Providence Church of Southeast Texas, located in Nederland southeast of Beaumont near the Louisiana border, became part of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians when it was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) during the March 22 meeting of New Covenant Presbytery.
Providence Church had its start as First Presbyterian Church of Port Arthur in the early 1900s before becoming the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant when it moved in the 1960s.
Mike Cole, the executive presbyter of New Covenant Presbytery, served the church as pastor at one time.
Presbytery officials did not respond to an email from The Layman regarding the dismissal.
Clay Faulk has served as pastor of Providence since 2005 along with his wife Beth, who also is the stated supply pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Silsbee about 30 miles away. He noted that Providence and St. John Lutheran Church (ELCA) – the congregations that formally created the union parish in 2011 – both had seen a decline in their membership prior to coming together for joint services in 2008.
“We had been a church in decline with a large building, and the Lutheran church was on the brink of closing,” Clay Faulk said. “We sold our building in 2008 and moved to the ELCA property and began to work through issues to see growth.”
After the Lutheran property also was sold, the congregations opted to form a union church and purchased property in a good location along a major thoroughfare to construct a new facility. That facility was completed in 2010, and members from the two denominations continued their meetings there together. The church now offers two contemporary services and a traditional one each Sunday.
A growth spurt
Signs of growth could be seen almost immediately. Faulk indicated that the church offered non-traditional services that drew people in, and services also featured a band. The front of the worship facility also has a large playground that appeals to children.
“We wanted to reach people and share Jesus with them, and we were willing to do whatever it took to reach people and help them come to know Christ,” Faulk said.
Attendance that dropped below 70 at one point surged as Faulk began conducting more baptisms than funerals, reversing a trend that marked his early tenure at Providence and falls in line with ECO’s motto and goal of “baptizing more than we bury by 2018.” While the membership has climbed to approximately 180 people, attendance at the worship services now is around 300 combined.
“It’s a redevelopment story that has been quite successful,” Faulk said. “To say we turned the corner would be an understatement. Basically, we have raised up a new church.”
Time to go
Then came the decision to leave the PCUSA to align with another Reformed body that upheld the same essential tents and beliefs that Providence had.
“We did not go into this (union congregation) thinking we would join together and go to another denomination,” Faulk said. “It was not a planned thing. It just happened.”
Faulk indicated that the Lordship of Jesus Christ and attaining salvation through Him alone were among the issues that led the session to seek dismissal. The decay of morality within the PCUSA, particularly with the passage of Amendment 10A to allow the ordination of homosexual pastors, elders and deacons, and property ownership were other issues cited in reaching the decision to seek dismissal from the PCUSA.
“No one could remember a time when the PCUSA invested in this church. I’m sure they did at some time, but we could not find it,” Faulk said of the property concern. “(Leadership) felt we should be in an ownership situation not a dictatorship. (Leadership) should be proud to be Presbyterian, not ashamed. We just didn’t agree with how the PCUSA conducts its business, and it was time to get out. I’ve heard this many times: ‘We did not leave the PCUSA. It left us.’ That applies to us.”
The church entered the dismissal process and voted 54-0 in January to leave the PCUSA and affiliate with ECO.
“No one objected or wanted to stay in the denomination,” Faulk recalled. That was not even on the radar for us. There was no dissension at all.”
To receive its dismissal, Providence agreed to pay $150,000 ($75,000 each to New Covenant Presbytery and the ELCA Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod) as well as $12,920 in per capita. That total payment is due within a month of dismissal. Funds from the sale of the two buildings will be used to meet the dismissal payments.
New life in ECO
Faulk said affiliation with ECO has been a great thing because of its evangelical and relational focuses.
“ECO says if you want to be part of us, be part of us,” he said. “They don’t want to own you or your church. You have the choice to be part of what they offer.”
The Providence session settled on ECO because of its theology and the perception that it is on solid ground morally and spiritually, which is what the congregation sought in a denomination.
“Our leadership team liked what ECO had to offer because it seemed for us to be a return to what the PCUSA was in the 1980s. It’s a return to the basics of good theology. It’s a better fit.”
A feeling of pride, fulfillment
Faulk added that there is a sense of pride in being part of the newest Presbyterian denomination.
“A number of our members felt ashamed of what was going on in the PCUSA and did not want to talk about their denominational affiliation, and if they did, they did so sheepishly,” he said. “Our church wants to be proud of who we are and what we are part of. ECO allows us to be proud of who we are and what we are a part of now.”
ECO also emphasizes the opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission and reach people for Jesus Christ.
“We preach solid Reformed theology and teach the love of Christ in a modern way,” Faulk said. “The message never changes, even though the methods do. Our goal is to get people to want to come to church every week and enjoy it. We’ve not been talked about much but we have tripled in size. Nobody really knows about us but those loyally attending and the people we reach. We may be the best kept secret in Texas.”