First Presbyterian Church of Hallstead, located in Susquehanna County near the New York border just south of Binghamton, was dismissed from the PCUSA during the Jan. 25 meeting of Lackawanna Presbytery to become a member of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
The dismissal ended a process that lasted about 13 months for the 42-member church, founded in 1789, and was one that proved to be gracious, according to an email sent to The Layman by Hallstead Clerk of Session Kenneth Robinson.
“This dismissal process was very amicable,” Robinson wrote. “We had a wonderful Presbytery Engagement Team (PET) that walked with us through the final discernment process. When the PET got to know us and agreed that we were being called to leave the PCUSA and join ECO, they were gracious and helpful.”
The Hallstead session had been praying about and discussing the possibility of leaving the PCUSA for about two years before bringing such a recommendation to the congregation.
After several informational meetings in the summer of 2012 and a non-binding straw poll in September of that year, an official letter requesting dismissal was sent to Lackawanna Presbytery in October.
The final congregational vote on departure from the PCUSA and alignment with ECO in December 2013 yielded a 28-1 margin in support of leaving the national denomination.
The congregation agreed to pay a decreasing percentage of per capita for the next four years as well as a small mission gift to the presbytery in exchange for keeping its building and all other assets, a settlement deemed equitable by Hallstead’s membership, Robinson noted.
A need to leave, join ECO
The decision to seek dismissal was made for several reasons. Robinson indicated that church leaders have witnessed a steady drift of PCUSA leadership away from the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of salvation offered by God through the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Robinson also pointed out that during the 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh in 2012, Scripture was not acknowledged as the guiding authority to resolve questions of belief and practice, further troubling the Hallstead congregation.
But with ECO, now more than two years into its existence, there is a strong missional focus and firm stance on the essential tents of faith for the denomination, including the authority of Scripture and the truth that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Such emphases resonated with the Hallstead congregation.
Continuing the journey
While still relatively new to the ECO scene, Hallstead’s membership is ready to take the next step in the journey God has been directing.
“We have taken just a moment to catch our collective breath and are now looking to discern how God wants us to continue this rebirth,” Robinson wrote. “We have made contacts for joining a Missional Affinity Group within ECO to encourage one another and share ideas about outreach.”
Robinson also pointed out that the path followed has been one that has proven to be rewarding for the Hallstead congregation.
“Although it was long and at times difficult, our journey through the dismissal process was actually a blessing,” Robinson wrote. “As can easily happen, we had become somewhat complacent. Through the process of discerning whether God was calling to this new thing, the congregation has been unified. We are reawakening to Jesus’ call to go out into the world with the Gospel, and to depend on Him for the strength and the means with which to do it. If God is calling you to leave where you are it is to bring you to where He wants you to be and to bring you closer to Him in the process.”