Bethel Presbyterian Church’s dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA), approved at a Nov. 19, 2013, meeting of Scioto Valley Presbytery, allowed the congregation to officially become a member of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians on Jan. 1, 2014. The Columbus church’s membership allowed ECO to reach the century mark in its two-year existence. That membership total has since increased to 115 congregations.
“We are a Biblical community that joyfully loves, lives and shares Jesus Christ,” said Jerry Kasberg, pastor at the 300-member Bethel Church for more than nine years. “We are a church that has always held up the authority of Scripture. We target that in all matters of life and faith. We’ve not changed, but the PCUSA has moved away from its roots.
“We are so grateful that we are now aligned with other like-minded, like-hearted Presbyterians and no longer have to make excuses for decisions made by the denomination.”
Following the passage of Amendment 10A, which changed ordination standards, in May 2011, Bethel’s session voted to begin a discernment process and established a task force to study issues in the PCUSA. A year later that task force presented its report to the congregation, and in June 2012 the session voted to recommend leaving the denomination.
“The desire was not to leave but to be a voice in the denomination, but we continued to be disappointed as (the PCUSA) moved progressively in another direction,” Kasberg said. “As culture began to influence the denomination we felt like we needed to stand where Bethel always has: on the truth of God’s Word.”
After exploring denominational options, the session voted to recommend ECO as the new affiliation and sent a letter to Scioto Valley Presbytery, informing leadership of its intent.
Kasberg indicated it was spring of 2013 before Bethel heard from presbytery representatives about dismissal. Following several meetings, a financial agreement was reached prior to the November presbytery meeting.
Under the terms agreed to by the sides, Bethel was required to make a payment of $90,000 to Scioto Valley Presbytery.
Half of that amount ($45,000) had to be paid by the Dec. 31, 2013, dismissal date. The other half will be paid in three yearly installments of $15,000 (paid quarterly each year) for missions in the PCUSA.
The first year, Bethel designates how the money will be used. During the second and third years, the church and presbytery each designate how half of the amount will be used for mission work.
Bethel’s membership voted 184-3 in favor of accepting the terms to be dismissed to ECO, and Kasberg indicated there was just one negative vote at the presbytery meeting in November.
“We’ve always been involved with the presbytery and had a good relationship with them,” Kasberg said. “The presbytery was very gracious, and that made it easier to deal with the property issue.”
The pastor indicated a desire on both sides to make the process as amicable as possible, especially from the church’s perspective in relation to a possible dispute over property.
“We know in Ohio that church property is a big issue. Courts recognize churches have ownership of their property,” he said. “We did not want this to be contentious. At the heart of it all, we tried to work out a gracious separation. In a divorce parents get hurt, but it’s really the kids that suffer most. We did not want our congregation (the kids) to suffer, so we tried to be gracious.”
The appeal of ECO
ECO appealed to Bethel for several reasons.
One was the acceptance of women’s ordination. Second, the heart to be missional was a draw for a congregation that places an emphasis on such a ministry. The accountability of sessions and pastors to each other also was a factor in the decision to join the denomination.
“There is a sense of mission, a passion to share the Gospel, a clear stance on the essential tenets, and our church liked having more than one confessional standard,” Kasberg said. “Our sense was that there is a strong passion for making disciples in ECO, and that was a true selling point.
“It’s not going to be so different for us making this move. We are who we are, and ECO is who we are.”
A new sense of freedom
The move to ECO has given Bethel’s members a renewed sense of freedom to be what God has called them to be.
“I think there is an excitement about being on the ground floor of a new movement like this. We’re very excited about where ECO is headed,” Kasberg said. “It’s a freedom to be the people God has called us to be. There is a renewed sense of freedom to run where we felt like we had been held back. It’s not a matter of what we’re running from but what we are running to now.”
And that race being run by the members of Bethel Presbyterian Church is one they engage in with others of like faith and beliefs.
“We are no longer struggling against what is taking place in the denomination,” Kasberg said. “This is a good thing for us, an opportunity to continue moving forward. We’re more encouraged and on the same page with others headed in the same direction. We’re stronger because we are running the race with folks who are like-hearted and like-minded.”