This past semester, Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church began meeting for Sunday service at Calvin Seminary’s chapel. Led by Reverend Mike Baynai, the congregation is also a new member of the ECO denomination. ECO stands for A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, a young Presbyterian denomination that was established in 2012. Good Shepherd Presbyterian is the first congregation in Michigan to join the ECO denomination.
ECO was formed out of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and in February of 2012 held their first national synod. Since 2012, membership numbers have risen substantially as ECO congregations have emerged across the nation. Regarding the aim of ECO, leaders wrote, “This ‘new Reformed body’ is intended to foster a new way of being the church, just as traditional, mainline denominations rose to serve in their day.”
Dr. Laura Smit, a professor in the religion department at Calvin, has since joined the leadership of ECO. Smit has helped contribute as a member of the theology team that is primarily in charge of developing the theology for ECO, she has also been involved with the ministry at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church.
As a denomination, ECO is committed to serious theological discussions, small presbyteries, evangelism, church plantings, and the role of women in ministry. However, especially at its earlier stages, ECO faced criticisms of being schismatic. In a post by Bruce Reyes-Chow with Huffington Post, he asks, “What will prevent ECO from becoming just another Presbyterian denomination burdened by structure and organization?”
However, in an interview that took place prior to Smit officially joining the ECO denomination, Smit responds to accusations of ECO being a schismatic movement. “I’m not leaving in defiance of Presbyterian polity; I’m leaving in obedience to Presbyterian polity. …When the Christian Reformed Church refused to ordain me, I did not stay and seek illegal ordination; I left. That was the option that had integrity, and it’s the option I took. I’m trying to show the same integrity now. … Apparently leaving as an individual to join another already existing denomination is fine, but leaving as a group is schismatic. This makes no sense to me at all. If there are thousands of people in the PC(USA) who are in the same painful situation of having to leave the denomination we love as a matter of integrity and obedience, then why are we not allowed to cling to one another as we go?”
While Good Shepherd Presbyterian is a small congregation and only a recent member of ECO, the congregation is a close-knit community that hopes to establish itself in the Grand Rapids area. Sunday services begin at 10 a.m. in the Calvin Seminary chapel.