Florence, S.C., church dismissed to join ECO

FPC-FlorenceOne of the larger Presbyterian churches in the Pee Dee region of northeast South Carolina has changed its denominational affiliation.

First Presbyterian Church of Florence has left the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

The New Harmony Presbytery voted in early December 2012 to dismiss FPC-Florence, effective Jan. 1, 2013.

“We had a very gracious dismissal,” FPC-Florence Pastor Dr. Barry Jenkins said. “We have not been angry with our presbytery. We just prayed that our dismissal would be done in a manner that was gracious and in a way that would glorify God. We’re very grateful for the way the Presbytery Response Team (PRT) worked with our session.”

Jenkins added that both sides acted with dignity in abiding by the dismissal policy in place.

“We have no hard feelings toward our presbytery. They are brothers and sisters we have ministered with for a number of years,” he said. “We just felt it was time for First Presbyterian Church to move in a different direction. We wish (presbytery members) nothing but God’s blessings as they move forward.”

ECOJenkins explained that the session for the 152-year-old church of approximately 800 members recommended that it seek dismissal to join ECO. Following a series of informational meetings, a vote took place in June 2012 that revealed 91 percent of the congregation supported the proposal.

New Harmony Presbytery formed the PRT to begin the process of dismissal. The PRT met with the Florence pastors, session and congregation about the matter.

The PRT and session agreed to terms for dismissal, and the church voted in mid-October 2012 to accept them, allowing the presbytery to act upon the request made by the PRT to grant dismissal from the PCUSA.

Jenkins indicated there were no property issues to be wrangled over by FPC-Florence and New Harmony Presbytery. Under the dismissal terms, the church will pay a total of $110,000 for shared mission support to the presbytery over the next two years and bring its per-capita contribution up to date. Jenkins said the church had withheld per capita for several years and was asked to catch up on a payment of approximately $25,000. The church has done that.

Now, the church is off to a new start under a new denominational banner.

“We felt like God was leading our congregation in a new direction,” Jenkins said. “We followed up on that and are excited about the vision and future of ECO. We look forward to serving the Lord in that way.”

Jenkins said the emphasis placed on following the essential tenets by ECO was critical in the decision to seek dismissal to that particular denomination.

“We like the idea of defining the essential tenets that elders and leaders need to adhere,” he said. “There has become a theological drift (within the PCUSA). As theological pluralism began to creep in, it became less clear what the tenets were. We like the clarity of the essential tenets in ECO.”

Jenkins added that smaller presbyteries and a less bureaucratic structure along with an emphasis on mission affinity groups and pastoral support also were drawing cards for FPC-Florence to join the rapidly-expanding list of churches affiliating with ECO.

“They have a shared vision and hold each other accountable,” Jenkins said. “We like that. It’s exciting to see the things God is doing as we look to the future life of First Presbyterian Church.”