Redeemer Ambassadors Visit EPIC

The Redeemer Ambassadors went out today for the first time in a while.

The job of being an Ambassador in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is discouraging. We visited 80 churches—half of the congregations in Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. We found that half the churches in SEPA—if they care at all about their denomination’s behavior in East Falls—are unable to influence their leaders. No reason to believe the other half will be any different.

So today we went to the church in our neighborhood that for several years has met in the movie theater just across the Wissahickon Creek on the edge of Manayunk—about 100 yards from East Falls.

Two of our ambassadors had visited EPIC before. This was my first visit.

EPIC has three Philadelphia campuses—Roxborough, Manayunk, and Center City. They are opening a church in Denver.

EPIC is everything the 80 churches we visited in the ELCA are not.

The theater was packed for both services 9 am and 10:15 am. There were probably upwards of 500 in attendance.

The congregation was demographically mixed—something Lutherans talk about but have not been able to achieve except in a few small congregations (like Redeemer). There were a number of wheelchairs, some older folks, lots of 20s to 40s, lots of children and babies. All races were represented in more equal numbers than we see in our own denomination—although still mostly white—appropriately representative of the neighborhood.

The service was heavy on music and the Word. Short on prayer, scripture, and liturgy—remembering that liturgy is structured as a conversation with God.

There were no robes or religious imagery. No cross. No church bulletin. No art. The videos played during worship were city scenes.

There was a very cute video sequence of children (7-9ish) telling us what they’d like to be when they grow up. It ended with the encouraging message that they can be anything they like and wouldn’t it be nice if they knew the Lord on their journey.

Following some opening music the congregation was asked to “high five” the people near them and tell them. “It’s good to see you in church” — easier for us to take than the passing of the peace, since the people passing us peace for the last six years have been trying to take our property and destroy our Christian community.

People stood for everything but the sermon—like a concert venue. One reason is the use of projection. If the first row stands, everyone must stand if they want to see. (Never a problem for Lutherans since we all sit in the back!)

A five-piece band led the music and all were invited to sing, but the band was loud enough that there was no way to know if anyone was participating outside of standing there. God knows, I guess. In fact, the congregation — at least in worship — were spectators.

Coffee, juice, bagels and donuts were made available as people entered the theater (sanctuary).

Last week the combined attendance of the three Philadelphia EPIC churches (called campuses) was more than 1400. It would take about 30 ELCA city churches to reach that level of effectiveness.

The opening video professes the power of the individual in relationship with God. And they are on to something with this.

We at Redeemer have spent years hearing church hierarchy tell us what we can’t do. SEPA leaders (in self-interest) have strayed from Lutheran teaching. Our denomination is hurting for it. Lay people who insist that “yes, we think we can do this” end up being made very unwelcome indeed. It is a shame because Martin Luther, our namesake leader, was huge on empowering individuals.

EPIC’s sermon was from the Old Testament—Moses and the Burning Bush. It was the second in a series of sermons entitled “Selfies”—God in relationship with his people as individuals.

There was no announcement made to silence cellphones for worship.

The congregation was actually encouraged to pull out their cell phones. We didn’t hear a single cell phone ring.

The speaker talked about how last week they had all used their smart phones to take selfies, kicking off the sermon series. Today, worshipers were encouraged to turn their cell phone cameras on themselves and look at their own image. The pastor then went on to talk about our ability to find fault with ourselves. The pastor read the story of Moses and the burning bush—how Moses found one fault after another that would keep him from serving God.

Outside of a reference to Psalm 46, (God is our refuge and strength) this was the only scripture read. No epistle. No gospel.

The same sermon was delivered at the same time in all three EPIC venues via video feed. 2×2 has been writing for a while that the expense of 160 pastors each writing a sermon for 160 separate congregations with an average attendance of 50 is ineffective use of resources and is putting many a congregation out of business.

The message was no less moving because the speaker was two miles up the road.

Before the offering was taken, the pastor gave a specific wish list for the ministry.

  • Air conditioning for the Roxborough campus. $40,000 (Interesting that all the “campuses” were asked to help with a need of one of the campuses—something you don’t see in the “interdependent” Lutheran structure. All our congregations seem to be competing for the same resources.)
  • New sound equipment.
  • $10,000 for a grand Easter Egg Hunt for 5000 participants.
  • Help for new churches.

The wish list totaled about $100,000!

They used plastic pails for offering plates. And they were filled.

Time was spent early in the service, explaining the EPIC mission via video. Participants were walked through the process of filling out interest cards to be placed in the offering plate. There were many greeters, hosts, ushers, band members, sound team, etc. involved in the morning service and their web shows that a number of people sponsor Bible studies during the week. Assistance in paying babysitters is offered to those who’d like to attend.

The interest cards were revisited as the offering buckets were passed.

The pledge card asks what your next faith step will be. I wrote—”writing about EPIC on

I have kept my pledge.

We hope we can become strategic partners as we move our ministry forward.