The 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.
The 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.
Nashville has long been a bastion for the PCUSA, but the PCA began sheltering PCUSA “refugees” three decades ago. The PCA now has a gigantic presence in Nashville, including schools.
Still, there are many, many PCUSA members looking for a new home, quietly waiting for the ECO (or the EPC) to establish a presence here..
It would make my day to learn that the ECO (or the EPC) were making plans to put down roots in Nashville. I am ready.
Does ECO allow women clergy and lay leaders?
Yes, like the PCUSA, the ECO holds only to the egalitarian view of the ordination of women, allowing women to be ordained to the offices of teaching elder, ruling elder, and deacon, and makes no accommodation for the complementarian view. Conversely, the OPC and the PCA hold only to the complementarian view, disallowing women from being ordained to the offices of teaching elder, ruling elder, and deacon, and make no accommodation for the egalitarian view.
The EPC, unlike any of these other denominations, makes accommodation for both the egalitarian and complementarian views, in that individual congregations are permitted to decide, based on their collective conscience, whether or not to ordain women to the offices of ruling elder and deacon, and individual presbyteries are permitted to decide whether or not to ordain women to the office of teaching elder. Of the twelve presbyteries in the EPC, only the Mid-America (most of Missouri) and Central South Presbyteries (eastern Texas, western Kentucky, western Tennessee, southern Illinois, southeastern Missouri, and all of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama) are majority complementarian, whereas all other presbyteries in the EPC are majority egalitarian. Congregations with women pastors located geographically in the areas encompassed by the Mid-America and Central South Presbyteries that are transferring into the EPC from the PCUSA are given the option of aligning with a majority egalitarian presbytery.
For an examination of the theology behind the complementarian and egalitarian positions, see my blog post, “On the Ordination of Women”.