March 14, 2016, 3:34 PM

Introduction to ECO Polity

Building flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ
Introduction to ECO Polity
Here is a helpful guide to the major ecclesiastical, substantive, and philosophical characteristics of ECO polity:
1. Defined core theology and behavioral expectations – One of the main concerns for many individuals and con-gregations considering ECO is that the PC(USA) has not defined essential theology and behavior requirements and will not allow congregations and presbyteries to define these requirements either. In the theology section of the ECO constitution the behavioral and theological core is established and all officers must “receive, adopt, and be bound by” these essentials.
2. ECO is concerned with ecclesiastical matters and therefore property is not held in trust – There are a cou-ple of reasons for this. First, as we have seen, when property is held in trust it can be used as leverage against con-gregations wishing to maintain theological integrity. Secondly, when presbyteries have interests in property an in-ordinate amount of time can be spent in property management.
3. Voting is done in parity at all levels and only when people are connected with a local congregation. – ECO polity does not see mission and ministry happening primarily as a result of voting. When there is the need for vot-ing at the presbytery and synod councils, within each council there is a requirement for a 1-1 parity between elders and pastors. Only pastors connected to a local congregation are eligible to vote. A pastor in validated service or honorably retired will only vote if they are an “assistant pastor” connected to an ECO congregation. In this in-stance the “assistant pastor” would be equivalent to what the PC(USA) calls a “parish associate”.
4. Church is redefined. – ECO polity defines “church” wherever believers are gathered in the name of Jesus. Church can be lived out in small groups, accountability groups, ministry teams, house churches, and mission teams to name just a few.
5. Elders and deacons can be deployed for greater ministry – Because “church” is considered to be the gathering of believers in the name of Jesus in a variety of contexts it is appropriate for the sacraments to be administered in these contexts. Elders and deacons who have been properly trained can be authorized to celebrate the sacraments in various settings. Therefore, not only can communion be celebrated in these various expressions of church but, if someone comes to faith through these expressions of church, they can be baptized by the officers who are charged with shepherding these groups. Elders and deacons can also be commissioned by the presbytery to serve as the pastors of congregations and new church developments for the mission and ministry of the presbytery.
6. Emphasis on the role of members as covenant partners – ECO polity now names members as “covenant part-ners.” Congregations may choose to use different language if they wish, but this designation is designed to empha-size that individuals aren’t joining an organization. When they say yes to membership in ECO, individuals are cov-enanting with one another in God’s redemptive mission as expressed in, through, and beyond the congregation.
Building flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ
7. Greater local flexibility – There is much within the PC(USA) Book of Order that congregations may wish to con-tinue to affirm, but there will be significant flexibility in these areas. Here are a few examples:
 Deacons – Deacons may serve as part of a board or be commissioned on an annual basis. Since deacons do not have oversight within a congregation, a congregation may choose to continue to elect deacons in congrega-tional meetings or can choose to have the session appoint deacons.
 Elders – Elders in the PC(USA) serve three-year terms and can serve no more than two consecutive terms. Many ECO congregations may wish to continue this practice. But a congregation may choose to redesign their elder election and rotation. For example, they may wish to have elders serve only one 4 year term. In some cultures it is shameful for a person to be rotated off of the elders’ board. Congregations may wish to allow el-ders to serve an unlimited number of terms. The local ECO congregation continues to be governed by elders and the congregation must elect them, but their terms of service can have flexibility.
 Pastors – A few different categories of pastors are defined. For example, ECO polity has reinstated the office of assistant pastor, hired by the session rather than called by the congregation. This again allows for greater flexibility in pastoral leadership.
8. Presbyteries also have greater freedom – In ECO polity, the role of the presbytery is to support, encourage, and resource local congregations. ECO presbyteries are required to have three committees; the Committee on Ministry which can include oversight of candidates, a Permanent Judicial Commission, and a governing council which has the same role and responsibilities of most PC(USA) presbytery councils. Other committees and task forces may be formed as they are necessary for the mission of the presbytery. Presbyteries also have flexibility as they guide con-gregations in the call process. A typical PNC may be established or a congregation may allow the session to serve this function. However they are called, the congregation must ultimately elect installed pastors.
9. Missional Affinity Network – Missional Affinity Networks are networks of congregations in similar ministry set-tings and facing similar challenges and opportunities. These networks are outside the presbyteries. They could be comprised of congregations near universities or colleges, congregations in urban settings, multiethnic congrega-tions, those who are actively planting worshiping communities, congregations of various sizes, etc. These Missional Affinity Networks have no judicial authority but can be beneficial in a variety of important ways.
10. Accountability, support, and encouragement – ECO polity affirms that accountability between congregations is vitally important. Pastors should share with one another where they have seen God most visibly at work as well as what they are discerning as their part in God’s future mission. ECO pastors are expected to covenant to be ac-countable to one another, ensuring they are living balanced lives and being good stewards of the multiple responsi-bilities God has given them. Accountable relationships, called “peer reviews,” can take place within the presbytery or within the Missional Affinity Networks.
11. Flatter structure with an emphasis on God’s work within the local congregation – There are three layers to the ECO polity structure; session, presbytery and synod. Synod is the widest council in ECO. Each council is de-signed to have a significantly smaller staff with significantly smaller numbers of congregations comprising a presby-tery. The primary role of staff will be mission and ministry in local congregations, facilitating the multiplication of worshiping communities and expansion of the gospel.

June 28, 2015, 3:45 PM

ECO Position on Supreme Court Decision

Dear ECO Friends, Within minutes of the Supreme Court's decision regarding same sex marriage, our e-mails and phones have been flooded with questions from our ECO congregations. While each question is uniquely worded, the questions can be summed up under two headings. First, and less frequently, is the question "What does ECO believe about same sex marriage?" Second, and more frequently asked, is, "What are the implications for our churches?" Before I answer both questions, let me start by saying that in ECO we generally try to stay out of politics. However, there are times when political decisions affect, or potentially affect, the way in which ECO operates. For example, there might be times when religious liberty is challenged. In order to protect the integrity of our ministry, ECO may need to proactively or reactively engage in a political conversation. The Supreme Court's decision on marriage has potential challenges, which is why we are responding to it. The first question regarding ECO's stance on sexuality has a very simple response. In ECO, we affirm that marriage is a gift from God between one man and one woman. We affirm that sexuality is also a gift, which is to be expressed within this covenant of marriage. Scripture, our Essential Tenets, and confessions all speak with one unified voice on the subject of marriage. The second question, regarding the implications for ECO churches, is more complicated. We are not yet sure about the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision. However, we have been in conversation during the last year about potential outcomes and necessary responses. We are grateful to be a part of a group of denominations that maintain the orthodox Christian faith and with whom we can process such questions. John Terech, ECO's Director of Operations, is taking the lead on coordinating with other denominations and networks. As information becomes available, it will be disseminated through your presbyteries. Let me take the opportunity to address a third question that could be out there. How do we respond now? I think the answer to this question is easy. Preach and live the gospel! Whenever church finds itself at odds with culture, we have the opportunity to thrive in new ways as we live out the gospel in a conflicted context. Let us be people who live the model of Jesus by being welcoming and transforming for all people, in all aspects of our lives. Each of us has places in our lives that need to come under the Lordship of Jesus and the transforming power of the Spirit. Can we be people that welcome and love one another wherever we are, and yet love one another enough to work for mutual transformation? I think we can, and I think that as we do, the gospel will flourish! Let's pray together to that end. Bless you all in your continued ministry, Dana Allin, Synod Executive