18 months after guiding the congregation through the change from the PC(U.S.A.) to the EPC in 2007. Instead, at the church’s urging and because of his admiration for the denomination, he has remained, taken on the denominational leadership role and now has set a September 2014 retirement date.

“The EPC practices church and does church in the most grace-filled, respectful manner that I have ever witnessed in 40-plus years of ministry,” Dudley says. “They care for one another and respect one another in differences.

“I have had such a transforming experience,” he says. “I have never loved the church as much as I do today. They have shown me a better way to live [and] to do ministry. I’m grateful for the privilege. I wish I had 45 more years to give it.”

When the denomination asked Dudley to accept the moderator-elect position, which is followed by serving as moderator the next year and chairperson of the denomination’s administrative committee the year after that, he says he was stunned and surprised.

“There are plenty of more gifted, experienced pastors in the EPC,” he says, “but they’ve always treated me with such kindness and respect. I truly felt this was God’s call of me, and I wanted to be able to return to the EPC the faithfulness [it] had extended to me.”

Dudley was installed as as the EPC moderator in front of a crowd that not only included his wife and children but also present associate pastors, the Revs. Margaret Ferguson, Tim Filston, David Burke and Andrew Cornett; former associate pastors, the Revs. David Swanson, the Rev. Jay Martin and the Rev. Chris Robinson; 10 church members who were Assembly commissioners; a seminarian couple from the church; and the Rev. Doug Brown, a Colorado pastor who grew up at Signal Presbyterian.

“It was a grand party for three days,” Dudley says. “I didn’t anticipate that. I was not nervous [in becoming moderator] but was blessed.”

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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