A 108-year-old Presbyterian church in Branson, Mo., celebrated its 32-year history with the Presbyterian Church (USA) in a final service on Dec. 27, and then, on Jan. 3, held its first worship service as a member of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
The First Presbyterian Church of Branson was dismissed from the PCUSA by John Calvin Presbytery on Nov. 7.
The 245-member church and Pastor Tom Willcox were dismissed to ECO with “no fees, strings or other requirements,” according to an article by Willcox published in the church newsletter. However, the church session “in its request for dismissal from the PCUSA, volunteered a covenant to continue supporting the mission and ministry of John Calvin Presbytery with decreasing measures of its current support over the next four years to lessen the negative impact of the congregation’s dismissal on the mission and ministry of John Calvin Presbytery.”
“John Calvin Presbytery has demonstrated the highest example of gracious dismissal,” Willcox wrote. “The presbytery leadership, COM and the presbytery as a whole have been positive, gracious and complementary at every step in the dismissal process. The rest of the PCUSA would do well to take note of and to emulate the Christ-like character of John Calvin Presbytery’s leaders and members. With a presbytery like this, there is no need nor any defense for an adversarial or contentious congregational discernment or dismissal process.”
In a discernment update, Willcox discussed the two options that the session considered for a new denominational home: ECO and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Acknowledging that the EPC is “an excellent denomination with excellent theology,” the session believed that “ECO is the pace for us to grow and thrive as a 21st century church.”
ECO, Willcox wrote, “is intentionally choosing to be a 21st century Church. ECO has a vision for helping existing, older institutional style churches learn how to also create missional movements. Today’s younger generations, think younger than forty years old, are interested in spiritual matters but they are turned off by the style and structure of the institutional church. They don’t want to become members of an institution; they want to become part of a movement. Learning to add missional movement thinking to our core thinking as a church is a key piece of how the session believes we can become relevant to new generations of future believers.”