It has been an eventful month. On May 1, the congregation of Calvary Church voted unanimously to accept the dismissal terms negotiated with a team from the Presbytery of Southern New England. The following Saturday, presbytery voted unanimously to approve Calvary’s request to be dismissed to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. The Session is currently working with the presbytery trustees and attorney to finalize the legal agreement. Both Calvary Church and I have been examined and accepted into membership of the North East Presbytery of ECO, pending this final agreement. We are not certain how long it will take to wrap up the details, but hope that it can be concluded by the end of July.
As we draw near to the end of this process, I’ve spent some time pondering what this was all about. Don’t get me wrong, I am not second-guessing the decision. I am absolutely convinced that it was right, and have known for many years that Calvary Church would have to make this move at some point. The question is: “What is God’s purpose in all this?”
The answer I’ve come to is that this was not simply a response to a particular set of issues. It is not about finding a denomination in which we will be more comfortable … it is about being part of a movement which will help encourage and equip Calvary Church in carrying out the call and mission that God has set before us. How will this help?
First, the mission of ECO is closely aligned with that of Calvary Church. Our vision is to grow as a Christ-centered community committed to loving God, loving others, and making disciples. The stated mission of ECO is to “build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.” The ECO national gathering, which Melissa and I attended in January, was focused on striving toward that goal. Being part of ECO will challenge and encourage Calvary Church as we continue to grow in discipleship.
Second, being only 4 years old, ECO is free to focus on the future rather than perpetuating the past. If the church is to thrive in the coming decades, we need to learn to present the unchanging Gospel in the context of a rapidly changing and increasingly skeptical culture. An attractional model of ministry (if you build it, they will come) is no longer sufficient to sustain a congregation, let alone reach a community. Churches unwilling or unable to change will face steady decline. ECO can be a source of encouragement and resources as we seek to make the changes that will allow us to be effective in the future.
Our dismissal into ECO is not a move to a “safe place” that will allow us to remain comfortable as we are. It is, rather, becoming part of a movement to bring the unchanging Good News of Jesus to a changing world in new and effective ways. And that is exciting!
Through this summer, our sermons will be looking at some of the implications of this for Calvary Church. I ask you to remain faithful in prayer for the completion of the dismissal process, but even more so, for the grace and faith to walk into this new beginning.
Grace and Peace,