Dear NWC Sisters and Brothers,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this summer season is providing some time of respite even as I know that many of you are anticipating the upcoming school year and accompanying opportunities within your churches and ministries.
I have been truly blessed to serve at the Northwest Conference office since April of 2001. I am amazed as I look out at the Minnehaha Academy soccer field and realize that those who will be seniors this year were still a few years away from being born when I arrived! While I do not feel all that different from when I began, the years have certainly passed by quickly and the times have changed dramatically.
I have had the privilege of serving the Conference during times of great blessing and times of tremendous challenge. At last count, I have worked with almost 120 Pastoral Search Committees! This should give you an indication of just how long I have been involved in the broader ministry of our region.
I served as the Director of Administration and Church Development under Superintendent Paul Erickson, then as the Associate Superintendent with Superintendent Jim Fretheim. And now, I have served as the NWC Superintendent for the past 10 years. As I reflect back on my time in these roles, I am grateful for the many wonderful experiences that I have had…and for the many deep personal relationships that have developed through the years.
And yet, time and tide wait for no man. As such, it has been my increasing discernment that my time as NWC Superintendent is drawing to a close. Thus, I have alerted NWC Board Chair Jim Volling, ECC President John Wenrich, the NWC staff and the Council of Superintendents that I intend to conclude my service on June 30, 2022.
Over this next year, the Northwest Conference Executive Board will serve as the Superintendent Search Committee, along with President John Wenrich. A nominee will then be announced and will be up for election at the Northwest Conference Annual Meeting at Minnehaha Academy next April. Following this, the Superintendent-elect will be installed at the Covenant Annual Meeting next June in Kansas City.
As this process takes the better part of a year, it was my judgement that this disclosure was best to do now in order to allow the proper amount of time for the search of my successor to take place.
Once again, I am grateful to my Lord and to you for the opportunity to serve in this role. I have sought to be faithful in my calling and obedient to God’s leading, living into the vows and promises I made when being granted this position. If I have done anything well, I attribute it to the grace of God in my life. In the ways I have fallen short, I ask for your gracious forgiveness.
May God bless you as you serve Him and remain faithful to His Word.
Mark R. Stromberg
Superintendent, Northwest Conference
Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of participating in a year-long celebration at Salem Covenant Church in Pennock, MN. Believe it or not, this church is 150 years old! This makes it the oldest church in the Northwest Conference as it predates the formation of the Covenant denomination by almost 15 years.
Lest we stereotype either historic or town & country congregations, Salem is a vibrant and thriving church. It has a wonderful facility with a gymnasium, even as it is situated amidst farm fields. It is pastored by the Rev. Jonathan Wilson, a gifted, brilliant and godly pastor. FYI … Pastor Wilson will be the Moderator at the Covenant Annual Meeting in just a few weeks. This gives you an idea of how highly respected he is in the broader ECC.
Following the morning service and a wonderful meal shared with the Wilsons, I was intending to head home immediately, but found myself wandering through the church cemetery instead. It sits just beyond the church building, something that is quite common in rural settings.
Suffice it to say that it was a moving experience for me. As I meandered up and down the rows, I recognized so many of the surnames of those buried there—names that have been influential in the formation and development of the broader Evangelical Covenant Church. In fact, several of the families buried in this holy place continue to provide pastors within our own Conference and the broader ECC. The earlier faithfulness of these departed saints continues to bear fruit in our midst even to this day.
It makes me wonder, will the lives we are living now produce the same in the future?
As Superintendent, I have had the privilege of connecting with a broad spectrum of churches. And even while so much of the emphasis within the broader Church appears to focus on metropolitan contexts, I am very aware that much of our strength is from elsewhere. As such, it is our desire to be more intentional in sharing some of the wonderful things that are taking place in churches throughout the NWC.
I thank God for churches, like Salem Covenant in Pennock, that continue to minister in powerful ways within their communities. I am grateful for the role these “unsung” churches and pastors play in our shared life.
By Mark R. Stromberg, Superintendent
It seems like there is no end to the reasons we have to express sorrow and dismay at “man’s inhumanity to man” as we witness the continued display of racially charged actions all around us. In seeing what has been taking place, particularly in the San Francisco Bay area relative to violence against Asian-Americans, my heart weighs very heavy to the point of tears.
Saying, “I’m so sorry” is trite … but I am, truly. In fact, I have felt sick to my stomach as I have watched some of the footage of what has taken place, particularly toward the elderly within the Asian-American community. Such raw disregard for life … such irrational hatred and contempt! It is truly sickening …
I will readily confess that my heart is not only heavy with sorrow, but my natural-man instincts are not particularly Christ-like right now. Candidly, I would like to see severe punishment inflicted upon those who perpetrate such violence against those who are vulnerable … particularly upon those who deserve our care, honor and respect.
I pray that we can all agree that such despicable actions are demonic and worthy of our strongest condemnation. I also pray that we will be paying attention to what is taking place and offer words of care and encouragement to our Asian-American sisters and brothers in Christ, but also to work associates, neighbors and other friends who have been jarred by this display of hostility toward those sharing the same ethnicity. Are we paying attention? Are we showing love?
Pacific Northwest Conference Superintendent, Greg Yee, has shared a moving reflection about recent events. I would encourage you to read what he has written here: Heavy Hearted this New Year.
Further, the Rev. Mary Chung March, NWC Pastor and President of the Covenant Asian Pastors Association (CAPA) and the Mosaic (Ethnic) Commission for the ECC, along with her husband, Rev. John March, shared a video this past weekend with their congregation at New City Covenant Church (Edina). I would encourage you to watch what they shared at: Beneath the Cross – Reflection on Anti-Asian Elder Abuse.
As Mary reflected in an email to me and also reiterated in the video:
“Someone asked me, ‘What do we do?’ There are so many things people can do (learn the history and read books of Asians in America, watch some YouTube videos or documentaries, get onsite and become friends with more Asians, sign petitions to stop AAPI Hate (Asian American Pacific Islander). But if that feels too overwhelming, I think if one just answers the following question, it is a start. ‘If your grandma or my grandpa was kicked in the face or as s/he walked the streets of her/his own neighborhood, someone shoved them down. What would you do? What would you do to make sure that couldn’t happen again?’ You would speak up, demand change, and show up for them as family does.”
Dear friends, how are we showing up for those within our family of Asian descent?
By Mark R. Stromberg, Superintendent
Please know that NWC staff and Executive Board members are standing with you during this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region. As a source of encouragement, NWC staff members will be sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Superintendent Mark Stromberg below.
Dear Northwest Conference Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus (May 27, 2020),
There are moments when it is difficult to know what to say as leaders. Many of us find ourselves in such a moment as we try to comprehend the terrible circumstance that led to the senseless taking of George Floyd’s life in Minneapolis just two days ago. And this, following the heinous murder of Ahmaud Arbery in recent weeks. And the life before that … and the one before that …
Yes, it is hard to know what to say. After all, words are just words if not followed up by actions.
However, to say nothing can also be understood to be saying something, even if unintended. Therefore, this tragic loss of life and the injustice these recent events illustrate cannot be ignored or explained away. Actually, these have never been things to explain away, though sometimes some of us may have tried to do so.
What will it take before we fall on our knees before God and plead for forgiveness? How long will it take? We can no longer say that it is always the “other guy” who is responsible for these reprehensible deeds. For even as we bear responsibility for the nailing of Jesus to the tree, we bear responsibility as part of “Adam’s race” for the dehumanization and mistreatment of others for whom Christ died; for those we are called to love.
I know that I am not alone in feeling heart-sick today, but also feeling a bit helpless. I don’t always know where to turn to or what to do with my thoughts or feelings, lest I do or say something that adds further pain, though unintended. However, on behalf of all of us on the Northwest Conference staff, I express deep sorrow for the pain and dismay that our sisters and brothers of color are experiencing as we know that these are both deeply felt and justified.
We also cannot continue to say that we are “in It together,” unless we are also willing to be in “all of it together.” Our togetherness cannot only remain so long as it serves our own self-interest, without regard to how it is impacting those we claim to love. After all, we are reminded in Scripture that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Or do we?
Personally, I am sorry for not suffering enough alongside those of you that do. I am sorry for the blatant disregard of those in our own communities that have not been given equal treatment or respect as men and women, boys and girls created in the image of God and the nobility that suggests. I am especially sorry for the burdens born by our African-American sisters and brothers at this time, though this is nothing new … just more of the same … tragically.
We have to do more, and we have to do better as the people of God.
Merciful Lord, we are weak but You are strong. We are burdened with grief; our hearts are heavy, our spirits are crushed. Be our strength in times of weakness. Be our shelter from the storm. Be especially near and dear to our African-American sisters and brothers on this day as they feel the weight of this latest tragedy most acutely. Be their rock and shield. Forgive the rest of us for the times we have turned a blind eye to the injustices facing so many in communities of color. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. AMEN.
Mark R. Stromberg,
Dear NWC Sisters and Brothers in Christ (May 15, 2020),
I pray this letter finds you healthy and finding a sustainable rhythm in this time of disequilibrium and change. Please know that our pastors, churches and affiliate ministries remain in our prayers on a regular basis.
As the weeks go by we know that there are many in our midst who are growing increasingly anxious by our present circumstances and the restrictions that we are all experiencing—both personally and in our shared lives together. We also know that there are differing opinions, some held strongly, which stand in stark contrast. This has further led to levels of deep frustration for some. This should not come as a surprise to any of us and as a result, we are receiving more inquiries seeking guidance and direction.
I would like to share a few high-level considerations as we move toward the summer months. While this is not exhaustive, I hope that you find these helpful. While none of this can be mandated by NWC leadership, I believe that they do represent wise and prudent counsel.
- The NWC and ECC strongly encourage our churches to continue to follow the guidelines and recommendations of both federal and state officials regarding any stay-at-home directives. Further, we hope that we would continue to be good and conscientious citizens by following the safe practices being promoted by our leaders.
- Please resist the impulse to read in to our present circumstances any “conspiracy” interpretation. At this time, it is important to discipline our thinking and to not ascribe malicious intent to any action or perspective with which we disagree. Please seek to give others the benefit of the doubt.
- Remain realistic in your expectations. We will likely experience ebbs and flows in the months ahead.
- Be sure that you continue to read the current information available on steps leading to re-opening, whenever that might occur. You will find some of these resources on the NWC website at northwestconference.org.
- Related to this, invite other leaders in your church to sign up for the NWC weekly electronic UPDATE to stay abreast of unfolding information. In order to do so, please contact Cheryl Theilen at the NWC office, or click here.
- When the time comes that churches can gather for worship and other activities, be sure that you are able to do what is necessary before you make the decision to meet corporately. Count the cost versus the benefits to your congregation. Are you truly able to provide a safe environment for your people?
- Evaluate whether the quality of what you can do in person is, at least, as good as what you are able to provide electronically.
- Related to the above, please be aware that when you are able to meet in person, things will most likely not feel the same as they did pre-COVID-19. This will be important to keep in mind lest we express our sense of grief and loss in ways that are counter-productive. An example of this might be to blame pastors or lay leaders for worship experiences that do not “feel” the same as prior to the pandemic. Be self-aware enough to handle your personal emotions in appropriate ways.
- Consider ways that you can especially care for those most vulnerable in your congregation. Opening prematurely, even if allowable, could place your elderly population at great risk as many of these older saints may be the very ones who will feel the most obliged to come back to church once it reopens. Please watch out for those who may need the most encouragement to continue social distancing.
- For many of our churches, a new online ministry opportunity has unfolded. Think carefully about what your church needs to do with your online presence, both for people from outside of your church who have been tuning in as well as for your own congregants who may need to continue to shelter in place.
While there is much more that could be stated, I hope that you continue to move sensibly and use good judgment as events unfold and restrictions are loosened. Certainly, while we can provide some guidance, it is the responsibility of each church to stay informed on current developments.
I would invite you to click on the following link to access some strategic considerations relative to reopening your church. This brief PowerPoint (Reopening Process Strategies) is adapted with permission from Howard Burgoyne, East Coast Conference Superintendent.
Certainly there are many logistical things to consider and great discernment is needed. However, as NWC Superintendent I am also concerned with the manner in which decisions are made and the spirit of unity that will allow congregations to thrive in the midst of these anxious and challenging days.
May God provide both wisdom and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit as your congregation moves into a future known only to Him.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).
Sincerely in Christ,
Mark R. Stromberg
Please know that NWC staff and Executive Board members are standing with you during this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region. As a source of encouragement, NWC staff members will be sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the first installment from Superintendent Mark Stromberg below.