The moderator and stated clerk of the ECO Presbytery of Florida, part of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians have sent a letter to its churches rejecting the “events and characterizations of ECO leaders and members” found in a letter sent to all Presbyterian Church (USA) presbyteries.
On June 12, Amalie Ash, transitional presbyter of the PCUSA’s Tropical Florida Presbytery sent a letter to all of the denomination’s mid-council leaders and stated clerks advocating both a “hard” and “ungracious” approach to congregations seeking dismissal from the PCUSA into ECO. Her letter also contained several egregious accusations against the new denomination and those who formed it.
The Rev. Walter “Lucky” Arnold, moderator and the Rev. Michael A. DeArruda, stated clerk of ECO’s Presbytery of Florida said that they “believe it is intended as a call to punitive action against fellow Christians who rightfully exercise freedom of conscience.”
“Without foundation or factual evidence,” they wrote, Ash “attacks the legitimacy of ECO, assails the character of its leadership, and questions the ethical conduct of pastors formerly of Tropical Florida Presbytery. The email also implies that TFP may challenge the legitimacy of two current ECO pastoral relationships in the Presbytery of Florida, relationships that are viewed by TFP as violations of the ‘reversionary clause’ of the churches’ terms of dismissal from PCUSA to ECO.”
Rejecting the claims in the letter, Arnold and DeArruda said that ECO synod and presbytery leaders “have reviewed the TFP administrator’s assertions and are prepared to document the legitimacy of the actions taken by the COM of the (former) Presbytery of the East. We believe these matters must be addressed as violations of both denominational and interdenominational relations.”
They concluded their letter by asking for “prayers and support for the Presbytery of Florida as we seek to advance our presbytery and denomination and our shared life and ministry together, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Ash’s letter first encourages presbyteries to “reconsider church dismissals. The Presbytery of Tropical Florida is encouraging you to consider the long range implications of this current trend; the impact on the dismissed congregations, the challenge to replace worshiping centers and the growth of a historic and relevant denomination.”
She then turns her attention to ECO, saying that “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. Pastors encourage elders to take the lead. Elders are carefully schooled to focus on inaccuracies such as the PCUSA no longer believes Jesus Christ is the head of the church. They are cautious to avoid any reference to the changes in ordination, lest they offend their progressive members. To the person in the pew, these claims are highly charged; they trust their leaders and pastors are telling the truth. Thus the trusting congregation is easily swayed.”
She also made 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.”
She urged PCUSA leadership to know that “there are tactics and strategy to recruit our biggest and wealthiest congregations and to build their numbers from our smaller churches; and their 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.”
ECO’s stated clerk responds
Dana Allin, the stated clerk of ECO, also responded to Ashe’s letter. He said that “as a brother in Christ I am deeply disappointed by the tone and false information that is exhibited in this letter. I am further saddened that this would come from my former Executive Presbyter whom I and others labored with faithfully in Tropical Florida Presbytery. I will respond further to the misrepresentations of this letter in the next few days. My prayer now is for Rev. Ash and the obvious pain she is feeling. I pray we can find reconciliation even in the midst of different denominations, I know many of my colleagues have also tried to be amicable. Further I pray that the attitude expressed by Rev. Ash does not become indicative in the PCUSA. I have worked hard to keep dismissals gracious and out of court. I have had been in consistent communication with Gradye Parsons to do so. However if the attitudes expressed in this letter become pervasive we will unfortunately see more instances of civil court which is not good for any of us and our Christian witness.”