The Gathering at Windsor, started as a church plant of Plains and Peaks Presbytery an hour north of Denver in Windsor, Colo., in 2004, was dismissed during a Feb. 8 presbytery meeting to join ECO after being part of the Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP) prior to its official dismissal.
Session member David McLaughlin said The Gathering was dismissed unanimously by the presbytery without having to meet any financial obligation. The congregation has been meeting at Grandview Elementary School, and land that could be used to build a church was titled to the presbytery, which retained that property.
“We had no building and no assets, and that was probably why we were able to get through the process so quickly,” McLaughlin said. “We know a lot of congregations have the process complicated by those assets, and we knew it could have been harder of we were an older church with assets. That was not an issue for us. The presbytery took nothing. We had nothing to give.”
The congregation, now at 70 members after reaching a high of 150 at one point, went through the dismissal process without a teaching elder after David Barton, the founding pastor, left to become pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Ill., in August 2013.
Barton actually started through the discernment process with the session but left before any discussion took place with the congregation. The session began discussions about leaving as early as the spring of 2012 and took its recommendation to the congregation a couple of weeks after Barton left.
“We felt we were in a do-or-die situation,” McLaughlin explained. “We did not know if we would survive his departure.”
Once the session informed the congregation of what was taking place within the PCUSA and the direction it was seeking to go in aligning with a new denomination, there was almost unanimous support of the decision. After notifying the Plains and Peaks Presbytery of its intent to seek dismissal in the early fall of 2013, a vote to leave showed 98 percent of those voting members of The Gathering in favor of departing for ECO.
“It was a large majority that wanted to do this,” McLaughlin said. “We were not growing and we were losing members due to things going on in the PCUSA. We had to leave because of our affiliation with the PCUSA. We felt it was affecting our mission in a negative way.”
Impacted in a negative way
The passage of Amendment 10A in the spring of 2011 (regarding ordination standards) was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” McLaughlin explained. He said that the abandonment of Biblical standards of living was what really made people take more notice of what was happening in the PCUSA.
“The changes in Biblical standards of living only caused us to start looking closer at what was going on in the denomination,” he said. “Accountability was no longer happening, and we felt truth had been compromised.”
McLaughlin cited changed to the Book of Order that took out essential tenets of Christian faith and providing other ways to salvation than the substitutionary atonement through Christ as issues for members of The Gathering.
“The denomination seemed to be trying to accommodate changes in culture, and that seemed to be hurting our mission of sharing Christ,” he said. “We were seeing our congregation and impact in the community start to shrink.”
Planting roots in ECO
In ECO, The Gathering found essential tenets of faith that addressed the importance of accountability within a denomination.
ECO’s focus on mission and church planting resonated with the session and congregation, and being part of the Fellowship of Presbyterians allowed them to get a taste of what ECO was about through attendance at a regional gathering in the spring of 2013.
“We shared ideas and gained a sense that this denomination was about people and churches helping each other,” McLaughlin said. “It gave us an idea of who we are and what we’re about, and that’s Biblical truth.”
As a church plant with 10 years of existence, there also was a sense that The Gathering could assist ECO with future church plants.
“That was something the PCUSA did not offer much of when we were planted,” McLaughlin added.
A gracious move in a new direction
While it was a somewhat bittersweet move on one hand, the whole process proved to be one handled in a gracious manner.
“This was made tricky and complicated just because we felt we needed to leave the denomination that planted us,” McLaughlin said. “The PCUSA planted us, and we are grateful for that, but we knew we had to make this move.”
McLaughlin noted that the presbytery was gracious in working through the process and very helpful, handling manners in an amicable way.
“There were not a lot of arguments and really no dissension. The presbytery was wonderful in working with us,” he said. “God was in it all the way, and we felt very blessed about the outcome.”
The Gathering has called a pastor and is moving forward in its mission to share Christ as part of a new denomination. Andrew Davis came on board as the new pastor on Easter Sunday (April 20).
“With a new pastor in place, we’re looking to move forward in our ministry,” McLaughlin said. “We felt we needed to find out who we are and where were going before we brought on a new pastor. We wanted to be in ECO, find our pastor and look to define our future.
“There is a sense of relief that this over, and we are hoping to grow, allowing God to use us as He sees fit.”