ECO And Egypt?!

By Keith Hill, ECO’s blog

ECO and egypt

Rev. Refat Fathy, the General Secretary of the Synod of the Nile, presenting a plaque to the Moderator and the Stated Clerk of our Presbytery, Brian Stewart and Sarah Hill

Two weeks ago Fakhri Yacoub, Brian Stewart, my wife, Sarah, and I, had the privilege of representing ECO at the 150th anniversary of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. That was the event which occasioned our going, but our agenda was much broader—to build relationships with Presbyterians in one of the three nations ECO has selected for our global focus. More on that below, but first, some surprising “who knew?!” discoveries from our trip:

  • There is a mega-church just one block off Tahrir Square (the famous scene of the revolutionary demonstrations), and it is Presbyterian! Several thousand people worship at the Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church each Sunday, and many of them are seekers.
  • The Egyptian Bible Society has a wide reaching network of stores and ministries that provide the scriptures and study materials across Egypt. Several of their stores were burned during the recent revolutions, but they are still going strong, and are supported by Coptic Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Churches!
  • The Evangelical Presbyterian Church is the biggest Protestant denomination, and it is thriving! Our ECO Essential Tenets track very closely with their commitments.
  • The Egyptian Presbyterians also match (and far outdo!) our commitment to planting new churches. They have planted 22 churches in the last ten years in the Cairo Presbytery alone!
  • They are especially intent on planting churches now, for in a true Romans 8:28 manner, the recent dual revolutions brought not only persecution and struggles, but also the broadest governmental permission to build church buildings that they’ve had in many years. So as we say in the West, “they’re making hay while the sun shines.”

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What if they find out?

Keith HillBy Keith Hill

The big debate of the summer was launched by Ed Snowden, when he revealed the extent of the NSA’s surveillance.  Some support such surveillance, since it helps prevent terror attacks.  Others oppose it because it gives the government too much power over us – power which may be misused.  Logical reasons can be cited for both.
Such logic may provide the light for this debate, but its heat rises from elsewhere – our fears of being found out.  What if they learn things about me that I don’t want anyone to know?  What if my carefully crafted image is revealed to be a façade?  What if I’m known as I am?  Such fears run very deep.

Emergency bulletin:  it’s too late.  You’re known.  Already.  Completely.  Mr. Snowden is a mere piker in pulling back such veils.  The scripture has long since laid that one bare.  Here’s but one example:  No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13).


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St. Giles pays $250,000 for exit from PCUSA

ECOSt. Giles Presbyterian Church has been released from the Presbyterian Church (USA) but not without giving up a hefty chunk of change.

The Richmond, Va., congregation was dismissed from the PCUSA during the June 18 meeting of Presbytery of the James (POJ) at a cost of a quarter of a million dollars.

The presbytery voted 137-39 to dismiss the 375-member church, founded in 1937, with name and property after the congregation agreed to pay $250,000. St. Giles has joined ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

“It’s kind of a good news and bad news thing,” said the Rev. Keith Hill, pastor of St. Giles for six years. “The good news is we had an Administrative Commission (AC) that had a good feel for what it would take to get a positive vote in our favor. The bad news is we’re paying nearly twice the average (settlement price) as a church of our size. But, had the settlement been closer to the average, the vote might not have passed.”

St. Giles’ decision to seek departure from the PCUSA revolved around the passage of Amendment 10A in May 2011. Amendment 10A deleted the explicit “fidelity/chastity” requirement from the constitutional ordination standard, and allows the PCUSA to ordain gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as deacons, elders and pastors. It removed the requirement for ministers to live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”

Prior to the St. Giles session’s submission of a formal request seeking dismissal from the PCUSA to the presbytery in October 2011 (following an 18-0 session vote), Hill penned a series of blogs (in August and September 2011) that outlined reasons to leave.

Stgiles1In them, he noted that “a line had been crossed” by the national denomination in adding such language to the ordination standards, noting that in time it would lead to a “broader crumbling of foundational doctrines.”

He wrote that the standards were changed “in spite of the Bible and not because of it” as well as the church being “in schism, simply by being part of the PCUSA.” The battle over sexual ethics and claims of justice related to them has been an ongoing and tiring debate for some 30 years, and Hill pointed out that a redefinition of marriage will be the next topic of great debate, more so than it already appears to be.

“We had crossed a line,” Hill said, echoing his blog post from nearly two years earlier. “We believed that the consideration about contended matters had become unproductive, even toxic, in the larger church.   The practice of new ordination standards outside of Biblical norms had left us to say we no longer could be submissive to our brethren here. It was a crisis of conscience at that point.”

A Listening Team from POJ began working with St. Giles in February 2012, and an Administrative Commission was formed in October.

A straw poll taken in January 2013 showed 92 percent of active voting members in favor of leaving the PCUSA (178 for, 8 against, 7 abstentions) for affiliation with ECO. In May, an overwhelming majority agreed to the terms of dismissal. As steep as they were, 165 of 175 congregants who voted (94 percent) gave the OK to finalize the agreement.

Hill said one presbyter sought a higher settlement amount during the June 18 meeting, even though a February Communication and Coordination Team report showed the presbytery had an investment portfolio totaling more than $4 million at the close of 2012. Another presbyter tried to persuade the voting body to take the church’s name during the meeting. In the end, the vote passed by a 3-1 margin.

“There’s a diverse group in the presbytery,” Hill said. “Our Listening Team and Administrative Commission were very able and gracious people who wanted to serve us and the presbytery well. We’re grateful the vote was nearly 3-1 in our favor. It was a relief to us and the AC, which put blood, sweat and tears into this (process), too.

“We’re grateful we were able to be gracious in our interactions with the presbytery. We have no interest in defining ourselves by bad-mouthing the PCUSA. We do not want to denigrate those who have been our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Stgiles2The cash payment, determined to be nearly 6 percent of the real property value, took into consideration the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC ) ruling from 2012, and had to be made by June 21. St. Giles also retained all personal property, including operating and endowment funds, as well as its name, though it was required to delete any reference to PCUSA.

Copies of session minutes and historical documents related to church life in the PCUSA were turned over to the presbytery. Hill’s credentials were transferred to ECO, and Associate Pastor Sarah Marsh was given permission to continue as a PCUSA teaching elder and permitted to labor outside the bounds of the POJ as an affiliate member of ECO, with St. Giles paying her medical and pensions dues to the PCUSA Board of Pensions.

Hill said the decision to join ECO was one based on an opportunity to help mold a new denomination and its willingness to allow women to hold prominent leadership roles. He also said elders and church members preferred a multi-confessional approach to a singular confession, and the fact that ECO is a mission-minded denomination certainly grabbed St. Giles’ attention.

“We could have found a home in the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), but ECO seemed to be the easier for us,” Hill explained. “It’s a more malleable denomination, and we can be active participants in its formation. We find it a privilege and high calling to be part of such conversation.”

Faced with the possibility of losing the church property, St. Giles’ leaders put off some needed repairs to the facilities as well as a capital campaign. Hill said engagement in such endeavors is possible now that the congregation is safely situated in a new denominational home.

“We were in a tenuous state, not knowing if we were going to lose our property,” he said. “It has been a hard season of waiting and praying, but our members learned to trust their elders with these hard matters. They have been patient, and I am grateful for that. Everyone is relieved to be out (of the PCUSA) and the uncertainty of how this will play out.”

With the PCUSA now part of its past, St. Giles will look to the future.

“We’re back to being able to focus on central matters,” Hill said. “We’re excited about discovering the possibilities of a Presbyterian denomination more fully in sync with us and itself, and expects covenantal accountability that will be a pleasure and edification.”

St. Giles is the first congregation to reach a settlement with and be dismissed by Presbytery of the James. A large faction of New Hanover Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsville broke away to form a new congregation ­– the Church in Restoration – in February.

Four other churches are seeking to be dismissed by the presbytery. Christ Presbyterian, Crestwood Presbyterian and Third Presbyterian, all in Richmond, are seeking dismissal to ECO, while Spotsylvania Presbyterian in Fredericksburg is engaged in the process to affiliate with the EPC.

“We’re focused on praying for those facing this same situation,” Hill said. “It is possible to pursue departure and enter it with the intent that we bless all involved. Inevitably, it is difficult at various points, but it doesn’t have to be as ugly as it sometimes plays out.”

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New challenges in a new day

ECOBy Rev. Keith Hill

Wow – suddenly life is different!  For nearly two years we’ve been in the thick of seeking dismissal from the PCUSA to a new denominational home, the ECO.  Tuesday the Presbytery voted to dismiss us, though not without some heated debate, and efforts by some to change the settlement agreement we had worked out with their negotiating team.  But gratefully, in answer to so many prayers, the vote was nearly 3 to 1 to dismiss us with the terms we voted upon as a congregation last month.
So we’re in a new day.  But it is a day with its own challenges.  Let me suggest to you several that come to mind.

First, we have to learn how to identify ourselves without the foil of the PCUSA.  For years, when we have been challenged by evangelical friends about being part of the PCUSA, we have responded, “but we’re different.”  Now we are different – literally.  And we can no longer use that foil as an identifier, for which it was never really adequate anyway.  Now we must “identity ourselves” in Christ as a Reformed congregation, in Richmond, in 2013.  We get to do so in partnership with ECO congregations, a far more healthy partnership for us.


Keith Hill is the pastor of St. Giles Church in Richmond, Va.


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When the walk of faith feels slippery

Six area congregations started on this path together, seeking to depart from the PCUSA for a new denomination.  Given the way our Presbyterian Constitution works, with Presbytery having oversight of congregations and final say on our property, it’s felt like a vulnerable place to be.  So it has been a blessing to have some partners to walk with on this slippery part of the path.  We’ve prayed with and for each other, and have sought to steady each other as we’ve walked.

Now there is news in the paper this morning that New Hanover Church, one of the six, was told on Sunday that their Session is being replaced, and that the property will be for the minority portion of the congregation that wants to stay in the PCUSA.  You can read the news account yourself at: Times Dispatch report.

Read entire article at Inklings About Life as a Follower of JesusKeith Hill

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