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What Are the Greatest Needs of ECO Churches?

(By Dana Allin, Synod Executive for ECO). In the last six months, I have tried to ascertain what are the greatest needs of ECO churches.  I have conducted informal and formal questioning around this subject with various pastors and congregational leaders.  I have compared their answers with my own observations from personal interactions.  While all of our congregations are different, there are some common themes that emerge within many of them.

19819_519214544784558_2022702232_n-700x0One of those recurring themes across some of our churches is the question, “We joined ECO (fill in a number) months ago.  What do we do now?”  What people are meaning by this question is that they have bought into the vision and ethos that is presented in ECO, but are unclear about their next steps to move forward into their new reality.  Sometimes the resource list that we provide can be overwhelming with numerous possibilities.  Several different people have approached me in separate conversations to indicate that it would be helpful if ECO had a brief process that took place over a few months time that a session could go through to help them on the next steps in their congregational journey.  The indication was that while congregations wouldn’t be required to engage in such a process, it could be highly encouraged and give our people a common language within the denomination.  It would also help sessions determine where they might need to place future energy to fulfill the mission that God has placed upon the heart of the congregation.  After this basic process, it would be easier for a congregation to determine what other resources offered by ECO or by others that could be helpful in fulfilling their vision for ministry and mission.

We have taken this great suggestion to heart and are creating a 4-session process called “Becoming a Flourishing Church”.  This process can be used with elders, deacons, staff or other lay leaders in your congregation.  It will be launched at our national gathering in January and will be available to every congregation through the Flourish website. Each session contains a 15-20 minute video that can be watched at or prior to a meeting.  The videos also have supplemental material and guides to facilitate discussions among leaders.

The premise of the process is that flourishing churches are led by flourishing leaders, who are themselves flourishing disciples.  The first session is an orientation to the ethos and culture of ECO and helps leaders to determine where their congregations are starting.

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In ECO: Now What?

By Dana Allin, the ECO blog.

ECOAt ECO’s national gathering in Newport Beach this past January, I led a breakout session called, “In ECO, Now What?”  This  question often gets asked in a variety of different ways.  I will get phone calls or e-mails stating that a congregation has been in ECO (usually for 6 months to a year) and the leaders want their congregation to live more fully into the values and vision that have been articulated. When I am asked these “now what?” questions, I tell congregations that they can do three things if they have not already been done.

Articulate the Vision

First, articulate the vision that God has for your congregation.  I think a clear and concrete visual picture of where God is calling your congregation in the future is extremely helpful and provides synergy and focus for the rest of the ministry.  However, even if your congregation has not created or formalized this type of vision, perhaps there are at least 1-2 general things that the leadership of the congregation knows they need to improve.  Perhaps they want to take steps in a missional direction, be more intergenerational, or move toward church planting.  Whatever it is, the congregation needs to be clear in their understanding of the general direction in which they are headed.

Congregation Assessment

Second, the congregation and leadership needs to assess where they are in relation to the articulated vision.  Where is the gap between where they are and where they are called to be?  A congregation might indicate that they want to be more intergenerational, then evaluate their ministries and approach and realize that their energy is counterproductive toward that future.

Determine Next Steps

Third, a congregation and it’s leadership need to understand what are the appropriate next steps to help them achieve the vision to which God has called them.

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New Presbyterian denomination joins NAE

National Association of Evangelicals press release.

ecoThe National Association of Evangelicals is pleased to welcome ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians as its newest denominational member. ECO joins with nearly 40 other denominations, as well as thousands of churches, schools, nonprofits, businesses and individuals who comprise the NAE community.

“ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians brings an important perspective to the National Association of Evangelicals,” said NAE President Leith Anderson. “We are encouraged by their testimony and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and look forward to our partnership together.”

The mission of ECO is to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ. Founded in 2012, ECO now includes 85,000 members.­­­­­­­­­­­

ECO Synod Executive Dana Allin said, “I am so thrilled that ECO has been welcomed into the NAE, and am looking forward to partnering with other biblically-centered denominations and networks for the sake of Christ in the world. With the mounting challenges and opportunities we face as orthodox believers in our world today, I believe the NAE gives us the opportunity to support one another and display biblical unity.”

The name ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians reinforces the denomination’s passion for strengthening the ecosystems of local churches and speaks to its core commitments. The denomination seeks to make disciples of Jesus Christ (evangelical), connect leaders through accountable relationships and encourage collaboration (covenant), and commit to a shared way of life together (order).

ECO’s four priorities are to lift up the centrality of the gospel, grow with an emerging generation of leaders, prioritize a wave of church innovation, and create an atmosphere of relational accountability.

Visit the NAE web site

Visit the ECO web site

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Presbyterians respond to the Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriage in all states

While one Presbyterian denomination celebrates last Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriages legal in all states, another one grieves, a third states that it does not regard the decision “to be in keeping with God’s intentions for marriage,” and a fourth affirms that marriage is a gift from God between one man and one woman.”

The Presbyterian Church (USA)

pcusa“The Presbyterian Church (USA) is celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that same-gender couples have a constitutional right to marry nationwide, striking down bans in 14 states,” read the opening paragraph of a June 26 Presbyterian New Service (PNS) article. “Church leaders believe today’s ruling is a step in the right direction as society’s views have continued to change in recent years.”

The PCUSA’s Stated Clerk Grayde Parsons told the PNS that the denomination has “advocated for almost four decades for civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is in keeping with that work.”

Another PCUSA leader, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the denomination’s Office of Public Witness said that it’s “always good when the church is at the front end of a movement such as this and catches the spirit in the wind of where people are attempting to move society and give voice to those who have long been silenced … Our task now is to educate congregations and address how the church is to engage society and our differences. It’s much more than a gay/lesbian issue. We are seeing laws overturned in favor of communities that have not always been represented.”

The Office of the General Assembly, which is the constitutional/legal arm of the PCUSA, posted a document to answer questions about how the ruling will affect clergy and congregations.

Same Gender Marriage after Supreme Court: Obergefell v. Hodges,” clearly states that “Nothing in our Constitution shall compel a teaching elder to perform a marriage service that the teaching elder believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and understanding of the Word of God.”

In response to five questions concerning the new law of the land, the document does include some worrying statements that will only be answered as the courts continue to hear cases and issue further rulings on these issues. The questions and some of the troubling answers include: (Emphases added)

  1. “What does this mean for marriage in the state in which I live?”
  2. “What does this mean for clergy performing marriage ceremonies? … The Supreme Court recognized that religious individuals and institutions may continue to teach and practice sincerely held religious beliefs so we presume that clergy may not be compelled by the state to perform or officiate a marriage between two people that violates the sincerely held religious belief of the clergy…”
  3. “What does this mean for congregations? Will congregations be required to host a wedding ceremony that violates their sincerely held religious belief? … This is a fluid area of law and any congregation concerned about the use of their buildings should consult with a licensed attorney in their state.”
  4. “What if a teaching elder (pastor) in a called or temporary position disagrees with a session on the use of church property for a same gender wedding? … It is possible that the effectiveness of a teaching elder in a particular call to congregational ministry may be affected by any ongoing disagreement between a session and a teaching elder.”
  5. “Will the tax-exempt status of our congregation be affected by our decision not to open the building to same-gendered marriage? The case does not go to the question about tax-exempt status of congregations. The tax exempt status of a congregation will probably not be affected by any decision about the use of property as long as the congregation’s policies and procedures are clear that they are based upon a sincerely held religious belief.”

Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee commented that “proving a local congregation has a ‘sincerely held religious belief’ that is no longer shared by the denomination with which it is affiliated will mean that there’s no larger ecclesiastical backstop for PCUSA churches. The statement says as much in #3 where it is evident that the denomination does not intend to assist its congregations in defending their conscience in this matter. The presumption indicated in the answer to question #2 is equally troubling. If you are a PCUSA teaching elder, you may currently have protection under the denomination’s constitution but it does not sound as if the denomination is prepared to defend you in civil court should the state determine to compel you.”

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church

bill dudley prays 2

Bill Dudley prays for the church and the nation after hearing the news of the court ruling at the EPC’s assembly.

In its statement about the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church firmly stated “a church we must adhere to the biblical definition of marriage, rather than a cultural one.”

The court’s ruling was announced during the EPC’s 35th General Assembly meeting. Upon hearing the news, the EPC took time from its busy schedule to allow Former GA Moderator Bill Dudley to pray for the church and in the nation in light of the news.

The EPC’s statement read:

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church grieves today’s ruling of the Supreme Court, which illustrates the continued disregard for the biblical, traditional, Judeo-Christian values upon which the foundation of our nation was established. As a church, we continue to rest our faith in the sovereign God and the authority of His Holy Word. We pray faithfully for our nation and our leaders as so commanded by Scripture.

We bear no malice toward those with a same-sex attraction; in fact, we love them with the love of Christ. However, as a church we must adhere to the biblical definition of marriage, rather than a cultural one.

We recognize that civil governments adopt policies that do not align with biblical values. However, those policies must never require that people of faith abandon the clear teaching of Scripture, forfeit the right to proclaim those truths, or change their beliefs or practices.

The Presbyterian Church in America

L. Roy Taylor, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America, issued a statement on the court’s ruling on Saturday.

pcaThe PCA, he said, “believes that from creation God ordained the marriage covenant to be a bond only between one man and one woman. That understanding is what the Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. It is based upon the teachings of the Holy Scriptures and is clearly stated in the doctrinal standards of the PCA.”

In both of its doctrinal standards – The Westminster Confession of Faith and its Book of Order – the PCA affirms biblical marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Taylor’s full statement reads:

The Supreme Court of the United States has issued a 5-4 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. The Office of the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has received numerous inquiries regarding the position of the PCA on this issue. The PCA, like other evangelical, conservative, orthodox, and traditional Christians from many denominations, believes that from creation God ordained the marriage covenant to be a bond only between one man and one woman. That understanding is what the Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. It is based upon the teachings of the Holy Scriptures and is clearly stated in the doctrinal standards of the PCA.

Over the last 2,000 years, changing cultures and secular legal perspectives have differed on significant occasions from that of Christians and the Church because the Church bases her ethical and moral positions on timeless truths divinely revealed in the Bible. The Ancient and Undivided Church disagreed with abortion and infanticide, practices that were acceptable in Roman culture and legal under Roman law. In 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion. Though abortion became legal, we cannot regard it to be moral. Though same-sex marriage is now legal, the PCA, like many others, does not regard it to be in keeping with God’s intentions for marriage. We hope that the recent Supreme Court ruling does not become the occasion for limiting the religious and free-speech rights of believers and churches who, like others for thousands of years, sincerely believe in traditional marriage.

ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians

ecoIn an email to all of its churches, Dana Allin, synod executive of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians said that “In ECO, we affirm that marriage is a gift from God between one man and one woman. We affirm that sexuality is also a gift, which is to be expressed within this covenant of marriage. Scripture, our Essential Tenets, and confessions all speak with one unified voice on the subject of marriage.”

He said “We are not yet sure of the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision,” for ECO. Discussions are being held with other denominations that “maintain the orthodox Christian faith,” and that as information becomes available it will be shared with ECO presbyteries.

In response to the question, “How do we respond?,” Allin said “Preach and live the gospel. Whenever church finds itself at odds with culture, we have the opportunity to thrive in new ways as we live out the gospel in a conflicted context. Let us be people who live the model of Jesus by being welcoming and transforming for all people, in all aspects of our lives. Each of us has places in our lives that need to come under the Lordship of Jesus and the transforming power of the Spirit. Can we be people that welcome and love one another wherever we are, and yet love one another enough to work for mutual transformation? I think we can, and I think that as we do, the gospel will flourish! Let’s pray together to that end.”

Divided witness

Of the divided witness of these four Presbyterian denominations LaBerge concluded, “The mind of Christ is not divided on this nor any other matter. It does grieve me that the witness of Presbyterians is so divided. Such division only serves to further degrade the perception of unbelievers as they consider Christianity and her Christ.

“As you read the four statements of the four denominations it could not be more clear that the PCUSA is guided not by the Bible nor the Confessions but by ‘society’s views’ which ‘have continued to change in recent years,’ and by ‘the spirit in the wind of where people are attempting to move society.’ Alignment with the prevailing spirit of the world is not, and has never been, the calling of the Church.”

 

 

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ECO’s core values: #2 Biblical Integrity

By Dana Allin, synod executive of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

eco1-700x0Over the next several months, in preparation for our national gathering, we will be focusing our Thursday blog posts on ECO’s eight core values. We will spend a month of Thursdays on each of the values, where I will write an introductory blog post and then other authors will expand upon our Biblical understanding of the value for the next 3-4 weeks. We are excited to dig in together and pray that you will join us in this journey as we strive to stay connected until we see each other in person next January!

The second of our values is:

Biblical Integrity: We believe the Bible is the unique and authoritative Word of God, which teaches all that is necessary for faith and life. The prominence of God’s Word over our lives shapes our priorities, and the unrivaled authority of the Bible directs our actions to be in concert with Christ’s very best for our lives. 

Rich Kannwisher, pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California, reminded me of a great line adapted from the work of Jim Collins. Collins says, “An organization needs to preserve what is core and stimulate progress.” I use this phrase a lot when talking to churches or groups about ECO. ECO needs to be abundantly clear about what is “core” to who we are and what is “progress”. I often mention that progress is the structures, ministries and process that we implement to fulfill our vision. But I will always articulate that at our core is “Biblical Integrity.” Biblical Integrity has implications for many things. How we view scripture determines our understanding of the person and work of Jesus. It shapes how we view our mission in the world. It shapes the way we conduct our lives.

Biblical Integrity is the second of our core values in ECO. We express it this way, “We believe the Bible is the unique and authoritative Word of God, which teaches all that is necessary for faith and life. The prominence of God’s Word over our lives shapes our priorities, and the unrivaled authority of the Bible directs our actions to be in concert with Christ’s very best for our lives.”

I love so much about this statement regarding the nature and application of scripture to our lives.

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Related article: ECO’s core values: #1 Jesus shaped identity

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ECO’s core values: #1 Jesus shaped identity

eco6-700x0By Dana Allin,  Synod Executive for ECO.

Over the next several months, in preparation for our national gathering, we will be focusing our Thursday blog posts on ECO’s eight core values. We will spend a month of Thursdays on each of the values, where I will write an introductory blog post and then other authors will expand upon our Biblical understanding of the value for the next 3-4 weeks. We are excited to dig in together and pray that you will join us in this journey as we strive to stay connected until we see each other in person next January!

The first of our values is:

Jesus-shaped Identity: 
We believe Jesus Christ must be at the center of our lives and making disciples of Jesus at the core of our ministry.

ECO’s desire for a Jesus-shaped identity seems fairly obvious. As a kid, I would have said “no duh”! But how easy is it to not keep the main thing, the main thing? How easy is it to get so caught up in “doing for the Lord” that we forget to “be with the Lord”? How easy is it to get so caught up doing our 9th annual rummage sale at our church, that we don’t even bother to ask the question, “Is this activity actually helping to making disciples of Jesus”? Or sometimes we even try so hard to put on a technically excellent worship service and yet fail to link people to the One who is truly excellent.

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My mixed birth metaphor coming out of the ECO/Fellowship Dallas Gathering

After the official Synod meeting of the ECO: Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, the Dallas Gathering
continued for another two days and included The Fellowship of Presbyterians, which birthed ECO, but which is now conjoined with Presbyterians for Renewal (PFR) as the Fellowship Community

That admixture made for awkward moments, like when Paul Detterman, who is staying in the PCUSA and shepherding the Fellowship Community, introduced the head of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Mission Agency, Linda Valentine. Several of her staff members were also present, hosted booths in the exhibit area, lead workshops throughout the gathering and were credited with publishing the resource on The Apostles’ Creed that was distributed – at the expense of the PCUSA’s Congregational Ministries Division – to all Gathering attendees.

Salt – in the world or in wounds? fellowshipcommunity

At the closing worship service Bryan Dunagan, the new senior minister of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church, now in ECO, preached a message sending people out into the mess of the world that God so loves.

But it was hard to miss the mess that was right there in the room. Again the Fellowship Community’s Paul Detterman – in a room of 1300 people – singled out for recognition Brian Ellison, the openly partnered gay minister who heads the pro-LGBT Covenant Network of Presbyterians. Apparently Ellison had failed to arrive at the event before the closing service but he was long enough to be celebrated from the dias.

Now, for those who have paid millions of dollars and invested untold hours of prayer and grief to extricate themselves from the PCUSA, such recognitions – during what was supposed their new denomination’s big event- were brow-furrowing. For the hundred or so members of Highland Park, the host church for the event, who had volunteered throughout the event, the recognition was offensive. (To clarify, I am not suggesting that Ellison was not welcome nor deserving of the same gracious hospitality extended to everyone. The point I am seeking to make is that those who are now in ECO – and who comprised the majority of attendees – were offended by the recognition, not Ellison’s presence.) HPPC is currently in active litigation with the PCUSA’s Grace Presbytery which wants tens of millions of dollars to “allow” HPPC to leave with its property and endowment.

All in all it was a great event for networking, connecting, fellowship and missional equipping. But at the level of the optics there was a political naivete that must be overcome for ECO and/or the Fellowship Community to genuinely prosper.

 

 

 

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ECO executive clears up ‘misconceptions’ and encourages ‘a more gracious tone’

Dana Allin - ECO

Dana Allin

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.’”

 

Related articles:

Presbyterian Church (USA) official calls ECO ‘ethically questionable’ (Ash’s  letter is reprinted in this article in its entirety without edit)

ECO presbytery rejects PCUSA presbyter’s ‘characterizations of ECO’

Allin’s letter to Middle Governing Council Leadership in the PCUSA

Letter from the moderator and stated clerk of ECO’s Presbytery of Florida

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ECO forms new presbyteries

ecopresbyteriesThe newest Presbyterian denomination is expanding its number of presbyteries to accommodate ever-increasing growth.

ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians is in the process of transitioning its number of presbyteries from two to nine. The creation of some of those additional presbyteries has taken place, while others remain in their formative stages.

Dr. Dana Allin, ECO’s synod executive, said some of the presbyteries could have been formed a little earlier in the two-year history of the denomination, but there was a need to leave them a little larger to prevent isolation of congregations.

With the membership of ECO surpassing 100 congregations at the turn of the year, the time was right to form additional presbyteries.

“Growth of the denomination made this move necessary,” said Allin, who indicated that ECO’s polity allows the Synod Executive Council to authorize the formation of and give final approval of the new presbyteries to be formed.

When it was established in January 2012, ECO had two presbyteries separated by the Mississippi River: Presbytery of the East and Presbytery of the West. Those presbyteries are being reconfigured to form the nine regional governing bodies, four in the east and five in the west.

ECOThe Presbytery of the East will split into the following presbyteries:

  • Presbytery of Florida
  • Presbytery of the Northeast (Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and state to their east and north)
  • Great Lakes Presbytery (Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin)
  • East Central Presbytery (Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., remaining southern states east of the Mississippi River, including Louisiana)

The Presbytery of the West will become the following presbyteries:

  • Presbytery of the Northwest (Oregon, Washington and Alaska)
  • Presbytery of Texas
  • Presbytery of Northern California
  • Presbytery of Southern California
  • Presbytery of the West (all other states west of the Mississippi River, including Minnesota).

Allin said the presbyteries were formed based on where current ECO members are located and anticipated growth for each region, noting that their current configurations make sense for travel purposes and should allow more face-to-face meetings.

However, he anticipates additional growth will bring about a need to revisit the presbytery boundaries and possibly form more in the future.

“We anticipate these will split again in the future as more churches join ECO,” Allin said. “We’ll see multiplication in coming years of a couple of these presbyteries.”

Allin noted the desire to keep all presbyteries smaller in size, ideally 10 to 20 congregations in each.

“We’re trying to keep them smaller if possible,” Allin observed. “We’ve made a conscious decision to have smaller numbers of churches in each presbytery to help them better govern themselves.”

The presbyteries that have been formed or are forming will be tasked with determining their leadership, establishing various committees and developing the proper training needed to operate each regional governing body, which will have authority to accept new congregations.

“We’re excited to see people who are willing to take on leadership roles within these new presbyteries,” Allin said.

The synod will remain the highest governing body in ECO, and Allin indicated he does not anticipate the denomination having more than one such council.

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Newest Presbyterian denomination experiences continued growth

ECOIn just two years of existence, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians has experienced substantial growth, already surpassing the 100-congregation membership mark.

ECO, started in January 2012 as a conservative denomination that broke off from the Presbyterian Church (USA), added 35 churches in its first year of existence, and more than doubled that number last year. Forty of those congregations that joined ECO did so in the last four months of 2013, allowing the denomination to surpass 100 congregations in the process.

First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, Wash., was the first congregation to join ECO in May 2012. The acceptance of Bethel Presbyterian Church from Columbus, Ohio, in December 2013 gave the denomination its 100th congregation.

As of Feb. 5, ECO had grown to 109 congregations and 181 pastors in 22 states.

Dr. Dana Allin, ECO’s synod executive, noted that the average membership of churches joining the denomination is 375, leading to nearly 40,000 total members in ECO right now.

Dana Allin - ECO

Dana Allin

The greatest concentration of ECO churches is west of the Mississippi River, primarily in California (15), Washington (10) and Colorado (7), Alaska and Texas (6 each). East of the Mississippi, the states with the most ECO churches are Pennsylvania (16) and Florida (11).

“We’ve seen quite an increase in applications from California, Texas, Washington and the southeast area of the United States,” Allin said, adding that another 120-150 churches are in the process of joining ECO. “There are a lot of churches that plan to join when and if they can. They’re just waiting for congregational votes or dismissal by a presbytery.”

Even more churches are in a period of discernment to determine if they need to stay in the PCUSA or leave, and there also is the decision of which denomination to join if they choose to sever ties with the PCUSA.

 

PCUSA remains largest Presbyterian denomination

While ECO has seen positive growth in its membership (churches and individuals), the PCUSA still is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States.

According to information from the PCUSA, there were 1,849,496 members at the end of 2012 in 10,262 congregations. That’s a loss of 102,791 members and 204 congregations from the 2011 data. Membership totals for 2013 will be released later this spring.

The denomination’s membership has seen a steady decline over the last decade. In 2002, the PCUSA reported 2,451,969 members, so the current membership reflects a net loss of 602,473 members, or about 24.6 percent, over the last 10 years. There were 11,097 congregations in 2002, 835 more than in 2012.

 

ecomissionReasons for ECO’s growth

Allin gave several reasons for the influx of churches for ECO, which also has brought about the creation of nine presbyteries, an increase from two when the denomination formed two years ago.

“The mandate from the General Assembly to have gracious dismissal policies in place has been taken very seriously by presbyteries,” he said. “They have started working with churches that have realized they just don’t belong in the PCUSA anymore.”

Along with that is a theological diversity that has manifest itself within the PCUSA.

“A lot of us are realizing that even evangelicals need to do things differently,” Allin said. “More creativity and flexibility is needed, and there is a desire to return to that connectional nature of what it means to do Presbyterianism – how best to implement ministry and recapture what it means to be Presbyterian.”

 

Formation of a denomination

Information from the ECO web site shows that the new denomination developed from the formation of The Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP) in 2011. More than 2,000 people gathered at the initial Fellowship meeting in Minneapolis, Minn., in August of that year. Five months later at a similar gathering of approximately 2,220 in Orlando, Fla., pastors and congregations feeling called to leave the PCUSA established ECO, providing a new denominational home for those holding true to the conservative Reformed faith.

The ECO name speaks to its core commitments:

Covenant: To connect leaders in accountable relationships and encourage collaboration.

Order: To commit to a shared way of life as we unite around a shared theological core.

Evangelical: To advance the gospel of Jesus Christ and plant new missional communities.

Presbyterian: To stand within our Reformed heritage and celebrate the life of the mind.

The mission is one that holds true to the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.

With the goal to “baptize more than they bury” by 2018, ECO churches place priority on lifting up the centrality of the Gospel; growing with an emerging generation of leaders; prioritizing a wave of church innovation; and creating an atmosphere of relational accountability.

 

A draw for congregations

Allin indicated that the missional entrepreneurial spirit, flexibility in operation and a desire to be the church God has called them to be have been reasons cited by congregations for their decisions to make ECO their new denominational affiliation.

“They feel this is the denomination that they can best fulfill the mission God has given them,” Allin said.

But is ECO merely a haven of rest for congregations disturbed by the more liberal direction the PCUSA has taken through the years? Is it a sanctuary from what conservatives churches are trying to leave behind?

“Sometimes we see congregations that simply want to leave the PCUSA,” Allin said. “But so many others want to embrace the philosophy of ECO, something they are hungry to be a part of. We see that there is dissatisfaction with being in the PCUSA, and this is an opportunity to change gears, not to get away from something but to move toward something they are excited about. We help them make those steps toward a new reality.”

 

Looking to the future

While pleased with the rapid growth of ECO, Allin is looking forward to continued additions of congregations and opportunities not only to add those from other denominations but also to plant new churches.

“As exciting as it is to see that we have more than a hundred churches, I’ll be way more excited when we plant 100 new churches and reach out to people,” Allin said. “We’re thankful to have over a hundred congregations; it gives us more people to reach out to others and share information about our denomination, but more importantly to share Jesus Christ. We have people who are clamoring for opportunities to be involved in church planting.”

Allin anticipates continued growth for the denomination on the horizon, especially with so many churches already engaged in the process of discernment and/or dismissal and others enquiring daily about acceptance by ECO.

“We see opportunities to develop new partnerships and continued growth for ECO,” he said. “If we can continue planting churches and see people come to Christ, we’ll be on the trajectory we want to be on for the future.”

 

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