Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church settling in at former St. Peter’s
New signs will soon be going up for Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church (CEPC), currently being housed at the former St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. While a Covenant Church sign has been up on the Evans Street side of the church for a couple of months, as of Tuesday, Sept. 11, the church is now under the umbrella of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) and will be using its new name.
Many former members of the Tecumseh First Presbyterian Church are now charter members of CEPC after a schism within the congregation was declared earlier this summer when a majority of members chose to separate from the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA). Pastor Richard Mortimer is still working through a series of steps that will release him from the PCUSA’s regional body, the Maumee Valley Presbytery, and hopes to be officially received by the EPC, possibly by February.
In the meantime, Covenant members are settling in at the former St. Peter’s. Worship services at 8:30 and 11 a.m. brought 200-250 people to the church in July and August, and last Sunday’s count was close to 300. The church entered into a rental agreement with the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan for one year, with an option to renew.
“The Diocese has been wonderful. They are responsible for the roof, the physical structure, air conditioning and furnace,” said Mortimer. “We’re responsible for the utilities, lawn maintenance, gardening and such. We’re discerning who God has called us to be as a church and what He is calling us to do.”
Pastor Mortimer likens the experience of what is happening at Covenant with unexpected doors opening to riding a wave. He shares how the congregation viewed a video showing a championship surfer being towed by a waverunner.
“Then he lets go and you can’t see him for a moment. When he reappears, he’s riding that wave in,” Mortimer said. “We’re riding the waves that God is sending us. What’s happening here at Covenant is not us. It has nothing to do with us, our creativity, our goodness, our elbow grease, and everything to do with God and what He’s doing in our midst. He’s doing something truly incredible and I’m honored to have been invited to ride that wave. The big message is that God has richly blessed this community of faith with this facility, and charter members who are enthusiastic, gracious, kind and full of a desire to serve Christ.”
Already, a number of Covenant ministries are underway, including a clothing collection for school children, a Celebrate Recovery group that meets there, an AWANA program for kids, and a Mothers of Preschoolers group, which begins Sept. 25. CEPC also holds Sunday School classes each week, and is finding people from all walks of life and ages in its congregation.
“We’re also going to be starting a support group for widows soon,” said Mortimer.
The word “Covenant” means “a solemn agreement between the members of a church to act together in harmony with the precepts of the gospel.” Pastor Mortimer said there are three primary precepts that drive Covenant EPC: To treasure Jesus Christ above all others; to honor God’s Word by learning from it and applying its truths to our lives; and to help hurting people.
“We’re not about being perfect people. We’re about all of us being broken people who are being healed in Christ. That’s what Covenant is,” said Mortimer. “As a new church we invite any other hurt and broken person who wants to learn more about Jesus to come join us.”
Covenant members have made some adjustments to the building, and are working things out with a sound and video system to accommodate their contemporary style of worship. Mortimer tells of more of God’s leading as he shares that a man named Sam Parker was drawn to worship with the congregation a short time ago. Parker now plays the von Beckerath organ in the loft, an instrument that is well known in the region.
“Sam loves playing it and is very good,” he said.
With all that’s happened, Mortimer said being in the new facility has reaffirmed for the congregation that a church is not a building. “It’s a community of faith,” he said. “Where there are people who love Jesus and want to help hurting people, that’s the community of faith. I truly feel God’s presence here, for however long we’ll be here.”
One of the challenges yet to be worked out is housing for the pastor and his family, since the PCUSA owns the home they currently live in. Mortimer said that people have stepped up in so many ways, and expects to be able to stay in Tecumseh through things that are taking place in the care and love of other people.
“We’re trusting God,” he said.
Mortimer said that while difficult things have taken place, there are often gifts within what’s happened and the leadership of the church is currently discerning the next steps for the future.
“I’ve always felt you don’t solve your problems by focusing on your problems — you solve your problems by focusing on solutions,” Mortimer said. “That’s what we’re doing, discerning God’s solutions for those challenges.” He talked of a “once and future church.”
“There are things from the past that we embrace, honor and appreciate, but we also focus on things that are relevant to the present,” Mortimer said. “We don’t make an idol of the past, but we appreciate it. As Covenant EPC has gotten off the ground, we have just seen an outpouring of faithfulness and generosity. I can’t say enough about how people have responded in this community of faith.”
For more information about Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church call 517.301.4602.