Holding firm to the beliefs that Scripture is the final authority for a life of faith and Jesus is the only way to salvation, another Washington congregation exited the Presbyterian Church (USA) in favor of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
Bethany Presbyterian Church, located in the south-central Washington town of Grandview, was dismissed during the Feb. 22 Central Washington Presbytery meeting. The move to ECO became effective March 31 following a 30-day period for any opposition to the dismissal to be expressed.
Dismissal to ECO required payment of two years of per capita to the presbytery, a figure totaling $7,600, as well as a change of name. The congregation is known now as Bethany Community Church.
“We thought it was a pretty reasonable settlement,” said Mike Clark, interim pastor at Bethany since March 2013. “The presbytery was very good to work with. They have a gracious dismissal policy, and it was just that. The presbytery was fantastic and made the process less stressful than it could have been.”
The move to ECO came after former pastor Lane Ziegler and a small group of members left to form Faith Family Fellowship and join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
In years past, Bethany had a membership of approximately 400 members. Through the years, that membership declined, and the split several years ago left 76 members on the rolls.
The continued drift in theology by the PCUSA was followed closely by the church, and shortly after Clark arrived the wheels were put in motion to seek departure from the national denomination.
“We were seeing the erosion of the PCUSA,” Clark said. “We tried to fight within (the presbytery) to take a stand for our conservative beliefs, but it was obvious things were going in the wrong direction. They were not getting better but worse.”
Citing the authority of Scripture and Lordship of Jesus Christ as reasons for seeking dismissal, Bethany moved forward with the dismissal process, and its session worked out agreeable terms with an Administrative Commission (AC) from the presbytery after an October 2013 congregational vote of 67-1 in favor of leaving.
“We believe God was calling us to do this and take a firm stand,” Clark said. “We wanted a solid rock to stand on.”
The Bethany congregation found what it was looking for in ECO.
Clark pointed out that clearly defined essential tents and a more hands-off approach in governance of the church were a couple of reasons the congregation settled on the newest Presbyterian denomination.
“It was not a top-down (governance) approach but more of a bottom-up stance,” he said. “ECO showed a willingness to do what is needed to support our ministry.”
The mission affinity groups requiring sessions of churches to work together provided by ECO as well as the pastoral covenant groups also appealed to Bethany, along with the opportunity for female members to hold ministerial positions within the church.
Moving to ECO also made geographical sense for the church. At least eight churches from Central Washington Presbytery have joined ECO in the last two years with others in the process.
“Several churches in our area have joined ECO, so it’s like being in the same presbytery, only as ECO congregations instead of PCUSA,” Clark said.
Reaching untapped resources
Clark said there is an air of excitement about being part of a new denomination.
“Our congregation is looking at this as a new beginning,” he said. “The church has been growing since we got past that initial split, and people have changed their attitudes. We’re looking to spread the Gospel to the Yakima Valley.”
The church is exploring ways to reach a new demographic of people with the teachings of Jesus Christ. With the church located in a rich agricultural region, there is a growing Hispanic population. It’s a mission field that can be tapped into by the Bethany congregation.
“That can be an entirely new ministry for us, people we need to reach,” Clark explained. “We want to reach that demographic and more. We need to be about the mission of creating disciples and evangelizing this area. There is a huge need for that, here and elsewhere.”