(By Dana Allin, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians). This week, the Synod office has received some questions regarding the article The Presbyterian Outlook published about the recent meeting in Chicago between ECO and the PCUSA. We wanted to respond here in an effort to answer some of the questions many of you may have.
Along with Nate Dreesmann, I drafted a letter which was sent to the leadership of our presbyteries shortly after the meeting. You will notice that this letter references a meeting of the PCUSA middle governing body leadership where some of these issues would be discussed. We were not aware that The Outlook would be present and report on that meeting. As a result, we had not prepared a statement for the whole body of ECO, as some points are still being worked out.
This three-page presbytery letter will answer the vast majority of questions that have been asked. This letter has been given to the PCUSA, as well as the WCRC, as a synopsis of our understanding of the event and our potential commitments.
Allow me to address a few additional questions raised by The Outlook article:
Do ECO presbyteries negotiate with PCUSA presbyteries on every dismissal? As my letter will indicate, 97% of our congregations have gone through orderly dismissals. In these cases, nothing changes. The use of the word “negotiate” in the article is an unfortunate word choice, as it implies that we have to settle the terms of dismissal with the PCUSA presbytery. As we know, the terms of dismissal are only between the church and its PCUSA presbytery. The ECO presbytery merely receives the letter that the church has been dismissed. No “negotiation” needs to take place. Our attached letter indicates how presbyteries are encouraged to handle situations where congregations may be seeking to join ECO without being dismissed.
Is there a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ECO and PCUSA? The goal of the meeting was to have an understanding in place. This understanding has not been formulated yet because we were waiting on the PCUSA to have their meeting with their middle governing body leaders. At that meeting they were to confirm that PCUSA presbyteries actually wanted ECO presbyteries to engage in the PCUSA’s dismissal process if that process was going in a contentious direction. After this particular point gets worked out, there will be an MOU. However, both ECO and the PCUSA recognize that the power to dismiss, and to take a church in, is given to our presbyteries. Therefore, the only thing we could commit to do in our denominations is to encourage presbyteries to take certain actions that are reflected in the attached letter.
What is the center of mission? The article also addresses a significant difference in ecclesiology between the PCUSA and ECO. In the article, as well as in our letter, you will see that the PCUSA considers the presbytery to be the center of mission. Therefore, the congregation serves as an extension of the presbytery’s mission. (Note that the PCUSA leadership agreed with and approved the statement I made in the letter about the PCUSA’s center of mission being their presbyteries.) In ECO, we believe that the center of mission is the congregation. Such language is clearly articulated in the attached letter. However, I want to add that we do not believe that having the local church as the center of mission is in any way a departure from Presbyterianism. In fact, the Middle Council Commission of the PCUSA submitted a report to the General Assembly in 2012 that also encouraged the denomination to see the congregation as a center of mission. At one point it states, “The congregation is the basic form of mission, but for congregations to be faithful to their mission also requires them to be in covenant relationships with other congregations for shared authority, accountability, edification and missional support.” We would agree. In the words, of Louis Weeks, President Emeritus of Union Theological Seminary, “The highest council in the church is really the Session. The rest of the governing bodies serve the Session.” I believe these statements are indicative of ECO’s ecclesiology.
As always, we are grateful to serve alongside of each of you in ministry. We continue to be fervently committed to building flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ. May we pray together towards that end, and may we will always uphold the love, grace, and truth of Christ as we do so.