Don Searcy and I recently attended the Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP) gathering in Orlando (January 21-22, 2012). Over 2100 people representing 765 Presbyterian congregations took part in the two-day event. The conference consisted of enthusiastic worship, plenary speakers, small group conversations around our tables, learning seminars, and informal fellowship and conversation. Personal highlights for us included time with Rocky Stone (former associated pastor) and Jill Williams (former director of Youth Ministry).
What is the FOP and why does it exist? The FOP being in January 2011 as a conversation between seven Presbyterian pastors who wanted to find new ways to encourage on another in faith and mission. They were concerned that the Presbyterian Church USA had become dangerously ill as a denomination as membership has declined every year since 1965. They shared their desire to gather a community of Presbyterian Churches who want to live within a covenanted biblical community where unity is derived from a shared mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
From this small beginning, 2000 people form 900+ Presbyterian congregations gathered in Minneapolis last August. We sent Earl and Kay Eastin, Bob Barnes, Art Woodling, and myself to that conference. The FOP’s mission is to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ. Presently it is functioning as a gathering poin and resource for Presbyterian congregations who desire to stimulate and encourage each other in ministry and mission. It is NOT a denomination, new or otherwise. It is an ordered community that includes hundreds of Presbyterian Churches who are focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ, who desire to be stimulated and held accountable in our common mission.
What is or will be Covenant’s relationship with the FOP? Presently we have no official relationship. The six Covenant representatives who have attended one of the conferences have discussed our experiences and informally recommended that we, Covenant, remain a part of the Presbyterian Church USA and affiliate with FOP. We see our affiliation as a resource for helping us explore new ways to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Our session received their informal recommendation, had an initial conversation, and will pray about whether we affiliate with FOP, using them as an encouraging resource. We would likely make a decision about this in April or May. We welcome your feedback.
In addition to the FOP, which is an umbrella organization serving Presbyterian churches, a new denomination has emerged for those who desire to leave the Presbyterian Church USA at this time. It is called ECO or ECOop (Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians). Presently several dozen churches are preparing to leave the Presbyterian Church USA to join ECO. ECO is in its beginning stage and is currently working out its polity and theology.
At this time Covenant’s session is praying for God’s wisdom and strength as we discern how best to go forward. We are currently considering affiliation with FOP, but have no plans to join ECO. We plan to hold informational meetings in the near future.
Even as we observe and participate in the FOP, as we walk into the future, we are keeping our eyes on the main thing:
Making disciples of Jesus Christ, who love God, love one another, and serve in the world.
In Christ’s Service,