Frequently Asked Questions ECO s Polity (Organization & Governance)

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1 Frequently Asked Questions ECO s Polity (Organization & Governance) What is the state of ECO today? What has changed since 2013? ECO now has almost 300 churches compared with fewer than 100 in 2013 and is growing rapidly. In addition, ECO currently has about 30 new church plants in various stages of development. ECO s budget for their 2016 fiscal year is $1.75 million and they are projected to have a budget close to $2 million for fiscal year Financial statements can be made available to those interested in greater detail. How would you generally describe the rationale behind ECO polity? Presbyterianism was set up very similarly to the original premise of United States federal system: with the affairs of state not exclusively governed at the federal level but rather reserved for the states. While Presbyterians did not want their churches to be completely independent and without the benefit of collective wisdom and discipline and support, neither did they desire hierarchical, top-down control of local churches. What they wanted was to set parameters for ministry and operation at wider councils of the church and have lower councils govern themselves within those parameters. The wider councils could support the lower councils to fulfill their mission and provide discipline when congregations were in error. What ECO is attempting to do is to recapture the Presbyterian spirit and ethos of a connectional organization that has shared governmental and disciplinary procedures. There are non-negotiable theological and governmental standards in ECO, which if violated will result in disciplinary action. At the same time, there are areas in church life where flexibility needs to be afforded on particular nonessential governance strategies. ECO is prioritizing greater flexibility on the congregational level. How will ECO remain lean and congregation-centered going forward? The goal of ECO is to make sure that everything it is doing at a national level helps local churches create and foster an environment that will allow them to flourish. Any changes to ECO s structure would require a change in ECO s polity and approvals from the member churches. What type of support is given to a new congregation joining ECO? Because each church coming into ECO comes with a different history and context, ECO first encourages each Presbytery to have a liaison with the church and to help the church in its transition. Session participation in a Mission Affinity Group and pastoral participation in Pastors Covenant Groups also help congregations make the transition. Finally, ECO offers congregations many different resources and

2 resource partners to assist them in their transition and to help with different ministry initiatives (such as church planting) that they may have. Examples of these resources can be found on the ECO website. What is ECO s approach to church planting? ECO s approach is different from the PC(USA) s in that the PC(USA) model of church planting is funded by individual churches but implemented at the Presbytery level. Many local congregations have resisted that approach. ECO believes local churches should be planting churches and allocates financial and human resources accordingly. How will ECO reach out to younger people? What kind of success are they having? Session believes ECO s emphasis on having a more missional approach to mission and ministry will resonate with younger adults and Millenials. Research indicates that Millennials who want to be a part of church want to be part of a church that is making a difference in its own community and around the world. To date, several ECO churches have experienced greater growth among Millenials than Baby Boomers. Questions About ECO s Theology What is the basis of FPC s disagreements with PC(USA)? Session s decision to revisit the question of denominational affiliation can t be reduced to a single subject. Our church has struggled with the positions held by the PC(USA) on matters ranging from theology and mission to governance and property. Our pending vote is based on the accumulation of many diverging opinions and positions on a wide variety of subjects. Isn t this proposed change in denominational affiliation a way to avoid ordaining homosexuals into leadership or endorsing marriage equality? A change in denominational affiliation will not change FPC s stated position on matters of human sexuality. First Pres is already on record as holding to positions on these questions that are different from the stated positions of the PC(USA). With deep respect to brothers and sisters in Christ who may disagree with our interpretation of Scripture, we maintain a traditional Scriptural understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman and that restricts ordination into leadership as Pastors or Ruling Elders to those who express a conviction to live in faithfulness in traditional marriage or in chastity as a single adult. Will the LGBTQ community be welcome at FPC if we are dismissed from the PC(USA)? 2

3 As we stated in a March 2015 letter to our membership (click here to read this letter), we are saddened that many LGBTQ persons have been ostracized, judged, excluded and rejected by Christians over many decades. Though we continue to hold to the above positions in our teachings and policies, we acknowledge our own sins and hypocrisies, and we also hope to hold with equal passion to a commitment to radically love all people in the name of Christ and to make FPC a place of hospitality for all who want to discover and nourish a transforming faith in Jesus Christ. We also hope, in time and with great humility, to continue to find ways to promote respectful and gracious dialogue on this subject within our congregation and to find ways to serve our community together. What is ECO s position on these issues? ECO s position on these questions aligns with the FPC position stated above. Does ECO support the ordination of women as pastors or elders? Yes, ECO firmly supports the ordination of women. The fifth core value of ECO states a commitment to egalitarian ministry: a belief in unleashing the ministry gifts of women, men, and every ethnic group. From its inception, ECO has been unequivocal in its commitment to upholding the role of women in all aspects of the church. This affirmation also extends to church planting and gives FPC the opportunity to participate in church plants that are both evangelical and egalitarian. Currently, about 16% of ECO s 500 pastors are women. Does ECO use the reformed documents in the PC(USA) Book of Confessions? The Constitution of ECO is made up of the Essential Tenets, the polity, and the Rules of Discipline. ECO has adopted the confessions contained in the PC(USA) Book of Confessions as a faithful foundation of Reformed theology by which its leaders vow to be guided, but has not made them constitutional documents. ECO is in the process of determining which of the existing confessions will eventually become part of their constitution. This process is examining what it means to be a confessional church and looking at all of the confessions in light of this understanding. Through this process, ECO hopes to discern how and which confessions to finally adopt. Why does ECO have Essential Tenets? ECO chose for its theological unity to be defined by Essential Tenets which serve to identify a common core of the confessions. Ordained leaders vow to receive, adopt, and be bound by the Essential Tenets of ECO as a reliable exposition of what Scripture teaches us to do and to believe, and to be guided by them in their life and ministry. Of course, Scripture is the authority that measures all doctrinal, confessional, and theological expression. 3

4 Is it possible for ECO s Essential Tenets to ever change or evolve? How would that happen? One of the historic expressions used in the Reformed tradition is reformed and always reforming according to the word of God and the call of the Spirit. ECO seeks to have theological clarity but also to remain true to this idea. There is a clearly laid out process in the polity for the ways in which amendments can be made to the Essential Tenets. ECO s standard for changing its Essential Tenets requires a 2/3 majority of all of its presbyteries and a 2/3 majority within each presbytery to affirm any potential change. Does ECO allow for freedom of conscience regarding the Essential Tenets? Are members required to subscribe to the Essential Tenets? What about elders and pastors? ECO requires adherence to Essential Tenets but only among ordained leaders. In its polity document, they state, Elders and deacons are ordained and installed by the session. Pastors are ordained and installed by the presbyteries. Ordaining bodies must ensure that all officers adhere to the Essential Tenets of ECO. Failure of officers to continue to adhere to these standards is grounds for a session or Presbytery to remove an officer from service according to the Rules of Discipline in this Constitution. To illustrate how this works, some elders might prefer to use the word inerrant to describe the Scriptures rather than infallible, which is used in the essentials. They can still be ordained because they adhere to the theology of the essentials. There are other times when officers may disagree personally with some aspect but submit their behavior to the doctrine of the church. Members are not required to adhere to the Essential Tenets in order to join an ECO church. The only requirement for membership is that same one that FPC requires that a new member be willing to confess their faith Jesus Christ for salvation. Questions About ECO Leadership and Accountability What are Mission Affinity Groups? Mission Affinity Groups exist to increase connectedness between congregations and their Sessions, along with accountability and encouragement to spur one another toward love and good deeds. Mission Affinity Groups usually feature 3-5 congregations organized around similar ministry settings and contexts, such as size, geographic location, cultural or demographic similarities, or future ministry goals, among others. They are elder-led, not pastor led. 4

5 What role do Mission Affinity Groups play within the accountability structure of ECO? Mission Affinity Groups provide an additional level of peer accountability in addition to the hierarchical. The congregation is also accountable to the Presbytery. This authority and responsibility includes injecting itself in the life of the congregation, if necessary. Though the words original jurisdiction are not used when looking at the polity, discipline, and membership agreement, it is clear that the Presbytery has the right and responsibility to remedy situations where the congregation is out of compliance with the polity. What are Pastor Covenant Groups? In ECO, every pastor is required to be in a pastors covenant group. The purpose of these groups is for pastors to coach, encourage and pray for one another as each one strives for greater missional effectiveness. Under its Committee on Ministry, each Presbytery will ensure that all pastors are participating in a group. This stipulation in ECO polity reflects a commitment to the health of its clergy. Pastors experience a tremendous level of burnout, isolation and sometimes moral failure. For a pastor, this covenant group is similar to what might be asked of a congregation member in joining a small group. How are congregations reviewed and held accountable to ECO expectations? The judicial process is outlined in ECO s polity. The membership agreement that a Session signs when joining confirms their willingness to be bound by the Presbytery. For example, ECO must sign off on congregation by-laws and any revisions congregations make to ensure they comply with the polity and IRS guidelines for 501(c)(3) status. Similarly, ECO can file disciplinary charges if a congregation does not adhere to denominational standards for ordination. In their operating manuals the presbyteries put policies in place to ensure congregations fulfill their mission affinity work, check minutes of the congregation and see that pastors participate in covenant groups. How else will unity be encouraged among ECO congregations? In addition to the governance and theological commitments described above, ECO requires financial unity through paying dues. We also have voluntary ways in which congregations can and are supportive of wider ministries such as international mission and church planting. Does ECO require per capita payments similar to the PC(USA)? No, the PC(USA) per capita assessment is replaced in ECO with annual dues equivalent to one percent of a church s operating budget in order to support the synod. Presbyteries receive an apportionment from the national dues. 5

6 In this season of tighter operating budgets, how will FPC fund the difference between what it would owe to ECO and what it currently gives to the PC(USA)? In FY 2017, FPC s annual operating budget is $7.5 million. The difference between a $75,000 (one percent) contribution to ECO and our current per capita commitment to the PC(USA) of $22,500, would equal $52,500. While our funding strategy is still a work in progress, Session s commitment is to fund the difference without any further cuts to staff or ministry. What is the role of the Clerk of Session in ECO? Clerks in ECO have a similar role to clerks in PC(USA), including constitutionally mandated responsibilities in the discipline function of the polity. Nothing would change for FPC in this area. Are presbyteries involved in the process churches use to call their pastors? Yes, as in the PC(USA), pastors are members of the Presbytery. Thus, their ministry and calling is confirmed by the Presbytery or its authorized committee responsible for examining and credentialing pastors. ECO does not require that a member of the Presbytery be a part of the call process. The PC(USA) has committees to encourage diversity in gender and ethnicity on committees. ECO does not. Is this kind of diversity a value of ECO? If so, how will it be supported? Session believes that a desire for ethnic and gender diversity is important. ECO s core values state: We believe in unleashing the ministry gifts of women, men, and every ethnic group. While there is no committee to ensure diverse representation, it is to be a goal of each Presbytery. ECO s polity states that in the selection of commissioners to wider councils, the Presbytery is encouraged to promote representation in race, ethnicity, gender, ability/disability, and age. These are areas of difference recognized as the basis of discrimination and inequality in church and society. Miscellaneous Other Questions: Some have alleged that ECO polity is Baptist or Congregational. Is this true? Session has researched these points and we have learned that, despite placing greater flexibility on the congregational level, there are various ways that ECO maintains Presbyterian accountability structurally, financially, and relationally. Additionally, ECO seeks to mobilize the lay leadership for ministry, which can include responsibilities like pastoral care, preaching, and administering the sacraments. This position is actually very similar to the PC(USA) s office of Certified Ruling Elder. They act under the supervision and accountability of the Session and Head of Staff of their church, and if there is none, they are supervised by the Presbytery. 6

7 Is it true that it will be easier for leaders to sell the church s property than would be required under PC(USA) polity? No, the requirements are similar. Both mandate congregational approval before mortgaging, buying or selling real property. ECO requires a ten percent quorum for congregational meetings, unless otherwise specified by the congregation in its bylaws. FPC established a by-law which set the quorum for congregational meetings at 10 percent of active members after PC(USA) removed this explicit requirement from the Book of Order in Does the flexibility afforded congregations extend to pulpit or to Sunday School curriculum? What happens if a congregation or a pastor goes beyond ECO s essentials? ECO does have rules of discipline and a polity that states that failure to continue to adhere to the essentials will/can result in disciplinary charges. If churches are seeing things preached that seem to be outside the bounds of the essentials, ECO would first ask the local ministry partnership team to talk with and counsel the pastor to determine the nature of the complaint. If there indeed was preaching and teaching outside the bounds of the essentials, the pastor would be counseled to repent of that teaching and to move back within the boundaries of the essentials. If there is a refusal to do so, then a judicial commission would be established to hear that case and to decide on the future of that pastor s status within ECO. ECO introduces a new role to the types of clergy in the local congregations, the assistant pastor. What is this role and how is it useful? ECO is bringing back the role of the assistant pastor, which formerly was present within the PC(USA) and was later removed. Actually the PC(USA) still functionally has assistant pastors, but simply has a different name for those positions. These are sometimes called temporary relations, or when congregations have parish associates serving within the congregation at the will of the Session when no formal call is placed. A Final Comment Thank you for taking the time to read through this document. We hope you have found it helpful. If you need more information, please go to the Denominational Affiliation page on the FPC website and/or the ECO website. We also encourage you to attend the town hall meetings scheduled on October 23 and October 27. 7

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