Grace Community Church of Boca Raton has formally joined ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
Following a worship service on June 20, the Presbytery of Tropical Florida of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) transferred the congregation to ECO, where the congregation now is part of ECO’s Presbytery of the East. The congregation’s departure had been put on hold for roughly a year, while the presbytery considered charges of sexual abuse that had been filed against Grace’s pastor, Kirk A. McCormick.
On June 3, McCormick renounced jurisdiction in the PC(USA), just as a church court was preparing to hear testimony in the case against him. That means McCormick is no longer a minister – but could still apply to be ordained by ECO.
In the meantime, ECO is working with the Grace congregation to help provide pastoral leadership. “At ECO, we are focused on the congregational health of Grace Community Church,” wrote John Terech, who is moderator of ECO’s East presbytery. “They have been through a trying year and now have no senior pastor.”
Derek Gillespie, another minister with Grace church, has transferred to ECO. Grace’s session is considering an applicant to be transitional pastor (ECO’s equivalent of a interim minister), with a decision likely on that by early July, Terech wrote.
In an email interview, Terech wrote that McCormick has not yet applied for ordination with ECO. In the complaint filed against him, a woman who formerly was involved with the youth group at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif., where McCormick served as an associate pastor at the time, claimed that he sexually abused her on multiple occasions starting around June 1988, when she was just turning 17, and continuing through 1990, as reported here earlier. The complaint alleges that the abuse took place in part on church trips, and involved nudity, removal of her clothing and inappropriate touching.
McCormick stated in his letter of renunciation that “I no longer believe I can receive an honest and fair trial,” but said he did not wish to comment further to a reporter. In a letter to the congregation, the session of Grace church wrote that it had approved giving McCormick 26 weeks’ pay based on accrued sabbatical, vacation and study leave time, and that he had left on a trip to Israel.
The session wrote in the letter to the congregation that McCormick “passionately desires to ‘restore his good name’ and begin his 19th year of ministry at Grace under the guidance and direction of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Albert W. “Skip” Bush Jr., the interim stated clerk for Tropical Florida Presbytery, has said that by renouncing jurisdiction before testimony could be presented in the trial, McCormick “de facto admitted to the guilt.”
If McCormick does apply for ordination with ECO, the new denomination will have to decide how to proceed. There is no judicial case pending against him, and the allegations of abuse took place in the PC(USA), not in ECO. Speaking hypothetically, ECO synod executive Dana Allin wrote in an email that “ECO would NEVER allow a potential minister to duck charges, especially serious charges, by renouncing jurisdiction and then just take that person in ECO.”
Terech wrote since McCormick hadn’t submitted an application for ordination, he could only address questions of process. “We have an ordination process manual on our website,” he wrote. “In a background and reference check, all of these particular issues would certainly be investigated, very thoroughly by people not associated with the applicant, with any and all information made available to them.”