Moses Lake Presbyterian Church, located in Grant County in the middle of Washington between Seattle to the west and Spokane to the east, was dismissed from Central Washington Presbytery during the Feb. 23, 2013 stated meeting to affiliate with ECO, effective April 30, 2013.
The Rev. Eric Frey, who has been pastor at the 613-member church since 2000, said the congregational vote to seek dismissal to ECO in September 2012 showed 92 percent of the active voting membership was in favor of departure. The majority of those not voting to leave were abstentions. Additionally, a vote of non-members, which was not used by the presbytery in the dismissal process, showed 99 percent in favor of making the move to the new denomination.
“It was not used by the presbytery, but it was important for us as a church to hear from them as well,” Frey said. “We wanted to hear from our regular active participants who are not yet members, those who had not joined because we were still in the PCUSA.”
Moses Lake began the process of leaving the PCUSA not long after Central Washington Presbytery developed its dismissal policy. The session voted 12-0 to recommend dismissal to ECO, and that set into motion the chain of events that led to dismissal.
“There is a sense that the congregation was aware that ECO would be a better home for Moses Lake Presbyterian Church,” Frey said. “The vision, the ethos of ECO, the entrepreneurial spirit and theological stance simply were better for us. That’s what was conveyed through the discernment process from the leadership – pastors and elders. It was a broad vision that was so compelling. The congregation realized that and was in favor of making the move.”
Frey added that staying connected with churches still in the Central Washington Presbytery was important to Moses Lake, and joining ECO would allow that to happen. Other churches in the presbytery are involved in the dismissal process and may join MLPC in ECO.
“It is important for us to stay connected to other churches in the presbytery, and our elders felt this was a legitimate way for the church to move,” he said. “We wanted to be as non-divisive as possible and maintain those relationships. We look to continue to work together and provide care for smaller churches that stay in the PCUSA.”
On the day of the congregational vote to determine if it would leave the PCUSA, Moses Lake had just one joint service, down from the four it offers on a typical Sunday. To accommodate the overflow crowd that was too large for the sanctuary, the church rented tents. In addition to communion, 22 baptisms were performed, further advancing an ECO motto to “baptize more than we bury by 2018.”
As part of its dismissal, Moses Lake was required to pay three years of per capita totaling $63,000, an amount that already has been provided to the presbytery. In addition, Moses Lake plans to voluntarily continue mission giving to Central Washington Presbytery to continue assisting programs it believes in and supports.
The decline of the PCUSA and differences in theology were driving forces for the church to seek a new denominational home.
“Our session had a long-standing frustration with declines of the PCUSA and a lack of response to that. The denomination, as a whole, only knew how to do what it had always done,” Frey said. “Our congregation has grown fairly dramatically, and that growth showed us that the demise of the PCUSA did not have to happen because nothing was being done. We realized growth is possible and reaching lost people for Jesus is possible if you connect with other churches with the same passion. We were just tired of all the infighting in the denomination.”
Frey reiterated the methodology being incorporated by ECO as the primary theological difference between it and the PCUSA, again making note of more baptisms than burials.
“We need to focus on church planting and being more theologically consistent, things we already are doing,” Frey said. “If the theological foundation of the PCUSA was more Biblically consistent, we probably would not have made the move. But in my opinion that lack of theological consistency is why the PCUSA is not looking to do ministry differently.”
While it has a difference of opinion with the national denomination, the dismissal process was one that turned out to be smooth for Moses Lake.
“It was loving, graceful, respectful, and I think you could say it was that way on both sides,” Frey said in summing up the meetings between the church and presbytery representatives. “The blessing of the gracious policy is not simply that we did not have to come up with more money for our property but that we walked though it together in a way that allowed relationships to remain intact. Because we had a peaceful process, we’re not enemies.
“We continue to be as much support as we can and (the presbytery) will allow. I believe that’s how the Body of Christ is to function.”
With that in mind, Frey and his congregants are set to continue God’s work of reaching those who don’t know Jesus and share His love and wonderful works with them.
“We’re extremely excited to connect with other churches as passionate about being effective and doing faithful ministry for the Kingdom,” Frey said. “That’s what I think our efforts should be about and what we should be doing rather than spending time and resources on fighting politics.”
Two others join ECO
Four Mile Church and Community Presbyterian Church also were dismissed to join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians recently.
Four Mile Church, located in Beaver, Pa. north of Pittsburgh, was dismissed from Beaver-Butler Presbytery. It has a membership of approximately 585, with R. Martin Williams as its pastor.
Community Presbyterian Church is in Sandy, Ore., located in the northwest region of the state. Dismissed to ECO from Cascades Presbytery, the church has a membership of approximately 100 under the pastoral care of Gregory Thorson.