Straw Poll Results and the End of Denominational Discernment
Thank you to all who participated in this week’s straw poll regarding our denominational relationships.
Of our 574 current members, 280 (48.7%) of you were able to participate and offer your opinion.
“Do you support the decision by the Session of Eastminster Presbyterian Church that we leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination and seek membership in the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO) denomination?”
260 (92.9%) marked “Yes,” and 20 (7.1%) marked “No.”
Last month, representatives of our presbytery were offered to discuss staying PC(USA) with any who disagreed with the direction of the Session. Four members spoke with presbytery representatives, and two of these stated categorically that they will leave Eastminster when we leave PC(USA).
After a year of town halls, extra session meetings, letters, statements, PowerPoints, trips to conventions, visits from EPC, ECO, and PC(USA) representatives, visits from elders to classrooms, and countless member to member coffees and conversations, this draws our period of denominational discernment to a close!
The issues before us in this discussion were many. How unique is the saving work of Jesus Christ? Is salvation through Christ alone? What is the role of the Bible in the life of the church? Is it our only rule of faith and life? What standards should church leaders hold about sexual activity outside of marriage? Tolerance? Forgiveness? Endorsement? Institutional Blessing? Should marriage itself be uprooted from its biblical foundations and reapplied to match the needs of our contemporary culture? What would Jesus do? What is Jesus doing? Should our denomination make political decisions for us, and advocate for particular policies in foreign relations, abortion/choice, universal healthcare, gun control, immigration, etc? Which issues do we want our denomination to stand strong over? Should our property be held by us alone as sole owners without encumbrance, or should it be held in trust by a larger body?
Friends, a healthy church should represent considerable diversity in these questions. I celebrate that we are a church holding together with many different viewpoints but a common love for God and one another. At the same time, a healthy church should have leaders who are able to ground every decision on the Word of God with confidence. I celebrate the work of our elders in searching the scriptures diligently, praying fervently, and putting faithfulness to Jesus Christ above perceived risks. I hope you will celebrate with me that Eastminster is a great church, by the grace of God!
I also sincerely hope that wherever you are personally on all these issues, you will hang with Eastminster through the transition. Try on this new form. See if it doesn’t prove to be life-giving and animating for you and for your church. Presbyterianism is a wide landscape, and we believe ECO is its best shape for 2013 and beyond.
What comes next for us?
These results are all being communicated to presbytery leadership.
At the next meeting of our presbytery on February 26, there will be a vote to recognize ECO as a reformed body valid for dismissal (pray for this important step). If the vote is affirmative, an Administrative Commission will be formed with the authority to work out terms of dismissal with us. We have a Negotiating Team in place to work with this commission and find terms of dismissal that are fair and honoring to Christ. Pray for this Administrative Commission and our Negotiating Team, that they all seek the glory of the Lord above all.
At the May 28 presbytery meeting, should all go as planned, the terms of dismissal for our church will be voted on the floor. We will then have a new charter formed with the State of Georgia, requiring a congregational meeting. We will turn in records and other documents to the PC(USA), receive a “Quit Claim Deed” restoring full property ownership to our church, and cease our relationship with that denomination. This will likely occur at the end of June.
At the same time, ECO representatives are processing our application to join as a congregation, as well as applications from myself, Blake and Katie Hudson, to be received as ordained ministers of Word and Sacrament in ECO. When they are satisfied, they will certify us (congregation and ministers) receivable upon dismissal.
The active Session elders and active Deacon Board will be received as ordained elders and deacons immediately. A process will be put in place for those of you who were previously ordained as deacons and elders in the PC(USA) or other reformed body to transfer your ordination into ECO, if you are willing to affirm the Essential Tenets of the church and desire to be an ordained officer in the new denomination.
Lord willing, the process will be finished by the end of the summer and we will launch our ministries in the fall unencumbered by denominational fracturing and infighting. The light is officially shining at the end of the tunnel.
At the Synod meeting for ECO in Orlando two weeks ago, the goal was lifted: “We will baptize more than we bury by 2018.” Eastminster already does! Let’s share our leadership with others. Let’s really get after the mission of Jesus. It’s time to reach East Cobb for Christ with more and more energy, and be part of a denomination on a movement to reach this world with the Gospel.
I am proud of my church, and I hope you are too. As ever, it is a privilege and an honor to serve you as your pastor. Keep praying. The Lord is doing mighty things in our midst.
Yours in Christ,
Dr. Timothy P. McConnell
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.