Breakaway Presbyterian Group Passes 100-Church Membership Mark

A conservative Presbyterian breakaway network of churches founded as an alternative to the more liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) has passed the 100-membership mark.

Founded just two years ago, the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians passed the milestone late last year and continues to add more congregations this month.

In an announcement recently sent out to supporters, ECO hailed the passing of the 100-church mark as a "milestone."

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Church officials said they recently added four more churches to the network and added, "Welcome to these new ECO churches. We praise God for His faithfulness and look forward to growing together in 2014!"

Newly added congregations included Bethel Presbyterian of Columbus, OH; Bridgewater Presbyterian of Beaver, PA; Saxe Gotha Presbyterian of Lexington, SC; and Spring Hill Presbyterian of Staunton, VA.

A New Reformed Body

In January 2012, a group of Presbyterians met in Florida to hammer out the details of a new reformed body for congregations who no longer wanted to be affiliated with Presbyterian Church (USA).

Approximately 2,100 clergy and laity met to discuss the matter, driven in part by a recent vote at the PC (USA) General Assembly to allow for the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.

Organized by the conservative PC (USA) movement the Fellowship of Presbyterians, the conference saw the creation of the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO). The acronym was inspired by the Greek word "oikos", meaning household. In a statement released in 2012, the Fellowship explained what ECO was about.

"ECO is a denominational entity under the umbrella of The Fellowship of Presbyterians that is committed to growing and planting flourishing churches and nurturing leaders," read the statement in part.

"The distinctives of ECO include an emphasis on connecting leaders in accountable relationships, peer review systems for churches, leadership training, and a flatter polity structure than the PC(USA)."

Since its founding, scores of Presbyterian congregations once affiliated with PC (USA) have left the mainline denomination for ECO. Notable defections have included First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, formerly the largest PC (USA) congregation in Colorado, and Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas, formerly the largest PC (USA) congregation of Texas.

The Future

On its website, ECO boasts of having 107 congregations and 176 pastors in its ranks. This number includes two overseas clergy, Thomas Boone of Klaipeda, Lithuania and Scotty Williams of Zurich, Switzerland.

While having grown considerably since early 2012, ECO still has a long way to go before reaching the size of PC (USA). The liberal mainline denomination has 10,262 congregations and 1,849,496 members, according to its website.

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