The Synod Executive of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians has written to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s middle governing council leadership to “both clear up some misconceptions that were stated in [a recent] letter as well as encourage each of us to adopt a more gracious tone and posture than was conveyed.”
“An unkind tenor will only cause more harm to congregations and is ultimately destructive to the mission of each of your presbyteries,” said the Rev. Dr. Dana S. Allin of ECO.
Quoting Paul in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” Allin said that it was in “that spirit of peace that I want to respond.”
ECO strategy is ‘ethically questionable’
Allin was replying to a letter written by the Rev. Amalie Ash, transitional presbyter of Tropical Florida Presbytery.
“The ECO leadership hails from Tropical Florida. We have observed their strategy being implemented in your presbyteries. Our denomination is be being dissected by their successful well-orchestrated strategy that aids a church pastor(s) and a few key elders to project an inaccurate picture of the PCUSA and its spiritual beliefs,” wrote Ash.
She wrote that ECO’s “strategy is ethically questionable. ECO is being built off the work and contributions of Presbyterians who envisioned a PCUSA presence in their communities. ECO is turning congregations from the PCUSA with false statements and convincing them that they are a better way, a more holy way.”
“This is not a new denomination being built on truth, but being assembled using our properties, our confessions, our processes but calling themselves a better way,” she said.
Allin acknowledged that the churches being dismissed from Tropical Florida “made for a difficult time in the life of the presbytery.” Not only was he the former pastor of a church that left the PCUSA, Ash’s own home church was also dismissed, “as well as many of us who were in positions of leadership within the presbytery. In fact, half of the presbytery council was elders or pastors from departing churches. We were certainly never ‘disconnected’ or ‘maverick pastors’ of the presbytery (as Rev. Ash insinuates on page three of her letter).”
Accusations and corrections
Her letter included several undocumented accusations against ECO, including:
- “In Miami, a small (under 100 members) church went to ECO in 2012. Their pastor, upon learning he could not stay in the Board of Pensions and could not have his PIF in the PCUSA, changed his mind and stayed. (Now severing in UCC). ECO promised they had many pastors to fill the pulpit. After two years, the church’s pulpit was still empty. Finally, a PCA Church plant, supported by NYC Redeemer, negotiated a plan for this Miami church. Today the church is a PCA plant that now has an affiliate relationship with ECO. ECO told the church that if three ECO members were on their steering committee they would be considered ECO. Thereby skirting our GSA Reversionary Clause.
- “Another dismissed church where the pastor renounced jurisdiction and the congregation was wounded; ECO placed an Evangelical Free Baptist pastor to serve as the interim.
- “It is reported that a few pastors have been fired after their church was dismissed. This due to the unrealized promise of greener pastures after leaving the PCUSA.”
Allin wrote that in addition to his “heartbreak over the spirit of Rev. Ash’s letter, there is some inaccurate information in it that I would like to correct.” That includes:
- “The assumption that churches going through dismissal are operating out of a playbook. Those of us in Tropical Florida we were among the first dozen churches in ECO. There was no playbook then (and there is no playbook now)! … Many of us departing had churches that were making similar arguments, because we were experiencing the same reality in the presbytery together. However, different churches emphasized different reasons for leaving.”
- “Ash asserts that cradle Presbyterians regret they are no longer PCUSA. I know from my former church, it was actually our older members who felt that in dismissing, we had actually regained what it means to be Presbyterian. I have no doubt that there are some who thought going to ECO was the promised land, but we have been very clear that simply changing denominations is only part of the solution. We need to be different.”
- “The Miami Springs church that is mentioned in Rev. Ash’s letter is not a PCA plant. It is an ECO church … The church is currently served by an affiliate pastor in ECO, who is himself PCA, but he is fully supportive of egalitarian ministry and is adhering to ECO essentials … He was examined and approved by ECO to labor within the bounds. The church is still ECO and operates under our polity.”
- “The church that Rev. Ash mentioned that is being served by an Evangelical Free pastor, is being served on an interim basis. He is a wonderful, godly man with fantastic interim experience. Again, he adheres to our ECO essential tenets. The church he is serving was in pain when their former pastor renounced jurisdiction and as a result was not accepted into ECO So, we felt that in taking an ecumenical approach by hiring this outside pastor, he would provide the healing that was needed.”
- “ECO in no way, shape, or form recruits churches. It is erroneous that Rev. Ash would claim that this was the case in Tropical Florida as there was no one in ECO at the time to recruit us. ECO now only responds to congregations that first contact us. When ECO does talk to a congregation, we only talk about ECO and do not even speak about the PCUSA.”
- “ECO is not a group of independent churches that are not Reformed. Those who founded my former church, Indian River Presbyterian, gave their money, time and energy to build a church that was centered in the Reformed faith. They were deeply committed to an evangelical, Christ-centered witness in the community. Charter members of the congregation who were still active, as well as those who were stewards of that vision felt it was necessary to move to maintain that vision.”
- “ECO actively encourages churches not to seek disaffiliation, but rather go through an orderly dismissal and discernment process. However, if that process becomes impossible, churches will have no choice but to go through a civil court process. No one wins in this situation, and most importantly, it does not glorify God our Father.”
In the end, Allin encouraged each of those in the PCUSA’s Middle Governing Council Leadership to “not to succumb to the anger and punitive nature that is expressed by Rev. Ash and apparently supported by the leadership in Tropical Florida Presbytery. Perhaps we should be reminded of the words written by Marshall L. Scott and Eugene Carson Blake following the 174th General Assembly of the UPCUSA to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, ‘We are conscious too that 55 years ago, and in the years immediately following, our church appeared to be more interested in church property and legal rights than in Christian love and witness. For this too, we ask forgiveness.’”
Presbyterian Church (USA) official calls ECO ‘ethically questionable’ (Ash’s letter is reprinted in this article in its entirety without edit)